Contentious politics in Bahrain

The fourth Nordic conference on Middle Eastern Studies: The Middle East in globalizing world

Oslo, 13-16 August 1998

From ethnic to national and vice versa

Dr. Abdulhadi Khalaf
University of Lund


Discovery of oil in Bahrain (1928-32) signalled a beginning of a new order that will gradually replace, but not eradicate, an older tribal order. [*] The latter was formed following 1783, when the Al-Khalifa clan and its allies from mainland Arabia, ‘invaded’ Bahrain. The ‘conquest’ was followed nine tumultuous decades before al-Khalifas were able to establish themselves as undisputed masters of the islands. [1]

In his History, al-Tajjer (1994) relates to the support given to the invading tribes by local Shia factions who were feuding with each other. Al-Khalifa clan was able to strengthen their grip over the conquered territory, particularly after 1870, through seizure of cultivated land and fisheries. These were distributed among different factions of the victorious alliance. The practice led, subsequently, to dividing the country into a network of small fiefdoms, moqata’at. Privileges and rights granted to each fief were extensive. Every such fief ‘ exercised his authority independently of the ruler… in his estate, which included several villages and hamlets and the cultivated land around them’. (Khuri, 1980:45). In his estate, a fief ‘ruled as a sovereign. He collected taxes, claimed forced labor (sukhra), settled disputes, and defended the subjects of his estate against foreign intruders, even if these belonged to the ruling family itself’. (ibid. p.47). Other measures taken to maintain relative calm included co-optation of local Shia notables and appointing some of these as ‘ministers’ and tax collectors. [2]

The system of fiefdoms gave the ‘conquest’ two of its enduring consequences. First, it encouraged additional migration of al-Khalifa and other clans from mainland Arabia to settle in Bahrain. Some of these settlers have since left Bahrain voluntarily or by force. Other migrant clans including Sunnis from the Persian side of the gulf have replaced them. Ethnic backgrounds of these migrants, as well as circumstance of their settlement in Bahrain, contributed to making the ‘conquest’ a permanent one. Second, it contributed to defining distinct tribal, ethnic and confessional options of the regime, as well as defining its particular tributary character.

Through fiefdoms, al-Khalifas were able to retain nests of intermediaries, on both sides of the confessional divide. Continued prosperity of these intermediaries has been dependent on their continued loyalty and subordination. Fiefs did not themselves cultivate the land or attend fisheries. To administer their estates, they appointed Shia agents, wazir, to oversee the use of these lands and fisheries, collecting tributes, taxes and rents. ( Cf. Khuri 1980). These agents played a dual intermediary role: they were agents of ‘exogenous’ landlords; and, they were patrons of ‘indigenous’ peasants. In their latter role, they would intercede on behalf of ‘their’ peasants to ‘their’ fief to secure access to land for cultivation and water for irrigation. Vanquished local peasants were at the mercy of fiefs and their agents who have been free to use their labour and to impose various forms of taxes.

Although fiefdoms were abolished as a part of a series of reforms introduced by Britain (1914-32), folk tales, to this day, give vivid Shia peasants’ accounts of their suffering at the hands of the al-Khalifa fiefs, their slaves, retainers and wazirs. Folk tales also tell, in so many revised versions, the meanings of being a vanquished. These tales are retrieved and reconstructed with appropriate dramatic elaboration, addition and deletion, and are used as instruments for ethnic mobilisation. Similar keen imagination has produced counter folk tales elaborating the heroics of the conquistadors and how they established their presence and rule. Ethnicity has been gradually entrenched as the dominant foundation for social organisation and contention although, obviously, ethnic divisions were not the only socially accepted criteria for social stratification in the country.

Within few decades after the ‘conquest’, Britain, the dominating power in the region at the time, recognised the al-Khalifa tribal order. On several occasions, Britain deployed its forces to quell internal clashes or ward off external foes of al-Khalifa. British support, particularly since 1869, will continue to be the major resource for the regime, for its protection, stability and prosperity. In similarity with many chiefs of other tribal orders in other parts of the Arabian side of the Gulf, the al-Khalifa signed, since the beginning of 19th century a series of agreements with Britain. These agreements recognised Pax Britannica on the one hand and the established tribal political formations, regimes, on the other.

However, unlike other the tribal regimes sanctioned by Britain, the al-Khalifa failed to assimilate within its subject population as did, for example, al-Sabah in Kuwait, al-Thani in Qatar and al-Qawassim in Ras al-Khaimah and Sharja. And, unlike these political formations, Bahrain did not develop into becoming a unified political entity nor did the Bahrainis develop into becoming a single people. Also, unlike other tribal political formations in the region, the al-Khalifas continue to jealously guard their identity/image as ‘settlers-rulers’. However, their ‘tribal’ backgrounds and identity have not been static. To the dismay among their ‘own pure bloods’, and some of their ‘anti-tribal’ opponents, al-Khalifa tribal credentials have repeatedly been revised, with several additions and deletions, to suit vagaries of local and regional politics.

The 1783 conquest has become an occasion to commemorate in schoolbooks and official historical accounts. Conquest-related individuals and events will be celebrated in names given to public buildings and streets, in radio and television programmes, through poetry and song contests, as well as through official festivals and commemorations. In 1983, al-Khalifa celebrated the bi-centennial of the Conquest. All opposition groups condemned the highly bizarre commemorations, modelled after the USA bi-centennial, which were not joined by the Shia community. It has been an elaborate and extravagant affair that included festivals and academic symposia. Those ill-advised commemorations confirmed to many some of the worse charges against the ruling family. The most relevant of these, is the allegation that it continues to act as a conqueror that legitimates its rule by right of conquest.

I am aware that tribalism and tribal conquest are, obviously, not, in themselves, hinders to state building. Several examples from the region itself indicate that in spite of previous tribal feuds, tribal alliances and allegiances became possible and have actually encouraged moves towards state building. However, the al-Khalifa failure to assimilate within its subject population has lead them to consistently undermine every effort that could contribute to state- and nation building.

As settlers-conquerors, their rulership did not depend on the support, material, political or otherwise, of their subjects. As they relied on force to extract wealth, they continue to trumpet the fact that theirs is a rule based on right of conquest. This is another major difference between al-Khalifa’s and other non-conquistador tribal regimes in the region. The al-Sabah ruling family in Kuwait, for example, has carved a different path for its relations with its subjects. Since it assumed its rulership position in 1752 and until the beginning of major oil production in 1946, the ruling family in Kuwait ‘was dependent on large merchant families which offered financial and political support to the monarchy in return for a say in state affairs’ (Hicks and al-Najjar, 1995). The situation in Bahrain was significantly different. Long before discovery of oil, merchants families of Bahrain, as well as tribal and communal notables have been dependant on the goodwill of al-Khalifa. On occasions, since mid- 1900, British direct military interventions were necessary for maintenance of these relations of dependency and to secure the very survival of the regime.

These distinct features of the relation between the ruling family and its subordinate intermediaries explain why it did not feel obliged to ‘share’ with them its political and financial fortunes nor did it seek to purchase political consent. Hicks and al-Najjar (1995) note that around mid-1950s, a deal was struck between the ruling family in Kuwait and the large merchant families. The elements of this deal are simple. ‘In return for ceding to the ruling family effective control over key areas of state policy making, initially the merchants, and over time other Kuwaitis, received payment. The merchants were the beneficiaries of state spending on domestic development contracts, of laws which excluded foreign competition or obliged foreign contractors to take on Kuwaiti partners, and of an understanding which minimised the family’s involvement in Kuwaiti business’. (pp.186-7)

In Bahrain, the situation remained essentially intact in spite of considerable improvement through a series of reforms introduced by Britain during 1914-32. Some of the most profound of these reforms during the first decade of this century were enforced in spite of an active, and on occasions, violent, opposition by several powerful groups in the country including factions of the ruling family, tribal forces, the clergy, and the notables and merchant families. In order to pave the way for these reforms, the British, for whom Bahrain was a mere protectorate, used some drastic measures usually reserved for colonies. In 1923, for example, they used force to replace the then ruler, Issa bin Ali, by his son. In the process, some tribes were evacuated back to mainland Arabia; some senior religious clerics were banished, and many prominent merchants and senior members of notable families were forcibly sent to exile.

Those highhanded colonial measures, and subsequent reforms, put the country on the path of a hitherto unfinished dual processes of nation- and state building. Promises of oil discoveries as well as apprehension of the geopolitical consequences of Saudi-Wahabbi ambitions and Iranian claims may have accelerated British endeavours to establish and consolidate a new political order. The task of building ‘a stable and relatively modern’ was undertaken by a number of colonial administrators. The last of these, Sir Charles Belgrave who held his position from 1926-57, actually called his creation , ‘the New Regime’.

On the local levels, a major factor in encouraging British to introduce their reforms has been the chronic instability in Bahrain. A source of instability may be found in various forms of resistance. These included violent acts, by impoverished peasants and pearl divers, main victims of the excesses of al-Khalifa fiefs and their local agents. ‘Everyday forms of resistance’, we are reminded by James Scott (1986) involve a number of direct and indirect actions including sabotage, deceit, pilfering, slander, arson, passive footdragging and non-compliance. Typically, these everyday forms of resistance are isolated retaliatory actions, short-lived, limited and unsustainable. While such actions, rarely result in major change, they are important fomenters of change. Eckstein notes (1989:8) ‘they can, on occasions, undermine the legitimacy, stability and productivity of the system to the point that power elites feel the need to institute some significant reforms. [3]

No less profound was the banning two forms of forced labour: slavery and debt-peonage. The ruling family and its allies on both sides of the communal divide fiercely resisted both of these reforms. In addition to eliminating some of vile basis of injustice, the vigorously enforced ban made labour free to fill the expanding new economic ventures opened in the wake of the discovery of oil. Destitute pearl divers, peasants and freed slaves found themselves, for different reasons, thrown out of their traditional occupations. The luckier ones among them, and the most able bodied, were recruited by the oil company or by other new business ventures.

The period also gave birth to several enduring developments that contributed in their own different ways to define the contours of contentious politics in Bahrain as well as issues contended and participants involved.

The first of these developments was the emergence rudimentary form of government administration. The British were concerned with laying the foundations of a local administration to cope primarily with elementary duties of state such as maintaining public order, collecting taxes, and allocating accrued oil revenues and customs duties. Expansion of the nascent local administrative structures, (loosely termed, for the moment, as government) made it compete with the oil company and its offshoots over the limited supply of literate and semi-literate labour. For a relatively long time, labour market became ‘ethnically blind’. Former slaves, landless peasants and former pearl divers found themselves working more or less side by side. Partly to meet the special requirements of the two large employers, modern schools were opened. These schools, as decreed by the British advisor, were largely bi-communal in spite of strong protests by the ruling family as well as by influential Sunni and Shia clerics. Recruited teachers, from Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria, were free from local ethnic sensitivities, and were the undisputed guardians of communal-blindness of the nascent educational system.

The second enduring development is the introduction, by the British, of various administrative arrangements that allocated substantial financial resources to the Amir and, through him, to the ruling family. Most important of these is allocating one-third of oil revenues to the Privy Purse. Further, land registration laws stipulated that all unclaimed or non-registered lands became ‘Amiri Lands’. [4] Al-Naqeeb (1990:103), describing the general pattern of oil impact on tribal regimes on the Arabian side of the Gulf, notes that while ‘distribution of petroleum revenue entails the creation of state machinery and institutions to distribute it among the inhabitants in the form of government expenditures…the first step always was the consolidation of the ruling families and their transformation into political institutions which owned the state’.

The third development, is the emergence of a stratum of entrepreneurs, middlemen, bureaucrats, and professionals who were recruited by the oil industry and the government from among the pearl merchant and other notable families of the main towns, Manama and Muharraq. Within few years, sons (and, on very limited scale, daughters) of notables merchant families would fill most senior and middle rank positions in the government sector. Many of them have also studied abroad, mostly in Arab universities in Baghdad, Beirut, Cairo and Damascus. Besides all other influences they acquired from staying and visiting these Arab metropolises, Bahraini university graduates, soon in the thousands, will also be the conduits for Arab nationalist and leftist ideas and organisations. These ideas included condemnation of ‘sectarianism’ and other traditional threats to ‘national unity’.

The fourth development is the emergence of the first of several initial cracks in the wall that separated the communities that inhabit the country. For the first time, since 1783 conquest, the poor sections of both communities were able to work to side by side. The relatively modern work places and conditions that have been introduced by the Oil Company and its offshoots offered what will prove to be the learning grounds for communally blind labour militancy. [5]

Recent history of contentious politics in Bahrain, as I perceive it, is an outcome of the socio-political processes that were set in motion by these developments. It is, in part, a history of ongoing, yet faltering, processes of de-ethnification and nation- and state building. For in spite of the manifest zigzag in this history, its main feature is equally manifest: a tension between ethnic-based and national-based mobilisation. (I am aware of my ambiguous use of both terms. By ‘ethnic’, in Bahraini context, I refer to community-based solidarities which mobilises kinship, tribal and/or religious backgrounds and affiliations. My use of the term ‘national’ is more problematic as it refers, in Bahraini context, to at least two layers of identities: the Bahraini and the Arab). It is, in other words, a tension between the socio-political forces defending the status quo (plus minus) and the socio-political forces championing what has been referred to as enlightenment (plus minus). In Bahrain, according to Khuri (1980:198) ‘this enlightenment meant rejecting sectarian politics, opposing colonial rule and the tribally controlled regime, and championing the cause of labour classes’. At the risk of oversimplification, the forces of status quo (plus minus) included the ruling family, the notables and the clerical establishment, while the forces of enlightenment (plus minus) most of the nascent business community, civil servants and workers.

In the following, I intend to discuss the relation between the faltering process of enlightenment and the social forces involved. Few examples are taken from different phases of recent history of contentious politics in Bahrain. While my account neglects some of the finer historical details, that may be of interest in other contexts, it illustrates my assertion that contentious politics in Bahrain have oscillated between two strategic options, the ethnic and the national. As we shall see, both sets of strategies have been viewed as legitimate and effective means for formation of political identities and as means for political mobilisation. In Bahrain, these identities have taken different shapes and assumed varying levels of importance following changes in perception of political opportunities, and of strategic options.

Vertical segmentation of society

Al-Khalifa rule persevered, partly through British support, including several incidents of direct military intervention, and partly through a rigidly enforced system of vertical segmentation that has been gradually expanded and refined into an effective instrument of power and of legitimacy of power. With vertical segmentation, I refer to maintaining a division of society and social institutions into a number of vertical parallels that are separated from each other through, mainly political, sanctions.

