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:
— Suad Alkhawaja (@SuadAK) July 19, 2015
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:
وزارة الداخلية و قوة الدفاع كانوا و لازالوا يرفضون اعطاء اي بعثة او وظيفة لشيعة!! وفي السنوات الاخيرة انضمت لهم وزارة التربية #مجزرة_البعثات
— Freeprisoner (@freedoctors84) July 20, 2015
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.
— Ex MP Ali Alaswad (@am_aswad) July 19, 2015
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.
— Sayed (@SayedJSA) July 19, 2015
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:
— Sayed (@SayedJSA) July 19, 2015
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.
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:
أليس التفوق برهان على الانتماء وحب الوطن؟!لماذا تستجوبني في المقابلات الشخصية وتستفزني؟!ماذا سيفيدك سؤال انت شيعي لو انت سني؟#مجزرة_البعثات
— بحرانية (@ba7raniah) July 20, 2015
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?
بعثة شنو؟ انا كنت ابي ادرس و على حسابي في جامعة ” وطني ” الحكومية و ما رضوا يعطوني التخصص الي ابيه!! مو بعثة بعد!!!! #مجزرة_البعثات
— سيد حسين (@SaydoO_) July 19, 2015
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:
— Sayed Ahmed Alalawi (@SAalalawi) July 19, 2015
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:
الطالبة عبير المؤمن:نسبتي ٩٦٪ وحصلت على الرغبة التاسعه!رغم ان رغبتي الاولى صيدلة والأقل مني مجموع يحصل على رغبتي الأولى #مجزرة_البعثات !
— رآية العِز ١٤فبراير (@NAlhadi) July 19, 2015
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:
— Free Shawqi Radhi (@FreedomPrayers) July 19, 2015
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:
— بحريني محرقي (@BahMq) July 19, 2015
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:
— shawazen1 (@OfGulf) July 20, 2015
Scholarships are for the country's honorable people and not for Iran's loyalists
@GccTraveller believes it's a conspiracy by the Shiites:
الشيعة يريدون السيطرة علي التعليم كتمهيد للسيطرة على مؤسسات الدولة تمهيدا الانقلاب والاستحواذ على البلد #مجزرة_البعثات
— مسافر (@GccTraveller) July 20, 2015
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:
— Ahmed A.Ameer (@Ahmdradhi) July 19, 2015
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:
لا أحد يريد توزيع البعثات حسب الإنتماء أو المحاصصة الطائفية ، فقط حسب مجهود كل طالب ومعدله درجاته، لا أكثر ولا أقل ، صعبة ؟ #مجزرة_البعثات
— محمد السلمان (@MohdAlSalman1) July 19, 2015
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:
— عبدالله الجلاهمة (@Aljalhemi) July 20, 2015
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:
— orgbahraini (@orgbahraini) July 20, 2015
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.