BCHR: Conspiring Against the Shia of Bahrain

January 12, 2007

An overview of the classified study at the heart of the Bandargate scandal; Islamist groups penetrate and influence government and society

Bahrain Center for Human Rights, October 2006
By Zara Al Sitari

http://www.bahrainrights.org/node/652

A report issued by the Gulf Centre for Democratic Development in September 2006, dubbed the ‘Al Bandar report’ detailed an alleged conspiracy by some government officials and Sunni Islamists to politically and economically marginalize Bahrain’s Shia majority. As evidence for the claims, the report included copies of hundreds of checks, banks statements, receipts and correspondence.

Also included as evidence was a copy of a strategic study drawn up by Iraqi Dr Nizar Mohammed Saeed Al-Ani [1] included which describes various mechanisms to achieve these goals in a set of recommendations entitled “Scenarios to improve the general situation of the Sunni sect in Bahrain “. The study is marked as highly classified and is dated September 1, 2005.

A receipt included in the Al Bandar report purportedly shows Dr Al-Ani receiving a payment of BD 3000 on September 1, 2005.

The recommendations of Dr Al-Ani’s study, spanning 14 pages, pave the way for Islamists Sunni groups to penetrate and influence government and society, which is a dangerous policy considering the experience in neighboring Saudi Arabia. In the implementation of this, more Islamists connected to the Muslim brotherhood and Salafist movements were appointed in the government and the judiciary. The main figures in the secret web itself are connected to these two groups. (Ref. Al-Bandar report)

It is highly disturbing that a number of the recommendations directly appeal for the Royal Court to spearhead the actions proposed.

The recommendations include calls for the monitoring of Bahraini Shia communities, creating counterfeit human rights and civil societies to undermine and override the work of genuine activists, rewriting the history of Bahrain with a Sunni bias, and establishing coordination among Gulf Sunnis who feel “threatened” by the Shia majority.

The recommendations are divided into eight sections: Human Development, Improving Living Conditions, Research Centre, Public and International Relations, Preparing Leaders and Prominent Figures, Social Care, Coalition with the Government, and Institutions for Culture and Awareness.

However, they are not the only disturbing aspects of the study. The entire study has been based upon a number of false (and easily disproved) premises which create the idea that Shias in Bahrain are secretly organizing to gain control over the country, and its Sunni minority.

Dr Al-Ani repeatedly refers to “the Shia’s plans to weaken Sunnis” and justifies his recommendations to marginalize Shia Bahrainis based on the idea that the Shia “proliferation” in society poses a threat to Bahraini Sunnis.

The ideas he propagates echo the systematic and sustained policies of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath nationalist party in Iraq, where they were implemented to subjugate the Iraqi Shia majority and Kurdish minority.

Although the programs recommended in Dr Al-Ani’s study are in no way equal to Saddam Hussein’s heinous genocidal campaigns against the Iraqi Shias and Kurds, they do mimic some strategies used by his government in its political, social and economic oppression of both groups.

Examples from Ba’ath controlled Iraq include operations [2] to alter the demographics of various areas in the country (to separate Sunnis from Shias and to dilute Kurdish majorities), housing Kurds in villages with poor quality infrastructure, sanitation and water supplies, and little opportunity for employment, as well as the targeting of Shia cultural and nonpolitical institutions [3].

The study presents itself as a strategy to empower and protect Sunnis in Bahrain, although it simply outlines ways in which to use Sunnis as part of a political agenda against Shias, and to maintain sectarian mistrust and discord.

A number of activities detailed in the leaked Al Bandargate report seem to have been carried out as a result of recommendations made in the study. A secret web lead by a high government official and member of the royal family has been operating in Bahrain with an aim to manipulate the results of coming elections, maintain sectarian distrust and division, and to ensure that Bahrain’s Shias remain oppressed and disenfranchised, according to the report.

As a result of leaking the information, Dr Al Bandar (formerly a strategic planning consultant at the Ministry of Cabinet Affairs) was deported to the United Kingdom on September 13th, as he is a British citizen.

