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Guardian: The Real Story of Bahrain's Divided Society

Author: Tahiyya Lulu
March 3, 2011

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Tahiyya Lulu explains how, "Bahrain's regime has driven a wedge between Sunnis and Shias with its denial of civil rights and promotion of economic disparity".

Describing a pro-government demonstration in Bahrain last week, Michael Slackman wrote in the New York Times that it was an affluent crowd, very different from the mostly low-income Shia who were protesting against the government. "The air was scented with perfume, and people drove expensive cars," he said.

While local and international media talk repeatedly about Bahrain's sectarian divide, demonstrators on both sides insist there is Shia-Sunni unity. So what, exactly, is going on?

First, some facts. The majority of Bahrainis – about 70% – are Shia, and the majority of pro-reform/anti-government demonstrators at the Pearl Roundabout are Shia. It is true, also, that Bahrain is ruled by a Sunni royal family, and that the majority of participants at pro-government rallies appear to be Sunnis.

This is not to say that all Bahraini Sunnis are rich or that being Shia is always synonymous with being poor. As many commentators will point out, Bahrain is home to economically powerful Shia families and high-ranking Shia government officials.

But the facts of the matter speak for themselves. Corruption, crony capitalism and a lack of transparency add up to uneven development and a vast disparity in wealth. By and large, Bahrain's Shia are losing out in the country's economic boom.

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