02 June 2007

Bahrain on CNN

On June 1st, CNN aired what it called an "in-depth look" at Bahrain, in an 8 minute segment that can be viewed here.

Hala Gorani, presenter of "Inside the Middle East," apparently was in Bahrain, interviewing Shi'a poor villagers, Nabeel Rajab, and a couple of government Ministers. The program started with an assertion that Bahrain, despite being one of the world's richest countries in terms of per capita GDP, has a "hidden population." Political and economic issues in Bahrain were reduced to " long-standing tensions" between the " poor Shi'a majority" and the "ruling Sunni elite." And that's that.

First of all, let's just say that an 8-minute segment cannot possibly present an "in-depth" look into anything, even as small as Bahrain. Most importantly, though, looking at the political, social, and economic tensions in Bahrain from a black-and-white, Sunni-vs-Shi'i lense just misses the realities on the ground. Poverty is not an exclusively-Shi'a phenomenon as it was presented on the program. The Sunnis are not an "elite" enjoying exclusive access to power and wealth. Classifying the Sunni-Shi'a tensions as "long-standing" in Bahrain, moreover, is just plainly ignorant of Bahrain's history and social structure.

I must say I'm disappointed at Nabeel Rajab. Everything he said indicated concern over the Shi'a of Bahrain and only the Shi'a of Bahrain. Instead of being what he is, an activist for human rights and freedom, he appeared as a sectarian figure consumed by paranoia that "they just don't want us to be empowered economically so we don't take over the government." With all due respect, this branding political tensions as purely sectarian is both wrong and irresponsible. Reform, if that's what we're looking for, will not happen if the opposition alienates a whole section of the population. "Driving" all the Sunnis in the government arms by manipulating their fear of a "Shi'a" threat is a catastrophicl strategy. Whether we like it or not, the political system of Bahrain is authoritarian. If you're in the opposition, chances are you will be repressed and silenced, whether you are Sunni or Shi'i. CNN seems to have missed this basic fact. .

Discrimination exists. Corruption exists. There are different grievances on many levels. But reform, freedoms, and equal rights in Bahrain cannot be achieved by campaigning for the rights of one sect only. Complaining that Shi'a are not in high government levels is not the way to ask for political rights. In fact, we do have a lot of Shi'a in high government positions, but what does that mean for the rural villages? Nothing. The government appointed and will continue to appoint Shi'a who are pro-government, and yet the authoritarian nature of the system is unchanged.

I suppose the one ray of light in this program was the absence of all other opposition figures. I'm assuming they were asked and refused because they had enough sense not to be involved in this. The opposition should definitely not allow itself to be sucked into reverse-sectarianism. In Bahrain in particular, our opposition cannot afford to alienate the Sunni population. We are too small to turn our political struggle into civil strife.


The Observer said...

Hi Lulu

i can not see the post"ungrateful bastards" on your blog!

love your blog

Kindest Regards

can we talk said...

your analysis is spot on, lulu.
the fear is that views like this would naturally alienize sunnis who are being categorized as part of "the ruling minority" instead of as "citizens with grievances" themselves.
why is cnn misrepresenting the truth? is it ignorance? or is it intentional?

Shahrayar said...

Totally agree ……it was subjective, they should have also visited Riffa they are plenty of poor Sunni’s living the same conditions.

LuLu said...

hi observer, technical difficulties.. will try to re-post & thanks!

"they should have also visited Riffa they are plenty of poor Sunni’s living the same conditions."
- Of course there is more povery among the Shi'a, and in a way a correlation exists. The majority of the opposition are Shi'a, who therefore historically have not benefited from certain government privilages that were awarded to its allies. But this disparity is political at its roots, not religious or sectarian. Turning it into a sectarian issue only plays into the hands of the government. A. It ensures that the Sunnis are mobilized in defense of the government instead of actually mobilizing for their grievances as citizens (most of which they share with the Shia) and B. it gives the government the perfect tool to rally surrounding countries in its defense against the "Shia forces".
I wouldn't say this was intentional or consporatorial, but it is definitely an ignorant move by CNN, especially as regional events are already fueling sectarian divides in the region.

Anonymous said...

This is incomplete reporting which has only showed one side of the story. There are problems.. which country does not have one? No housing, unhappy with govt salary but what about those Sunnis who also are living in the same condition. It's not a fair! Citizens expected a lot from the opposition figures , but they have not performed. The first term is completed and can anyone tell me what major law was passed. What was their achievements? Anger is boiling .... but then who CARES!


Anonymous said...

You are an idiot. Both you and that fat hippo who lives in a fairy land seem to have a "be different and you'll become popular" complex.

You seriously believe that the problem of poverty in Bahrain doesn't split evenly across sectarian lines? Let me guess, you're Sunni so it would be inconvenient for you to believe that your sect is being deemed the rich minority vs the poor Shia majority right?

I'm not pan anything and I'd have a cup of tea with a person who idolizes goats' fingernails without a problem, but I'm irritated to the bone by people who try to lessen the suffering of the Shia by making it seem like we're all living in a nice little peter pan world where we're all brothers and sisters, and yeah sure, some are poor, but hey that's life, let's work on solving their problems the hippy way.

Have a stroll through Sitra, Bani Jamrah, Sanabis, Jidhafs, Diraz, Boori and the countless other villages and you'll see the conditions we live in. No green grass for us, no nice pavements for us, no uncut electricity for us, ...

Go through 6 damn years of higher education at the absolutely top university in existence in your field only to come back and format PCs while a fat bastard sits behind a desk and gets a BD3,000 salary just for being (fill in the blank) and you'll understand our frustration.

Poor people in Riffa, pfft...give me a break.

LuLu said...

the poverty in Riffa was obviously a sarcastic comment, anonymous.

Your input is valuable but your should try to be less hostile and more civilized if you would like your point to be heard..

Also, I think life is anything but rosy in Bahrain, so I advise you to actually READ my blog before you comment. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I dont know if its ignorance or just stupidity, but the corrupt government of this country is very secatrian. Arguing otherwise, is a lack of understanding of the very clear historical record. Shia are oppresses IN EVERY ARAB country, and the situation is no different in Bahrain.

Regarding the poor neighborhoods in Riffa, I really dont know whether to laugh or cry at the absurdity of that assertion

Anonymous said...

(anon who posted on June 4, 2007 1:15 AM)

Well, I've no choice but to swallow my pride and say thanks for replying so calmly despite my somewhat emotional comment. You just struck a nerve with me. But anyway I shouldn't have directed my feelings of the king and the mofos who run his sick show at you.

Manaf Almuhandis said...

Hi Lulu

Its quite sarcastic that the columns that rose with pitch forks on the newspapers clearlt DID NOT watch that peice! At all. Stupid idiots.
As someone who was part of the local press scene (to my shame) I cxan tell you no journalist investigation ever takes place. If any, it is way too shallow.
Columnists just heard something and commented on it. Tsk tsk.

As for the peice itself, intresting if rather very myopic. I do not agree completely with it.

Anonymous said...

i second you, people should try to change this image of a shia vs. sunni struggle, Mohammed al-Othman in al-Wasat today (6-6-07) wrote a good article about the CNN report

error said...

"Driving" all the Sunnis in the government arms by manipulating their fear of a "Shi'a" threat is a catastrophicl strategy.

Some really wise words from lulu

And lulu, you’re right! A 15 minute segment would be more adequate in this matter :P

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