Anybody deciding to comment on Bahrain’s Pearl Square demonstrations which are being led by the Shiite community in the country will undoubtedly be burnt by this fire, and even if he survives the flames, he will be unable to escape the suffocating smoke, regardless of how balanced or objective he tries to be. If he said that these demonstrations are acceptable within the framework of democracy, which Bahrain has taken reasonable steps towards, particularly in comparison to other regional countries, he would – in some people’s opinion – be stoking the fire and encouraging the protestors. However if he said that such demonstrations are an act of sedition, others would ask: why didn’t you consider the protests and demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt sedition? Isn’t this a case of double standards?
Let’s compare and contrast what happened in Egypt and Tunisia with the situation in Bahrain so that we can come up with an objective appraisal which we can base a transparent and sincere vision for the future on. A quick comparison between the protestors in Egypt’s Tahrir Square and those in Bahrain’s Pearl Square reveals that a wide range of Egypt’s political, religious, intellectual, and ideological spectrum was represented at Tahrir Square, whilst in comparison only one group can be found in Bahrain’s Pearl Square. There is also a significant difference between the political regimes in the two countries; a monarchy and a republic, but this is not the crucial factor, rather what is most important is what a ruler provides to his people, and the establishment of justice between all citizens. With regards to the Mubarak and Ben Ali regimes, the opposition was hardly represented in the regime, whilst in comparison a number of Shiites hold senior positions in Bahrain, including ministerial and other senior governmental posts, as well as enjoying leading positions in the public and private sectors.
As for parliamentary participation, the situation in Bahrain can by no means be compared to the situation in Tunisia and Egypt under their former leaders. Mubarak and Ben Ali supporters monopolized the majority of parliamentary seats, unlike the situation in Bahrain where the opposition hold the majority of seats in the country’s parliament. In this case, I am not talking about the Bahraini [political] opposition, but rather the Shiite opposition in particular. Therefore the political despotism that was undoubtedly the major catalyst behind the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions is practically non-existent in Bahrain. There can be no doubt that there are governmental shortcomings in Bahrain with regards to the handling of the conditions of all Bahraini citizens in general, including the country’s Shiite citizens, and both the Sunnite and Shiite communities aspire for greater political and economic reforms, as well as more transparency and leniency with regards to the manner in which the government deals with the demonstrations. There can be no doubt about this, however the facts on the ground clearly show that it is unfair that the Bahraini governments achievements should be responded to with the extremist slogan of “the people want the fall of the regime!”
What the Bahraini Shiite opposition have failed to understand is that by raising the ceiling of their demands from “the people want the reform of the regime” to “the people want the fall of the regime” – and despite the considerable gains they have made with regards to concessions – they have strengthened the position of certain “categories” in the region who are not interested in conducting dialogue [with the protestors] and believe that giving in to some demands will only lead to a situation where the regime will be forced to give in to greater and greater demands. Therefore the sectarian dimensions of what is happening in Bahrain, as well as the concerning Iranian interference in this difficult issue, means that the situation in Bahrain is completely different from the situation in Egypt and Tunisia, and even Libya and Yemen. This is precisely what Shiite Marja Sayed Ali Mohamed al-Hosseini said in the statement he issued on Saturday, in which he stressed the importance of taking into account the sensitive situation in the entire region, and in Bahrain in particular, for – as he said – the Kingdom of Bahrain differs from other regional states for a number of reasons.