Below is a translation of the most important recommendations from Dr Al-Ani’s study, with additional commentary.

Part one: Human development

  • To work hard and continuously to create and promote religious leaders that are influential, to be able to lead Sunni civil society and to carry considerable weight in the country’s decision making process.
  • To form a college for Sunni Shari’a and Islamic studies, in order to continue preparing religious-based figures, leaders and religious-studies professionals.
  • To look after Sunni young people, provide them with scholarships to continue their university studies. The Royal Court should take active part in this.
  • To focus on training young Sunnis, technically and professionally
  • To encourage educational distinction among Sunnis in all levels of education and all specializations, and encourage and support youth centers for Sunni youth.

Comments:

  • The study suggests that Bahraini Shias have “invaded” and taken leading positions in various government institutions.
  • Around 70 per cent of Bahrainis are Shia [4]. In 2003, out of 572 senior positions in the public sector only 101 (18%) were held by Shias, according to a BCHR report [5] on discrimination.
  • Out of 47 Ministries, only 10 are headed by Shias [6].
  • The House of Representatives includes a Sunni Islamist group of 12, in comparison with a Shia group of 7 [7].
  • There are four major government organizations widely known to be ‘Sunni only’ – these are the Royal Court, the National Guard, the National Security and the Central Informatics Organization (CIO).
    In addition, the recent ‘Khalifisation’ of top government positions is likely to have lowered the number of Shias in key government positions even more than it was when the BCHR carried out its report on discrimination.
    Even the Ministries which do show a greater degree of Shia representation are service-providing ministries such as the Ministry of Works and Housing or Ministry of Health. In these organizations, Shias provide the labor force for largely menial and low level (non-decision making) jobs.
  • The recommendation to promote ‘Arab’ culture may be a subtle reference to the idea that Bahraini Shias are Persian, or allied with Iran, in spite of the fact that the indigenous Arab population of Bahrain is Shia.
  • The reference to Bahrain Training institute (BTI) is also misleading, as it exaggerates the role of BTI in producing highly qualified professionals. For locals, the BTI is attended mostly by those among Bahrain’s unemployed (at least 15 % of the workforce [8]), who are hoping to be trained in skills ‘on demand in the Labor market’. Recently, it has been at the forefront of the Ministry of Labour’s National Employment Programme which seeks to find private sector employment for jobseekers [9].
  • The report claims that Sunni religious figures and scholars are needed to counterbalance the work of the “9 Shia religious schools which graduate religious scholars and figures”. Many of the ‘9 Shia schools’ are in fact non accredited, informal community educational initiatives (often carried out in people’s homes), rather than the sophisticated academic institutions that the report implies.

Part two: Improving Living Conditions

  • To focus on developing the infrastructure in areas where the majorities are Sunni – and solve their housing, roads, services, and youth unemployment problems.
  • To reserve employment in the police, army and national guards for Sunnis, and to form an unofficial secret committee to look after this mission with the support of the cooperative Governors.
  • To establish a fund to finance Sunnis’ business and commercial projects, to increase wealth and money in their hands and their involvement in light manufacturing and in owning and dealing with real estate – and supporting small businesses (all based on the economic-political concept that “he who owns, rules, and he who rules, owns”. This should also be heavily supported by the Royal Court, in lieu of its strategic importance in a dangerously deteriorating situation.

Comments:

