Like so many young people in the Middle East, Ali dates his political awakening to protest activity, having taken part in demonstrations in Bahrain when they first broke out over a year ago. The 23-year-old, who declined to provide his full name for safety reasons, responded to Millennial Letters’ recent blog post, “Where’s the News Coverage of Bahrain?” by explaining that the opposition is often misunderstood on the outside.
In Bahrain today, “it’s not a simple Sunni vs. Shiite divide,” the young accounting student explains in an e-mail interview. “More accurately, it would be Shiite Islamists + liberals (both Sunni & Shiite) vs. Sunni Islamists + rich liberals close to royal family (which I think is an oxymoron, how can a liberal be pro-dictatorship?).”
Ali is very active on Twitter (@S_Bahraini) and although he lives far away from the main cities, he says he makes a point of attending major opposition-led demonstrations. These protests have also challenged the opposition, he says, because the slogans shouted on the streets—many of which call for the end of the monarchical system—conflict with the stated demands of most opposition parties, many of which he says still call for a reformed monarchy in Bahrain. “It is increasingly awkward for them when they schedule rallies and the protesters call for the fall of the regime,” he says, “and when the groups demand a constitutional monarchy, this angers the crowd, so there is still this disconnect between the parties and the people.”
Ali believes a vote is the only sensible way to address the unrest but the response of the royal family, he says, has been to use state-run media to spread fears of sectarian violence in a bid to split the opposition.
“They told Sunni Islamists that those short-skirt wearing, alcohol-drinking liberals wanted to destroy the Islamic identity of the country and create a secular state (something Sunni Islamists oppose), and they told the moderates that they are paid by Iran to ally themselves with Shiite Islamists to create a Shiite theocracy,” Ali says, adding, “you can imagine the devastating effect this will have on the ground."
Demoralized as Bahrain’s opposition may be (just this week, the Interior Ministry banned all protests after clashes with police), the demands that came out of those initial protests are still going strong. “There is no survey about what the people actually want,” Ali says, “but in almost all rallies, everybody shouts, ‘we want the fall of the regime’—that’s just my observation, but it’s why both the [youth] coalition and the political parties think a referendum is the only way to solve the dispute.”
Photo Credit: Al Jazeera English