Discrimination and Political Balance

Discrimination exists in all countries. It is an indisputable fact that is dealt with by human rights activists and politicians without excessive sensitivities. Due to the widespread existence of discrimination all over the world, the United Nations has arranged an international convention to combat all its forms and has also established a committee consisting of experts to supervise the implementation of the convention by the state parties. The U.N. also issued academic studies focused on discrimination, its causes and how to eliminate, or mitigate and contain its negative effect. The U.N. is still very much concerned with this issue regardless of the country, culture, tradition and religion in which it is taking place. What differentiates discrimination from one country to another is whether it is linked to race, sect, profession or gender, its size and the role of the ruling political institution.

Therefore, denying the existence of the problem is an incorrect and unconvincing approach that will not solve the issue. Moreover it will not prevent people from continually raising the subject, which is the case with sectarianism in the country. For instance, sectarianism is often talked about with a great amount of excessive sensitivity and even itself lacks a definition. This article is not discussing discrimination in its wider context, but specifically deals with sectarian discrimination. It is an issue that will always be brought up and hence answers must be found for the questions raised. To add to this, the problem needs to be tackled with a large amount of wisdom and transparency. The sectarian discrimination taking place in Bahrain is not a result of a lack of religious freedom, as this already exists and is dealt with freely by the media and is supported by the Government. The problem is political and linked to political participation and the size of services provided for Shias. The issue was approached by some politicians and human rights activists but with intent to defame the Government and score points against it instead of solving the problem.

The Government affirms that it does not discriminate against any sect; rather, certain community groups discriminate against each other. Hence, it is important to distinguish between two phases: the pre-reform period which witnessed some sectarian discrimination and the subsequent attempts by the current Government to improve the situation, not only by initiating political reform, but also through ‘affirmative actions’ in the interest of Shias and attempting to get them more involved in the Government. This is in addition to exert efforts to improve services and establishing projects in areas neglected during the pre- reform period. However, this does not mean that there are no Sunni areas that are poor and neglected as well.

Fortunately, ‘social integration’ between Shias and Sunnis has increased. This is reflected by the increase in marriages between the two sects, mixed residential areas and mosques as well as the mutual participation in religious events etc. This is all a result of the political atmosphere and tolerance of Bahraini society. On the other hand, ‘political integration’ has also witnessed a positive shift during the reform period as a result of the political process and the increased number of Shias employed in senior management positions. However, there is still an imbalance between certain social segments with regards to the distribution of senior positions in the Government, despite the fact that competency can be found in all of the segments of the society. Creating a balance between the various social blocs is essential for political stability and the success of reforms which will lead to greater social and national integration.

The imbalance in the distribution of senior position has created excessive sensitivity towards the subject of naturalization. On one hand, the change in the mentality of state officials has impacted positively on the political situation, and on the other hand, the conservative Shias, feels closer to the regime and see it as their real representative. The regime is no longer perceived as stranger or a representative of specific groups at the expense of others, and the King( head of the state), has become a father figure and has made both Sunnis and Shias feel that he is above sectarian classifications. To conclude, sectarian discrimination is a heavy legacy on the shoulders of officials and society. It is a problem that cannot be solved easily, and there is a need to recognise the existence of the problem or at least the existence of its effects before attempting to rectify it. This can be achieved by creating a balance in the distribution of official and public service positions, an issue that the reform project has initially come to solve.