Vertical segmentation, in Bahrain, is maintained through mobilisation of tribal, confessional, and ethnic myths, through appropriate parts of communal histories, through co-optation as well as through actual use of physical force. Top dogs within each vertical segment are strong enough to keep order within their sphere but not enough to prevent the regime from intervening, directly or indirectly, whenever need arises. On an extreme end of the segmented system one finds the ruling family itself and chiefs of some of its tribal Sunni allies, while on the other extreme one would find the impoverished local Shia peasants. Foreigners, presently making more than one-third of the population, continue to be outside the system. Paradoxically, foreigners who live as temporary residents with virtually no other right than right to work, play important roles enabling the regime to maintain its hold on society.

Obviously, vertical segmentation between Sunni and Shia communities is the weightiest, but not the only, form of the system. Other criteria for social stratification operate separately or alongside confessional affiliation. In particular, wealth, kinship, as well as tribal and rural-urban backgrounds will persist and contribute, whenever mobilised, to strengthening segmentation of the socio-political order. In his seminal work, on Iraq, Hanna Batatu (1978) describes a more complex situation of a regional metropolis. Here too one finds several hierarchies that were simultaneously at work: hierarchies of religion, of wealth, of sect, of ethnic groups, status, and of power. ‘Of course’ writes Batatu’s, ‘ there was a great coincidence between all these hierarchies; that is, those who stood, say, at the top in the scale of power tended also to stand at the top with respect to wealth or in terms of religious, sectarian, ethnic, or status affiliation’.

Effective manipulations of existing hierarchies, sustaining a suitable level of vertical segmentation, and pre-empting opportunities for horizontal, cross-hierarchy, interaction provided al-Khalifa, with a strategic asset to maintain its rule and a local source to legitimate that rule. Long before it assumed its control of modern sources of rent and extraction of wealth, al-Khalifa were able to monopolise use of force in the territory, mediate among tribal and confessional hierarchies, and impose their segmented co-existence. Al-Khalifa monopoly of use of force was legitimated through founding of Pax Britannica in the Gulf since the early decades of 19th century. Local tribes that challenged al-Khalifa status were, on occasions, severely dealt with by British military might. Reliance on readily available external sources of legitimacy of rule persists to this day and may explain al-Khalifa uncompromising refusal to solicit additional internal sources of legitimacy of their rule.

In an answer to the question, how do these ruling families in the Gulf emirates govern?, al-Naqeeb (1990:105-7) suggests that they ‘govern by means of unofficial corporations and by manipulating with the social forces under new division of labour’. In this sense, a corporation means ‘the corporate social forces which are allowed to express themselves within the ruling establishment, through appointed or assigned head of tribes and families’. Because they are unofficial, there is no formal body to represent these corporate social forces, They are represented, however, in various institutions of the state: the government, municipal and other local councils, and, in the army and police.

By al-Naqeeb count, there are six of these unofficial corporations in addition to the ruling family itself. These are:

  1. The tribal establishment: the tribal shaykhs with whom the government deals at the local level.
  2. The merchants: the big merchants and the heads of mercantile families. Along with their ordinarily being represented by the chambers of commerce and industry.
  3. The sectarian establishment: the heads of the religious sects, such as the Shi’ah, the Ibadites, the Sunnis, and the Zaidis.
  4. The religious establishment: the leaders of the religious movements, the mutawi’ah […] and others.
  5. The middle classes: in view of the prevention of professional organizations from having union offices, the government deals with these classes on a family basis.
  6. The workers in those countries where there are workers from among the citizens, and those who have union organisations. (p. 106 )

Even if one assumes that there is no implied uniformity and durability in such a ‘Gulf and Peninsula’-specific corporative system, one faces several other problems. Some of these are related to the similarities and dissimilarities among political formations in the region. While sharing a number of common features, state-society relations in the countries of the region differ considerably from each other and over time. Notwithstanding how one defines ‘corporations’, or under what historical circumstances they appear, they have not operated independently of ruler, the ruling family or from other social, economic and political actors within society. And, they have not been able to survive without the consent, if the active support, of ruler and other actors. The career of the Ikhwan in Saudi Arabia is one several illustrations of this point.

In Bahrain, the ups and downs in the careers of a number of tribal allies who aided al-Khalifa conquest illustrate the volatility of tribal alliances and the transitory nature of the rewards they produce. [6] A study of development of al-Khalifa regime, its relations with society in general and with social forces that make up the internal sources of its power does not support the existence of ‘corporations’ either as unofficial or semi-official bodies. I will elaborate this further.

Let me first clarify the meaning of ‘al-Khalifa regime’ as used in this paper. It denotes a despotic form of rule that has gradually evolved in the aftermath of British-designed political and economic reforms in the first decades of this century. While the ruling family is the firm foundation of the regime and its ultimate power base, actual exercise of power is centralised within regime’s own ruling core. From 1926 until 1957, the ruling core consisted of the Amir himself (and his British advisor, Sir Charles Belgrave). From 1959 to 1971, the ruling core consisted of a troika, the Amir and his two brothers. Fierce family squabbles were resolved by the forced retirement, in 1971, of the youngest brother in the troika.

Existence of the ruling core is acknowledged in official communiqués, and in Bahraini media, as ‘the political leadership’. Students of Arab modern politics will recognise the expression as a familiar euphemism in many one-party states. Since 1971, ‘the political leadership’, the ruling core, in Bahrain is made of a troika: the Amir, his brother Khalifa Bin Salman, the prime minister; and his son Hamad bin Isa, the crown prince. There are speculations, which I need not go into, on the role of the crown prince within the current troika. From time to time, it appears, he is excluded from the ruling core.

Relations between, as it were, the rank and file of the al-Khalifa and its ruling core have been formally managed, since 1932, through the ‘Family Council’. On the eve of 1973 parliamentary elections, the Amir issued a formal decree re-structuring ‘al-Khalifa Family Council’. According to that decree, the Council has become a formal organ of the state with an executive secretariat and a full time administrative offices headed by an al-Khalifa, ‘ with a rank of a minister’. Members of the board of the ‘al-Khalifa Family Council’ are appointed by the Amir as recognised representatives of various kinship lines and factional alliances within the family. Within its formal meetings the council attends to internal family disputes, particularly those related to appropriation of land, sale of real estate and other properties. Regardless of their rank, members of the ruling family are not allowed to refer these or other disputes to ordinary law courts. Further, they are not allowed to enter into any major transaction, particularly in real estate, without prior approval of the Council.

Regime’s stability and effective rule depend on mobilisation of what Stinchcomb calls (1968) ‘a nesting of reserve sources of power’. These reserves, whether made of internal or external sources, have enabled it to subdue society through effective use of strategies of penetration, fragmentation and marginalisation. All significant activities within society must be endorsed by the regime. In this sense, al-Khalifa regime corresponds to ‘an autonomous state elite’ (Mann, 1986:114). Through external and internal sources the regime is able of combining what Mann has called the ‘despotic power‘ of pre-modern states and the ‘infrastructural power‘ of the modern state. Despotic power of the state elite is seen in the ‘range of actions that it takes without routine, institutionalised negotiation groups in society’. While infrastructural power is seen as the ‘capacity of the state actually to penetrate civil society and to implement logistically political decisions throughout the realm’ (ibid. p.113).

Loyalty to the regime of divergent, and among themselves conflicting, forces have been maintained through an elaborate segmented system of intermediary patrons. On the top of the segmented pyramid of patrons stands the Amir himself, as a supreme patron. As noted, he owes his position to several British-devised schemes including the allocation of one-third of oil revenues to the Privy Purse. Land registration ordinances of the 1920s, another British-devised reform, transformed all non-registered and non-claimed lands into ‘Amiri Lands’. Some of these unclaimed real estates were transferred as awkaf property to the Council of the ruling family. Oil revenues, rents, real estate as well as other investments, make it possible to allocate a monthly stipend for each of 2500-3000 members of the ruling family according to an elaborate classification.

In his dual role as the head of a tribal hierarchy and as the head of a regime, the Amir together with other members of the ruling core, hold considerable powers over the remaining two-thirds oil revenues and over other public resources. The ruling core has an unrestricted discretion that can enhance or weaken the influence enjoyed by intermediary patrons. From these resources, it disburses gratuities and favours in form of employment, cash, and plots of land. Official media, particularly after the dissolution of parliament, refers to every new project be it a huge infra structural project or a visit to a school, as an Amiri gratuity, makrama. More recently, the list of Amiri gratuities also included the symbolic release of political detainees. While an intervention by an intermediary is required for some of these gratuities, many other categories of gratuities not require such an intervention. With and without the help of various intermediary patrons, the ruling core has been able to exercise the art of ‘negatively privileging’ and ‘positively privileging’ his subjects.

Strategies adopted by the regime strongly discouraged the development of collective bodies that, by virtue of composition or history can make its own claims on the regime. An extreme form of these claims may be aspiring to share political power with the ruling core. It has been repeatedly established that the regime prefers to deal with society through selected intermediaries, but only on temporary basis. An intermediary may be an individual or a collective, modern, or traditional. On occasions members of the ruling family itself assume intermediary roles. At various moments, a current list of acceptable intermediaries may include a notable person, a clan, a family, a network of professionals, a social club, and so on. A common basic feature of these intermediaries is that each of them acknowledges its own subordination to the regime. Even when approved as an intermediary, none is granted the exclusive right to represent the segment of population on whose behalf it seeks to mediate. The ruling core has consistently and decisively prevented the evolution of any of these intermediaries as a permanent and formal arrangement whether a collective or a corporation. Moreover, it has also consistently and decisively pre-empted any co-operation across vertical confines among these intermediaries.

Intermediaries have been, and still are, important component of the regime as they make up the major part of its internal reserve sources of power. As reserve sources, they are retained in such a fashion as to be available whenever the regime feels the need of support to overcome an opposition or pre-empt its growth. Intermediaries are consistently prevented from becoming power centres themselves. They are consistently also discouraged from making claims on the regime as collectives. They are encouraged to intercede on behalf of individuals who, within conditions segmented plurality, are counted as their clients. On their part, individuals are encouraged not to depend on a single intermediary but rather seek the mediation of different intermediaries on different issues. This goes some considerable distance beyond the usual system of rotation where a regime routinely and rotatively selects patrons from among its subordinate social elites.

Sustaining vertical segmentation of society has proven itself a useful form of social organisation and, hitherto, an effective vehicle for rule. As shown during the oil-boom years, the regime has effectively used the resources at its disposal to create new intermediaries, retire some old ones and revive others. Intermediaries are made up, vertically, of tribal, religious, confessional groups as well as according to wealth, kinship or residential areas. As local reserve sources for legitimacy of power, competing intermediaries reinforce the regime policies, including preserving segmentation of society. Individually these intermediaries have always been exchangeable, and, at times, even dispensable. As an institution, however, they provide a certain limitation on the exercise of power. It does so not as much because of its own strength but rather, to paraphrase Stinchcomb, because the exercise of power is dependent on its being backed up. Even an appearance of being backed up by a relevant source of power, serves the regime through encouraging other, external as well as internal, sources of power to provide their own backing and support.

In spite of the generally acknowledged value of intermediaries as a source of power and of legitimacy of power, their influence on the actual exercise of power is marginal. A powerful internal security apparatus has provided a more direct sustenance to the regime. Moreover, recent developments indicate that the regime will continue to maintain political marginality of its intermediaries and to continue its heavy reliance on external sources.

Since 1869, ‘special relations’ with Britain provided the regime with a decisive source of legitimacy. Britain’s motives to what seems to be a wholehearted support al-Khalifa may be have been its apprehension of the geopolitical consequences of Saudi ambitions, Iranian claims, and, later, as part of its region-wide actions to restrain the growth of Arab national liberation movement. As an external source of power, Britain warded off external threats and helped the regime suppress its internal opposition. For more than a century, but especially since discovery of oil, British might, including military force, was ready at hand to rescue al-Khalifa from attacks its opponents whether these were tribal, confessional, or nationalists.

Pre-eminence of external sources of legitimacy of power, over internal ones, persisted even after Bahrain gained its independence and ended the treaty of ‘special relations’ with Britain in 1971. Gradually, Britain role was taken over by USA whose Fifth Fleet’s HQs is located in Bahrain. Additional external reserve sources of power and of legitimacy of power are provided by sister regimes, members of the Gulf Co-operation Council.

With its solid and relatively intact ruling core, and with its internal and external sources of power readily available, the regime has been able of sustaining vertical segmentation of society as well as being able of sustaining its own survival. It has also been able of effectively retaining its monopoly of political and economic powers, and to guard its multiple roles as a lawmaker and law enforcer, a referee as well as being a party and claimant of rights.

An unfinished business (I)

The earliest serious and still enduring challenge to ethnic politics in Bahrain emerged through the National Union Committee, NUC. The Committee was formed in 1954 after a series of inter-communal disturbances that claimed casualties on sides of the communal divide. Young nationalist men who mobilised against ‘evils of the status quo’ formed the committee. They saw sectarianism’ as the main obstacles in the struggle for a better life. Like their peers in other parts of the Arab region, Bahraini nationalist considered national unity of all Bahrainis as the first requirement for their liberation and as a step towards liberation of the Arab nation. The enlightenment project, to paraphrase Khuri (1980), was based on mobilising ‘national’ forces to challenge an alliance of forces defending the status quo. Their attacks were directed on the broad front of forces that maintained sectarian politics, colonial rule and the tribally controlled regime.

The NUC utilised the press and the, then existing, social networks to mobilise the public around a nationalist political platform. Its first communiqué outlined its demands to include an elected legislative assembly; modern penal code and civil law; reform of the judiciary; a constitutional court; and the legalisation of labour unions and professional associations. (For full text see al-Baker 1960). Moreover, NUC mobilisation for ‘national unity, against colonialism and local reactionary allies’ fitted the spirit of the time of most of Arab region. In many respects, NUC mobilisation strategies benefited from the atmosphere of revolutionary optimism that wrapped the whole Arab region from Morocco to Oman. A revolutionary optimism that was confirmed daily by news of successes against colonial domination in other Arab countries including Egypt, whose radio stations were tirelessly transmitting revolutionary messages. Within its first few months, the NUC was transformed into, what appeared to be, a formidable force capable of challenging the British and the ruling family and its local allies on both sides of the communal divide.

In spite of the highly ceremonial presence of one senior Shia clergy in its steering committee, the NUC failed to mobilise the clergy on both sides of the communal divide. The organisation, however, challenged Shia and Sunni clerics exclusive control of their respective mosques and other religious spaces by appropriating these locales to hold its political meetings. Reflecting the spirit of the time, most of those meetings were pointedly anti-sectarian.