  • The study claims that Bahraini Shias have been working towards economic empowerment to better their political situation, and moving to predominantly Sunni areas to alter demographics.
    According to a study on sectarianism in Bahrain released by the International Crisis Group [10] (ICG) last year, informal and formal government practices prevent Shias from living in predominantly Sunni areas. The report also cites the increase in unemployment rates and living costs and high poverty levels.
  • A 2004 report on poverty [11] released by the BCHR states that 25% of employed Bahrainis live below the poverty line, placed at BD 309 (US $817) per month. The increase in poverty levels is matched with an increase in Bahrain’s average annual income, the report states.
  • The BCHR report on discrimination shows that the Shia majority has less than 3% representation in the Interior Ministry and army.
  • The ICG report suggests that the primary sufferers of the unequal wealth distribution are Bahrain’s Shia majority. The membership of the National Unemployment Committee is a testament to this.
  • Recent government efforts to improve housing conditions have focused almost entirely on Sunni areas – local newspapers documenting the Prime Minister’s and King’s visits to Muharraq in September 2006 show this.
    In addition, the Ministry of Works and Housing has begun to allocate reconstruction programs according to area of residence, rather than based on necessity. Applications for reconstruction help from the government are now dealt with based on the area in which the programs are established, and these are Sunni areas.
    This means that even if applications for assistance were filed earlier by some citizens, those filed by citizens living the in the areas where the government has decided to work will be addressed first.
  • In addition, government decrees control the buying and selling of land in Sunni strongholds such as Riffa and Muharraq. Riffa makes up 41% of Bahraini land and Muharraq more than 10 % – which means that Bahrain’s Shia majority are effectively prevented from owning property in 51% of the country.
  • The report claims that ‘the Shia’ have been implementing a ‘he who owns, rules’ policy for the last 30 years, and claims that they have thus managed to alter the country’s demographics by buying property in Sunni areas. The author Dr Al-Anni was only in Bahrain for 7 years so it is unclear as to how he has come to this conclusion, for which he offers no evidence or explanation.
  • The areas he refers to are mainly commercial districts which will have shops owned by Sunnis and Shias.

Part three: Research Centre

  • To establish a more than one research centre specialized in monitoring Shia activities, to track Shia, and what comes out of their books, social movements, and mobilizations of their followers. We should run the centers clandestinely, by giving the impression that it does something else. To employ good, loyal, specialists – among religious figures and intellectuals, who are very loyal to the Sunni and who fear the danger of the Shia plans in this country and the region.
  • To spread awareness among Sunnis on the importance of unity between Bahrain and other GCC countries, because it is the only solution to the sectarian issue – so the Shia can be diluted in a comprehensive sea of Sunnis, among whom they will not number more than 20 or 30%.
  • To have a clear idea what percentage of the population the Shia make up, and how much this percentage increases as compared to the Sunni sect every year.

Comments:

  • The recommendations repeat claims about a Shia plan for ascendancy in Bahrain and adds new claims alleging discrimination faced against Sunnis.
  • The BCHR 2003 report on discrimination [12] cites numerous ways in which ordinary Sunnis are given preferential treatment – in mosque building and senior military and security services positions, as well as in leading Ministries and other public bodies.
  • The study itself advocates discrimination – calling for Sunnis to be given preferential treatment as part of its political agenda – while decrying discrimination.
  • The leaked Al Bandargate [13] report describes the financing of four Jordanian intelligence officials and a ‘Centre for Public Opinion’, both working to monitor political developments related to Bahrain’s Shia population. This suggests the recommendation may already have been enacted.
  • The report cites 7 Shia “research centers” in Tehran and 1 in Qom without qualifying its claim by naming a single one. What are the centers being referred to, and where are the findings of the work they are allegedly providing? This clause serves to build a conspiracy of a Bahraini-Iranian Shia allegiance that is stronger than any national loyalty.
  • Another recent measure which may indicate that this recommendation is being implemented is the drive to employ job-seeking Bahrainis by relocating them to neighboring Gulf countries such as the UAE, Kuwait and Qatar.
    Plans for ‘shared citizenship’ for Gulf nationals will also afford political rights to
    non-residents, and, as the recommendation urges, minimize Shia representation among a ‘sea of Sunnis’.
    This follows the naturalization of thousands of Saudi nationals of the Al Dawaser tribe (see BCHR documentary on naturalization) who have voted in the last elections.
    An exceptional decree allowing the immediate activation of political rights for those who are newly naturalized will also serve the same purpose.

