MANAMA, July 29 (Reuters) – Bahrain has arrested five Cypriot and Jordanian businessmen suspected of trying to conduct a transaction with a fake $50 million bank guarantee, the official Gulf News Agency reported on Sunday. “The Bahrain Monetary Agency (BMA), Bahrain’s central bank, received a report on July 19 from an international bank official in Bahrain that five Cypriot and Jordanian businessmen had presented a false $50 million bank guarantee,” the agency said. “Security officials arrested the five suspects to investigate the case,” it added.
The agency gave no further details, and it was not immediately clear if the case was related to money laundering. Bahrain is the Gulf’s financial and banking hub.
MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) 29 July — Bahrain authorities have arrested five men in connection with a suspected dlrs 50 million money laundering attempt, local newspapers reported Sunday. The Cypriot and Jordanian businessmen were arrested after an official of an unnamed international bank, where they presented a false draft issued by another overseas bank, alerted the Central Bank on July 19. The Central Bank alerted the Interior Ministry, the newspapers said. Officials could not be reached for comment. The papers did not name the suspects or say when they were arrested. The five men are now reportedly in custody pending a full investigation.
Bahrain, a leading financial center in the Middle East, recently set up a committee to draft laws to combat money laundering.
Bahrain: Freedom of expression is a basic right that must be respected A demonstration in support of the Palestinian people will march from Al-Fateh Mosque in the capital Manama on the evening of 28 July. Last Wednesday a delegation representing Palestinian children presented the plight of Palestinians of all ages under Israeli aggression. The popular demonstration is expected to march through the streets of Manama calling for an end to Israeli atrocities against the Palestinians. On the other hand, a UN-sponsored workshop on combating racism started in the Holiday-Inn and will be run by the newly founded Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRS). The workshop will start today and continue until tomorrow 29 July. Key BHRS members will lead the workshop, including Dr. Sabika Al-Najjar, Mr. Nabil Rajab, Mr. Abdul Hadi Al-Khawajah and Mr. Abdul Nabi Al-Ekri. The Heir Apparent has delegated his presence to the head of the General Organisation for Youths and Sport (GOYS), Sheikh Fawaz Al-Khalifa. The latter was embroiled in an attempt to crackdown on public seminars that are permitted by the Constitution of Bahrain (as per Articles 28 and 31). It has now transpired that the Minister of Information, Mr. Nabil Al-Hammer was behind the plan to silence the nation. He has already managed to clamp down on the freedom of press. Encouraged by the way he smothered the press he moved on to silence the seminars and to deny the people their right to express themselves. In a recent interview with Al-Hayat newspaper, he even went further by going back to his old practice of inciting sectarianism. He attacked the opposition labelling it a “Shia” one. Later on he was made to regret such a statement. The local press quoted him saying that that he did not believe that there are Shia or Sunni oppositions. He went on to attack the concept of opposition by considering it an alien feature of his type of politics. It is hoped that the UN-sponsored workshop will help to spread a new democratic culture of anti-discrimination and elimination of hatred from societies. The BHRS is to be congratulated for launching a successful event that is bringing together youths from all over the Arab World. This workshop will be used as a preliminary meeting ahead of the Youths Summit to be held in South Africa in August. This summit will precede the World Conference on Racism. Al-Wefaq (Reconciliation) Society, which is being founded by a group of Bahraini Islamists published a statement reconfirming its objectives. It said that it is aiming to establish a constitutional framework for the national and Islamic activities, uniting Islamic groups, co-ordinating voluntary activities, contributing to development programmes, consolidating the role of women in public life, and supporting Arab and Islamic issues. It called on other formations to join hands for a brighter future for all Bahrainis. Bahrain Freedom Movement 28 July 2001
Tel/Fax: +44 207 278 9089
Dr. Al-Jamri meeting with the Amir MANAMA, Bahrain (Extracts from the Associated Press), 24 July — A prominent dissident who acquired British citizenship while living in exile in Britain said Tuesday that Bahrain’s ruler Sheik Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa has restored to him his Bahraini citizenship. Mansoor al-Jamri, 39, applied for the restoration of his citizenship during a brief visit to Bahrain last month. It was his first visit to his native country in 14 years. “I feel great to have regained my citizenship and I thank the emir for his kindness,” he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from London. “I truly see that the efforts of the emir are genuine … he is a pro-reform person and, as a Bahraini, I hope to strongly work toward his genuine reform process,” said al-Jamri, who learned Monday of his regaining Bahraini citizenship and met with the emir, who is an on official visit to Britain, in London on Tuesday. During his two-week visit to Bahrain last month, Al-Jamri told AP that he was “thrilled” to be back home. He said he wanted to take a closer look at the political situation before deciding on whether to resettle in Bahrain. Al-Jamri is the son of Abdul-Ameer al-Jamri, a prominent Shiite Muslim cleric who spent 3 1/2 years in detention …… The younger Al-Jamri left for Britain in 1979 to pursue higher education. He briefly returned home in 1987 to visit his family and has since lived in self-imposed exile in London, where he is the spokesman for the Bahrain Freedom Movement, mouthpiece of the Bahraini opposition. In February, Bahrainis overwhelmingly voted in favor of a national charter that provides for an elected parliament and equal rights for all citizens.