Refusal by Sunni as well as Shia clerics to take part in overt political confrontations with the regime have been and, to a large extent, still is, a prominent feature of local politics. In Bahrain, writes Khuri (1980) ‘ ‘tribalism’ as a form of social organization and religionism as a political force reinforce each other’. (p.241). In an attempt to split national consensus, the regime encouraged some Shia notables, merchants and religious leaders to form an exclusively Shia organisation. The National Convention Committee, NCC, was formed, in 1955, with two branches, one for Shia Arabs and one for Shia of Iranian descent. On orders issued by the NUC, people boycotted religious centres patronised by leaders of the breakaway organisations. To this day, four decade after those centres were pronounced as ‘dens of treason’ in 1955, those boycott orders are still respected

De-ethnification of contentious politics has been a major objective of the enlightenment project, such as perceived in mid-1950 by the NUC. It remains as one of its enduring legacies. NUC strategy of de-ethnification involved campaigns exposing sectarianism as a regressive phenomenon and as a moral degeneration, as well as being a divisive tool manipulated by British colonialism and its local allies. The strategy also involved presenting national and secular politics a viable project, to establish its legitimacy by linking it to currents of modernity and revolutionary optimism sweeping the rest of the Arab region.

While it was historically significant, the de-ethnification project has never acquired approval from social forces powerful enough to enforce it. For, although gradually gaining grounds, the emergent social forces advocating the enlightenment project remained predominantly among the underdogs. Resistance to de-ethnification came from all forces that benefited from the status quo. These would represent the ‘evils of status quo’ and ‘enemies of the people’: tribal rule, ‘feudal’ privileges, and religion-mongers. Fierce resistance came from the ruling family, the notables, and the clergy on both sides of the communal divide. Throughout the past five decades, those advocating non-sectarian political discourse have been discredited by any combination of charges that range from being promiscuous atheists who have no regard for the society’s traditions and morals, to being duped (and/or paid) agents of an external power. Yet, Bahraini opposition remained since 1954, to use a cliché, dominated by nationalist and secular rhetoric. It embraced most tendencies of Arab nationalist and leftist movements during the past three decades.

As a movement, the NUC lasted for less than two years. Following riots in support of Egypt defending itself against the tripartite invasion of 1956, the British decided to put an end to the NUC challenge to their presence in Bahrain. The NUC and its offshoots were declared illegal. Its leaders were arrested, tried and imprisoned. Some fled the country while others were forcibly deported. The presence of British military units all over the country enforced the gravity of the situation and gave the people their first taste of a State of Emergency that will last for the next two decades. In spite of its short history, NUC left a legacy that persists to these days.

NUC ‘s success in mobilising the public has also introduced two significant organisational changes. These, in due time, would challenge the authority of the NUC and would subsequently outlive it. Political developments of 1953-56 brought about two historically significant innovations. The first is the formation of the General Trade Union, GTU, and the second is the emergence of a radical flank within the movement that NUC led.

The GTU massive membership attested to general mood of the period. Abdulrahman al-Baker, (1965:478-8) who served for some time as the General Secretary of the NUC, reports that the GTU was able to recruit 14000 Bahraini workers in its first three months. This is a major feat by all counts. The strength of the union was further tested during the election of representatives of workers to the tripartite commission entrusted to draw up the first ‘Labour Code’. The NUC/GTU candidates won the elections, while their opponents, backed by the government, received only some 600 votes out of the 18,000 votes cast. (al-Baker, 1960). NUC leadership may have seen labour unionisation as just another instrument for national, anti-sectarian mobilisation. However, the seeds, as it were, of non-sectarian labour militancy have been sown and will become persistent features of contentious politics in the country during the coming decades.

NUC was equally successful in launching other bi-communal ventures. Following a strike by taxi drivers, the NUC initiated the establishment of Co-operative Compensation Fund, as co-operative insurance venture for and by taxi and buss drivers. The Fund helped break the monopoly of British insurance companies. Until it was dissolved three years ago, as part of a reportedly World Bank inspired re-structuring programme, the Fund was a major insurance company in the country.

Another historically significant development was the emergence a radical offshoot from within the NUC. This was made up of a number of underground cells of radical activists NUC, who saw the organisation as too timid in its tactics and not enough revolutionary in its goals. The emergence of the radical flank within the NUC may explain the urgency of formation of GTU (al-Falaki,1955). [7] It may also be due to the influence of Iraqi and Iranian militants who took refuge in Bahrain in the early 1950s. Most of these cadres came with extensive experiences in underground work in political and cultural environments that are more complex than the ones prevailing in Bahrain at the time. They were also political cadres experienced in underground struggle in harsher conditions than those prevailing in Bahrain at the time were. With considerable assistance from these refugees, small groups of local would-be communists and Arab nationalists formed their first underground cells under the shadow of the NUC. In the next two decades, these organisations have not only adopt Nub’s agenda of enlightenment, but went farther on.

While suffering from several handicaps including being forced to work clandestinely, the emergent radical groups enjoyed some considerable advantages. To begin with, they were freed from having to follow NUC deference to ‘ethnic etiquette’ or strictly observing an ethnic balance in its composition and leadership. [8] They, also, have been able to start from the national consensus established by the NUC. Indeed, the enlightenment project of the 1950s was extended further to include issues that are more radical that NUC founders have envisaged. In time, these shifted under the influence of the expansive revolutionary visions of the Arab national liberation movement. Being underground also enabled these organisations to survive loss of cadres either as a result of political and police repression or because of social attrition.

The ranks of the underground were continuously rejuvenated through recruitment of young Bahrainis enrolled in universities abroad particularly in Arab countries and, since 1961, in the USSR and other socialist countries. Each year, hundreds of new young Bahraini students were being exposed to the new ideas and political debates that flowed in the Arab region. Branches of the National Union of Bahraini Student, NUBS, abroad, were led by Communists, Baathist, and Popular Front or by coalition of these. Bahraini students unions became an extension of the underground, and as such, adhered to its intentional and demonstrative irreverence to ‘sectarian etiquette’. Conflicts and intrigues within these unions were not motivated by other reasons than keeping an ethnic balance. This may explain, albeit partly, why has the underground, of all shapes and colours, to extend its student activities to include students enrolled in religious universities, mainly al-Azhar and al-Najaf. Like their elders, students enrolled at these seminaries eluded all attempts of to drag them into non-sectarian, anti-colonial nationalist activities.

In Bahrain itself, sporadic riots continued throughout the next decade. However, the ban on political activity was not seriously and openly challenged until 1965. What has since been known as the ‘ intifadat Mars’ was sparked by then the dismissal of hundreds of workers by the oil company. Underground cells of the National Liberation Front, NLF, and the Arab National Movement, ANM, [9] instituted themselves as leaders of the struggle against British rule and for a more equitable social order (Ali, 1980:46-7; al-Shihabi, 1996:266-76). The duration of 1965 ‘intifada’ and its violent character underlined the widening gap between all major sections of the population on the one hand and the British and the ruling family on the other. Ability of the underground opposition to stage several labour and student strikes from March to June, confirmed its mobilisation skills, but also the depth spread of discontent in the country. Moreover, the opposition ability, on its own, to stage a countrywide general strike, re-affirmed its radical nationalist agenda.

Labour actions, particularly strike reached another peak in 1968 when they affected practically every major and medium size employer. However, the announcement in 1968 of the imminent British withdrawal from the region helped to maintain calm for sometime.

While short on dramatic elements, the three years period between Britain’s announcement of its East of Suez strategy and the end of its special relations with Bahrain has been eventful. During 1968-71, the regime accelerated efforts to modernise its administrative apparatus to meet the impending tasks of statehood. One of significant efforts has been the formation of Bahrain Defence Force, BDF. It soon became apparent that this force will be charged with several duties in addition to defence of the realm. Besides its role in helping the police in maintaining law and order, the BDF helps maintain ‘balance of forces’ within the ruling family. It also provided the regime with an additional space to reward loyal allies with employment and status. Intermediary patrons, on both sides of the communal divide, made use of these new opportunities. [10]

Preparations for Britain’s withdrawal included finding a resolution to Iran’s claim to Bahrain. In the ensuing tense period of consultation, the ruling family became interested in maintaining the ‘cohesive national character of the country and the people of Bahrain, to learn from the past in order to build a national future, above sectarian interests’. The ruling core made many undertakings and promises to representative of various groups and interests. In order to encourage them to oppose of Iranian claims, contradictory promises were generously given to all: from conservative Sunni and Shia cleric and notables, to leading intellectuals and known advocates of the ‘enlightenment project’ including former prominent members of the NUC.

A parallel development confirmed the conciliatory path that contentious politics in Bahrain seem to have taken. Britain encouraged its Gulf protectorates, including Bahrain, to establish a federation. Negotiations failed partly because of Bahraini delegates insisted on reaching an agreement that binds federal institutions to reflect the will of the people. Bahrain proposed a system of ‘proportional representation’ as the most suitable mechanism to make the voice of peoples of the federated-to-be sheikhdoms heard. Bahrain insisted also that such a proportional representation should be reached through direct elections. [11] After failing to convince its intended partners of these principles, or of its democratic intentions, Bahrain stayed out of the Gulf federation plans.

For a very short period in modern history of Bahrain, there was a national consensus. For the first time since 1783, there exist some reasonable foundations for such a consensus between the regime and its allies on the one hand and most of its opponents on the other. Repudiating Iranian claims to Bahrain, and infusing a ‘people’s role’ in the federation plans showed an appreciation of the ‘people’ as a political asset. Both required credible level of national consensus.

In hindsight, it is apparent that the regime was pursuing two parallel strategies. First, a strategy for maintaining the status quo, while introducing reforms without threatening the privileges of any of its traditional beneficiaries; and, second, a strategy state- and nation-building on the general principles of enlightenment albeit through rigidly controlled political and economic changes. The two seemingly contradictory strategies reflected in part the inconclusive resolution of disagreement on the issue within the ruling family itself, between its own conservative and moderate factions. They may also have been reflections of different undertakings given to different constituencies while mobilising the people against Iranian claims.

Leaders of the NUC, living in exile since 1956, were allowed to return the country. Security measures were noticeably relaxed and the economy seems prospering. With grants from rulers of other Arab Gulf states, particularly Kuwait and Abu Dhabi, additional development projects, including major housing projects, were launched. Expanding government and public sectors created new jobs as well as opportunities for promotion. [12] The process allowed the ruling core to incorporate several additional intermediaries, thus confirming its position as a supreme patron while expanding its support base. On the other side, Shia clerical establishment obtained several concessions [13] including licensing the formation of ‘charitable associations’. However, the friendliest section within the Shia clerical establishment received the most coveted prize, a license to publish a weekly magazine.

‘The constitutional experiment’

On August 15, 1971, when Bahrain was declared independent, the future seemed promising. In view of official public statements, and the not so-public promises, many Bahrainis hoped that with independence the nationification project will be elevated from its contested space into becoming an issue of state. Except for some protestations from underground groups, declaration of independence was generally seen as a threshold to the realisation of the enlightenment project. There have been many indications that the regime was beginning to reconcile with its ‘enlightened’ adversaries, and particularly with regards to their visions of national integration and state building. The rest of NUC leadership still living in exile were allowed to return to the country and were publicly welcomed by the Amir and senior members of the ruling family. Although the British-composed national anthem and the British-designed flag survived the historic transformation to ‘independence’, other symbols of statehood were introduced with the appropriate fanfare. More to the point, the country’s name acquired a prefix denoting its statehood. And Bahrainis, according to their new passports, were literally promoted from ‘subjects’ to ‘citizens’.

The country seemed at the onset of a transition from an ethnically segmented formation to a nation. Such a transition would have entailed, according to Anthony D. Smith, (1996) setting in motion several related processes and movements. ‘These include a movement of peripheral ethnic groups from their subordinated accommodation and passivity to an active, assertive participants in a politicised community; a universal recognition of the ‘homeland’, of the state which is consolidated through transforming ethnic members into legal citizens and conferring on each common civil, social and political rights and obligations; through economic integration all members of the homeland; as well as through e-educating them in national values, myths and memories’.

However, the regime seems to have decided to move in the opposite direction while maintaining an air of ambivalent search for a suitable course to take. As subsequent developments confirm, the regime and its allies actually believed that political integration and state building could be ventured without eradicating traditional solidarities and the patronage system. While such hopes may be attempts ‘to escape from history’, they may also be seen as strategic options based on the rationale that integration and state building could ‘involve processes such as tutelage, incorporation, institutional manipulation, and co-option as well as reconciliation’. Nazih Ayoubi (1995:183) writes that ‘[m]any kinds of state-group relationships can exist within integration, which may be achieved not by surrendering traditional (kin or spatial) relationships, but in fact employing them. A tolerable level of communalism, ‘segmented pluralism’, clientalism and patronage, as well as ‘populism’ may all work as integrative devices’.

Euphoric expectations were frustrated by the inability of the ruling core to deliver more than additional promises and simple rhetoric. Barely nine months old as an independent state, the country was thrown into another ‘intifadat mars’. The 1972 ‘March uprising’ was the culmination of various actions organised by an alliance of underground groups who formed the Constitutive Committee of Bahraini Workers and Professionals Union, CCBWPU. Its demands included improvement of labour laws, freedom of associations, including legalisation of labour unions, and the release of political prisoners. In the spirit of its new post-independence image, the regime sought to negotiate. Following the collapse of negotiations, the CCBWPU organised several mass protests including strikes and demonstration. Swift actions by the police and anti-riot squads as well as the Bahrain Defence Force managed to brought the ‘uprising’ to an end. Most known leaders of the uprising were detained.

The regime emerged victorious. Yet, made several conciliatory undertakings that confirms its post-independence dual strategy. These included, a public undertaking to speed moves towards drafting the country’s first constitution, which would guarantee the freedom of association. Within months, the regime actually took steps towards fulfilling these undertakings, and more. Looking into various details, and anecdotes, the ruling core reached during this short period its optimal levels in combining the despotic powers of pre-modern states and the ‘infrastructural power‘ of the modern state.

A partially elected Constituent Assembly, of males only, debated and adopted a draft constitution. The 1973 constitution was a compromise. It appeased advocates of the two parallel strategies within the regime. A strategy that mobilises the regime’s despotic powers for maintaining the status quo (plus some reforms), and another strategy that mobilises the regime’s infrastructural power‘ and seeks to incorporate principles of enlightenment (minus some reforms).

In view of freedoms it guaranties and in terms of civil and human right it recognises, 1973 constitution is a remarkable document. (See: Articles 4-29). However, while the it guarantees rights and freedoms of citizens, it consistently constrains practice of rights with an undefined stipulation: ‘in accordance with law’. This also explains the constitution’s remarkable definition of citizen both male and female, thus granting equal rights. However, the conditional ‘in accordance with law’ granted the regime considerable powers of discretion which resulted in excluding women from participation in the nascent democratic experiment. Laws and regulations pertaining to election procedures redefined ‘citizen’ and restricted it to males, above 21 years old for voters and above 30 years old for candidates. Protests, including several organised protests by women organisations, did not shake up the anti-female consensus.

