The benefits of civil society for Bahrain and for you.
Civil society is based on the idea of looking at citizens and all fellow human beings as equal and deserving of support. The evils of sectarianism, xenophobia, racism and all forms of discrimination divide society against itself.
Therefore, all people active in the field of civil society should see it as a priority to fight prejudice and sectarianism, while encouraging tolerance, reconciliation and national unity.
This also means ensuring fair representation of minorities, women and those with special needs in your organization and making sure that the rules and practices are not discriminatory and do not unnecessarily exclude anybody.
What is xenophobia?
Xenophobia is literally the fear of anything which is foreign or strange. It mainly used to mean prejudice against people from other countries or ethnicities. In this respect it is very similar in meaning to racism, sectarianism and other forms of discrimination.
Interestingly, Bahrainis often use the Arabic word for xenophobia and racism (Onsoriya) to mean sectarianism (properly: ta’ifiya); highlighting the fact that in practice these social diseases have exactly the same motivation and the same effects.
Protecting the rights of everyone
Around half of the 1.2 million people living in Bahrain are non-Bahrainis, making the principle of mutual respect and peaceful coexistence necessary. However, there are many legitimate concerns about the treatment of some groups of foreign workers. Organizations like the Bahrain Migrant Workers Protection Society do important work in raising such issues and addressing abuses.
At a time when the public budget is squeezed, several proposals by MPs for preferring Bahrainis for employment, services and benefits were rejected precisely because they were found to go against the constitutional guarantees of equal rights:
How does Bahrain’s Constitution protect equal rights?
The 2001 National Action Charter very clearly enshrined the equal rights of everybody in Bahrain: “All citizens are equal before the law in terms of rights and duties, without distinction of race, origin, language, religion or belief”.
“Individual freedoms quality, justice and equal opportunity are core principles of the society. The State shoulders the responsibility of ensuring them for all citizens on an equal footing. This is based on a broader principle, namely, that people are equal insofar as human dignity is concerned.”
Sectarianism and reconciliation
Arguably, the greatest single threat to Bahrain’s national unity is sectarianism: Discriminating against people because of their sect. The 2011 unrest led to growing tensions between Sunnis and Shia, as those with a hardline sectarian agenda gained greater influence in the opposition, leading Sunnis to mainly align themselves with the leadership.
Civil society organizations like the Bahrain Foundation for Reconciliation and Civil Discourse have been active in trying to bring people from both sects back together again so as to heal the sectarian divide. This important work has taken the form of informal gatherings to get people to come together and discuss important issues; or seminars where international experts in conflict resolution and reconciliation visit to discuss the Bahrain experience.
International organizations and embassies have also supported reconciliation activity in Bahrain, such as sending civil society activists for training sessions, dialogue exercises and other activities to help them lead reconciliation efforts inside Bahrain.
ABC of civil society