The flag of Bahrain has made appearances in the news frequently this year as demonstrators wear and wave the flag in protest. Although protests in Bahrain have been occurring for the last ten years, demonstrations have become more frequent and forceful in the last few months.
Bahrain is one of many countries in the Middle East and North Africa that has been overcome by protests. In Bahrain, protestors are rallying in regard to the systematic discrimination of the Shia majority by the ruling Sunni minority. Despite a policy enacted in 2002 that introduced a number of reforms, including parliamentary elections, Shias still face tough inequalities, including limited access to government jobs. To make matters worse, the ruling Khalifa family has thwarted the parliament’s power and Bahrain voting districts are gerrymandered to keep Shia groups in the minority.
If you’re following the protests in Bahrain, you may have seen demonstrators wearing or waving the flag of Bahrain. The flag of Bahrain is a rectangular banner. The left side of the flag is white and the right side is red. Instead of a straight line dividing the red and white sections of the flag, however, the flag of Bahrain includes five white triangles, making a serrated divide between the two fields.
Like many Middle Eastern, North African, and Persian Gulf countries, the colors of Bahrain’s flag pay homage to Islam, the country’s main religion. The five white triangles represent the five pillars of Islam:
1. Shahada: monotheism and accepting Mohammed as God’s messenger
2. Salat: a set of five Islamic prayers
3. Sawm: three types of fasting
4. Zakat: alms, or charitable giving
5. Hajj: a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca
The original flag of Bahrain was a solid red banner. In 1820, when Bahrain and the United Kingdom signed a peace treaty, Bahrain added a white stripe to the flag. This flag was used until 1932 when Bahrain added a serrated line to its flag to make its flag unique from its other Persian Gulf neighbors. In 1972, the flag’s serrated line was reduced from 28 to eight points, and in 2002, the current five-point flag was adopted and remains in use through the Bahrain protests.
“Bahraini protesters demand end of Khalifa regime,” Tehran Times, February 26, 2011. http://www.tehrantimes.com/index_View.asp?code=236380.
Roula Khalaf, “Q&A: Bahrain Protests,” Financial Times, March 15, 2011. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/547d0a42-4f1a-11e0-9c25-00144feab49a.html#axzz1Gt6ATOYK.