Important pillars of the regime, including the ruling family itself, have yet to make their final preferences known. Indeed, as Khuri notes (1983:342-3) the two most important actors on the side status quo, the ruling family and the Shia clerical establishment, did not directly and formally participate in the electoral politics. It may be, as Khuri suggests, that both considered their authority above politics. Both did not want to subject its authority to testing through election or, even, having this authority confirmed through elections. However, the ruling family and the clerical establishment have supported their own candidates. Several of these candidates received the combined support of the regime and clerics.

An additional reason for their rejection of electoral politics may lies in their understanding of implications of these politics. In a process of transition from ethnically segmented social order into a civic nation, the ruling family and clerical establishment stand to loose most. In addition to being the parties that benefit most from the status quo, their legitimacy rests, in part, on the durability of that system. Both have had serious causes to be concerned. At worse, they saw electoral politics as an initial part in a process of transformation of members of subordinated groups, ethnic and women, into legal citizens and conferring on each common civil, social and political rights and obligations. This may explain why the ruling family and the clerical establishment stood firmly against including women in the heavily restrained democratisation process.

During the ensuing election campaign for the National Assembly (parliament), various political forces took part, including communists and religionists. In some constituencies, the two competed fiercely against each other. While religionists had a clear advantage through use of their own weekly publication, all candidates made extensive use of religious meeting places as well as religious discourse. However, neither ethnicity nor piety was the prime electoral issue. Indeed, in spite of charges of atheism, godlessness and promiscuity, some leftist and independent candidates defeated religionist candidates. [14] Moreover, election results indicated another social demarcation whose significance would be underlined in the years to come. Leftists won in the urban areas while the religionists won in Shia rural areas. Independent (later to be known loosely as the ‘centre’) were elected by voters in both rural and urban areas, defeating some religionists and leftists respectively.

The 30 males elected to the National Assembly in 1973 represented ‘all’ different political trends prevailing in the country at the time. ( A cautionary note must be made here in view of the fact that women were excluded from participation in the election. In spite of their protest made by several women organisations, elections procedural laws defined ‘citizen’ eligible to vote as males over above 21 years of age). Post election euphoria confirmed the generally held belief that it was a major victory for Bahraini political opposition in all its shades. A leftist bloc of eight and a religionist bloc of six were discernible. [15] It was obvious from the very first day of their life as ‘representatives of the people’, that animosity between the religionists and the leftists was irreconcilable. The ‘independents’, for example, made most of the situation through being on good terms with the regime as well as with their leftist and religionist colleagues. They were systematically exchanging voting favours among themselves, with the government, and with the religionists and leftist blocs. The situation seemed, particularly, pleasing to the regime.

For, regardless of post election euphoria, the real balance of forces inside the parliament was clearly in favour of the regime. This is partly due to a constitutional stipulation that all fourteen ministers were ex officio full members of the parliament. Such a voting block proved to be impenetrable. In addition, the government made an effective use, at least during the first year, of the leftists-religionist rivalry and the eagerness of independent parliamentarians to offer themselves as intermediary patrons. [16] The whole arrangement, it seemed, suited the regime and was in line with its dual strategy.

Debates during 1972 sessions of the Constituent Assembly and during sessions held in the first year National Assembly, affirmed the existence of a common, if unwritten, understanding on the limits of the ongoing ‘process of political participation’. Besides the ruling core itself, other participants to this common understanding included Shia clerical establishment, the notable families, and retired former activists of the NUC. Process of ‘political participation’, Bahraini euphemism for democracy, seemed destined to guarding ‘segmented pluralism’ as a firm and viable basis for state-building and for the development of state institutions. This consensus did not last. As members of different blocs confronted each other, compromised and co-operated on political issues and procedural matters, they also started reaching an understanding on how to overcome the limitations of their mandate and the constitutional constraints put on their institution. Two additional, and extra-parliamentary, factors may have helped bringing closer to each other members of different blocs, particularly the religionist and the leftists.

The first relates to the impatience of the ruling core with the unfolding developments and its fear from its consequences. Full of expectations at the start of the oil boom, it became increasingly impatient with the intrusive role of the parliament. While it was still meagre in early 1974, the oil boom promised to free the regime from some of its undertakings and particularly the need to court the emergent forces represented in the parliament. Within less than six months of the parliamentary experiment, ‘representatives of the people’ found themselves treated with haughtiness reserved for middle-rank government employees. Soon also disappeared the subtle distinctions in deference between the self-restrained cleric parliamentarians and their irreligious colleagues, some of whom are hardened ex-political prisoners.

The other relates to reactions by members of the National Assembly to extra-parliamentary activities. In spite of their apparently irreconcilable ideological differences, religionists and leftists shared the same social constituency: workers, and lower middle class and novice professionals. Actions by these groups in form of strikes, petitions, representations and demonstrations were channelled, often simultaneously, through both blocs. Gradually, parliamentary debates showed a growing space for co-operation between these two blocs as well as with several independent members. In spite of their growing pragmatism and willingness to exchange voting favours, religionist and leftist parliamentarian were not able to compromise on several causes célèbre. These included parliamentary motions by leftists in favour of proclaiming 1st of May as an official holiday, and by religionists in favour of enforced separation of the sexes in public places.

Debates concerning both motions echoed parts of the debates in the rest of the Arab region between modernists and traditionalists (or, westernised vs. authentic) and involved the much of its discursive arsenal. Those vigorous, and many time heated, debates reflected an emerging consciousness of the limits of ‘segmented pluralism’ and of that other options are both feasible and viable.

Gradually, as it were, an awareness has emerged among participants that they are competing within a single common national space and that they shared a number of interests. Once more, the main characteristics of contentious politics shifted to be national, or at least, non-communal. It seemed that another realistic opportunity has presented itself to re-start what Balibar (1996) calls ‘delayed nationalisation of society’ and to build a national consensus, beyond the ethnic interests and corporate mandate. From the regime’s side of the chamber, those few modest steps of co-operation between the religionists and leftists foretold of a realistic prospect that the clerical establishment was beginning to loose its grip over most of its young and more radical protégés within the National Assembly.

‘In modern times’, writes Ishtiaq Ahmed (1998:160), ‘creating a coherent nation of a given cultural mix therefore requires both conscious ideological propaganda and political policy as well as the more general efforts at economic and political development which are expected to create conditions facilitating the expansion of equal opportunities to all citizens. Both types of processes, however, proceed in the context of existing cultural heritage, class structure, internal power distribution and external linkages of various groups present in the society’. Forces of the regime, particularly the ruling family and the clerical establishment were not committed to such a nationification project. Indeed, both have actively mobilised their considerable resources forces against the implementation of such a project. Both were required to make ‘sacrifices’ without, some of which seemed threatening to their very existence of regime, as they know it.

The rupture between the clerical establishment on the one hand and several of its parliamentary protégés and their supporter on the other will become more visible following a number of compromises and joint ventures it reached with other parliamentary blocs. One of these joint motions led to the near unanimous rejection by the National Assembly of the ‘State Security Decree of 1974’. The decree was presented as a measure in battle against communism and communist-inspired disorder. Several formulations in the first article of the decree are made to appeal to conservative religious sensibilities, including criminalising ‘ dissemination of heretical principles’. [17] Members of the National Assembly were subjected to pressures from various groups and interests. And it took them nearly eight months of hard bargaining, in and outside the parliament, to reach a common stand rejecting the decree. Representatives of the religionist, leftist and independent blocs felt strong enough to issue an ultimatum to the government to abrogate its decree. [18]

From the viewpoint of the regime, it was let down by the clerical establishment’s failure to deliver the votes of its parliamentary protégés. Probably more serious was its failure to contain the ambitions of members of the religionist bloc who began to see themselves more as representatives of the ‘whole people’ than as representatives of a confessional community. Having failed to break the overwhelming parliamentary majority, the Amir of Bahrain issued another decree, dissolving the parliament itself. The short-lived parliamentary experiment did not transform the regime into a state and did not confirm the nominal transformation of subjects, (the males) into citizens. In fact, the process led instead to the intensification, to follow Pogo (1990), of its character as a regime. [19] Process of regime intensification was accelerated further during the subsequent decade under the fall outs of the oil boom.

Most students of the period agree with the insightful observation made by Khuri (1980:11) on the fate Bahraini parliament. ‘The dissolution of the parliament in Bahrain’ he writes, ‘was basically intended to contain the increasing power of the opposition that the foundation of the parliament itself had helped to create and strengthen’. From regime perspective the dissolution was a necessary measure to pre-empt the political consequences of an emerging alliance, albeit tactical, between the religionist and leftist parliamentary blocs. Most immediate of these consequences is ‘paralysing the parliament and altering the power balance to the disadvantage of the ruling family’ (p.232). However, such an alliance, once sustained, would have profound consequences including restricting the capacity of the regime to sustain institutionalisation of tribalism and sectarianism. In spite of its fragility, an alliance between religionists and leftists have shown that it is a serious historical threat to tribal and sectarian forces and their roles as parts of the nest of reserve sources for regime’s political power and legitimacy of that power.

Khuri (1980) discusses two additional factors. First, the inherent contradiction between ‘tribally controlled government and the system of representation’ and, second, the regional considerations which would not favour that ‘Bahrain, the little islands… alone institute democracy while other states and principalities in the Gulf and Arabia continue to be ruled by tribally based governments’. (p.232)

Khuri is, of course, correct in pointing to the contradiction between these two forms of social organisation and of rule. However, it is difficult to see any of the two forms, to use Khuri’s own words, as ‘undifferentiated whole, a petrified social system’. Indeed, tribalism in Bahrain, in similarity with sectarianism, is continuously reconstructed. Both are continuously combined and intermingled with other phenomena. Tribalism, alone, cannot provide explanation for the strategic choices taken by the regime and its core during the past three four decades.

Tribalism of al-Khalifa is largely a political instrument that has been mobilised and de-mobilised for the political ends of the regime and particularly its own core. A glaring example is the High Noon-style shoot-out, in May 1978, between the Prime Minister and his younger brother Mohammed, in the middle of commercial area in Manama. ( From 1959 to 1971, Mohammad, was ‘President of Police and Public Security’). Their tripartite conflict continues to this date and has, through the years, acquired several dimensions. As I will illustrate, later, This conflict is not new or unique within the ruling family. In similarity with other ruling families in the region, al-Khalifa has its considerable history on bloody in-fighting involving political ambitions, greed, or, at times, simple sibling jealousies.

A consistent feature of strategies adopted by the current ruling core is discouraging the development of institutions that can make claims on the regime. Instead, it has consistently preferred to deal with society through selected intermediaries. Relations between the regime and its intermediaries have several features. First, an intermediary is not a permanently secure status but a recurring role that does not entail an exclusive right to represent a particular segment of the population. Second, by virtue of their roles as appointees of the regime, intermediaries are not allowed to make claims on the regime, or to aspire to becoming power centres. Third, the regime reserves to itself the right to approve each intervention by an intermediary

Shifts of preferences may be illustrated with examples from other areas. One such area is distribution of Amiri gratuities, particularly the size and location of plots of land, houses or construction subsidies, granted to loyal subjects. While there is a heavy representation of al-Khalifa among recipients of such gratuities, most population categories are represented.

Another area that illustrates shifts in regime preferences is the more sensitive ‘grants of citizenship’. Here, too, regime preferences have included tribal, sectarian and other accredited intermediaries. Unlike plots of lands, which can only by granted by the Amir himself, grants of citizenship can actually be bestowed by any of any member of the ruling core. Following a seven decades old tradition, grants of citizenship became a tested instrument for balancing population mix. With the help of en mass naturalisation a demographic balance is maintained among various groups: Shia and Sunni; ‘pure’ Arabs and other Arabs; local Shia; other Arab and non-Arab Shia. Beneficiaries of citizenship gratuities over the past few decades have included new migrants with diverse backgrounds, tribal and non-tribal, Arabs and non-Arabs, the very rich and the not so rich, the as well as Sunni and Shia. On balance, it seems that while some groups received more than others did, the regime has not excluded any specific group from receiving its gratuities, [20] Being a gratuity, this type of citizenship and the rights it infers may also be revoked, partially or totally. According to constitution (Article 17:B), revocation of citizenship of a ‘naturalised’ person is not permitted ‘except in accordance with law‘. Even after receiving a citizenship as gratuity, ‘naturalised citizens’ must be on their guard and are constantly required to be on the good books of the regime, its ruling core and its security services. There are several statuary examples of ‘high and mighty’ that have allegedly been stripped of their citizenship after falling out of favour.

Plots of land, senior positions in government or public institutions, citizenship, or other gratuities also serve as a means to maintain loyalty of various intermediaries who are encouraged to intervene on behalf of prospective beneficiaries. More profoundly, gratuities whether given directly or through intermediaries provide a relatively abundant source of political sanctions to sustain vertical segmentation of society.

I have repeatedly suggested that the regime and particularly its ruling core, are not fanatically tribalist, or for that matter, sectarian. This is not to say that the adjective, ‘tribal’ is incorrect prefix to some aspects of the regime and some of its policies. After all, the regime has invested considerable energy and other resources to formulate a credible tribalist image for itself. Tribalism remains an important strategic option for mobilisation some local and some regional sources of power and legitimacy. It is also an important and readily available criterion for selecting among potential intermediaries. Tribalism, however, is merely one of several other instruments for mobilisation and one of several other criteria for selecting intermediaries. A consistent feature of the regime, since 1959 when the current ruling core assumed power in the country, has been the occasional movements of its ‘preferences’ away from ‘tribalism’ in favour of other, more appropriate, criteria. There are any numbers of examples to illustrate this assertion. An early indication that the ruling core is ready to discard some of tribal ‘obligations’ in the interest of survival of the regime. I have already mentioned, the unceremonious dumping of the youngest brother in the then ruling troika. In 1974, the regime took another ‘untribal’ action through the unprecedented forced resignation of minister of justice, a senior al-Khalifa, in order to appease leftist protesters. [21] Moreover, lists of political detainees, from 1956 to 1994, included ‘representatives’ of all population categories, including a visible presence of political activists who hail from ‘authentic tribal Arabs’.

In an important area though, the regime has until actually discriminated against tribals. Until 1996, these were not allocated any ministerial posts. While ‘strategic’ ministries in the cabinet are reserved for the ruling family itself, the remaining ‘ service ministries’, are divided, generally equally, among Shia and Sunni ministers. Unlike its counterparts in the region, the al-Khalifa has consistently excluded its tribals from taking political posts. Instead, Sunni ministers have always been drawn from the Howala, i.e. descendants of Sunni families inhabiting the Persian side of the Gulf and who migrated to Bahrain during early decades of this century. Only recently, (June 1996) did a non-al-Khalifa tribal person get selected to a cabinet post. [22]

It is not an inherent contradiction between tribalism, in a modernised form, with representative politics, in a diluted form, but its is rather the regime’s failure to reconcile segmentation with constitutional rule. There are reasons for this failure.

