Politics & Policy

Sunnis Fear Revolution in Bahrain

In Pearl Square, it is the Muslim minority members who are worried about a democratic government being more decidedly Shiite in character. A very interesting read


Not everyone wants democracy, or sympathizes with the popular protests crashing across the Middle East.

Not here, anyway, where the ruling elite protects a way of life for a minority Sunni population that fears and resents the political demands of the Shiite-dominated opposition.

Changing a political system, by necessity, means there will be winners and losers, a reality which has sent a chill through parts of the Sunni community here after days of protest by those seeking to alter the status quo in this small country. Their resistance to change may help explain why the government seems confident that it can retain enough public support to carry out the ruthless suppression of the protests that it began on Thursday.

“I don’t want a democracy,” said Rayyah Mohammed, 32, an art project director and strong supporter of King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. “I want a monarchy. I like how things are. I have a job. I have a house. I have free health care.”

Bahrain is gripped in what its citizens see as an existential political battle, where the leadership insists on preserving an absolute monarchy and the opposition is demanding a new constitution and elected parliament.

For the most part, the protesters are widely regarded as the good guys in a battle against uncompromising rulers willing to use lethal force to preserve their domain.

But there is another world here, one populated by those who have benefited from an order that they see as a guardian against the kind of compromise, inevitable in a democracy, that might work against their interests. They see their leaders as protecting their freedom, while they see democracy as perhaps imposing on them demands they do not want to meet.

This is especially true in a place like Bahrain, which is divided along sectarian lines and politics is often regarded as a zero-sum game — if Sunnis win, then Shiites lose, in a community where sectarian identification continues to trump national identity.

“We are pro-government, we are pro-king, we don’t want what they want,” said Ahmed Zainal, 27, a public relations executive.

When the protests began, on Monday, a group of young professionals, a public relations director, an art curator, a banker and educator, asked to have their voices be heard as to why they support the king and reject the protesters. They were Ms. Mohammed, the curator, Mr. Zainal, the public relations executive; Bashayer Ali, 31, a banker; and Suhaib Abdullah, 25, a graduate student assistant. Ms. Ali’s father is a Shiite, and the rest were Sunni.

During 90 minutes over coffee in a street side café in the city, they offered a critical counterpoint to the protesters. While the Shiites see themselves as discriminated against and marginalized, these children of the upper middle class, say the Shiites are largely responsible for their own plight, a position that seemed to overlook established patters of discrimination in Bahrain. They said that what the demonstrators wanted was not democracy, but superiority.

They blamed the Shiites for having too many children, for not willing to work hard and for demanding handouts from the government.

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