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Bahrain's Government Accused of ‘Gambling With the Future of Its Youth’ by Refusing Scholarships for Its Brightest Students

Many Bahraini graduates complain that they are being denied government scholarships to study medicine. Photo credit: Wikipedia, used under CC BY-SA 3.0

Many Bahraini graduates complain that they are being denied government scholarships to study medicine and other specialisations of their choice just because of their religious sect. Photo credit: Wikipedia, used under CC BY-SA 3.0

The Bahraini government is being accused of “gambling with the future of its youth.” The allegations follow the announcement of government scholarships, which many students, their parents and observers have described as “discriminatory” against the country's Shiite high school graduates, many of whom come from unprivileged families and who need funding to afford higher education and a better future.

A heated debate is taking place in Bahrain about the criteria for the selection of scholarship recipients. In addition to accounting for their overall grades, the Ministry of Education has set aside 40 per cent of the scholarship assessment to a personal interview, in which some students have complained they were asked about their religious sect and political affiliations.

According to activists and Bahraini citizens, the government's track record suggests discrimination against the Shiite students when granting scholarships, especially those who expressed opposing views to those of the government. Their views and frustrations were compiled on an active Twitter hashtag in Arabic that translates to “the massacre of scholarships” which details how many of the country's brightest students have been deprived from scholarships or given specialisations they have no interest in. Most top students want to study medicine and engineering, which they cannot afford to study without scholarships.

According to Suad Al Khawaja, more than 12,000 tweets were unleashed on Twitter under the hashtag, with no favourable reaction from the government:

More than 12,000 tweets under the massacre of scholarships hashtag and no reaction from those it addresses. And then they [the government] will condemn the statement of a rights movement or a political society

Free Prisoner, a prominent account on Twitter, tweeted to his 17.3K followers:

The Interior Ministry and the Defence Force were and still are refusing to give any scholarships or a position to the Shiites. And in recent years, the Ministry of Education joined them.

Former member of parliament for Alwefaq National Islamic Society Ali Alaswad tweeted a photograph of a recently published report by Salam for Democracy and Human Rights, an NGO operating in Sweden and the UK.

An image of @SALAM_DHR's report. Discrimination in scholarships is one of the disasters by the authorities in Bahrain, where transparency is absent.

The report confirms people's speculations about systematic government discrimination. It states that despite the large numbers of Shiite students and educated graduates, most high positions at the Ministry of Education are held by Sunnis, and a very small number is given to the Shiites. The report also states that Shiites are not only being excluded from scholarship programs, but are subjected to obstacles and difficulties when trying to continue their higher education. The report refers to the University of Bahrain (UOB) giving opportunities and paving the way for their Sunni employees, while complicating the same opportunities for their Shiite employees to earn a Master degree abroad. This is also reflected in executive positions at UOB, where they are filled with Sunni employees rather than Shiites, according to the report.

@SayedJSA tweeted:

The massacre of scholarships is one of dozens of humanitarian systematic abuses against the Shiite community in Bahrain

He continues to speak on behalf of students explaining:

Young students worked hard and sacrificed 12 years of their lives, and when the time came for them to reap the fruit of their hard work, their future was slaughtered because they are Shiites in Bahrain

The last group of the Crown Prince's International Scholarship Program (CPISP) recipients are a total of 10, five of whom come from private schools, and the other five are public school students. Three of the public school students are from Sunni areas in Bahrain, and the other two are graduates of somewhat neutral schools that have both Sunnis and Shiites. CPISP is not the only grantee of scholarships in Bahrain, but criticism of the selection criteria is applicable on all programs and offers by the state.

Also read: Top Bahraini Student Goes to Jail Instead of Medical School

Some people are claiming that scholarships in Bahrain are often given to students who come from families who can afford to send their children abroad, and exclude those who are qualified but cannot afford it. When less privileged students are rewarded for their hard work and high marks, it is by offering them scholarships for their last preferred field, sometimes an unrelated major and at other times they only get stipends.

Alwefaq issued a statement emphasizing the phenomenon, saying there is a wave of anger and resentment among a large number of Bahraini families because of the deprivation of scholarships for their children who excelled in their studies, due to sectarian persecution imposed by authorities.