One its effective instruments in maintaining societal segmentation is the right to grant gratuities, including plots of land, senior employment positions, and citizenship. This right would have been severely curtailed by parliamentary controls. Religionist-leftist members of parliament jointly proposed additional measures in this direction. National characters of contentious politics seriously challenged vertical segmentation of society. Tribal and sectarian instruments of mobilisation were competing with nationalist instruments. From regime perspectives, tribalism and sectarianism are political tools that can only be optimally utilised within conflict situations where an adversary is equally disposed to using them as tools of contention and of mobilisation. Once members of parliament, particularly the religionists, refused to follow tribal or sectarian rules of the game, as stipulated by the ruling core, the game itself has effectively ended.

Constitutional politics, including the system of representation were not, in themselves, threatening regime’s tribal character or its stability. It is a matter of discussion whether they would have curtailed its ability to mobilise its internal and external sources of power. It was becoming increasingly clear that constitutional politics was beginning to take forms incompatible with the objectives set for it by the regime. Non-segmentary politics were becoming dangerously unpredictable as they were moved outside the parliamentary chambers. Moreover, co-operation between leftists and religionist blocs threatened to transform the parliament from being a consultative and largely ceremonial body, into a deliberative body that even aspires to shoulder some legislative and policy-making roles. Pressed by their respective constituencies, leftist and religionists as well as some independents, sought to translate their popular backing into a real power. While doing so, they were repeatedly and directly on collision course with the forces of status quo, particularly the ruling core.

Excessively optimist opposition figures actually considered those nascent moves by the parliament as the beginning of a strong national opposition movement. Supporters of regime, on the other hand, continued to call for ‘elimination of alien ideologies…lest the seeds of communism ferment’. (al-Adwaa, 20/6/1974)

With the benefit of hindsight, it was obvious that both hopes and fears were premature. Joint actions by religionists, leftists and independents during the last six months of the life of the National Assembly remained tactical and at times simply procedural. Parliamentary experience was too short lived to generate sufficiently solid ground for continuing nation-building process in spite of the regime. Probably, more immediately damaging was that leftist-religionist co-operation was too superficial to generate sufficiently viable grounds to encourage participants, as individuals or as political forces, to continue their co-operation outside the Assembly and after its dissolution. In the absence of parliament, some of the requisites for continuing the process of nationification of contentious politics were missing or, to be more precise, not fully developed. There are some additional factors to this.

First, the ruling core continued to exercise full control of all major sources surplus appropriation. This unrestricted control enabled it to continue steer major economic and political actors, play them against each other and affirm their dependence on its goodwill. All other classes and social strata lacked solid economic capabilities outside orbit of the regime. All of them were dependent on regime’s economic ventures and political goodwill of its ruling core for their survival and prosperity. To an extent, only workers were capable of independent action. This particular privilege enjoyed by local workers was gradually disappearing as their share in the work force began to dwindle as a result of increased reliance on imported labour force. Second, Bahraini constitution did not provide for mechanism to separate the regime and its ruling core on the one hand, from government, as both an executive and administrative organ from other institutions of rule such as the judiciary, the military and security forces on the other. All organs of state continued to be extensions of formal and informal powers of the ruling core. Third, resources at the disposal of the regime, the docility of its social base, and regional and international support, enabled it to embark on a massive reconstructive operation. These resources enabled regime to totally dismiss calls for return to constitution. Moreover, to the dismay of increasingly demoralised opponents, the regime has actually been able to initiate modernisation process of its institutions, to borrow an expression,

with rather than against tribalism and communalism (Bromley, 1993). However, modernisation also meant the creation of departments and apparatus to ensure control and order (Seikaly: 1996).

A major part of the ruling core’s success in staging its coup against the constitution in 1975, and in consolidating that coup until now, may be explained by developments that took place after the oil boom-crises of the 1970s. As a boom it enabled the regime to mobilise internal sources of power, while as al crises enabled the regime to mobilise external sources of power. In the following digression, I present a brief explanation.

At first, the boom quadrupled financial resources at the disposal of the ruling core. Consequently, the regime has been able, since 1975, of unleashing its full potential. Additional resources allowed it to launch a social restructuring programme of ‘conservative modernisation’. Substantial resources were invested in development projects including infrastructure, health, education and housing. Through these expenditures the ruling core has been able to control, encourage and/or pre-empt, the emergence and growth of various social strata. While it continued its endeavours to strengthen its intermediaries, it was willing to put their loyalty to test.

Seikaly (1996) notes that the ‘tremendous growth in oil wealth after 1973, has been successful in building up the infrastructure and other manifestations of the state along modern lines and has provided citizens with a wide range of services such as education, health, social services, even entertainment. These have been central projects by the state, the supreme employer and provider of benefits. Therefore, the ruling institution plays the major role in creating and withholding opportunities whether from women or any other subaltern. It has also rationalised its legitimacy through these achievements and by building a network of alliances based on tribal, sometimes religious and/or economic interests…. Economic favours in the form of money or land donations, or control of power-generating posts are some of the means by which these alliances were and are cemented’. (p.130)

As the supreme patron, the ruling core has shown a remarkable ability to maintain balance among its intermediaries and to prevent uncontrolled growth of any of these intermediaries. Oil boom has provided sufficient resources to continue recruiting additional, potential, intermediaries from nearly every social backgrounds. The entrepreneurial sector, for example, which was a major beneficiary of oil-boom investments, provided the regime with a new, and relatively modern, source of intermediaries. To a large extent, the sector expanded on basis of political loyalty , rather than tribal or sectarian proximity to the regime. Project contracts, big and small, were awarded on grounds of political loyalty. Some entrepreneurs, considered not sufficiently loyal, have lost their already awarded contracts. Being in the good books of the Amir, the Prime Minister or the crown prince adds some considerable push to a business venture. Regular attendance to the weekly majlis, court, of any of these potentates, or preferably all, provides as strong guarantee as any bank credit. Mainly through these princely courts, the ruling core disperses its gratuities.

The regime was able to attract enough of regional petro-dollars to transform Bahrain into a regional banking and financial centre. It also started many development projects, including the construction of several new townships that helped improving living conditions for low and middle-income families and, thus, eliminating one major source for discontent. Expanding economy also reduced rates of unemployment in the country, particularly among university graduates and led to improving levels of wages for local labour force.

The oil crisis provided the regime of an opportunity to mobilise a nest of external resources of power. Most important of these is US military, economic and above all political support. While American military presence on Bahrain goes back to 1949, it gained its geopolitical importance in 1968 following British decision to withdraw from the region. US Navy secured an agreement leasing the former British bases a ‘homeport’ for U.S. Middle East Task Force (Cordesman 1984:583). The U$ 4 million per year lease agreement was a central point of contention between the regime and its parliamentary opponents. In the heat of October War following a revelation that the US facilities in Bahrain were used as a supply base for Israeli war efforts, the regime issued a public statement promising it will not renew the four years lease agreement signed on 1971. The matter was taken up once more in June 1975 at the National Assembly to confirm its members’ opposition to American military presence in Bahrain. The government used its constitutional privilege to postpone voting on the issue. The regime was determined to shield US military facilities from intrusive parliamentary debates.

This, combined with its determination, at whatever cost, to renew the lease agreement with US Navy have, in my view, provided sufficient reasons to dissolve the parliament. Preventing parliamentary intrusion may, so in my view, explain the American wholehearted support to the unconstitutional regime in Bahrain. Within few years and in the absence parliament, the HQs for US 5th fleet were located in Bahrain.

From the regime’s perspective, more US military involvement would encourage more American and other foreign investments, and would eventually yield additional sources of income, respectability and protection. Together, these would make up the strategic rents that supplement other sources of rent on which the regime is dependent. These aspects of US military presence gained additional importance following the fall of Shah of Iran, the eruption of Iraq-Iran war and its ramifications, and, more recently, the Gulf War II.

Together, external and internal resources have been enhancing the position of the ruling family as ‘an autonomous state elite’. They have also increased the regime’s infrastructural and despotic powers particularly its capacity to actually penetrate society and subdue it through fragmentation, co-optation and direct repression without needing to enter into routine, institutionalised negotiation with any societal force, including the regime’s own power base.

Additional resources given to various internal security apparatuses helped its expansion to be the largest single employment sector in the country. Within the first decade of the oil boom allocations for security and defence increased from US$22.5 million in 1974 to U$ to 236.4 millions in 1983, or 11% to 20% of total government expenditures for respectively. [23] Empowered with state security law of 1974 and with several amendments to the 1976 Penal Code, security apparatuses grew to become formidable bulwark for the regime. Unrestricted powers of the security forces, particularly the British – led Security and Intelligence Services, SIS, continued to grow as a result of the ruling family’s growing insolence and paranoia, as well as the inability of its ruling core to trust any local social force.

Since1975, Bahrain lived under a virtual state of emergency, which has pushed all forms of political opposition underground. Effective harassment and brutal measures undertaken by the SIS include: limiting to one year the validity of passports issued to students; banning students to return to their universities abroad; withholding or withdrawing the mandatory certificate of good behaviour from job seekers; frequent use of preventive detention of ‘potential trouble makers; detention without charge or trial for periods that often exceed even the 3-years stipulated by State Security law; extensive use of physical torture. Opposition’s worse fears of the unrestricted powers of the security services, particularly the powers of SIS chief, the Scottish General Ian Henderson, were tragically corroborated, in 1976, with the first known case of death of political detainees under torture. The following two decades brought many other similarly tragic justifications of those fears.

Expanding economy, and infrastructural projects, helped the regime, in spite of its excesses, to win many supporters and to loose many opponents. Attrition, co-optation or demoralisation transformed a numerous political activists, including many well-known political figures who spent years as political detainees, into passivity. In time, many of these will be selected to fill senior position in government and public institutions and ill become highly visible and vocal defenders of the status quo.

Building on President Sadat religious mobilisation, and on lessons from its own parliamentary experiment, the regime sought to complement its clerical establishment with younger, more outspoken and modern clerics, graduates of religious seminaries at al-Azhar and al-Najaf and Qum. Contentious politics were brought back from the national and the concrete to the ethnic and the spiritual. Several religious networks, Shia as well as Sunni received official approval as ‘charitable associations’. These received regular financial grants from the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs. While it is likely that some have received gratuities from the ruling core, there are no official records to gauge regime’s preferences on this sphere. In similarity with informal networks, these associations were discouraged from co-ordinating their activities.

Partly in response to pressures from local and Saudi clerics and as a contribution to the ongoing moral re-armament the regime disbanded, in 1981, the committee formed by various women associations to co-ordinate their efforts to in defence of women rights. (Fakhro:1986; Seikaly:1997). The move can also be seen as a result of the ruling core’s antipathy to any form of co-ordination across vertical segments.

The regime growing self-confidence was confirmed in a number of measures taken to prevent use work places and schools and universities as grounds for training and recruitment of political activists. In 1976 the regime banned the student union, NUBS, and took several measures to discourage students from joining its branches abroad. In spite of remarkable resistance, it was increasing obvious that the dwindling numbers of student opposing the regime were fighting a loosing battle. Within few years, the majority of Bahraini students abroad became members of the regime-sponsored ‘clubs’. Similar arrangements were made to reduce labour activism and to present an acceptable and legal alternative to underground trade unions. . In 1981, the ministry of labour and social affairs announced the formation of ‘General Workers Committee’ that will be elected by workers committees formed in major workplaces in the country. Although these workers committees were not as successful as their counterparts among students, they succeeded in making workplace free from underground political agitation by rectifying many of the strictly workplace-related grievances.

Depending on one’s point of view, the regime may be morally condemned for its anti-constitutional coup d’état and its systematic violations of human rights. Yet, it was finding many new supporters in the beneficiaries of gratuities, public expenditures and investments. In other words, in the absence of parliament the regime was actually enhancing its authority and increasing actual and potential internal sources of its power.

Strategy of segmenting society into manageable vertical parallels has once again proven as a potent instrument of rule and control. Expressions of discontent are tolerated and responded through acceptable intermediaries, through direct gratuities, or through the indiscriminate and decisive measures by the security services, particularly the British-led SIS. Combined, these resources have succeeded in maintaining the status quo and preventing the re-emergence of national politics.

Students of the region, of course, are aware that the general tranquillity that prevailed in Bahrain throughout the period, did not mean absence of activities by various underground organisations and groups. Indeed records of regional and international human rights organizations attest to the stubborn determination of the increasingly ineffectual underground to continue their opposition activities. However, these groups during the heydays of the oil boom-crises were bound by historical circumstance to be limited and short-lived actions. None of them posed a serious challenge to the regime and the vertically segmented society that it managed to build. Some of the actions initiated by opposition groups during this period were reaction to economic difficulties resulting from corruption and mismanagement of resources as well as from vagaries of oil market and fluctuations of financial resources available to the regime.

One of few serious attempts by leftist organisations to regain political initiative and to break out of sectarian constraints was probably that of 1986. Known leaders of the move were sentenced to long prison terms. [24] During the same period, several measures were taken against Shia clerics that sought to play more than its assigned role as a village-based sectarian intermediary groups. One of these measures was the closure of the Islamic Enlightenment Society, IES, ‘together with two girls schools and one high-studies circle, this bringing to an end 12 years of peaceful and open activities [by the IES]’. (Dabrowska, 1997:101). [25]

While periodic economic difficulties gave rise to an equally periodic unease among Bahraini business community which also reacts against increasing business competition from members of the ruling family. On occasions, this leads to re-emergence of public calls, beyond the limited sphere of the underground, for ‘restoration of democratic life’. Occasionally too, depending on gravity of ‘economic difficulties’, the regime tolerates these calls and ease censorship on these issues. On such times, local press is permitted to printing articles and interviews with former MPs and other notables on the ‘blessings of democracy’, and on the need to ‘share the burden of rule’. The last such an occasion occurred during 1990-91, during preparations for the liberation of Kuwait as a first step towards building of the promised New World Order.

In nearly fifteen years after the dissolution of parliament, the generally peaceful and vertical segmented social order was not seriously challenged. I want to emphasise that political contentions, of course, were taking place, but within the boundaries formulated by the regime and not outside those boundaries or against the political choices of the regime. Residential groups, professional associations and groups; clans and families; social clubs, charitable associations, were competing with each other, sometimes fiercely, partly for their own survival and partly to obtain additional gratuities. Resolutely discouraged from co-ordination their activities, these vertical segments were allowed to be vocally assertive, albeit temporary, representatives of their constituencies. These constituencies cover a broad spectrum, from the definitely traditional to the definitely modern.