Part four: Public and International Relations

  • To have a working committees abroad – especially in Britain – to call on parliaments and international institutions, and influence them. It should also be used to explain the Shia’s attack on national unity by talking about discrimination. It should also explain their links with Iran. To make this committee successful it should be popular and non governmental, in order to give it more credibility among western politicians.
  • To spread awareness on the importance of Gulf unity among Bahrain and other GCC countries, because it is the only solution to the sectarian issue so the Shia can be diluted in a comprehensive sea of Sunni among which they will not number more than 20 or 30%.
  • To find coordination and cooperation among Sunnis in Bahrain and in other GCC states who are concerned with the spread of the Shia influence, and their seizure of important and sensitive positions, so that we have a comprehensive confrontation against their dangerous positions in the area (not only in Bahrain).

Comments:

  • The recommendation casts doubt on the true demographic make up of Bahrain, implying that Shias may overestimate their representation.
  • While figures vary, encyclopedic sources including Encyclopedia.com, MSN Encarta, Bartleby.com and Infoplease.com all estimate Bahraini Shias to number 70% of the population, or more.
  • The Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society is named in the Al Bandargate [14] report as receiving government funding and support to undermine the work and credibility of genuine human rights and activist groups. The same society recently opened an office in London [15]. This suggests that point one of this recommendation may already have been implemented.

Part five: Preparing Leaders and Figures

  • To look after Sunni Arabs, increase their occupation of high ranking and sensitive positions in the state and improving their financial and social status in order to ensure reproduction and encourage them to stay rather than moving to other neighboring countries.

Comments:

  • The recommendation calls for Arab Sunnis from other countries to be settled in Bahrain with highly-paid jobs and social security in order that they stay in Bahrain and produce more Sunni children.
  • It basically advocates the highly contentious but as yet unacknowledged naturalization program privileging non-Bahraini Sunnis in a bid to alter the country’s demographics.
  • The issue has been referred to by the International Crisis Group [16], the BCHR [17], and dealt with in an independent study [18] posted by a blogger on Bahrain’s informal news network.

Part six: Social Care

  • To make it easy for young Sunnis to get married. There are 10,000 young Sunni men who need financial aid to get married and the Royal Court should play a role in this in order to insure the increase in Sunni reproduction. The governorates should adopt mass wedding projects in a way that guarantees that the Sunnis benefit from it – not others (the Shia).
  • To encourage young Sunni men to marry more than one wife and encourage them to have lots of children. There are 12,000 unmarried Sunni girls, and this number is increasing.
  • To clear Sunni areas from corruption and the building of hotels and apartments with bad reputations, that will have an impact on the morality of Sunni boys and girls.

Part seven: Coalition with the State

  • To put an end to the increasing Shia proliferation in some public ministries and institutions where they make up more than 70 to 90 per cent of employees, such as the Health Ministry, Electricity and Water Ministry, Gulf Air, Alba. . They are taking advantage of institutions related to safety and security such as the BAPCO refinery, and highly sensitive positions in BATELCO. These positions could be used to monitor and spy on high ranking government officials.

Comments:

  • The study specifically names the Ministry of Water and Electricity and Bahrain Petroleum Company (Bapco) as having been ‘proliferated’ by Shias. It states that Shias should not be allowed to hold such ‘sensitive’ positions in institutes which control such important resources to the country.
  • Out of the 25 senior positions available at the Ministry of Water and Electricity, 5 (25%) are held by Shias, according to the 2003 BCHR report on discrimination.
  • Out of the 16 senior ranking positions available at the Ministry of Health, 6 (38%) are held by Shias, the report shows.
  • This is a in glaring contrast to the fact that around 70 % of Bahrainis are Shia [19].
  • In 2003, out of 572 senior positions in the public sector only 101 (18%) were held by Shias, according to a BCHR report on discrimination.
  • Out of 47 Ministries, only 10 (21%) are headed by Shias.
  • Out of the 68 positions at the rank of undersecretary in Ministries, 7 (11%) are held by Shias, and out of the 47 positions at the rank of assistant undersecretary, 10 (21%) are held by Shias [20].
  • According to Ministry of Cabinet Affairs and Ministry of Information sources [21], it appears that Shia representation in high ranking Ministry posts has decreased even further since 2003.

