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Job purges fuel Bahrainis’ ire
In Sunni-ruled U.S. ally, ‘my only crime is being Shiite’
He claims he was blindfolded and beaten so severely that the bruises still have not healed. His only offense, he insists, is being part of Bahrain’s Shiite majority as it presses for greater rights from Sunni rulers, who have Western allies and powerful Gulf neighbors on their side.
The 44-year-old Mr. Ali now counts himself among Bahrain’s purged: Hundreds of Shiites - some say thousands - dismissed from jobs or suspended from universities for suspected support for demonstrators.
“My only crime is being Shiite,” said Mr. Ali, who claims he has been effectively blacklisted from finding a new job. “I’ve paid for it by being dismissed, arrested, tortured and insulted.”
With Bahrain’s “Arab Spring” crisis moving into its eighth month, the mass dismissals remain a major point of anger feeding near-daily street clashes on the strategic island - which is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.
The coming weeks could be critical in assessing the chances for any significant reconciliation efforts in Bahrain.
The alternative is an increasingly divided and volatile nation, where the region’s biggest political narratives intersect: Western security interests, Gulf Arab worries about spillover uprisings and Iran’s ambitions to cast wider Middle East influence.
“Bahrain had these tensions long before the current Arab upheavals. And it may end up as one of the most enduring and most complex dilemmas after the Arab Spring has run its course,” said Sami Alfaraj, director of the Kuwait Center for Strategic Studies.
Shiites claim to account for as much as 70 percent of the island kingdom’s population, but say they face systematic discrimination by the 200-year-old Sunni dynasty.
Bahrain’s rulers, meanwhile, court Western and Sunni Arab backing by raising fears that Shiite power Iran is pulling the strings of the protests as a foothold to undermine other Gulf monarchs and sheiks.
Bahrain’s Shiite groups have pledged to boycott elections Sept. 24 to fill 18 parliament seats left vacant since Shiite lawmakers walked out in March to protest the government’s crackdowns.
A fresh wave of protests could be timed to try to overshadow the voting and embarrass officials.
There already are signs of escalating violence after months of low-level skirmishes.
Security forces used tear gas, rubber bullets and birdshot last week to break up crowds gathered to welcome doctors freed from prison after staging a hunger strike.
“Down, down Hamad,” crowds chanted, in reference to Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, as they waited for some of the doctors, who still face charges of aiding the protests.
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