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For Bahraini Shi’ites, a long trudge to equality

For Bahraini Shi’ites, a long trudge to equality

Shi'ites complain of systemic jobs discrimination; they are angered by naturalisation of Sunni immigrants.

February 22, 2011 12:55 by


Even when they get jobs, Shi’ite Bahrainis say they are often paid less than Sunni coworkers or are forced to work on temporary contracts that do not provide benefits for retirement or paid annual leave.

“I worked as an accountant, but I got the salary of a messenger boy,” said Hussein Ali, 26, who said he was paid $600 a month. He quit six months ago, and hasn’t found another job.

Protesters say they are keen to avoid turning their protest movement into a sectarian fight, adding that their argument is with the government, not Sunni Arab Bahrainis with whom they have long lived peacefully.

“I have no problem if we have a Sunni prime minister who is from among the people. But we choose,” said Fatima al-Shaaban, a British-educated patent lawyer who says that while she has a good job, it is outside her field and underutilises her skills.

Some Shi’ites say Sunni friends helped them get jobs by giving needed references. Noor, 32, a teacher, said she was able to get extra unpaid leave, initially denied, to stay home with her premature baby after a Sunni intervened on her behalf.

A small number of native Sunni Bahrainis, whom Shi’ites differentiate from naturalised Sunni immigrants, have also shown up at protests to say they too will benefit from reforms.

The symbols of the protest movement have so far been largely secular, with protesters waving national Bahraini flags and white flags emblazoned with the word “peace”. Pearl Square has been largely devoid of Shi’ite symbolism.

Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, is allied to the United States and Saudi Arabia, which see it as an outpost against Shi’ite Iran. Protesters say Bahrain’s strategic importance means they cannot let the protests turn sectarian.

“This revolution is not for Shi’ites,” said Mona, a protester with an MBA who landed a private sector job after 30 months on a temporary contract with the state. “We are the majority in the country. But the outcome will be for all.”

(Writing by Cynthia Johnston; Editing by Myra Macdonald and Dominic Evans)

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