Adrian Hamilton: Bahrain's uprising is about power not religion

International Studies

Share
Related Topics

Sunni. Shia. Every time the protests in Bahrain are mentioned, they are made into a battle between these two branches of Islam, as if this was a war of religions.

It's not about religion, it's about power and the desire for political change. Of course, in terms of power, it matters that 65 per cent of the population of Bahrain is Shia but 95 per cent of authority and most of the wealth belongs to the Sunni royal family and its close circle.

But to put it in terms of a religious division is not only misleading, it also plays into the hands of those in Washington, as in Riyadh, who want to see everything through the prism of the confrontation with Iran and the fear of a so-called "Shia arc" emerging through the Gulf.

It's grossly exaggerated. The Iranians, ethnically Indo-European, have always had problems of influence among the Arab Shia of the region. So far Iran seems to have played virtually no part in this uprising.

To put the Bahraini demonstrations in Muslim terms is simply a diversion from the real problem, which is that a major part of the population has had it up to the neck with a corrupt and self-serving regime which has garnered the wealth of the island to a small group of royal rich and left the majority excluded. As Ibrahim Shareef, leader of the largest non-religious party in the country, the opposition Waad, put it succinctly this week: "This is not about the Shia versus Sunni; it is about conserving the status quo."

It is the same as in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, the difference being that Bahrain – or rather the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa, the King's uncle – is beholden to neighbouring Saudi Arabia, which has its own problems with minorities and has every fear of the same thing happening there.

The decision to send in Saudi troops, together with police from the United Arab Emirates, makes it depressingly clear where we now stand in the Gulf region so far as protests are concerned. The royalist regimes are not going to tolerate them. There's now a state of emergency in Bahrain, demonstrations have been banned in Saudi Arabia, there's a violent crackdown (also encouraged b y the Saudis) in the Yemen.

Talk of moderate reform, of keeping King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa in Bahrain but firing his wealthy, long-serving prime minister, is now being swept aside. Sheikh Khalifa will survive (which in itself is an interesting comment on the relative power of uncle and nephew), as may the Yemeni president.

That is not entirely good news for the Obama administration, which had urged the idea of compromise, partly to make its support for the Gulf regimes more acceptable back home and partly to forestall total revolution in the future.

As in Libya, it's also deeply dispiriting for those outside, as within, who looked for peaceful change in the Arab world. Yet the latest events in Bahrain should not be the cause for total pessimism. Even if protest is suppressed for the moment, it has happened and has been seen around the world to have happened. That must aggravate the feeling of anger among a resentful people within the country, for whom violent oppression has given added grievance.

It must also affect confidence among investors abroad, who must now put a question mark over the future stability and security of these royalist regimes. That applies to western governments as well, particularly the US for whom the base in Bahrain and the oil in Saudi Arabia is of crucial importance. Alternative strategies for security and for energy are bound now to be considered.

That may not be of enormous comfort to the protesters brutally ejected from Pearl Square, or the doctors and nurses desperately trying to care for the sick and the wounded in the hospital surrounded by security forces firing tear gas into the building.

But the story isn't over. Far from it. The genie is now out of the bottle and a thousand Saudi soldiers are not going to be enough to put it back in.

The real nuclear fears in Japan

The Japanese response to the threat of a nuclear explosion has been fundamentally shaped, commentators keep saying, by the experience of the atomic bombs. Of course it has, but not really as far as civil nuclear power is concerned. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were taken as images of monstrous attack by foreign powers. They have had the effect of turning the Japanese towards pacifism, total destruction being seen as the product of war. Less constructively they have also allowed the Japanese to see themselves as victims as much as perpetrators of violence in the last war, in a way the Germans could not (although recent books on the atrocities in Germany committed by the invading Russians are being used to open up thoughts of victimhood).

Nuclear power, on the other hand was viewed as a Japanese technical response to the outside threat from dependency on oil imports. Traditional attitudes towards man and nature have, it is true, given the country a strong Green movement of its own. But in this case the real damage from threatened nuclear meltdown is confidence in the government and the companies. To have to bring the emperor onto the airwaves showed just how seriously the authorities are now taking the incident and the concern over possible public panic. That may be the real legacy of this crisis, not confidence in nuclear power as such (the Japanese still feel the danger from reliance on imports for their energy) or some intrinsic sense of atomic terror.



a.hamilton@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage  

A politically correct lefty goes to see Top Gear live – you'll probably believe what happened next

Simon Usborne
Ed Balls has ruled out a return to politics - for now  

For Labour to now turn round and rubbish what it stood for damages politics even more

Ian Birrell
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?