x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

'The people's voices have been heard'

In the cafes of Manama, the sentiment is that all Bahrainis are brothers, despite the differences that are being expressed on the streets.

Across town from the Pearl Roundabout, the cafes on Shabab Road in the neighbourhood of Juffair were busy yesterday. Sipping his cup of Starbucks coffee, Mohammed Ahmed, 25, rejected the notion that his country was divided between Sunni and Shiite.

"They are all our brothers and sisters, and it's upsetting to see them injured and attacked," Mr Ahmed said. "I don't know if I totally agree with what is going on but during the past few days the people's voices have been heard."

Mr Ahmed, a businessman, credits Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al Khalifa for ending the street confrontations. "We are all full of praise for the crown prince, who has turned it around."

With talks expected soon between the crown prince and the opposition, the mainly Shiite protesters have again set up camp at the roundabout in the centre of the capital. They continue to speak passionately about ending discrimination against Shiites and improving access to education, jobs and opportunities.

Mr Ahmed is Sunni and his friends, Ali Ahmed and Basil Ahmed, also in their twenties, are Shia. Well-educated, with secure jobs, they credit the hard work of their families, as opposed to government support, for their success.

But they also say that some people are stuck in a cycle of poverty that must end. "People should be treated equally," Mohammed Ahmed said. "Maybe a solution is for the government to invest more in education."

Just down the road from the stretch of cafes and restaurants, Hareth Busaib, a 20-year-old law student from the Rifaa area, stood near his university with a group of friends. He and his fellow students said the protesters were harbouring misconceptions about the government and the Sunni minority.

"I don't have a job and I didn't make problems like this," Mr Busaib said. "They think that the government gives Sunni people more work, but it is not correct."

The group said they were saddened by the "killing and fighting", but rejected calls for change. "I love the king because I am Bahraini, not because I am Sunni," Mr Busaib said.

Across the water on the island of Muharraq, Mohammed al Qassimi, a 59-year-old retired banker, said he was concerned about the impact a prolonged protest would have on the country's economy.

"The first people to be hurt by this continuing is the youth, because they won't be able to get jobs," Mr al Qassimi said. "They have delivered their message, now they should go home. We do need changes and the crown prince is really doing the right thing now to open the dialogue and talk to all sides. We are all brothers here on this island."

zconstantine@thenational.ae