Bahraini monarchy manufactures demographic changes

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Bahraini hold up the national flag during a demonstration against the Formula One Grand Prix in the village of Shakhurah, west of Manama, on April 4, 2014. (Photo: AFP-Mohammed al-Sheikh)

By: Youseff Harb

Published Saturday, April 5, 2014

In 2012, the Bahraini ruling family started to systematically naturalize foreigners in an attempt to change the demographics of the country. Tens of thousands of people with certain characteristics, and from designated countries received Bahraini citizenship, threatening to create a new sectarian majority, which would deny the Shia their rightful representation in the state’s institutions.

A number of Bahraini security officers working at embassies abroad have been monitoring the systematic naturalization process. These officers are not under the command of official intelligence services or diplomatic officials at Bahrain embassies, but are subject to a higher authority directly linked to the king.

In the summer of 2012, the escalation of the Syrian crisis and the flow of Syrian refugees led to the establishment of al-Zaatari refugee camp east of the Jordanian city of al-Mafrek. As a result, the camp became a large reservoir of new settlers to be moved to Bahrain.

Focusing on Syrian refugees in al-Zaatari camp, Bahraini officers acquired an office at their country’s embassy in Jordan and later opened a bureau near the camp in coordination with Saudi intelligence officials and Jordanian security forces.

They established a center to prepare candidates for Bahraini citizenship, which included training refugees to speak with a Bahraini accent, teaching women how to prepare traditional Bahraini dishes, introducing them to the names of Bahraini towns and streets, in addition to other matters related to the country’s historical and geographical background, and of course, exploiting their difficult situation to indoctrinate them to be loyal to the regime.

Al-Akhbar received information suggesting that the Bahraini authorities set well-defined specifications for individuals and families seeking Bahraini citizenship. Therefore, they excluded refugees coming from cities and favored those of rural origins coming from the countryside of Aleppo, Hama, Homs, Deir Ezzour and Damascus, but excluded Daraa’s countryside for no obvious reason. Naturally, candidates have to be Sunnis since the process aims to give leverage to the Sunni sect. Also, refugees in Jordan are given priority status because it is easier to connect with them and to train them at the center located in proximity to the Zaatari camp.

Al-Akhbar has the names of Bahraini and Saudi intelligence officers running the settlement process in Jordan, it includes: Hamdan Saleh al- Ghatam, Mansour Khamis al-Helou, Ibrahim al-Shabib and Bader Issa al-Doussari. And among the names of families trained to get the Bahraini citizenship: Hassan al-Shamri’s family and his brothers (residents of Amman not al-Zaatari camp), Mahmoud Nayef al-Sadid’s family, Abdullah Zueheir Khalaf’s family (a retired Syrian officer from Deir Ezzour), Saleh Satem al-Soufi’s family, Imad al-Dahwan’s family, Mahmoud Nasser al-Salman’s family, Abboud al-Sarfi’s family, Khaled al-Jarbouh’s family, Mansour Salameh al-Atwan’s family, and Omar al-Shawi’s family from Aleppo’s countryside.

Though Zaatari camp might be the easiest place to pick new Bahrainis, it is not the only one. Informed sources told Al-Akhbar that Bahraini intelligence officers are also active in Iraq, mainly on the Syrian-Iraqi border and in Syrian refugee camps in Turkey.

The Bahraini government has also been naturalizing Saudi nationals with the support of the intelligence services in their original country. In fact, Saudi Arabia is considered the Gulf’s biggest reservoir for demographic and sectarian changes. Kuwait is an example of this phenomenon, where the number of Shia citizens fell back to 20 percent in the last three decades, though the percentages had been rather equal in the past.

Kuwait’s demographics changed following the Iraqi occupation in 1991. The country’s population which was estimated at 560 thousand increased to 1.25 million following the naturalization of about 500 thousand Saudis.

A 100 thousand new citizens

Naturalization of foreigners in Bahrain used to take place at a slower pace and it involved migrant workers, mainly Bengalis and Indians (Sunni Muslim). However, since the 2011 protests, which called for better representation of Shiites based on demographic distribution, the authorities launched a vicious naturalization campaign. Knowledgeable Arab sources estimated that the process has involved 100 thousand individuals so far, but authorities are seeking to naturalize 200 thousand.

According to statistics, the Bahraini population is estimated at 2.23 million with only 570 thousand holding the Bahraini citizenship. Seventy percent of them are Shia.

Though the naturalization of Syrians, Iraqis and Saudis remains discreet, the regime is shamelessly giving odd explanations for naturalizations involving other individuals. Recently, Mohammed Abdul Latif, vice president of the Bahraini Athletic Federation justified the naturalization of African players by saying “Bahrainis are not physically fit to participate in long distance races, their genes and physical capacities don’t allow them to compete against American, Jamaican and Kenyan runners for example,” adding “most players given the Bahraini nationality are those participating in over 800 meters races.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

“Shiites comprise about 70 percent of Bahrain's 525,000 citizens”

“The regime has naturalized up to 100,000 sunnis

This is absolute nonsense, a myth of convenience often quoted to justify criticism of the regime and present them in a negative light.

A first population census was initiated by the British in 1941 and they have been conducted at regular intervals ever since. The last was held in 2010 when the native Bahrani population was counted as 568,399. They asked of a person, their sex, religion, marital status and nationality. For religion the tick boxes used were Moslem, Christian, Jew, Hindu or other. The census form does not ask one of sect i.e. Sunni or Shia. Thus on what hard data are the quoted percentage figures of a Shia majority based when within the system, official data does not exist.

An analysis of election returns assuming Shia vote for Shia and Sunni for Sunni would indicate a split much closer to 51% to 49% but even then such data is speculative at best. It is true to say however of the entire residential population of 1,234,571 people, (local and expatriate combined) 70% are Moslem. Correct your Total figure please.

On the question of Nationalization and the security forces, this is another handy little tool used to bash Bahrain. In the 60 and 70's how many Persian Nations were moved to Bahrain Naturalised by the British. The British also during the days when Bahrain was part of the Indian Raj stationed Asian troops in Bahrain, many families of Asian descent remained after the British left. They continue to serve among a largely Bahraini force but the connection with the subcontinent remains strong and Bahrain does still recruit from overseas. However, contrary to popular believe service does not come with the guarantee of nationalization. Such claims have to be taken with a pinch of salt, the figure banded about remain in the realm of fantasy.

If the Shia were, as claimed 70% of the population of the 2010 census, they would number 397,879 leaving just 170,520 Sunni to be accounted for, comprising both naturalized and native peoples. Way back in the 40’s and 50’s when the British undertook the first census, they did collect data in relation to sect. They found the population almost equally split. Assuming therefore the descendants of these people would grow at a roughly similar rate they would make up a similar sized percentage in the current population in both communities, Sunni and Shia. However given the outlandish claims now attributed to the number of naturalized Sunni citizens supposedly included in the population census figures of 2010 there is now no longer any room for the inclusion of any historic Sunni descendants. Shia at 70% plus 20% newly naturalized citizens, the balance the descendants of those historic Sunni, equals what in the 2010 total.

Where have the indigenous Sunni counted by the British gone, have they disappeared; did they not have any off spring? Did they cross their legs during the intervening decades? The figures, the percentages now being banded about to imply a Shia majority simply do not compute, they have propaganda value only. The old idiom of telling a lie so often that it becomes an accepted fact is pertinent in this case.

the Resistance Axis is driving this process in Bahrain by its support for the Assad regime's ethnic cleansing / genocide in Syria.

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