Hojatoleslam Dr. Mohammad Masjed-Jamei, in an interview with the website of the Strategic Council on Foreign Relations, referred to the presence of Pope Francis in Bahrain to participate in the “Peace and Coexistence” conference, which was hosted by Bahrain and clarified: Generally, a Pope visits a country when the internal situation of that country is sufficiently stable and acceptable; although the government in Bahrain has seemingly a political establishment, it actually has a very poor situation in terms of human rights.
While explaining the measures taken by the government of Bahrain against political protesters and followers of other religions, he continued: In 2011, Bahrain was one of the countries where many protests took place. A large number of people in that country were arrested, injured and even killed. The extent of torture and abuse of the detainees was very high, and destruction of hosseiniyehs (religious centers) and mosques, which were some of the historical monuments of that country belonging to the Shiites, as well as the demonstration in Lulu Square, which was the place of popular protests, was done so violently that it resulted in strong protests by a large number of human rights activists.
Referring to the remarks of deputy of Bahrain’s “Al-Wefaq Party” that according to the positions announced by the Pope, his trip ended up harming the Bahraini regime and “discredited” it, the university professor said: Simultaneously with the announcement of the visit of Pope Francis to Bahrain, a large number of domestic organizations and mainly human rights organizations of other countries, some of which were affiliated with the United Nations, warned him that such conditions existed in that country. Of course, the Pope mentioned such issues and criticized the rights of citizens and religious discrimination in various situations during his trip.
Masjed-Jamei reminded: Bahrain even revoked the citizenship of a large number of its citizens, which is a very rare measure in the world, but the government of that country repeatedly denied this right to many people. The Pope was also critical of this issue. The Pope’s critical approach in his visit, which addressed the Bahraini regime and criticized it respectfully and indirectly both in his public speech and in his talks with the king and especially in the meeting with the crown prince, was unprecedented.
He said: After the Arab Spring revolutions, the government of Bahrain tried to settle a large number of residents of different countries, including Pakistan and Jordan, in Bahrain in order to change the population balance to the detriment of the Shiites. This point has been stated many times by the researchers of impartial European institutions and that the regime is seeking to change the population balance to the detriment of the Shiites.
Referring to the Pope’s meetings in Bahrain, especially his talks with Sheikh Al-Azhar, and emphasizing and paying attention to the need of expanding global and fraternal coexistence and the role of religious leaders in eliminating the various threats of the current era, the former ambassador of Iran in the Vatican added: In every era, a topic is highlighted. After the Cold War, the issue of “religious dialogue” was raised as an important factor for peace building by different countries, both developed and less developed, as well as different religious groups. This issue still has many supporters and holding of such meetings should also be evaluated within this context.
Stating that this is not a negative and wrong approach, but it cannot be given more weight than what is within the framework of “being fashionable”, he explained: After holding this meeting, it is not possible to see much impact on the issues and challenges that even our region has. The situation is practically like this. This issue is not only about the Pope’s visit to Bahrain, because he also visited Abu Dhabi in 2019 and visited Kazakhstan last September. Although the topics that are discussed are positive and important, the effects of those trips and conversations should not be exaggerated.
Masjed-Jamei stated that the political effects of the Pope’s visit should be examined in the two spheres of Bahrain and the sheikhdoms, adding: The Emir of Bahrain fell asleep at a time when the Pope was indirectly criticizing the regime regarding human rights issues and the state of torture and executions. This was a false gesture that was reflected a lot. In fact, the Emir of Bahrain wanted to show his disregard for the guest’s words, but in any case, considering the Pope’s trip, it is unlikely that the death sentence of about six people who were about to be executed in Bahrain will be finalized and carried out. Nevertheless, one cannot hope for a change in the situation of Bahrain’s prisons and the improvement of the conditions of Shiites in that country.
The university professor stated that in the past two or three decades, the most important part or the main goal of the issues raised in the form of “religious dialogue” is its “political results”, and added: Of course, it cannot be denied that those measures have also cultural results; but the main and important result of such actions is political and mostly those initiatives are put on the agenda for political purposes. Of course, a big church has been built in Bahrain, for which the Pope had sent a stone before starting its construction; it was also consecrated last year and started working. The trip and the ceremony provided a good opportunity for Catholic Christians in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
Reminding that in Saudi Arabia and other sheikhdoms, a large number of immigrants who happen to have Asian roots are also devout Catholics, he noted: Those people in Saudi Arabia still do not have a place to perform religious ceremonies, in Bahrain this grand church is a good opportunity for Christians, who are estimated to be around 80,000 to 100,000, and Saudi Christians can also benefit from it. The official representative of the Pope, Paul Hinder, the apostolic representative of the Pope in the south of the peninsula, in his interview with the newspaper Avvenire, said that this church will lead to the honor and pride of the Christians, and a significant part of the purpose of this trip was to put the Catholics of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain in a more suitable position. Therefore, this measure was a great help to the Christian minority in those countries. Most likely, the main reason for the Pope’s visit to that country is to strengthen their Catholic identity. A point that Hinder addresses in his interview. Since 2003, Bishop Hinder, who is a Swiss, has been continuously present in the sheikhdoms and Saudi Arabia as a special representative of the Pope, and therefore he knows the region and the human rights issues of Bahrain completely, and therefore what he says should be taken seriously.