Sectarian clashes erupted between Sunni and Shiite students at a girls’ school in Bahrain, and the images of terrified young students were extremely saddening. These clashes occurred against the backdrop of the division that is taking place in Bahrain under the pretext of the Shiite opposition calling for political reform.
This was not just an emotional response on my part, for I felt extremely bitter upon seeing the tears of students no older than my own daughter, but also because is this the future that we want for our Gulf region? Despite the country’s small size and capabilities, Bahrain was considered a bastion of enlightenment, and a pioneer in the fields of education and openness, however today this same country is reeling from sectarian tension! This is not the opinion of one analyst, but rather the truth on the ground, for this has reached the point that it is the Bahraini opposition itself that is calling for calm and warning those trying to incite sectarian clashes, and it is doing so after its demands reached the point of calls for a Republic of Bahrain. What is strange is that after all of this, it is the opposition itself that is warning against sectarianism, whilst their demands are fundamentally based upon a sectarian position. The reforms demanded by the opposition are based upon the proportion of Shiites in Bahrain, so what can be more sectarian than this? The Bahraini opposition are making a historic mistake, and here I must speak the truth even if this causes anger.
Rushing when making critical decisions, such as those being faced by our region today, may result in dire consequences for the entire region and its people. There is more sectarian tension today in the Gulf region than at any time before, and this represents a grave threat to regional stability, and the achievements that we have made, whether these are Sunni or Shiite. If we are not rational [in dealing with these critical moments] then the coming days will indeed be extremely dangerous. It seems that even the Bahraini opposition itself has begun to sense this, and this can be seen in it calling – in its last statement – on the security apparatus “to assume its responsibilities in protecting individuals and regions.”
This appeal in itself is a paradox, for how can the Bahraini opposition call on the security apparatus to intervene today whilst also justifying their increasing demands upon the position taken by this same security apparatus at the beginning of the crisis? The irony here is that it is the Bahraini opposition itself that is making this appeal for security and protection from the security apparatus at the same time that we have heard a US State Department spokesman warning the Saudi Arabian security apparatus, and prior to this the Bahraini security apparatus, against intervening. The irony is that US army and National Guard units were mobilized and deployed to Los Angeles in 1992 to restore security in the wake of the LA riots which broke out after a jury issued a verdict of not guilty against 4 LA police officers over the assault of African American Rodney King. The LA riots, and the ensuing military intervention, resulted in 52 deaths and 2,392 people being injured. What is most astonishing however is that the US Ambassador to Yemen recently said “we don’t believe that demonstrations are the place where Yemen’s problems will be solved. We think the problems have to be resolved through this process of dialogue.” The question that must be asked at this point is: isn’t this precisely the same thing that Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said? Must our region, which is threatened by sectarianism and tribalism, reach a point where it is the protestors themselves that have to ask to be rescued by the security apparatus, as has occurred in Bahrain?
What I meant to say, particularly to the intellectuals, is that the reality of our Gulf region, including Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, is not the same as that of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen. It is our duty to protect our gains and to consider what is happening to ensure that what happened at the girls’ school in Bahrain does not spread to our streets and result in us saying that “it is the slackness of the official authorities in this regard which is responsible for every drop of blood that has been shed”, as the Bahraini opposition did in its statement yesterday.