Political Initiatives to Combat Sectarianism
The root of the problem in Bahrain and the escalating sectarian
conflict between Sunnis and Shia is undeniably political. It is
not a disagreement over a specific religious issue between Shia
and Sunni scholars, nor is it a result of 14 centuries of ideological
differences. Rather, the present conflict is a result of political
arguments and a conflict of interests among the political powers
which represent both sects.
This conflict could have been contained within the political
elite without affecting wider social relations and the unity of
Bahraini society. Unfortunately however, the current sectarian conflict
has had a dangerous social impact on both the State and the people
of Bahrain. Moreover, Bahraini political parties lacked wisdom during
the crisis, and took their problems to the street where slogans
and cheap accusations were used.
Politicians from all parties are responsible for the present
political crisis and the sharp social division that followed. As
a result of their disagreements, Bahraini society has been divided
and hate-speech has spread due to their irresponsible use of sectarian
discourse to acquire or protect their position. On their part, religious
scholars have called for unity and brotherhood, but their calls
have been ignored as the key to solving this issue lies in the hands
Political consensus among the elites and the restriction of the
use of sectarian hate speech could ease tensions and incitement
in the media; although at present this seems far-fetched, since
differences of views and conflict of interests continue to be the
norm among the elites.
As much as the King’s speech, during the occasion of the Eid
Al-Adha, was directed to every member in Bahraini society, it especially
addressed political elites who see themselves as representatives
of the interests of all social groups. He called for a new spirit,
tolerance and urged Bahraini citizens to foster love and solidarity
among each other, in compliance with Islamic precepts.
The political elites must realise that sectarian incitement and
the exaggeration of the threat posed by the ‘Other’ strengthen the
foundation of schism and weaken the State, to the extent that it
becomes unable to provide security and protection for all its citizens.
The elites bear most of the responsibility for the current crisis
because their differences, and perhaps also their selfishness, represent
an obstacle to any middle solutions to achieving political objectives
regardless of their legitimacy.
Sectarian feelings remain strongly present in Bahrain, and have
unfortunately resulted in a psychological gap between citizens,
as well as a breakdown in common interests on all levels, such as
the economy, jobs, housing, marriage and social relations.
In order to put the King’s call for unity into practice, interactions
between the two sects must take place on the street level, as well
as interactions between the political elites on both sides, especially
Al Wefaq and the Gathering of National Unity (GNU). Equally important
are meetings on a religious level between religious scholars from
both sides, as well as agreements between the Government and the
opposition within a national consensus framework. This would pave
the way for a new political life, and would save society from the
quagmire of sectarianism which threatens to destroy everything beautiful
Bahrain needs many initiatives from all parties and on all levels,
as until now these initiatives have been few and far between, and
have only been initiated by the Government. To date, we have not
seen any political initiatives by either Al-Wefaq or The GNU. Furthermore,
we have not seen any initiatives to reduce the sectarian crisis
on a public level from religious figures, civil society organizations,
intellectuals or human rights defenders. Instead of waiting for
political initiatives from the Government and engaging in media
debates, we should develop initiatives, adopt constructive ideas
and build on them. These are characteristics of a vibrant society,
constantly aiming to search and find solutions to its problems.