Thursday, April 5, 2012

What Carl Sagan Would Say About Bahrain

For the past two weeks, I was in Bahrain conducting interviews for my thesis. With my research partner Reza Akbari, I hope to be soon writing and publishing several articles on what we've learned. I chose to study Bahrain because I believe it is not very well understood here in Washington, DC. There are three reasons for that.

One, most Americans (myself definitely included) did not pay attention to Bahrain until the uprising last year. As a result, we only hear about what Bahrain is now without understanding what Bahrain was before. That lack of historical context not only makes understanding what's happening in Bahrain now difficult, but it also makes predicting what might happen next impossible.

Two, some Bahraini voices have a much stronger presence in DC than others. Obviously the government, with its embassy and PR firms, can broadcast its perspective effectively. At the same time, Bahraini and international human rights groups have also done an excellent job in pushing their own narrative. And, to a lesser extent, the main opposition party Wefaq has also found a platform to push its views internationally. Yet there are many (exactly how many who knows?) Bahrainis who neither support the government nor the traditional opposition. Some have created new, predominantly Sunni groups as a kind of anti-opposition. Others feel completely unrepresented by any group. These voices go largely unheard outside of Bahrain.