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”Apartheid in Bahrain” refers to the systematic discrimination practiced by the Sunni dominated government of Bahrain against the Shia majority of the country’s citizens, as alleged by human rights groups and critics of Bahrain’s policies.
In 1973, the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (ICSPCA) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly: “inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group … over another racial group … and systematically oppressing them.”
In 2002 the crime of apartheid was further defined by Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court as encompassing inhumane acts such as torture, murder, forcible transfer, imprisonment, or persecution of an identifiable group on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, or other grounds, “committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.”
Origins of the apartheid system in Bahrain
The majority of the population of Bahrain are Shia Muslims. Among the Shia are the Baharna, the ancient, indigenous people of the land. Other Shia have arrived more recently. The ruling Al Khalifa family arrived in Bahrain from Kuwait at the end of the eighteenth century.
In Chapter 1 of his book, ”Reaching for Power:The Shi’a in the Modern Arab World,” (Princeton University Press, 2006) Yitzhak Nakash, Professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at Brandeis University the Shia of Bahrain, the indigenous people of the island, describe the in invasion and conquest by the Al Khalifa family in 1783 as illegitimate, and the family’s rule as an illegitimate occupation of Shia land. They allege that the Al Khalifa have failed to gain legitimacy in Bahrain and that the family and its Sunni supporters have established a system of “political apartheid based on racial, sectarian, and tribal discrimination.”
According to Vali Nasr, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of “The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future”, the Sunni élite treats Shi’ites as an underclass, limiting them primarily to manual labor and denying them a fair share of state resources. “For Shi’ites, Sunni rule has been like living under apartheid.”
Operation of the apartheid system in Bahrain
Time Magazine describes the “apartheid-like policies of a ruling Sunni minority over a Shia majority” and the Christian Science Monitor describes Bahrain’s apartheid policies as:
a form of sectarian apartheid by not allowing Shiites to hold key government posts or serve in the police or military. In fact, the security forces are staffed by Sunnis from Syria, Pakistan, and Baluchistan who also get fast-tracked to Bahraini citizenship, much to the displeasure of the indigenous Shiite population.
According to the Bahrain Center for Human Rights “In spite that the Shiites are a majority exceeding 70%, they occupy less than 18% of total top jobs in government establishments. In several government ministries and corporations no Shiite is appointed in leading jobs.”
Jobs in the police and armed forced are reserved for Sunni. Sunni Muslims from favored tribes are admitted to Bahrain as citizens to fill these jobs.
Legal restrictions on residence
Shiites and “some Sunnis of Persian origins”, are banned form residing in the city of Riffa. Only the ruling Sunni Muslims are permitted to live there. Teh city is “almost free” of Shia.
The Bahraini government has made systematic efforts to alter the demographic balance of the majority Shiite country by promoting immigration of Sunni Muslims and granting them citizenship
According to Dr. Saeeid Shahabi, a London-based journalist, commentator and political analyst and member of the Bahrain Freedom Movement “there is the problem of political naturalization. The ruling family — similar to the Apartheid regime in South Africa, where you had a minority ruling a majority — wants to change the demographic situation of the country.”
Condemnations of the Baharaini apartheid system
According to the Bahrain Freedom Movement|Voice of Bahrian, UNHCR resolution (Ref: E/CN.4/Sub.2/1997/L.8):
“Questions of the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including policies of racial discrimination and segregation and of apartheid, in all countries,” is a “resolution condemning the government of Bahrain.”
In the 1997 book, ”Routine abuse, routine denial: civil rights and the political crisis in Bahrain”, Joe Stork of Human Rights Watch, reported that the apartheid practiced against the Shia by the government appeared to be “worsening.” Iranian Press TV describes the systematic descrimination against the “indigenous people” of a policy of “sectarian discrimination, segregation and apartheid.”
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and other scholars, authors and commentators have accused the treatment of the .Shia majority by the Sunni government of Bahrain of similarity to apartheid South Africa.
Particular criticism has been leveled at the fact that Bahrain’s “apartheid” system “bars 70 percent of the population from serving in the army.” Bethany Breeze  “A silent apartheid in Bahrain,” April 1, 2011, University of Idaho Argonaut.
Nicholas Kristof wrote that:
The language of the ruling party sounds a lot to me like the language of white South
Africans — or even like the language of white southerners in Jim Crow America… There’s a fear of the rabble, a distrust of full democracy, a sense of entitlement.”
Irshad Manji condemned as apartheid countries in which the “Sunni Muslim minorities control the Shia majorities.” According to Shibil Siddiqi of the Centre for the Study of Global Power and Politics at Trent University, “Bahrain is virtually an apartheid state.”
Ameen Izzadeen writing in the Daily Mirror asserts that:
After the dismantling of the apartheid regime in South Africa, Bahrain remained the only country where a minority dictated terms to a majority. More than 70 percent of the Bahrainis are Shiite Muslims, but they have little or no say in the government
This has resulted in a system that Ben Cohen calls “apartheid” because “Bahrain is a society where inequality is ethnically rooted, and then buttressed by the denial of civic and political freedoms.”
Writing in the ‘International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice’, Professor Staci Strobl of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice om the describes the demonstrators as “protesting an apartheid system that denies them opportunities equal to those of their Sunni neighbors.”
It has also been asserted that the apartheid policies may negatively impact Bahrain’s economic poiiton as a center for banking and trade in the Gulf. In 1997 the Guardian suggested that “if Bahrain is to preserve its reputation as a financial and service center in the Gulf, then the government must begin to forge a new national consensus and end the apartheid against the Shi’ites”
Calls for a Boycott
In 2010 the Al-Wafa Islamic Movement, Haq Movement and Bahrain Freedom Movement called for a boycott of the October 23 election to the Bahraini Council of Representatives on the grounds that participation would be “tantamount to accepting the unjust sectarian apartheid system.”
Note: Wikibias received a hard copy of the article by an anonymous editor before it was deleted and made inaccessible from Wikipedia. This is the most recent draft of the article available prior to its deletion.