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.