Bahrain is Looking Less Like Egypt, and More Like Rwanda
Engaging in pro-democracy demonstrations since early 2011, the Bahraini opposition hoped its latest installment of protests would make the country into another Arab Spring success story. On Wednesday, those hopes of success were violently dashed.
On July 28, just a few weeks prior to the highly anticipated August 14 protests, parliament hastily passed a series of constricting laws — such as a ban on all protests in the capital city and the ability to strip citizenship from protesters — under the guise of countering terrorism. Terrorism is the systematic use of terror, especially as a means of coercion. Terrorism is not marching down the street chanting while unarmed, or holding a sit-in to stand up for one’s rights. If anything, the Bahraini regime appears to be the one guilty of employing terrorism.
Two days before the demonstrations were set to occur, Bahrain's prime minister assured the public that those violating law and order would be forcefully confronted.
On August 14, his words rang true. Barbed wire and cement blocks surrounded many villages with police checkpoints being the only means of exiting or entering. In other towns, tear gas lined the ground, a makeshift barrier to the movement of the opposition. Police were present in almost every village, patrolling the streets for any who might be participating in the movement.
Knowing they couldn't leave to join any organized protests without being questioned, many opted to hold sit-ins just outside their homes. According to the Twitter account of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, security forces even suppressed some of them.
On August 14, Bahrain, although smaller than Rhode Island, was the world's largest prison. But, even though thousands still showed up and police employed brutality, the mainstream media hardly covered the protests. They weren't as big or as bloody as was anticipated.
Media priorities aside, there's reason to be concerned.
In Bahrain, the Sunni minority holds the majority of the political power— and has since the country's independence in 1971 — while Shia Muslims , as evidenced by gerrymandering practices and wealth disparities, are politically and economically oppressed. Government-owned media broadcasts and publications regularly paint the opposition — consisting mostly of Shia, plus some underprivileged Sunnis — as terrorists with the goal of destabilizing the country.
It might not at first, but think about it: Until Rwanda gained independence in the early 1960s, the minority ethnicity, Tutsi, controlled most of Rwanda with its monarchy, while the Hutus were forced to perform statute labor. The colonial power at the time, Belgium, only exacerbated the ethnic tension, introducing separate ID cards for Tutsis and Hutus.
It should be noted that years after the Hutus forcibly ousted the Tutsi regime, the roles reversed. Anti-Tutsi messages filled the airways, in part leading to the infamous Rwandan genocide in 1994.
In Bahrain, some government members and proponents have, ironically, accused the opposition of engaging in sectarianism. However, like those in Arab Spring countries such as Egypt, Bahraini protesters are fueled not by the hatred of another ethnicity, but by the longing for democracy and equality.
But unlike that in Egypt, the opposition in Bahrain doesn’t at all have the support of the police.
The Bahraini opposition consists primarily of people who've been peacefully crying for democracy since February 2011, not partaking in terrorism. Yet, fear of arrest, torture, or death, as well as knowing they're seen as terrorists, kept many potential protesters inside their homes August 14, and could continue to do so for an indefinite amount of time.
This is not to say the Shia will one day violently overthrow the Sunnis and carry out a genocide to get revenge for years of subjection — there's no evidence to back up those claims. Instead, this is a case where people have so demeaningly had their rights stolen, to the point that they aren't even allowed to sit outside their own homes, that it's past time for the world to pay attention and to support the opposition. What happened in Rwanda is not destined to happen in Bahrain, but something similar could. Bahrain is no longer taking strides toward becoming a democracy. Instead, it's mirroring some of the most oppressive countries in recent history.