Monday, March 28, 2011

Depicting Division, Part III

Since the Bahraini government has gone and rejected Kuwaiti mediation of the Bahraini crisis that had seemingly been decided yesterday, there may be little to write about for a while regarding the situation in Bahrain. Indeed, the government and al-Wifaq both understand that the latter is in a precarious bargaining position, and Bahrain's rulers are now taking advantage. For a good overview of al-Wifaq's view of things, see this interview in al-Sharq al-Awsat from yesterday (and translated into English no less) with al-Wifaq leader 'Abd al-Jalil Khalil.

In the meantime, however, we may as well continue our ever-popular "Depicting Division" segment here at Religion and Politics in Bahrain. In the last week or so, almost 3,500 people have viewed Part I and Part II.

We will start first with what is perhaps the most direct and general political question of the entire survey, appearing very early in the interview: “In general, how would you rate the present political situation in the country?” The response categories descend in the standard manner from “very good,” “good,” “bad,” to “very bad.” The Arabic wording is straightforward: "بشكل عام، كيف تقيم الوضع السياسي الحالي في البلاد؟"

As expected, we observe in Figure 5.10 below a drastic between-ethnic difference in response: whereas a majority (a combined 56%) of Sunni respondents report that Bahrain’s present political situation is “good” or “very good,” Shi‘is are tilted even more in the opposite direction, with a full 71% of respondents describing the political situation as “bad” or “very bad.” Indeed, some Shi‘a respondents even preferred in lieu of “very bad” to give still more emphatic responses such as “دمار” (“[in] ruin”) or “ما في سياسة في البحرين”--literally, “there is no politics in Bahrain,” implying a total domination of political decision-making by the Al Khalifa. Finally, it is clear from the relatively high rate of “I’m not sure” responses that many individuals, especially Sunnis, were wary of answering this question altogether on account of its overt politicality. Overall, though, the utter inversion of the red and black bars for the valid responses seems to offer an excellent visual summary of Bahrain’s ethnic divide surrounding the political status quo. And this is in early 2009!

Bahrainis were also asked to answer the question: “In general, do you feel that government policies have an influence on your daily life?” with one of these five responses: (1) “they have a very positive influence”; (2) “they have a positive influence”; (3) “they have neither a positive nor negative influence”; (4) “they have a negative influence”; or (5) “they have a very negative influence.” In Arabic:
"بشكل عام، هل تشعر بأن سياسات الحكومة لها تأثير علی حياتك اليومية؟"

Here we see the proportions of Sunnis and Shi‘is that answered in each of the five categories. Overall, the picture looks little different from that witnessed above in Figure 5.20: Bahrain’s Sunni respondents disproportionately offer a positive or neutral evaluation of government policy, while the tendency among Shi‘a is exactly the opposite. Indeed, a combined 81.7% of Sunni responses fall in categories 1 through 3, whereas 80.8% of Shi‘i responses fall in categories 3 through 5. And were we to exclude the “Not Sure” and “Refuse” responses, these percentages would be nearly 10 points higher.

Go to Part 4 (اذهب إلى الجزء الرابع) —>


  1. these are a really very interesting set of surveys. I'm just wondering, did you interview any people of mixed sunni/shia parentage? Do you get a sense of where they fit in?

  2. I'd be interested in knowing whether the survey discussed economic issues - jobs, income? If so, can you please send me your findings, as well as some details on your sampling frame? much appreciated.

  3. Hello,

    Chanad: Some respondents did report mixed parentage, but these were too few to allow any systematic treatment.

    Anonymous: yes, the survey did investigate these as well, and the findings from this section are also included in my forthcoming dissertation, which should be published by the end of summer. (In fact, the employment section has already been written.) If there is some interest here, I will post some results of this. The 500-household sample comes directly from the Bahraini census database, so I have very high confidence in its representativeness.

  4. Update: I have written a separate post to address questions about the sample used in the survey.

  5. Thanks for posting this. Can't wait to read the dissertation.
    Someone should update Khuri's book also. There's never been a better time.

  6. Fascinating reading, Justin.
    I too would be very interested in the economic information to complete the perspective.

    As BahrainiScribe points out, there's never been a better time...