Readers will remember that the winds of change caused by the Arab Spring affected all of the Middle East and North Africa, and reaching the gulf coast, took hold of Bahrain as well. With the wave of democratization caused by popular uprisings for reasons such as unemployment, inequality of income and political corruption, Shiites opposed to the regime in Bahrain also began expressing their demands more loudly.
Seventy percent of the population of Bahrain is Muslim, with Christians, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs and other faiths making up the remaining 30%. Eighty percent of the Muslims are Shiite, and the other twenty percent are Sunni. The Al -Khalifa dynasty that has reigned for some 200 years is a member of the Sunni minority and has for many years been facing demands by Shiites for basic rights and freedoms.
Although the events that began with Shiites gathering in Pearl Square in the Shiite capital, Manama, in February 2011 decreased somewhat following popular elections in November 2014, Shiites are still complaining that their expectations have not been met after the elections and that they are still deprived of basic civil and equal rights, that they are discriminated against, that they have no right to work as senior state officials and that they are not properly represented in political platforms. They want the establishment of an independent parliament, the executive assembly to have complete powers and be completely independent, the judiciary to be impartial, constitutional deficiencies to be rectified and basic and balanced reforms to be introduced right away. Shiites hold meetings from time to time to express these demands; they most recently took to the streets to protest the detention of Sheikh Ali Salman, general secretary of the Al Wefaq Society that represents them.
Bahrain urgently needs to eliminate those elements of ethnic, sectarian or class based discrimination. It is essential in a society for people of all beliefs, be they Sunni or Shiite, Christian or Jew, or even communist, atheist or irreligious, to be regarded as first-class citizens. Everyone must be equal, irrespective of sect or opinions, and those in power must not arbitrarily restrict others’ rights and freedoms. In that context, it is perfectly natural for Shiites or members of other faiths or groups to demand equal rights to those in charge of the administration in Bahrain.
However, there is also something that the Shiites, with their legitimate demands for rights and freedoms, must not forget, and that is fact that they must demand for others those things that they demand for themselves. Undoubtedly, it must be a priority for the Shiites to attach the same importance to the rights and freedoms of those who are not of them and to show respect and tolerance for their private lives. If they can emphasize that they want to see a Bahrain in which everyone can freely express his opinions and beliefs and in which everyone respects the lives and ideas of others, and that they want to see a country that espouses a modern understanding of Islam and that is progressive and contemporary, and if they can give inspire confidence on that subject, this will clear the way for and contribute to the growth of the country.
The benefits that the Al-Khalifa administration has bestowed on the country on the point in question are incontrovertible. Indeed, today Bahrain is a country with very modern community standards. In contrast to many Islamic countries it notably espouses art, beauty, civilization and women’s rights. Women in the country are free to behave as they wish. They can go around quite freely with their heads uncovered, in short skirts, shirts or low-cut blouses if they like. They can swim in the sea, drive, travel on their own and work where they wish. These excellent policies show that women in Bahrain are not regarded as second-class citizens and are not repressed in the name of religion. Women who wish to wear low-cut clothing are free to do so, while those who wish to cover up can do that; to put it another way, nobody tells them what to wear. No religious obstacles are placed in the way of women who wish to work, and women who wish to engage in politics are not restricted. Women who wish to work in art are not prevented from doing so. These all make Bahrain a very superior kind of place, and the libertarian attitude of the Al -Khalifa regime plays a major role in this.
The fact is that in order to be able to speak of peace and security in a country, the women in that country in particular must be free and must take part in social life: Bahrain has succeeded in this. We hope that an order will soon be introduced in which people from all sections of society, no matter what their beliefs are, will feel like first-class citizens, and that the Shiites will adopt a modern conception and act as role models in making this a reality, while the Sunnis heed Shiite demands for rights and freedoms. In that way, the people of Bahrain will take sound steps toward a bright future together.
Adnan Oktar's piece on Morocco World News: