Why Bahrain's Largest Opposition Bloc Wants People to Have More Babies

Clashes with police in February 2014 marked the third anniversary of the Bahrain uprising. Photo by Eman Redha. Copyright Demotix.

Clashes with police in February 2014 marked the third anniversary of the Bahrain uprising. Photo by Eman Redha. Copyright Demotix.

In Bahrain, where protests continue three years after a popular uprising was brutally suppressed, the island's largest political opposition bloc says that the government is naturalising people of foreign origin at a rapid pace, putting native Bahrainis at risk of becoming a minority in their own country.

A total of 95,000 people were “unjustifiably” given citizenship between 2002 and 2014, representing a 17.4 percent change to the country's demographics, according to opposition society Al Wefaq. Bahrain's official census shows non-Bahrainis make up 54 percent of the population, numbering 666,172 in 2010.

Al Wefaq's solution? Have more babies.

Ali Salman, the leader of Al Wefaq, put out the call on Twitter:

I call on native Bahrainis, Sunnis and Shia, to withstand the burden of having one more child to face this catastrophic naturalisation project

So that Bahrainis Sunnis and Shia don't become a minority in their own country I call on them to have more children for Bahrain

Bahrain's fertility rate has dropped from 7.09 per woman to 2.09 per woman between 1960 and 2012, according to the World Bank. But critics of the government point out that the naturalisation push isn't simply to shore up the island's population. 

Bahrain's Sunni Muslim monarchy has been accused of naturalising foreigners as a way to insure their own rule of the Shia Muslim-majority country. A 2010 report from the conflict prevention NGO International Crises Group notes that the government “reportedly is pursuing policies to alter the island's demographic balance”:

These include granting citizenship to non-Bahrainis – mainly Sunni Arabs from around the region – to mitigate Shiite dominance. Although there are no published figures for the number of “politically naturalized”, some suggest that as many as 50,000 to 60,000 have been extended citizenship in this way. Exceptional measures appear to have been taken to grant citizenship to Jordanians, Syrians, and Yemenis recruited by the security services and, demographic impact aside, the heavy presence of foreigners in the military and police has provoked sharp anger from locals who consider them ‘mercenaries’

In 2005, a former consultant of the country's king published a report that came to be known as Bandargate, which highlighted that high officials were purposefully trying to marginalize Shia by naturalising foreigners. It also included documents that showed a minister paid five main operatives a total of more than $2.7 million to run a secret intelligence cell spying on Shia Muslims, set up bogus NGOs and create Internet forums and websites that foment sectarian hatred.

Interestingly, the campaign against the government's naturalisation comes at a time when the government is stripping nationalities from political dissidents and pushing to stop Sunni families from acquiring Qatari nationalities. 

Despite pledges from the king to curb the naturalisation of foreigners, Bahrain has still witnessed a high increase in naturalisation, according to Khalil Almarzooq, the deputy head of Al Wefaq:

Correction: According to official surveys and documents, the number of Bahrainis increased from 510274 to 584688 in 2011 which means there is an abnormal increase of 74414

Not everyone agreed with Al Wefaq's suggested solution. On Twitter, @FreedomPrayers replied:

We are fed up with kids. We need a solution that doesn't include Cartoon Network in its five-year plan

She also added:

Once the kid grows up he will understand the predicament he is in and will migrate, why would he stay?

@Amalness wrote that having more children is unrealistic, given the reality of Bahrain's economy:

In the current economic circumstances the Bahraini family struggles to provide its day's bread. Is bringing more children into the world a practical solution? We need a political solution

Unemployment in the country has reached a level of 15 to 20 percent, according to Bahrain's ally the United States, a figure much higher than the single-digit percentage offered by the country's government. Discrimination in the workforce is linked to the problem, according to Al Wefaq.

To add insult to injury, the government might be unable to pay the salaries of its employees in 2017. Adding a high birth rate as suggested by Al Wefaq to an already high rate of naturalisation would mean more spending on public services and projects such as healthcare and education and will have a devastating effect on the economy in the long run.

Bahraini youth, like others who rose up across the Middle East and North Africa during the Arab Spring, protested for the hope of creating a better future. A “chicken race” toward the economic cliff will not create better job opportunities nor protect freedoms. This existential struggle for identity deviates from the struggle for a better tomorrow.

The fact that the suggestion of having more babies comes from a veteran politician like Ali Salman who is a former law maker shows how ineffective the political process is in Bahrain and suggests a deep problem in the structure of the system.

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