Bahraini students and activists share some personal experiences on social media. Ba7raniah tweets:

Is my academic excellence not proof of my belonging and patriotism?! Why do you interrogate me during personal interviews and provoke me?! What will you gain out of asking me are you Sunni or Shiite?

SaydoO adds:

What scholarship? I wanted to study at my own expense at the state university and they refused to let me study the specialization of my choice let alone award me a scholarship!

Member of Alwefaq Sayed Ahmed Alalawi tweets the story of another student:

I am a student My name is Maryam Isa Al-Hayki
My GPA was 97.6 % and I got my 6th choice, nursing.

Another Twitter account @NAlhadi tweets a different story:

Student Abeer Almomen: My GPA is 96% and I got my ninth choice! My first choice is pharmacy, and students with GPAs lower than mine are being offered my first choice.

Free Shawqi Radhi tweeted to his over 7,000 followers:

Sayed Murtadha was detained for five months, despite that he worked hard and earned 94.4% and all he wanted was a scholarship to the University of Bahrain to study computer science, and they still deprived him.

Government opponents seem to prefer depriving people of their rights as a punishment for demanding their rights to begin with. They have expressed on Twitter disagreement with offering Shiites scholarships. Bahraini Muharraqi says:

People are fighting the regime while in Bahrain, how do they give them scholarships so they preach against it abroad.
No one pokes their eye with their own finger (speaking to the government).

Shawazen1 wants to exclude those who oppose the government and questions their loyalty:

Scholarships are for the country's honorable people and not for Iran's loyalists

@GccTraveller believes it's a conspiracy by the Shiites:

Shiites want to control education to pave the way for controlling state institutions in preparation for a coup and taking over the country.

Such a discourse does not come as a surprise in Bahrain, where many government loyalists have been fed with illusions that they are under threat by the Shiites who plan to take over and should therefore be deprived from their rights, as a measure to thwart any attempts by them. In fact, many see it as a government strategy that has been ongoing for decades and which has helped fuel the sectarian tensions the country is currently witnessing.

Moderate people have called for equal and fair distribution of scholarships and the treatment of students based on their qualifications and grades rather than their family's affiliation and political preference.

Ahmed A.Ameer confirms:

Transparency, efficiency, professionalism, impartiality and equality are required standards when dealing with the subject of scholarships

A “Bahraini dreaming of a better Bahrain” Mohammed Alsalman echoes Ahmed:

No one wants the distribution of scholarships by affiliation or sectarian quotas, only by the effort of each student and his average grades, no more, no less. Is that difficult?

Abdulla Aljalahma also calls for a fair distribution away from taking sects into consideration:

This is not fair nor logical, we do not want scholarships for Sunnis or Shiites.. Scholarships are for the most efficient and deserving of the students

The solutions proposed by many on Twitter are transparency and publishing the results of the personal interviews as well as information about each student. Some explain that the reason there is an opposition in Bahrain is because of the unfair measures the government takes against its own people. Others called on the Minister of Education to respond to the allegations and provide explanations for the unfair process of scholarship distributions, yet he remains silent.

@orgbahraini thinks the minister should take serious action in response to the wave of anger:

In countries that have self respect, when people talk about a massacre of scholarships like in Bahrain, the Minister resigns or starts an investigation immediately. The Minister of Education is silent

In addition to scholarships offered by the state, other scholarships are available for Bahraini students from universities or organizations abroad like University of Bath and the University of Sheffield in the UK. Some NGOs also offer scholarships in the United States and Europe, but are very competitive.

According to the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) statistics from February of this year, there are about 400 children in Bahraini prisons being held for politically motivated charges. Most of them have been subjected to ill treatment and torture.

  • MZ

    Good read to understand what “the other side” is thinking but so biased. I studied in RCSI bahrain, 90% of those with scholarships from the ministry are given to those that are Shiite. There’s no need to exaggerate hearsay and create a problem that doesn’t exist. Plus, if there is actually a problem, the same one exists in all other countries, especially to those in the region.
    I think Bahrainis should be thankful for what they have considering its capabilities. I also believe bahrainis should stop referring to each other as Sunni/Shiite.
    Good luck

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