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Claims of economic bias in Bahrain challenged

Manama, May 8, 2013

Allegations that Bahrain's Shi'ite community suffers from economic discrimination have been disputed in a report compiled by an independent expert, who accuses opposition groups of lying about the extent of hardships being faced.

The study was carried out over 18 months by Prague-based Metropolitan University Department of International Relations and European Studies founder and head Dr Mitchell Belfer, who is putting together a book on Bahrain, the Gulf Daily News reported.

He embarked on the project following opposition claims that the country's Shi'ite community was underrepresented, excluded from economic life, experienced inequality in pay and was more likely to be unemployed.

However, his results led him to accuse anti-government activists of engaging in "demographic slander" by twisting facts to suit their agenda, undermine the government and incite sectarianism.

The "Demographic Warfare" report was compiled based on staff data at six government ministries, five government agencies, 17 high-income sectors, five banks, 10 major employers and 10 top Shi'ite-owned firms.

Dr Belfer's research indicated there was equal representation of Shia and Sunni in the economy, with Shi'ite staff massively outnumbering the Sunni workforce in several ministries and agencies, as well as in some of the country's largest private organisations.

He also alleged discrimination against Sunni Muslims by 10 major Shi'ite-owned companies, which he said employed 2,648 people in total.

The study found that an average of 98.1 per cent of staff at those firms were Shi'ite, although the research did not document levels of Shi'ite employment in Sunni-owned companies.

"Such statistics only seek to show that the theory of economic desperation and disempowerment is false," says the report by Dr Belfer, who is also the editor-in-chief of the Central European Journal of International and Security Studies (CEJISS).

The report also disputes allegations by opposition groups such as Al Wefaq National Islamic Society that Bahrain was trying to reduce the footprint of the Shi'ite population by granting Bahraini citizenship to expats - arguing that immigrants were being unfairly politicised by such claims.

"Few have truly sought to learn about the people who are being politicised for nothing more than gaining Bahraini nationality through the many channels open to immigrants; asylum seekers, economic migrants, regular immigrants, etc," says the report.

"Despite the near deafening depiction that immigrants are mercenaries working to suppress the 'majority Shia', most immigrants to Bahrain - over the past century - are hardly Sunni zealots seeking to eliminate the country's Shia; they tend to be either the politically vanquished or the economically downtrodden.

"They come from around the world; the Philippines, Kurdistan, Eritrea, Sudan, Turkey, Western Europe and the US and, for the past century, they have steadily come from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Baluchistan and from throughout the Middle East.

"It is on this last destination that pause for reflection is most needed since the cases of Palestinian and Syrian immigrants to Bahrain clearly demonstrate that Bahrain's immigration policy is not intended to alter the demographic situation on the ground - it has already been widely acknowledged by the Bahraini government that Bahrainis, Shia and Sunni, are the minority in the country - but is designed in a way to provide political safety and economic opportunity for those that require it most."

Although Dr Belfer's report does not cover staffing at the Defence Ministry and Interior Ministry, it describes allegations that the Shi'ite community is disenfranchised as false and states such allegations only serve to polarise society.

"There is clear evidence that Shia Bahrainis enjoy the distribution of economic benefits from many of the country's key sectors and industries," it says.

The report warns of the dangers of trying to misrepresent employment opportunities for the Shi'ite community in Bahrain and advises members of the public to challenge such claims by opposition groups.

"It is not prudent to simply allow demographic slander to go unchecked, these lines of argumentation need to be openly challenged not for Bahrain as a state, but for the very people who live within it, those who found shelter, safety and security in the Kingdom, who call it home while Al Wefaq calls them strangers and mercenaries," it says.

It also highlights the dangers of assuming that all members of the Shi'ite community are opponents of the government, particularly since many Bahraini Shia of Persian descent (known as the Ajam) are loyal to the ruling family after their ancestors were welcomed in Bahrain.

In addition, the report refutes the notion that Bahrain is a country divided between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims.

"The country is not a simple case of Sunnis and Shia Muslims competing for dominance of the political and economic resources of the state," it says. "Sunnis and Shia are joined by many other identities, not least of Bahrainis.

"Despite the manipulation of demographics to attempt to delegitimise Bahrain's immigration policy, and the government by extension, Bahrain continues to be a vibrant society where the majority of all citizens and residents from the full spectrum of ethnic, religious, linguistic, social and political groups enjoy freedom of speech, of assembly, of worship, of association." – TradeArabia News Service




Tags: Bahrain | Sunni | Shi’ite |

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