Arguments related to discrimination against Shi’a

Presented by: Bahrain Center for Human Rights, March 4, 2005

Shi’a and Sunnis share the same religion (Islam) but not the same origin:

  • The ruling Sunnis belong to tribal Arabs who came to Bahrain from Bedouin areas in Saudi Arabia, none of the Bahrainis of tribal origin belong to Shi’a sect.
  • Shi’a have always been farmers, fishermen and merchants, none of the Shi’a is of tribal Bedouin origin.
  • Shi’a and Sunnis mix in some new districts in the cities, but the majority live in different suburbs and villages.
  • You could easily distinguish between a Shi’a and a Sunni from family name and accent.

Therefore it has been easy to discriminate against Shi’a in daily life, in employment and public services.

Does the “democracy” introduced in Bahrain serve unity and the combat of discrimination?

During the disturbances in the nineties calling for democratization, all people who were killed or injured, and all of the many thousands who were arbitrary arrested and tortured were Shi’a.

In 2001, 98.4% of Bahrainis voted in favor of the Charter of National Action, but when the constitutional amendment declared by the new king in February 2002, tension start to build up again. The constitutional amendments give the king the right to appoint half of the members of the parliament, which is considered as monopolizing the democratic system against the well of the majority.

Also, in August 2002 an electoral measure gerrymandered parliamentary district boundaries to dilute Shi'a votes. The Government divided the country into imbalanced sectarian constituencies. For example, in the southern governorate, where newly naturalized persons reside (tribal Sunnis), a block of around 2000 voters hold a seat in parliament, whilst in the central and northern governorate, where the majority are Shi’a, block of around 7800 voters hold one seat.

Naturalization as a mean of gross demographic changes in favor of tribal-Sunnies:

Measures were taken to limit the electoral power of the Shi'a majority included granting Bahraini citizenship and the right to vote to 20,000 tribal Sunnies from Saudi Arabia, without having to fulfill the criteria of citizenship. These people are Suadi nationals who never lived in Bahrain. They belong mainly to "Al Dawaser Bedouin tribe.

On the other hand, the Government secretly and by-passing the normal laws, granted Bahraini nationality and the right to vote to several thousands of tribal Sunnis and their families, who were brought from Jordan, Yemen and Syria, to work in the army and the security force. As a result, four most of Shi'a boycotted the October 2002 parliamentary elections. The outcome, as widely expected, were a victory for pro- government candidates, especially Sunnis, while representation of Shi’a majority is marginal, 12 out of 40 members.

Concluding remark:

Since discrimination against Shi’a majority is a major form of discrimination in Bahrain that affects the life and rights of the majority of the citizens, and sense it is a main source of social an political instability for a long time, it is essential to address this problem and to seek information about in search for solutions and redress.

(for references and more details, please refer to the alternative report)

Suggested Questions:

What is the reality of granting citizenship to tribal arabs from other Arab countries without fulfilling the criteria of period of residents (15 years)? How many are they? Of what sectarian origin? Where they allowed to participate in recent elections? Is it true, that one of the main official reasons behind the closure of the “Bahrain Center for Human Rights” was a seminar and a report on Discrimination and favoritism in Bahrain?