Matams, Ashura, and Muharaam: examining counter national narratives in Bahrain

By Ashleen Williams
Submitted to Session P4962 (The Gulf: Visualizing the National Narrative, 2017 Annual Meeting
In Bahrain, impressive and intricately designed matams (hussainiyas) dot the landscape of the economically impoverished villages surrounding Manama. Free of post-2011 uprising graffiti and vandalism, matams and related charity organizations have long been a gathering point for religious, political and social dialogue among Bahrain’s indigenous Baharna population. Culminating annually with the month of Muharaam, and the commemoration of Ashura, these spaces represent one of the greatest visual challenges to the national narrative promoted by the Bahraini government. This paper explores the idea and development of a counter national narrative in Bahrain which emphasizes the idea of a Baharna, rather than a national Bahraini, identity. Particular focus will be given to changes in the post 2002 period, wherein a number of allegations of demographic engineering have plagued the state, and further fostered political instability.