Part eight: Culture and Awareness Institutions

  • To rewrite the history of the country, where it should highlight the political, cultural and religious roles of Sunni leaders, intellectual and religious figures. It is important to ignore the history charted by a committee formed to write Bahrain’s history, since this dangerous job was given to a Shia minister.
  • The Bahrain Human Rights Society and Bahrain Centre for Human Rights are only fighting for Shias rights, and no one else. They manipulate the membership of these two societies completely and kick out Sunnis – which means that we should have our own human rights society, without their discrimination.
  • To look after and support people who converted from being Shia to Sunni – and encourage others to do the same, and get hold of information that could be provided by them about the Shia community they were part of.

Comments:

  • The recommendation claims that a distorted history of Bahrain privileges ‘the role of the Shia’ and prominent Shia figures. It ignores the fact that the majority of indigenous Bahrainis are Shia. Historical records suggest that Bahrainis became Shia after the death of the prophet Mohammed, as long ago as 632 CE [22].
  • It claims the BCHR and Bahrain Human Rights Society work only to secure the rights of Shias.
    In fact, the BCHR has spearheaded efforts on behalf of various groups including migrant workers [23] in Bahrain, and Arab detainees at Guantanamo Bay [24].
    The Bahrain Human Rights Society too has been working on issues such as women’s rights [25] and prison conditions [26].
  • An elaborate sectarian ‘switch’ program is described in the Al Bandargate [27] report. It appears to show that financial assistance is being supplied to Shias who become Sunni, and that individuals implicated in the report are monitoring such conversions. This suggests that point three of this recommendation may already have been acted upon.

References

  1. Dr Nizar Al-Ani is currently chancellor of the newly formed Ittihad University in Abu Dhabi (link). He was the University of Bahrain head of training and development in 2005, and before that University of Bahrain Centre of Measurement and Evaluation director. He was among 8 national consultants selected to assist with facilitation and documentation carried out by groups working to draw up an action plan for Bahrain’s National Youth Strategy (link). More recently, he acted as a rapporteur for the economic department of the Organisation of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC)’s 8th Arab Energy Conference held in Amman, Jordan, in May this year (link). A receipt in the Al Bandargate purportedly shows him receiving a payment of BD 3000.
  2. Carried out alongside or in addition to murderous military campaigns.
  3. Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan, Human Rights Developments and Endless Torment: The 1991 Uprising in Iraq And Its Aftermath, Human Rights Watch
  4. MSN Encarta
  5. Discrimination in Bahrain: The Unwritten Law, Bahrain Center for Human Rights
  6. Ibid
  7. CIA World Fact book
  8. Ibid.
  9. Bahrain’s National Employment Project
  10. International Crisis Group – Bahrain’s Sectarian Challenge
  11. BCHR report on poverty
  12. BCHR report Discrimination in Bahrain: The Unwritten Law
  13. Gulf Centre for Democratic Development leaked Al Bandargate” report
  14. Ibid
  15. Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society opens a London office, Gulf Daily News, 28 August 2006
  16. Bahrain’s Sectarian Challenge, International Crisis Group
  17. BCHR documentary transcript ‘Political Naturalisation in Bahrain’
  18. Independent study
  19. MSN Encarta
  20. All statistics in this section taken from BCHR report ‘Discrimination in Bahrain: The Unwritten Law’
  21. Ministry of Cabinet Affairs gazette and Ministry of Information website
  22. Voice of Bahrain group’s ‘Bahrain Briefing’ and Wikipedia CD Selection Bahrain page
  23. Holding Back and Confiscating Passports of Migrant Workers and Forbidding Them from Traveling As A Means of Blackmailing, Forced Labor and Slavery, Bahrain Center for Human Rights
  24. Bahrain: Sana’a Committee seeking the release of prisoners in Guantanamao, Amnesty International, Manama meeting 31 July 2004
  25. Push for treaty to protect women’s rights, Bahrain Human Rights Society
  26. Bahrain Human Rights Society carry out inspection of Bahrain prison, Gulf Daily News, 25 December 2005
  27. Gulf Centre for Democratic Development “Al Bandargate” report
  28. Advertisements

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