While I do not underestimate the gravity of 1980 ‘attempted’ coup d’état by Islamic Liberation Front, ILF, I consider its sectarian strategy as a mirror image of the regime own political choices. As an exclusively Shia organisation, the ILF, with an exclusively Shia agenda, it presented political choices and rhetoric that were mirror images of those of the regime. Unlike its predecessors among non-religionist groups of since 1954, ILF did not seek to challenge sectarian and tribal politics through national mobilisation. Largely, but not solely, because of its openly sectarian character, structure and agenda, ILF was an unlikely candidate to lead opposition activities. Let me briefly illustrate this point.

Inspired by the success of Iranian revolution in 1979, many young Shia militants sought to reproduce it in Bahrain. Young Shia revolutionaries began for the first time to openly call for ending the ‘al-Khalifa conquest’ and for the establishment of an Islamic Republic in the country. While it may have been a direct challenge to the regime, the call was , and probably more seriously, challenging the conciliatory clerical establishment as well as Shia religionist former parliamentarians. The latter group and their supporters, like their nationalist and leftist counterparts, were tirelessly calling for restoration of constitutional rule. A very sharp line was drawn between reforming the regime and dismantling it. Moreover, definite strategic and ideological lines of demarcation were drawn within the ‘ Shia community’ itself. Some of these separated the mostly urban-based militancy and its mostly village-based counterpart.

The ILF, was the most visible, and seemingly better organised, of the Iranian-style revolutionary groups. Because of its openly sectarian rhetoric, structure, and political agenda, the ILF was able to dominate the sectarian sphere and was able to mobilise a massive support even in rural areas where traditional sectarian groups used to be active. For the same reasons, it was unwilling, nor capable, of seeking co-ordination any other politically active group. For obvious ideological reasons ILF was unwilling to co-ordinate its activities with any of the non-religious organisations. Indeed, it contemptuously rejected several excessively conciliatory overtures by leftists. On the other hand, it managed to alienate other religionists on either side of the confessional divide through its extremely sectarian and uncompromising rhetoric. These included its unrealistic call, in Bahraini context, for the establishment of an Islamic republic. This may be one of several lamentable miscalculations that led the young revolutionaries to believe that sectarian mobilisation will build a sufficiently strong movement to topple the regime. In addition to being openly false, it presented the regime with a confirmation of its own tribal and sectarian policies.

Following the botched attempt to stage an armed uprising in Bahrain, more than 70 ILF members, received long prison terms. Some died under torture, scores have been deported and or forced into self-exile. In spite of its losses and the unprecedented levels of brutal treatment its members and sympathisers received, ILF remained for the rest of 1980s as the most vocal among Shia groups. It remains, to this day, the most radical in its articulation of communal grievances and demands of the Shia community in Bahrain. While faithful to its sectarian roots, its publications include, occasionally, conciliatory notes addressed to other opposition groups. Attempts to bridge the wide gap between its political agenda and that of non-religious opposition have been frequent but seemingly fruitless. ILF remains, to this date, the most radical, and largely alone, in its articulation of Shia grievances, as an ‘[ab]original people’, and in its struggle undo the 1783 conquest by dismantling rule of al-Khalifa.

Through mobilising its external sources of power, mainly from its GCC partners as well as from the USA, the regime was able to absorb the aftershocks felt in Bahrain following the fall of the Shah. Ironically, its sectarian opponents provided ‘concrete evidence’ of the dangers it faces. Daily radio and television broadcasts from Iran delivered messages that helped the regime mobilise its internal sources of power against the ‘impending’ threats of an Islamic republic in Bahrain. Moreover, following 1980 ‘attempted’ coup d’état, ‘threats’ of a fundamentalist regime with a sectarian base, frightened other groups than those traditional supporters of the regime.

Lessons learnt from NUC campaign and from the more recent parliamentary experiment show that only a national movement, that transcends societal segmentation, is capable of seriously challenging the regime and proceed with the unfinished project of state-building. History of contentious politics in Bahrain has repeatedly shown that sectarian-based movements actually suit the regime. From regime’s own perspectives, effective mobilisation of sectarianism to defend the status quo, can optimally be reached when adversaries of the regime are equally disposed to using sectarianism as a tool of contention and mobilisation.

Through mobilising its external sources of power, mainly from its GCC partners as well as from the USA, the regime was able to absorb the aftershocks felt in Bahrain following the fall of the Shah and throughout the following decade. Ironically, its sectarian opponents provided the regime with ‘concrete evidence’ of the dangers it faces and sources of those dangers. Daily radio and television broadcasts from Iran, for most of 1980s, confirmed those fears and helped the regime mobilise its internal sources of power against the impending threats of an Islamic republic in Bahrain. Besides its strategic importance as an instrument of rule, vertical segmentation of society became a strategy for survival for the ruling core. ‘The regime’, notes Stork (1996) ‘took advantage of developments in Iran to advance its own absolutist agenda’. More seriously is the fact that, following 1980 ‘attempted’ coup d’état, ‘threats’ of a fundamentalist regime with a sectarian base, actually frightened other groups than those considered traditional supporters of the of the status quo.

Following the botched attempt to stage an armed uprising in Bahrain, more than 70 ILF members, were sentenced to long prison terms, some died under torture. Several hundreds bidoons or recently naturalised citizens, were forcibly deported, or compelled into self-exile. The SIS indiscriminate treatment hit particularly hard on families of persons allegedly involved the ‘coup attempt’. Several of these families were known to be staunch supporters of the regime even under its worse days during the NUC campaign. Furthermore, recruitment of individuals with Shia backgrounds was stopped at all ‘sensitive institutions’. The first of these was the BDF, which also sacked all its Shia personnel, making it the first of several ethnically cleansed workplaces. The spectrum of ‘sensitive institutions’ as defined by the SIS have gradually been extended to include many government department or offices ranging from Central Office of Statistics and to those in charge of electric and water supplies. The 1980 ‘attempted coup’ has also been the signal for al-Khalifa family to definitely insulate itself from the rest of the population of whatever tribal, sectarian or class backgrounds. West Rifa’a, where the Amir has his diwan and official residence, has been transformed into an exclusively al-Khalifa town. The ruling family’s growing insolence and paranoia, as well as the inability of its ruling core to trust any local social force, led to banning all non-al-Khalifa from residing or owning property in West Rifa’a.

An unfinished business (II)

Periodic rise in opposition activities, including an ‘attempted coup’, and periodic agitation by, particularly business community, have not diminished the regime’s uncompromising resistance towards political reforms. Not even in the limited manners drawn by 1973 Constitution, that guarantees its undisputed supremacy. While it has tolerated, and at times even encouraged, the re-emergence of calls on the people to ‘share the burden of rule’, it never moved beyond rhetoric.

Excesses of the regime, including its record of human rights violations, did not reduce its ability to rely on its external sources of power particularly political and security assistance from the USA and from Britain, particularly throughout the Thatcher era. Indeed, these excesses enhanced the regime position as recipient of political, security and financial aid from Saudi Arabia and other GCC states. One cannot overestimate the significance of these external sources of power particularly during recurring periods of economic difficulties.

Despotic powers of the regime as well as its infrastructural powers have taken their toll from opposition forces. Through co-optation, intimidation or demoralisation the regime has been able to recruit the support of former opponents, or force them into social and political passivity. During the period from 1975 to 1992, opponents of the regime were incapable of mobilising enough national forces to challenge vertical segmented of society and the consequence of that segmentation. Political contentions remained largely within the confines of vertical segmentation. And in spite of repeated attempts, opponents of the regime failed to transcend the wall of mistrust, built over decades, between the religionist and secular forces.

Combined internal and external sources of power emboldened the ruling core and enhanced its self confidence to totally disregard the its subject population. Vertical segmentation of society, together with the SIS undiscriminating iron fist, prevented co-operation across approved demarcation lines. The iron fist, and repeated failures, led political opposition organisation deeper into a quagmire of despair and fragmentation.

From the ruling core’s perspectives, the future did not look brighter than it did on the eve of Iraqi invasion Kuwait, and what the followed. Immediately after the invasion, Bahrain was transformed into an advance US military outpost. Preparations for the GWII, including winning the hearts of minds of an increasingly sceptical local population. Those preparations led to a public relations exercise that presented to a democratic interpretation of the proposed New World Order. Bahraini press, otherwise heavily censored, featured daily articles as well as official statements in support of United States’ mobilisation to re-establish legitimacy and democratic institutions in Kuwait. Numerous ‘western faces’ appeared on the government owned television, delivering what have been assumed to be promises of better things to come. The only remaining barrier was the presence of Saddam Hussain’s troops in Kuwait.

Following the Desert Storm, some of those unspecified promises were actually delivered. ‘In 1991 and early 1992’ writes Amnesty International in a report published in 1996, ‘ the human rights situation in Bahrain improved significantly. A number of political prisoners were released and Amnesty International received few reports of individuals detained on political grounds’.

Encouraged by ‘indications of an opening’, intellectuals, human rights lawyers, member of the dissolved parliament, and other political activists, were openly discussing ways of moving forward. Articles published abroad, by activists, living in Bahrain or in exile, were circulating in the country. Articles in local press reflected similar sentiments. The movement culminated, in 1992, in what has later been known as elites petition, ‘aridhat alnokhba’ [26] (for full text, see Appendix A).

Many times in the past, the regime has managed to foil attempts to transform the population from vertically segmented parallels into a nation. Particularly since 1975, it has successfully pre-empted all attempts to set in motion processes of nationationfication. These, to paraphrase Anthony D. Smith, (1996) are processes that will transform the population from their subordinated accommodation and passivity to an active, assertive participants in a politicised community. Signatories of elites petition, in 1992, were once again, trying to push towards recognition of the country as a homeland, and towards a consolidation of the state through elimination of vertical segmentation. In similarity with their NUC predecessors, they were initiating (re-initiating) a movement to transform members of each segment into legal citizens.

Joe Stork (1996) has summed up the immediate backgrounds to the recent crises in Bahrain in the following account: ‘In the aftermath of the Gulf War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, and encouraged by electoral and parliamentary developments in Kuwait, Bahraini liberals sensed an opportunity to raise again the issue of elections and their own parliament. Following informal discussions, a group consisting mainly of professionals and businessmen drew up a petition that was then signed by more than 300 prominent individuals . ‘We called for elections to a restored parliament, release of political prisoners, and permission for exiles to return’, one petition leader told me. It is extremely polite and included our fulsome respect for the Al Khalifa …We had known of the [Amir’s plan for a Shura Council] and were trying to pre-empt it… it could not be a substitute for the elected National Assembly’. The Amir promised to study the petition and reply to its organisers, but never did’.

Instead, the regime announced the formation of a Shura Council in 1992, ‘ a powerless and non-elected consultative council, which has no constitutional basis’ (Wilkinson: 1996). Appointees were equally divided between Shia and Sunni and among relevant segments within each community. Furthermore, and in accordance with similar ‘tradition’, a Shia minister, after resigning his cabinet post, was appointed as a Speaker. Composition of the Consultative Assembly reflects, in my view, a true picture of currently relevant vertical segments of society in Bahrain.

In addition to the Shura Council, the regime took a number of measures to re-gain the political initiative. These included publicised visits by the members of the ruling core to traditional notables and senior clerics. Promises of additional infrastructural improvements were made, as well as publicly pledging to ‘grant’ more gratuities including relaxation of the stifling censorship on writers and artists. Gratuities actually offered or simply promised, were part of the usual repertoire of gratuities at the disposal of the ruling core at times of severe crises. The one surprising exception, although it fits the euphoric expectation of the New World Order, was the announcement in 1992, of an Amiri makrama granting amnesty ‘to persons living because of their political acts’. This is an euphemism for deportees, self-exiled and forcibly exiled persons. As it happened the offer of ‘amnesty’ was not taken seriously as it was attached to numerous strings.

While the ruling core dispensing of undeliverable promises of political reforms, employment, economic prosperity, its security organisation, the SIS, was hard at work. Within months after the commencement of NWO, the regime lifted restrains it imposed on the SIS during 1991 and early 1992.

By mid 1992, however ‘the situation has steadily deteriorated once more, and by December 1994, there was an alarming, unprecedented increase in human rights violations in Bahrain following widespread ‘pro-democracy’ demonstrations. For the first time, women and children as young as nine or ten years old were targeted for arrest and many were reportedly ill-treated in custody. For many women, this was the first time they had engaged in an active and vocal participation in public protests, a shift from their traditional role away from the public arena. Groups of women also wrote petitions to the Amir urging the restoration of democracy, and led demonstrations calling for the release of their menfolk and of all political prisoners. Children also joined the protest movement, staging sit-in strikes in schools and participating in street demonstrations that sometimes developed into clashes with security forces. The government dealt with both these groups by arresting them arbitrarily, holding them for extended periods in incommunicado detention and often ill-treating or torturing them during investigation. International standards addressing the particular vulnerabilities of women and children and rules regarding their detention and trial were consistently violated.’ (Amnesty International: 1996).

Similar appraisal of the situation was made earlier in a report prepared by the US Department of State in 1993 ‘There was little change in the human rights situation: civil liberties remained broadly circumscribed. The main abuses included arbitrary and incommunicado detention; involuntary exile; the absence of impartial inspection of detention and prison facilities; some instances of abuse of detainees; restrictions on the right to a fair public trial, especially in the Security Court; and restrictions on freedom of speech and press, freedom of assembly and association, women’s rights, and worker rights. As a practical matter, the people do not have the right to change their government’.

In spite of this, there were several indications that the hitherto effective blockade of communication channels among opponents of the regime was gradually crumbling. The ruling core’s concern was clearly manifested in the SIS forceful deployment to prevent delivery of a joint sermon by two leading clerics, Sheikh al-Jamri and Dr. al-Mamood.. Sheikh al-Jamri and Dr. al-Mahmood. The two are sponsors of 1992 petition, and represent two extremities with the established vertical segmentation of society in Bahrain. Dr al-Mahmood is an al-Azhar educated cleric, of Howala extraction and from Hidd, until recently a poor fishing village. Shiekh al-Jamri is an al-Najaf educated cleric, with large rural based- Shia following. Their joint sermon would have been a symbolic signal indicating the collapse of four decades of patient construction of walls separating communities in Bahrain. The symbolic value of their joint sermon would have been enhanced by its venue, in the centre of Manama, the Capital.

