Anti-government protesters (courtesy Reuters)

By Reza Aslan

Mohamed al-Buflasa went to the Pearl Roundabout on February 15, 2011, the second day of Bahrain’s Arab Spring–inspired uprising. What he witnessed there was a swelling crowd of Sunnis and Shia calling in a single voice for greater political rights and freedoms. On a whim, he took the stage and gave a rousing speech decrying sectarianism and warning the royal family that its attempts to divide the people of Bahrain would bring great harm to the country.

The speech was noteworthy because al-Buflasa is a religiously conservative Sunni, a former army captain, and, at the time, an employee of the court of Bahrain’s crown prince. He comes from a tribe that is close to the ruling family, and he spent years supporting King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa’s vows to enact political reform before coming to the conclusion that they were just empty promises. His presence at the demonstration and his impassioned call for unity were a direct challenge to the government’s portrayal of the protests as purely sectarian.

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