US report 'trying to divide Bahrain'
Manama, August 4, 2014
A senior Shi'ite cleric has described a US report on religious freedom in Bahrain as an attempt to divide the country along sectarian lines.
Jaffari Endowments Council chairman Shaikh Mohsin Al Asfoor said that the US State Department's entry for Bahrain in its International Religious Freedom Report for 2013, published last week, was one-sided and clearly represented "American interference in our internal affairs,” reported the Gulf Daily News (GDN), our sister publication.
The report states that last year "the Sunni citizen population enjoyed favoured status" in Bahrain while Shi'ites allegedly "suffered discrimination in employment and access to government services."
"There were reports of societal abuse or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice," it added.
Shaikh Al Asfoor dismissed these allegations as baseless and said that they constituted an attempt by the US to put pressure on the government of Bahrain.
"The report is an effort to project that there is a holocaust against Shi'tes in Bahrain and aims to divide the country on projected sectarian grounds that in reality do not exist," he said.
"It clearly represents American interference in our internal affairs, which is taking the situation back to square one as it comes after repeated warnings.
"The US, in reality, is not interested in the welfare of Shi'ites, but is using this as a trump card and mixing it up with its political file for the rest of the region.
"They are attempting to pressure the government of Bahrain using a sectarian agenda."
Although US officials had approached the Jaffari Endowments Council for information when compiling the report, none of it has been used in the published version, Shaikh Al Asfoor said.
"Officials working on the report had called the council for details on the mosques to be included," he said.
"We prepared answers for all their queries, but for reasons unknown our documents were not collected by the US authorities concerned.
"The report has been released without the inputs of the council, which are based on facts and evidence.
"Instead it reflects the views of opposition leaders and societies in Bahrain, who are constantly trying to project that Shi'ites are suppressed."
Other claims made in the US report, such as the assertion that Shi'ites "are believed to have a higher unemployment rate and lower socio-economic status than Sunnis" were also rejected by Shaikh Al Asfoor.
"The history of the Jaffari Endowments Council is proof of the respect that Shi'ites enjoy in Bahrain and the familial relations between the royal family and Shi'ite families is reflected in their ma'atams," he said.
"Ten Shi'ite mosques and ma'tams are built by funds from the royal family.
"Over hundreds of years, Manama and Muharraq have had Sunni and Shi'ite families living side by side and even getting married - there has been no discrimination."
Further proof of the country's religious tolerance was evident in the two days of national holidays dedicated to the observance of Ashoora, Shaikh Al Asfoor said.
"On the ninth and 10th days of Ashoora food is distributed at 650 ma'atams using money from the royal fund, which proves that the leadership is not against Shi'ites or their religious rituals," he said.
"Religious chanting and processions are permitted, but when people display anti-government banners using religious excuses, it is violating the law."
The US report notes that during 2013 "protests by residents in predominantly Shi'ite neighbourhoods sometimes turned violent, with protesters burning tyres, blocking roadways, throwing incendiary devices and employing improvised explosive devices and homemade weapons, which resulted in three reported police deaths during the year."
"The protests stemmed in large part from the perception among many in the Shi'ite community of unequal treatment by the government under the law and in other areas, such as employment, as well as anger over security services' use of excessive force in some cases," said the report.
"Some protesters actively encouraged violence, rioting, and other illegal activity," it added. - TradeArabia News Service