GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

Family Name:
First Name:
Justin J.
Title of Paper:
Employment situation of the Bahraini Shi‘I (working title)
Paper Proposal Text :
The rentier state of the Arab Gulf must sink or swim on its capacity for economic
appeasement, yet in societies divided along confessional lines such as Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and to a lesser extent Kuwait, this ability is hampered not only on the demand side by citizens unwilling to take a material wealth-for-political silence bargain, but also on the supply side by a state reluctant to enrich or empower members of a community it views as an open or latent political opposition with ties to hostile regional challengers (namely, Iran), individuals readily-identifiable moreover on the basis of geography, family names, language, and other ascriptive ethnic markers. The question such a state faces, accordingly, is whether its power of economic benefaction—most notably, government employment—is best used to reward friends or to attempt to convert known and potential enemies. In Bahrain, at least, the answer is clear: public-sector employment does not secure political allegiance; it is political allegiance that secures public-sector employment, especially when the work in question carries national security implications. And, in a part of the world that spends more of its wealth on internal and external security than any other, the scope of the resulting ethnic-based exclusion from this most far-reaching of rentier government benefits is far from trivial. Yet not only are Bahraini Shi‘a excluded altogether from police and military service, but fear of Iranian-inspired emboldening—of a veritable Shi‘a fifth column—serves to limit their employment also in those institutions close to the exercise of state power, including the Ministries of Defense, Interior, Foreign Affairs, Justice, and others. And where they do find public employment, political correctness dictates that Shi‘is are suffered disproportionately to fill lower-ranking positions. Paradoxically, then, though with only economic patronage at its political disposal, still the ethnically-contested rentier state chooses to forgo or curtail what is assumed its most powerful weapon, for fear that the cure should be worse than the disease. Using original, individual-level data from a 500-household mass survey of Bahraini political attitudes undertaken in early 2009, I demonstrate that Shi‘i citizens are not only systematically less likely to be employed in Bahrain’s public sector, but they also tend to occupy lower-ranking professional positions when they are employed. For two citizens of identical age, gender, and education level, the probability of government-sector employment (given that one is employed) is predicted to be some 36% higher for a Sunni compared to a Bahraini Shi‘i. The professional discrepancy is estimated at about 15%. Moreover, the data reveal, whereas 17% of working Sunni males who reported professional data indicated that they worked for the police or armed forces; and whereas 13% of all Sunni households reported at least one member employed in these services, not a single individual from among 127 employed Shi‘i males who offered occupational data reported working for the police or military. The patterns of government-sector employment in Bahrain thus tell a fundamentally different story than the one articulated by rentier theorists.