Alarm at Shia gains in Bahrain’s elections
By Kim Sengupta
28 November 2006
A radical Shia Islamist group has made significant gains in Bahrain’s national elections, raising serious concern among neighbouring conservative Sunni monarchies in the region.
Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society has won 16 of the 40 seats in parliament and the party declares that its gains are even more significant than the figures suggest, because it had won all but one of the seats it had contested.
The outcome of the polls has had international reverberations. Bahrain is the base of the US Navy’s 5th Fleet and one of the clutch of pro-Western states in the area. Developments here have been watched with trepidation in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.
Bahraini officials accuse Iran of interfering in the elections by bankrolling Shia parties and even giving some factions arms training – claims strongly denied by Tehran.
Shias, who make up 60 per cent of the population of the kingdom, protest that they are economically underprivileged and have long been sidelined from the political process.
Government officials pointed out that the Shia party had targeted just the constituencies where it had a power base and had run a sectarian campaign. The opposition gains, they insisted, showed that the electoral process has been fair. Liberal candidates got a poor share of the votes.
I looked up the author on Google, and found a link with all of her (or his?) articles on a site called WorldSecurityNetwork and just the titles she uses stopped me from going further. It seems that it is someone who fancies themselves as “an expert”, and of course they are, their “analysis” in the article posted above vouches for their expertise.
That really doesn’t concern me at all. What does concern me is – if indeed the quotes from our government officials is true – that we are in for a very rocky four years, and based just on the spirit of this article, I would be extremely shocked if this parliament actually goes the full term. Of course if this parliament is cut short (again), then chaos will ensue and we all would lose Bahrain. Maybe for ever.
What is to be done now?
Turn a blind eye and hope for the best? Continue to stoke the fires of sectarianism? Throw hurdles in the path of a parliament that hasn’t even convened and hope for it to flounder? Or should we fight this fire intelligently and put our hands together and look forward to a good life, a good Bahrain, and good social cohesion completely away from sectarian tensions?
I think the answer is quite apparent.
However, the parliament as it stands at this very moment is composed of traditional foes, not because of the presence of Shi’a in this parliament who cannot be defined – by any stretch of the imagination – as “extreme” as our good writer above suggests, but by those who have already demonstrated their extremism the world over, not just by actions in the previous assembly. So far we have nine of those gentlemen gracing our yet-to-be inaugurated parliament.
The scary thing is that there is no buffer between the two groups and without that buffer, I’m afraid tension will ensue and all it will take is a stupid remark to set the course of animosity for at least four years in parliament, and much more importantly, throughout the society. This benefits no one.
One would think even without the astonishing report above and its extremely fragile and fear mongering conclusions that the powers that be in this country would have evaluated that situation; scratch that, let us forget about the powers that be for a moment, The people themselves should have thought of this conclusion while they were electing these new politicians and strived to provide that buffer. That buffer of course by definition cannot be anything but liberals and independents who will act not only as a bridge between the two camps, but as importantly, provide the voice of reason and allow the agenda to be set to serve the country and its people, concentrate on the real issues of business, economy, education, tourism, services, industry and the myriad of factors which are the main concerns of a modern country.
Not having that centrist liberal influence might well give rise to nothing but sectarian tensions and we all know, from very close examples, where that could take this country to.
It is time, my friends, to tell the whole world that we are Just Bahraini. It is time to put our hands together and forget our differences and work very hard, much harder than we imagined, at ensuring that we do not fall into the pit of sectarianism. It behooves us to ensure that this parliament does not descend into chaos and fist fights.
To make this effective, we need to translate this unity into practical terms and I think the best way of doing so is to continue to monitor parliament’s performance, to ensure that our MPs are held accountable and that if their veer from the right path then we should be ready and willing to show our concern by writing and talking to them to tell them that we are watching them and that we will not stand for this country to be used as a scapegoat in lieu of closed or very narrow minds.
We cannot afford to fail. And we cannot afford to allow the forces of darkness and doubt take over.