City of Brass

City of Brass

Better to be Jewish in Bahrain than Shi’a

Bahrain is aggressively courting it’s tiny remnant of a Jewish community:

In the tense landscape of the Middle East, there is little room left for Jewish Arabs, a tiny minority in this country as well as in places like Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia. But in Bahrain, the king, Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, has taken unprecedented steps for an Arab leader to show his support for his dwindling Jewish population. Last year, he appointed a Jewish woman, Houda Ezra Ebrahim Nonoo, as ambassador to the United States, the first Jewish ambassador posted abroad by any Arab country.

Then he made a personal visit to London to appeal to expatriate Jews to return to Bahrain. He has also appointed Jewish business leaders to the Shura Council, which acts as an upper house of Parliament. Those measures went against the tide in a region where anti-Semitism is often preached from government-controlled mosques and hating all Jews has become interchangeable with hating the state of Israel.


Any news of this sort if welcome, though in this case the community is miniscule – 36 people at last count. Also, as the article points out, this magnanimity is not entirely selfless – the proximity of Iran and the fact that the US bases its Fifth Fleet in Bahrain certainly played some role. The kicker though is that while the Jewish community is feted, the Shi’a community (which is actually a majority in the tiny country) gets short shrift:

Bahrain is hot with sectarian tensions: the king, a Sunni Muslim, is accused of discriminating against Shiite Muslims, who make up a majority of the native population. Shiites are barred from almost all positions in the military and security services, and they say they are not given the same employment and education opportunities as their Sunni neighbors.


Shiites complain that the 36 Jews are treated better than they are, and that the king’s Jewish outreach is intended to make Bahrain appear to be a tolerant society, papering over the systemic discrimination they say they experience.

“Because there is some religious tolerance in Bahrain, the king’s plan is to undermine the Shiite identity, not increase freedom,” said Habib Muhammad, 25, owner of a welding workshop in the Shiite village of Malikiya. “He wants to divert people’s attention from demanding their rights.”

It’s sad but true that sectarian hatred against the Shi’a is endemic across the muslim world. In many ways, Shi’a really are the “Jews of Islam”. In Bahrain, this prejudice manifests in rather mild fashion, relative to elsewhere – for example, the suicide attack yesterday in a Shi’a mosque in Pakistan killing 20 worshippers.

Related – Rabbi Brad has some additional commentary on the Bahraini Jews‘ fortunes. Even if they are just pawns in a sectarian game, it’s still progress, however.

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Samir S. Halabi

posted May 19, 2012 at 12:31 pm

I only wish that my family would have been Bahraini citizens instead of originating from another middle-eastern country where my parents fled for their lives from the persecution and murder which was meted out as retribution after the arab defeat by the fledgling Jewish State of israel in 1948 known as the Israeli war of independence.

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