Human rights violations in Syria have drawn major international attention; and likewise, Bahraini loyalists have been demonstrating support for the people of Syria and urging intervention to end this crisis. Meanwhile, (perhaps surprisingly) the Bahraini opposition has shown rather less interest in the Syrian issue, at a time when loyalists are organizing weekly rallies in solidarity with the Syrian people and raising funds to help victims of the regime.

Citizens for Bahrain canvassed wide numbers of Bahrainis (phone calls, discussions & social media polls). Below, we illustrate the kinds of responses we encountered:

“Assad has gone too far”

Bahrainis in general think that the Syrian opposition seeks freedom. “President Al Assad has gone too far with killing innocent people and children” Said Khalid 26 Manama. On the other hand, a few Bahrainis raised questions about the violations: “I personally cannot believe all I see on television, let’s remember that at some point the world thought that similar massacres were taking place in Bahrain and it was all fabricated. An opposition will do its best to topple the regime it opposes;” said Abeer 32, from Riffa.

Many have refused to compare the situation in Bahrain to Syria, since they believe the Bahraini leadership has taken real steps towards reform and dialogue while the Syrian regime turned its face against real reform. “In Bahrain we have had human casualties, not human massacres” said Hussein 27, Isa Town.

Iran has played a vital role in the politics of the region: While many Bahraini loyalists believe that Iran has directly funded the opposition, others see this as an excuse to destroy the opposition’s objectives. Most people in Bahrain believe that Iran has great influence in Syria: “Iran will lose one of its greatest allies, if it loses Syria, it’s a Sunni-Shia war and they will try their best to keep another Shia state in power” said Sumaya 45, Manama.

“Iran wants to export its revolution”

The presumed reasons for Iran’s support to Al Asad’s regime vary according to different people: “Iran is trying to draw the world’s attention away from its nuclear issue, a crisis in Bahrain and Syria serves the Iranian interest as it also puts Saudi and the United States in a very difficult position” said Sara 38, Isa Town.

Aisha 27 from Muharraq added “Iran wants to export its Islamic revolution, hence it supports Al Assad’s regime which happens to be sympathetic towards the Ayatollahs, it also supports the protesters in Bahrain because they are Shia and having a Shia power in Bahrain right next to Saudi is like a dream coming true for the Islamic Republic”.

Almost everybody in Bahrain believes that Assad’s regime will eventually fall: “It will come to an end but How? When? These are questions that we fail to answer,” stated Mariam 28, Manama.

Ahmed 32 from Riffa added: “I think a slow brutal move to democracy, exactly like in Egypt, is next on the cards”.

Bahraini loyalists believe that the Syrian regime wouldn’t have remained in power if it wasn’t for Iran’s support: “Al Qadhafi, Ben Ali, Mubarak, Saleh have all fallen, but Al Assad remains because of Iran’s support and we all know that the Iranian Republican Guard is currently present in Syria” said Sara 38, Isa Town.

“Ridiculous to arm protesters”

Saudi Arabia has officially announced its support for the Syrian opposition. Based on the understanding of people Iran is arming the regime in Syria while Saudi is directly or indirectly arming the opposition. “Violence shouldn’t be supported, Qatar and Saudi Arabia should not arm the Syrian opposition, as we have seen this has led to further violence” said Khalid 26, Manama.

“There are peaceful means to expressing views, walking on the roads with guns is not one of them. It is ridiculous to arm protesters as you will be held accountable for what they do;” added Abeer 32, Riffa

Opposition discomfort

The Bahraini opposition is in a genuinely difficult position over Syria. On one hand, it would be natural to express solidarity with Syrian citizens fighting for their democratic rights. However, the issue can also be seen through a sectarian lens, with Bahrain’s opposition being primarily Shia, while Syrian oppositionists are largely Sunnis. In Bahrain, Iran’s support is a significant consideration for the opposition – while in Syria Iran stands solidly behind the regime.

The result of this ambivalence is that when put on the spot over his position in Syria, an opposition leader like Nabeel Rajab will express vague support “for our Syrian brothers”; but Syria is usually otherwise absent from the opposition’s slogans and speeches.

The Syrian issue seems to have brought the whole world to a halt; Arab citizens fear events in Syria and the potential affect on the region. Iran supports Al Assad’s regime while making continuous threats to its other neighbours in the Arabian Gulf such as the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. The US presence in the Gulf and Saudi’s official support to the Syrian opposition has created further tension with Iran and has left people in the region lost in a battle which many think might lead to a third world war starting from Syria.

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