March 10, 2006

how literate is your MP

This being the world’s most politically correct island, it is idyllically refreshing to come across someone who bares it all in plainspoken, spur of the moment kind of talk on a clouding issue of the day. Especially on a question regarded by many of sectarian bent as the biggest issue facing this small country: the economic inequality of the Shia of the land and the systemic discrimination they face in public sector employment. From airport security gates to the passport office counters to the hospital corridors, there exists such a blunt sectarian division of labour, you could easily pin point the sectarian affiliation of a person -with a 98.4% accuracy- by simply asking where he works, if any.

Our respected but never elected government had never even tried to acknowledge this of course. (Last year, it emphatically told a UN panel that no form of racial, ethnic or sectarian discrimination exists in the country). And the tendency among political and business elites is to skate around the issue or just offer niceties and silky talk about it. The Shia themselves, ever the most politically correct and sensibility conscious creatures of the animal kingdom, hardly broach the issue in an open and straight manner. (One notable exception is a research done by the -naturally dissolved- Bahrain Centre for Human Rights). So, when someone of note diverges from the fold to freely speak his mind on the grave issue, we insignificant others have to pause and take note.

That courageous soul was the honourable Yousif Al-Harmi. (For those not au courant with our nascent democracy, let me hasten to say he is an MP of the “Chamber of Deputies”, one of many who won their seats thanks to a largely boycotting constituency). He told it as it is to yesterday’s Al-Waqt newspaper. He has the floor:

The honourable MP: The Shia view themselves as the oppressed ones, as if the Sunnis live pampered with luxuries. By this erroneous belief, they are isolating themselves from the country.

The unemployment issue has been politicized. I was the official in the Ministry of Labour overseeing Bahrainization at the time, and I noticed how the overwhelming majority of applicants to private sector jobs were Shia, while the Sunni applicants were few. But this is a result of the Shia students dropping out of primary school. They drop out of intermediate and high school as well. The Sunnis go on to finish school. They get university degrees. And they get good public sector jobs.

Having too many children is a factor too. People have to understand that bringing many children carry financial burdens with it. More children mean lower income.

Thus, if the Shia find themselves unemployed, underemployed or altogether at the bottom of the economic heap, it is undeniably their fault. They seem to lack the cultural and educational wherewithal, or something as basic as self discipline in the classroom or the bedroom, to succeed. That might qualify as a racist insult in a country like the U.S., but thankfully here is no North America, nor would the Shia ever concede to being branded as latter day niggers of the Arabian Gulf.

One is tempted to dismiss the above as a largely ignorant if not purely mental remark, but unfortunately it is far from being an isolated sentiment. A couple of back page columnists have for long harped on the same tune. And royals and big merchants alike have whispered the same line of comment to visiting foreign journalists. It leaves you to ponder, do our esteemed brethrens have access to undisclosed census data showing the Shia of the land with way higher dropout rates and fecundity levels than their Sunni compatriots? Are these guys finely tuned to some other anecdotal evidence we are not privy to? Could the sheer number of Shia be explained by the fact they predated everyone else on the island and were the quasi totality of its inhabitants until two centuries ago?


At 1:06 PM, Blogger Haitham Salman said...

Nicely written


At 6:33 PM, Blogger SillyBahrainiGirl said...

I was watching award-winning movie Crash the other night... and I turned to my better half and asked him whether is was possible that the Shia of Bahrain could be feeling the same way as the Blacks of the US!

I won't relate the exchange we had here because I can't ;)

I couldn't but smile when I read this:

That might qualify as a racist insult in a country like the U.S., but thankfully here is no North America, nor would the Shia ever concede to being branded as latter day niggers of the Arabian Gulf.

MR, Why do you think the Shia of Bahrain in particular "wouldn't ever concede to being branded as latter day niggers of the Arabian Gulf"??

At 11:04 PM, Blogger MR said...

Haitham, nice of you to drop by.

SBG, how could i say it without appearing awfully bigoted (on top of being hatefully sectarian)?

To my mind, the white-black analogy implies a lopsided power relation on various levels: political, economic, intellectual, etc (but not the moral level obviously). A typical Shia may readily concede his free fall from political and economic graces but certainly not from the intellectual grace. Unlike, his Black counterpart - and i may be stereotypically unfair here- he doesn't feel the need to prove the "intellectual contribution" case.

If anything, a Shia islander who can cite a Mu3allaqa poet (Tarfah), a theosophical giant (Sh. Maytham) a distinct juridical school (Akhbariah), and unending millennial stream of poets and poetry as but few examples of superior "intellectual output" compared to you know who would feel quite the contrary.

Apart from that, a nigger of the Gulf he is.

At 5:21 PM, Blogger SillyBahrainiGirl said...


Fair enough!!

At 1:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can I just say that I think you're the only blogger based in Bahrain worth reading? (apart from Chan'ad that is). Cogent, clear, thorough analytical writing laced with subtle wit and humour.It's enough to make a girl.. Sigh..

At 1:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

P.s. No, I didn't assume you were male... The sigh still stands. T'would be nice if you posted more frequently.

At 1:07 PM, Blogger MR said...

Anon, that's overly gracious of you to say. But I wish to differ (while the sigh lasts), there are at least half a dozen of local blogs, so admirably written that this one can not even begin to compare to. Around here, disappointment is guaranteed.

At 2:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A small country with less than half a million where most of the people know each other as my Shi'a and Sunni friends come together at every occasion (wedding, holidays and funerals), I, as an expatriate based in Bahrain for three years, was not able to comprehend why the people of the Island dislike (to put charitably) each other.

The Shi’a would not like less for the Sunnis to leave the Island and the Sunnis would not grieve if all the Shia move to Qum. That is my observation perhaps validated by what is happening in Iraq.

At 10:28 PM, Blogger MR said...

Anon, the Shia don't dislike the Sunnis, but they hate the state of subjegation they are in. They don't wish for the Sunnis to leave the island, but they would love to see the indifference to their plight do.


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