Frustrations with unreasonably harsh responses of the regime to moderate demands led to literally frantic search for counter moves. Several were under way. In April 1994, four opposition organisations, [27] issued a Joint Communiqué which reiterated the demands of the as elites’ petition. The importance of that communiqué is threefold. First it brought to the open the fact that these organisation have long since recognised their past failures including their inability to, separately, confront, the regime. Second, that their co-operation should transcend their ideological incompatibilities. Third, that such a co-operation need not go beyond implementation of the demands, the minimum programme, stated in the elites petition. Considering their own history, and wide gap separating religionists from secularist in the Arab region, the Bahraini underground organisations gamble seemed extraordinary. On balance, the religionists seemed to take greater risks by leaping into an alliance, however tactical, with non-religionist, including communist, groups.

The next step was the 1994 petition, later to be known as the Popular Petition, al-aridha al-sha’abiyya. It was the culmination of several further contacts, negotiations and joint actions during the previous months. (For full text, see Appendix B). A committee, Popular Petition Committee, PPC, was formed to organise collection of signatures on the petition and to liaison with the Amir and others in the ruling core. According to its publicly known plans, the PPC intended to deliver the petition, ‘signed by the masses’, to the Amir on December 16, the country’s National Day. ‘Within a short time, according to the opposition, nearly 22,000 signatories were secured despite the fact that it could not be mentioned in the media and could only be circulated by hand’ (Stork, 1997).

Most participants went out of their way demonstrate the national foundation of the movement and its non-sectarian character. For these, ‘the most relevant political divide remains that between the ruling family and its many allies, on the one hand, and the growing number of Bahrainis calling for restoration of 1973 Constitution and the ‘contract’ that it represented…’. (Stork:1996). The regime, on the other side, aided by sectarian Shia and Sunni groups, was portraying the emerging movement in different light, but especially as a conflict between Shia and Sunni communities.

To pre-empt the PPC moves, the regime arrested several young Shia clerics and other activists. Their arrest, ten days before the date set for handing the petition to the Amir on his Accession Day (also the National Day) sparked a wave of protests culminating into riots. With a single stroke, the regime succeeded in shaking the fragile grounds on which the PPC was standing. Unable to restrain its supporters, the Committee stood watching street confrontation between the well-prepared and armed security forces on the one hand and unorganised gangs of youth of the other hand. From then on, the regime followed a time-honoured strategy of divide and rule. Violent, and largely uncoordinated, demonstrations erupted in parts of the capital and in most villages demanding the release of detained clerics and their colleagues. Within a fortnight, on December 19, the first fatality was reported.

Among political activists in Bahrain, as in most parts of the Arab region, reliance on violent or non-violent strategic alternatives for mobilisation and for political action was more a matter of faith rather than being calculated political choice. For most of modern history of contentious politics, calls for use of violence remained, largely rhetorical, a statement of faith, or simply a meaningless slogan. Even Bahrainis who echoed 1960s slogans of ‘revolutionary armed struggle’ have never ventured beyond making themselves mentally ready for such an event. Indeed, for most of the history of modern forms contentious politics in Bahrain have been non-violent in actions and violent in rhetoric. Throughout the past decades, militant actions in Bahrain have mostly been non-violent and confined to demonstrations, labour strikes, students sit-ins, and, since 1974, signing of petitions and forming of delegations to submit petitions to the Emir. Most of these tactics have been noticeable in the phases of the history of opposition in Bahrain, 1953-56, 1965-68, 1972, 1973-75, and in 1992- movement. To this, there have been two serious exceptions: the 1966 attempt by NLF to assassinate the British chief of the local Special Branch, (the security police), and the 1981 botched attempt to stage a military by the ILF. [28]

By provoking those riots, on 5 December, the regime sought to give the conflict a more manageable dimension. It usual repertoire contained more serious counter measures that would significantly diminish threats to the vertical segmentation of society. These include stripping the emergent movement from its national agenda, from its constitutional demands, and from its plural political composition.

As part of its usual repertoire in time of similar crises, the regime sought to mobilise its internal and external nests of sources of power. Official statements that were echoed in local press, and elsewhere, were castigating the movement for being reactionary, fundamentalist and sectarian, as well as being foreign backed. These and other labels were designed to appeal to different sources of power, local, regional and foreign. While maintaining its faith in the power of these labels to convince its allies, various spokespersons for the regime have their own preferences. In a statement written to suit an American audience, Bahrain Ambassador to the USA, states, his belief that ‘Bahrain will continue to receive the widespread international support it has been given for its determination to ensure continued peace and security in the country’. The statement also informed readers that

‘ Bahrain has recently witnessed a campaign of disturbance orchestrated by foreign-backed terrorist groups…. The crimes committed by the terrorists include murder, arson, the planting of bombs, and the destruction and looting public and private property. These terrorist actions are a direct threat to and violation of the basic human rights of the Bahraini people. ….. The groups behind the disturbances seek to undermine and threaten the cohesion of our society by creating divisions among the people of Bahrain. Furthermore, their ideology is one that would try to move Bahrain back many centuries. They would impose archaic rules and regulations that are completely contradictory to the continuing development of modern society and to our relatively open and tolerant culture.’ (AbdulGhaffar, 1996)

From regime’s perspectives, eruption of violence was a blessing. I have no reason to question official allegations that protesters committed numerous acts of violence including arson with fatal consequences. Eruptions of spasmodic violence by marginal gangs of youth, the perpetually mythical Black Fist, have been a recurring feature of contentious politics in Bahrain for the last five decades. During the current crises, and particularly, while leaders of the PPC were in jail, calls were repeatedly made to abandon commitment to non-violence and to adopt violence ‘ the only weapon the regime understands’. However, violence can be directly and indirectly provoked.

Lessons learnt from histories of non-violent movements elsewhere in the world, underscore that all ruthless tyrants, in the words of Sharp (1973), shared a common conviction. They all were strongly convinced that their own ruthlessness would be much more easily committed and have greater success if it could be portrayed as a retaliation for the violence of the resistance movement. Simply put, tyrants would do their utmost, according to Sharp (1973) to provoke their opponents to violence. In Bahrain, as in elsewhere with similar political ‘traditions’, provocation to violence may be attempted in many ways. One, through making repression so severe as to break the opponents’ will to pursue non-violence. Second, through effectively blocking channels of communication among opponents of the regime and between leaders and supporters. Besides splitting the opposition, blocking channels of communication have produced fragmented groups of less disciplined individuals. Third, through planting incriminating evidence, such as staged confessions, in order to prove ‘violent intentions’. Fourth, through direct actions by the SIS itself or violent actions induced by the SIS through what Nehru called some sixty years ago, ‘the tribe of informants and agents provocateurs and the like…’ .

Whether committed by well-meaning and undisciplined youth, or by ‘tribe of informants and agents provocateurs and the like’, violent actions of December 1994 and the following months threatened to further split the movement. Many have already been alienated because of attempts to include other issues of contention than those articulated in the Petition.

Major parts of PPC resources, during the first months of 1995, were consumed by its often unsuccessful attempts to regain the initiative, end violence, and to re-focus attention on its constitutional demands. Several public statements made during December1994 -April 1995, by Sheikh Abdul Amir al-Jamri, the generally acknowledged leader of the movement, indicate the level of desperation he and his colleague must have felt.

Another effort in similar vain, has been a petition sponsored by prominent Bahrain women, hence known as the ‘ Women Petition‘. (See full text in Appendix D). Clearly certain of who is committing, or encouraging acts of violence, signatories of the Women Petition told the Amir that while they ‘categorically and emphatically reject acts of sabotage, we do not consider them sufficient justification for the use of bullets by the security forces, especially against children and defenceless citizens’. Before presenting their own constitutional demands, the women petitioners appealed for the personal intervention by the Amir

‘to break the circle of violence and open the door to dialogue to consider with your established wisdom ways of dealing with the situation which may be achieved through the following means: 1. Ceasing the use of bullets to disperse demonstrators, illegal forced entries and mass arrests; 2. Dealing with detainees according to the rule of law with all that entails of guarantees to the detainees during periods of investigation and trial while expediting the presentation of the defendants to trial, releasing immediately the remaining detainees and repatriating the exiles;

3. Creating employment opportunities for all citizens, securing the minimum requirements for their livelihood and finding an effective solution for the increase in the foreign labour force; 4. Opening the door to a national dialogue with the aim of reaching the appropriate solution; 5. Reactivating the Constitution of the State of Bahrain and calling for elections to the National Assembly and allowing public liberties and freedom of speech; 6. Including Bahraini women in political decision making and utilising their creative energies in all spheres to serve our country Bahrain’.

Another discernible part of the regime’s usual repertoire in times of crises is its attempts split the movement through luring leading individuals of the movement and offering concessions to groups either to retain or regain their loyalty and support. Immediate beneficiaries of these concessions have been the ‘tribals’ and the Shia clerical establishment. The role of ‘tribals’ within defence and security forces was enhanced. In addition to ministry of education, a ‘tribal’ BDF officer became rector for University of Bahrain. [29] The clerical establishment gained additional concessions through confirmation of its role in the Shura Council.

Of all concessions offered, or promised, to various individuals and groups, the most serious were those offered to Shia as a ‘community’. In an important speech that affirmed sheikh al-Jamri’s role as a national leader, and not merely a Shia cleric defending rights of his congregation, he offered his advice to the government for ending the crisis in Bahrain. He said, inter alia, ‘Any solution must be comprehensive enough to include all tendencies and sections of he society. Any initiative lacking this factor is a partial and incomplete, and is therefore rejected. We heard that there exist some moves to improve the living conditions of the Shia community. Some [Shia] businessmen are leading such moves. This is a shortsighted initiative because it transforms the demands for political reforms to merely living conditions. Such moves are also bound to create divisions amongst the nation that has been campaigning for unified clear objectives’. This speech if anything brought sheikh al-Jamri the combined wrath of the ruling core and its clerical Shia establishment.

Development of contentious politics in Bahrain since 1992 are, in their own way, a continuation of the socio-political processes that were set in motion at the beginning of this century. It is, a continuation of history of ongoing, yet faltering, processes of de-ethnification and nation- and state building. While protagonists have slightly altered, the its main characteristics of the conflict is essentially the same. It is a conflict between two basis for social and political mobilisation, the ethnic-based versus the national-based.

Individual that met in 1992 to draft the first petition demanding return to constitutional rule are, in every way, different from those who met in 1953 to build what evolved into the NUC. Different also are the regimes they faced. However, the career of both political movements reflect an unresolved conflict between socio-political forces of the status quo (plus minus) and the socio-political forces that seeks to reform it. In 1953, mobilisation for social and political reforms was synonymous to opposing sectarianism, colonialism, and tribalism. Movement for reforms that was started in 1992 had largely similar agenda, although constitutional component of state building has become much more pronounced.

While different in their backgrounds, style and levels of sophistication, leaders of the constitutional movement that started on 1992 seem to have absorbed some of the accumulated lessons from NUC campaign and from the more recent parliamentary experiment. In particular, that only a national-based movement, that transcends societal segmentation enforced by the regime, is capable of seriously challenging the regime and proceed with the unfinished project of state-building.

Regime reaction to the reform movement that started in 1992 has been decisively more ruthless than that of 1953. The harsh treatment leaders of the current movement, particularly Sheikh al-Jamri, imprisoned for the second time since 1995, indicates that the regime, and its ruling core, have not learnt much from Bahrain’s own history of contentious politics. Like their predecessors, a generation ago, they nurture sectarian and tribal forces and forcibly pre-empt processes of nation building. Major parts of resources obtained from regional and international benefactors of the regime have inconceivably been wasted on an untenable project.

In the previous pages I sought to illustrate that four decades of determined endeavours to sustain vertical segmentation of society in Bahrain that have not provided the regime with stability or legitimacy. Nor did these endeavours allow the country and its people to evolve into a becoming a state and a nation.

The gap that separates the two contending sides in Bahrain remains alarmingly deep. Two dates in Bahrain calendar, 15 December and 15 August, present graphic illustrations of the gap separating the regime, its ruling core and its supporters on the one hand, and most of its opponents on the other. The official National Day, 16 December, is the day of accession to the throne by the current Amir in 1961. The country’s Day of Independence, 15 August, is not considered a day for official celebration.

In 1996, two commemorative events have symptomatically illustrated how far is the distance between the ruling core and its opponents. On 15 August 1996, opposition groups in- and outside Bahrain made elaborate efforts to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Day of Independence. The regime has largely ignored the occasion. Instead, it organised, on 16 December, its own elaborated commemorations of the 35th anniversary of accession to the throne by the current Amir. Needless to add that this was not celebrated by opponents of the regime.


Muhammad AbdulGhaffar, (1996) ‘Letters’, in MERIP, October-December.

Ishtiaq Ahmed, ( 1998) ‘The Nature and Structure of Ethnic Conflict’, in Manoranjan Mhanty, Parth Nath Mukherje & Olle T?rnquist, People’s Rights: Social Movements and the State in the Third World, Sage Publications, New Delhi.

Saif bin Ali, (1980), Problems of Liberation and Democracy in Bahrain and the Arabian Gulf, [in Arabic], Beirut.

Amnesty International, (1996), Bahrain: Women and Children Subject to Increasing Abuse , (Report – MDE 11/18/96 -July 1996).

Nazih Ayubi, (1995) Over-stating the Arab state politics and society in the Middle East, London.

Hussain al-Baharna, (1973) Duwal al-khalij al-arabi al-haditha, [Modern Arab Gulf States], [in Arabic], Beirut.

Abdulrahman al-Baker, (1965) Mina al-bahrayn ila al-manfaa, ‘sant halaneh‘, [From Prison to Exile ‘Saint Helene’], al-Hayat Library Publications, Beirut.

Etienne Balibar, (1996) ‘The Nation Form: History and Ideology’, in Geoff Eley & Ronald Grigor Suny (Eds), Becoming National, Oxford University Press.

Hanna Batatu (1978), The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movement of Iraq, Princeton University Press, Princeton.

Charles Belgrave (1960), Personal Column, Hutchinson, London

Simon Bromly, (1993) ‘Prospects for Democracy in the Middle East’, in David Held, Prospects for Democracy, Polity Press.

Anthony H. Cordesman, (1984), The Gulf and the Search for Strategic Stability, Westview Press/Mansell Publishing Ltd.

Nikshoy C. Chaterji, (1987), A History of Modern Middle East, Envoy Press, New York.

Karen Dabrowska, (1997), Bahrain Briefing- The Struggle for Democracy, London.

Susan Ekstien (1990), (Ed), Power and Popular Protest, University of California Press.

Munira Ahmad Fakhro, (1986) ‘Social Conditions of Family in Bahrain’, a paper presented to the 4th Regional Conference for Women in the Gulf and Arab Peninsula, December.

Yousif al-Falaki (1955?), Qadiyyat al-Bahrayn bayna al-madhi wal hadher, (The Cause of Bahrain- from Past to Present) [in Arabic] [n.p, n.d.].

Islamic League of Bahrain Students, (1980?), alyasaar al.imberiaIi yta’aamer fi albahrayn’ ( Imperialist Left Conspires in Bahrain).

Islamic Liberation Front (1979) Communiqué, dated 28/8/1979).

Abdulhadi Khalaf, (1985), ‘Labor Movements in Bahrain’, Merip Reports, May.

Abdulla Khalid, (1979), ‘ Hawla Ta’asees awal nagabaten ommalia fi al-khaleej’ [On the Formation of the First Trade Union in the Gulf], al-Tarik, vol 38, no. 6.

Mohammad Khalifa al-Nabhani, (1923), al-Tohfa al-Nabhaniyya fi Tarikh al-Jazeera al-Arabia, ( The Nabhani’s Marvel in the History of Arabian Peninsula) , Cairo.

Neil Hicks and Ghanim al-Najjar, (1995), ‘The Utility of Tradition: Civil Society in Kuwait’, in Augustus Richard Norton, Civil Society in the Middle East, E.J.Brill, vol. I.

Khaldoun Hassan al-Naqeeb (1990), Society and State in The Gulf Arab Peninsula, Routledge.

Michael Mann, (1986), ‘The Autonomous Power of the State: Its Origins, Mechanisms and Results’, in John A. Hall (Ed), States in History, Basil Blackwell.

Gianfranco Poggi (1990), The State: Its Nature, Development and Prospect, Polity Press.

Said Saif, Masahama fi alhiwaar hawla alharaka aldeeniyya, (A contribution to the dialogue on the religious movement), Howar Publishing and Printing House, (n.d)

Gene Sharp (1973), The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Porter Sargent Publishers, Boston.

May Seikaly (1997), ‘Bahraini Women in Formal and Informal Groups: The Politics of Identification’ in Dawn Chatty and Annika Rabo, (Eds) Organizing Women, Oxford/New York.

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Joe Stork, (1996) ‘ Bahrain Regime Stages Confessions, Rejects Compromise’, in Merip Reports, July-September.

Joe Stork, (1997) ‘ Bahrain’s Crises Worsens’, in Merip Reports, July-September 1997.

Mohammed Ali al-Tajjer (1994), A’aqd al’la’al fi tarikh awaal, ( Pearl Necklace in the History of Awaal), (edited by Ibrahim Bashmi), al-Ayam Institute for Journalism, Printing and Distribution, Bahrain.

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Appendix A

Translation of the Petition of 1922 (Elite Petition)
Submitted to the Amir of Bahrain on 15 November 1992

His Highness Sheikh Issa Bin Salman Al-Khalifa, the Amir of the State of Bahrain.

Peace be upon you,

In a historic moment, your highness had approved the Constitution of the State of Bahrain on 12.11.1393 A.H. (6 December 973) after it had been discussed and approved by the Constituent Assembly which you had called for it to be established according to Law No. 12/1972 of 9.5.1392 A.H.

At the time you were recalling Bahrain’s history in the context of Arabism and Islam, and were anticipating with faith and determination, a future based on consultation and justice, rich in participation in carrying out the responsibilities of government and administration, ensuring freedom and equality, and confirming fraternity and social solidarity, as stated in preamble of the constitution. This constitution laid down the basis of popular participation in public rights and duties on a strong footing based on the principles of consultation as outlined by our Islamic religion, and on the principles of justice, freedom and equality which have always been deep-rooted in the Islamic and human civilisations.

That process was a pioneering change targeted by your highness in order to establish a modern system to govern the state of Bahrain and a cultural achievement which will be remembered by history for your highness.

And although the dissolution of the National Assembly on 26 August 1975 by the Amiri decree No. 14/1975 according to the authority which article 65 offers to your highness, the article itself emphasises the need to call for the election of the new assembly within a period not exceeding two months from the date of the dissolution. Otherwise the dissolved assembly would retain its complete constitutional authority, that article 108 of the constitution prevents the suspension of any of its articles except in the case of martial laws within the limits outlined by the Law. The dissolution of the Assembly did not take place in these circumstances.

According to this and taking into account the local, regional and international changes during the recent years, and in view of the new direction of the international will to create a new world order, therefore the situation requires – if article 65 is not implemented – the call for electing a new national assembly by direct and free election process as determined by the constitution. This is so that the state may exercise its democratic system according to Article 1.d which states that: ‘the system in Bahrain is democratic, in which sovereignty is for the people who are the source of all powers, and that the exercise of power must be as outlined by this constitution’.

And in order to institutionalise confidence, and mutual respect between the state and the citizens and due to our keenness on bringing together the efforts of the people of this country, the rulers and the ruled in order to achieve the progress and prosperity of this country, and in order to liberate the energies of every citizen to participate in the process of social and economic development according to article 1.e of the constitution which states that: ‘the citizens have the right of participation in public affairs and enjoyment of political rights, stating with the right of election, according to this constitution and conditions and circumstances outlined by the Law’. We the undersigned present to your highness this letter motivated by the feeling of our Islamic and national responsibility, and our legitimate rights according to article 29 of the constitution which states that: ‘every person has the right to communicate with the authorities in writing and with his own signature’, and because your highness is the head of the state according to article 33.a of the constitution, requesting your highness to issue orders for election of the national assembly as outlined by section 2 of chapter 4 of the constitution.

The national assembly as a legislative and constitutional one does not contradict what has recently been mentioned regarding the intention of the government to form a consultative council to widen the sphere of its consultations regarding what the government wants to do. The consultative council does not replace the national assembly as a constitutional and legislative authority.

We hope your highness will realise this popular demand in which there is good for every one. Please accept our thanks and respect


  1. Sheikh Abdul Amir al-Jamri, former member of National Assembly, religious scholar.
  2. Mr. Hamid Sangoor , lawyer
  3. Mr. Abdul Wahab Hussain Ali, educationalist
  4. Dr. Abdul Latif Al-Mahmood, professor
  5. Mr. Mohammed Jaber al-Sabah, , former member of National Assembly
  6. Sheikh Isa al-Jowder , religious scholar

Appendix B

Translation of the 1994 Petition (Popular Petition)

His Highness, Sheikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa
The Amir of the State of Bahrain, may God save him

It was an historic and successful step that you took to establish the pillars of the modern State of Bahrain. Following independence, you endorsed the Constitution on 6th December 1973 and enabled the holding of the legislative election. This was a leading edge in the modern history of Bahrain and that of the region. It has confirmed your belief in the importance of the popular participation on the basis of Shura (consultation) and justice for the fulfillment of the requirements demanded by the cultural progress of our modern country, and as demanded for laying down the foundation of its institutions with full determination and confidence in its posterity and their ability to shoulder responsibilities for the advancement of the country, peace and stability on the basis of fraternity, solidarity and social cohesion.

Since the dissolution of the National Assembly on 26th August 1975 until today, our homeland had suffered immensely. As a result, grave consequences occurred due to the interruption of the pioneering democratic process undertaken by you when you inaugurated the first legislative session of the elected National Assembly. Your people were keen to provide the opportunities for enriching the experiment of National Assembly.

The consequences after the dissolution of the National Assembly by the Amiri decree No. 4/1974 has necessitated opening the dialogue with your Highness on the future of our homeland. A group of citizens submitted the (first) petition to your Highness on 15/11/1992 which summarized the demands for restoring the National Assembly in accordance with the Constitution.

As your highness is aware, the Consultative Council which you had appointed by an Amiri decree does not fill the existing vacuum due to the closing down of the most important and only legislative institution. The reality we now face dictates that we will fail our duty if we do not speak-out frankly to you. Your wise leadership witnesses the incorrect circumstances that our country is passing through amid the changing regional and international environment while the constitutional institution is absent. Had the banning of the National assembly been lifted, it would have enabled overcoming the negative accumulations which hinder the progress of our country. We are facing crises with dwindling opportunities and exits, the ever-worsening unemployment situation, the mounting inflation, the losses to the business sector, the problems generated by the nationality (citizenship) decrees and the prevention of many of our children from returning to their homeland. In addition, there are the laws which were enacted during the absence of the parliament which restrict the freedom of citizens and contradict the Constitution. This was accompanied by lack of freedom of expression and opinion and the total subordination of the press to the executive power. These problems, your Highness, have forced us as citizens to demand the restoration of the National Assembly, and the involvement of women in the democratic process. This could be achieved by free elections, if you decide not to recall the dissolved parliament to convene in accordance with article 65 of the Constitution which states:

‘The Amir has the right to dissolve the National Assembly by an Amiri decree in which the reasons of the dissolution are explained. The dissolution of the Assembly for a second time and for the same reasons is not allowed. If the Assembly was dissolved, elections for a new Assembly must be held within a period not exceeding two months after the date of the dissolution. If elections were not held during this period, the dissolved Assembly would restore its complete constitutional powers, and shall meet immediately as if the dissolution has not taken place, and shall continue its functions until a new Assembly is elected.’

We are confident and hopeful that you will realize the just demands of this petition. We have aimed at encouraging the completion of the structure of our young state, and at offering assistance to your wise leadership on the basis of justice, consultation and faith in the strong foundations which were laid down by our Islamic religion and which had been adopted by your blessed wisdom as stated in the Constitution of our dear Country.

May God keep you for us and grant you health and strong will. May God guide us all to what is good.


  1. Dr. Abdul Latif Al-Mahmmod, Professor
  2. Abdul Amir Al-Jamri, former MP and Religious Scholar
  3. Mohammed Jaber Al-Sabah, former MP
  4. Isa Abdulla Al-Joder, Religious Scholar
  5. Ahmed Isa Al-Shamlan, Lawyer
  6. Abdul Wahhab Hussain Ali, Educational Supervisor
  7. Ali Qassim Rabea, Former MP
  8. Hesham Abdul Malik Al-Shehabi, Engineer
  9. Dr. Abdul Aziz Hasan Ubol, Manager
  10. Ibrahim Seyid Ali Kamal-u-Din, Marketing Officer
  11. Dr. Moneera Ahmed Fakhroo, Professor
  12. Saeed Abdulla Asbool, Engineer
  13. Abdulla M. Saleh Al-Abbasi,Journalist
  14. Abdulla Mohammed Rashid, Employee

Appendix C

Translation of 1995 Petition, Organised by Leading Bahraini Women (April 1995)

Your Highness Sheikh Isa bin Salman Al-Khalifa
Amir of the State of Bahrain

Salutations from Bahrain’s women,

Motivated by our well-founded confidence in Your Highness’ kindness and by our strong belief in the importance of communicating our views to You through the democratic dialogue that You have on several occasions emphasized Your adherence to, we have the honour in presenting to Your Highness this statement to express our heightened concerns over the circumstances which our beloved country Bahrain is going through.

We were alarmed as Bahraini citizens by the recent escalation of incidents and the use of the language of violence instead of the language of dialogue to confront the incidents and resolve the conflict so that we were no longer able to ignore what was occurring around us daily especially with our awareness that the continuation of violence would not lead to solving the problem but to exacerbating it. The continuation and spread of violence will touch everyone sooner or later. Experiences of other nations have proved that violence is a vicious circle that generates resentment, deepens hatred and entrenches violence and in the end we will all be losers and our beloved country will be inflicted with wounds that will not heal for a long time.

While we confirm our total belief that sabotage and destruction of public installations is completely unacceptable, we also understand that this could be an expression of the absence of dialogue channels and a reflection of the depth and magnitude of the build-up of suffering and the deterioration in economic and social conditions for a wide segment of the people of Bahrain especially the unemployed amongst them; conditions which need urgent solutions to confront the current developments.

We were also alarmed as citizens and mothers by the practices of the security and anti-riot force towards the citizens who dwell in the villages; practices which ranged from insults and severe beatings of young men, women and children to killing defenceless demonstrators including pupils and university students with bullets.

While we categorically and emphatically reject acts of sabotage, we do not consider them sufficient justification for the use of bullets by the security forces, especially against children and defenceless citizens. We are confident that the esteemed Bahraini Government will not rule out means of dialogue and dealing with demonstrators in order to resort to reasoning with them with bullets especially since the bulk of the acts of sabotage that the demonstrators are accused of committing is not legally punishable by death.

Your Highness, we believe that with your wisdom you are not unaware that progress in dealing with the developments requires breaking the circle of violence and only the stronger party with its wisdom and rationality and not with its weapon is capable of it. We are completely confident in Your abilities in getting our country out of this testing predicament to maintain national unity.

On this basis, we present to Your Highness this statement requesting your Highness’ personal intervention to break the circle of violence and open the door to dialogue to consider with Your established wisdom ways of dealing with the situation which may be achieved through the following means:

  1. Ceasing the use of bullets to disperse demonstrators, illegal forced entries and mass arrests;
  2. Dealing with detainees according to the rule of law with all that entails of guarantees to the detainees during periods of investigation and trial while expediting the presentation of the defendants to trial , releasing immediately the remaining detainees and repatriating the exiles;
  3. Creating employment opportunities for all citizens, securing the minimum requirements for their livelihood and finding an effective solution for the increase in the foreign labour force;
  4. Opening the door to a national dialogue with the aim of reaching the appropriate solution;
  5. Reactivating the Constitution of the State of Bahrain and calling for elections to the National Assembly and allowing public liberties and freedom of speech;
  6. Including Bahraini women in political decision making and utilizing their creative energies in all spheres to serve our country Bahrain.

We are hopeful that Your Highness with Your established paternal spirit and great wisdom are aware of the sensitivity of the situation and capable of taking the right decision which will ensure putting an end to the spilling of blood and rescuing our nation from this dangerous bend in the history of our dear country. Please accept our highest appreciation and respect to Your Kind Highness,

Bahrain’s Citizens and Mothers

Aziza Hamad Al-Bassam, Programme Producer, Bahrain Broadcasting Dr. Khawlah Mohammed Matar, Journalist Dr. Monira Ahmed Fakhro, University Professor Ayisha Khalifa Matar, Director, Modern Handicraft Industries Dr. Fadheela Taher Al-Mahroos, Pediatrician Jaleela Sayed Ahmed, Lawyer Wedad Mohammed Al-Masqati, Lawyer Fawziya Al-Sitri, Employee Dr. Sabeka Mohammed Al-Najjar, Employee Sawsen Ibrahim Al- Khayat, Employee Hussah Al-Khumairi, Director of continuous Education Mariyam Abdullah Fakhro, Employee Khadijah Ali Masoud, Employee Sheikha Mubarrak Hamad, Employee Nadia Al-Masqati, Accountant Farida Ghoulam Ismael, Employee Koukab Abdullah Abu-Idris, Employee Radhia Khalil Ibrahim, Teacher Muna Abbas Mansoor, Employee Leila Ali, Employee


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