“The charter is now binding and my role is to make sure that the flexibility inside the charter is not used to subtract but to consolidate the right of the people,” said al-Jamri, who plans to be active in politics once he resettles in Bahrain.
Bahrain: Unconstitutional measures aimed at curtailing freedom of expression The General Organisation for Youth and Sport (GOYS) issued a follow-up statement following the uproar it created last week when it banned the organising of seminars in Bahrain. In its latest statement it said that “the forums are required to notify the GOYS and they should abide by the laws and regulations and respect the spirit of the National Action Charter and unity.” GOYS also said that “it should be informed about a forum’s dates, topics and speakers and its commitment to laws and regulations.” The initial and follow-up statements contradict the Constitution of Bahrain and would, if implemented, deal a severe blow to the reforms championed by the Amir. The Bahraini Constitution states in Article 28 (a) “Individuals shall have the right of private assembly without permission or prior notification, and no member of the security forces may attend such private meetings.”. Furthermore Article 31 states that “Public rights and liberties laid down in this Constitution shall neither be regulated nor defined except by a law, or in accordance therewith. Such regulation or definition shall not affect the essence of the right or liberty.” These constitutional clauses make it clear that the GOYS officials have no legal base whatsoever to ban the seminars. It is feared that the banning of seminars would be coupled with the on-going clamp down on freedom of press in order to process unconstitutional programmes behind closed doors. The Information Minister, Mr. Nabeel Al-Hamar, has utilised his position to curtail the freedom of press. He even contacted press organisations in Kuwait requesting that no article or interview for a member of the opposition be published. During the Amir’s visit to London he visited the BBC Arabic Service and other Arab media organisations as part of his public relations exercise. He was questioned by independently-minded journalists about his undemocratic practices and why is he attempting to stain the image of the reforms initiated by the Amir. Mr. Al-Hamar is not only a Minister of Information. He is also the managing director of Al-Ayyam daily newspaper and the president of the Bahraini Journalists Society (BJS). Bahraini journalists are therefore unable to complain to their professional body especially that the society was formed last year, before the voting on the National Charter last February. The BJS was condemned by many journalists because its remit was, and still is, to control journalists rather than to represent them. It is a sad state of affair that such individuals are continuing to play an influential role while their history and present practices indicate that they do not identify with the reform programme. There are several key issues in Bahrain that must be addressed properly to ensure that the dark period of dictatorship does not return. Freedom of expression comes on the top of these issues because it is needed to provide a breathing space for citizens especially as Bahrain has no elected parliament and citizens may have to wait until 2004 before an elected body is in place. The people of Bahrain are demanding transparency and the opportunity to monitor critical governmental activities. A good example of a popularly accepted mechanism is the way the Ministry if Labour is being checked by a committee made-up of ordinary citizens (Committee to Assist the Jobless). The later was given the authority by the Amir to attend all meetings of the ministry in relation to finding jobs to the unemployed and to check over the implementation of an action plan. More of such committees are needed to monitor other critical issues of concern to the citizens. Bahrain Freedom Movement 24 July 2001 Tel/Fax: +44 207 278 9089
By Abbas Salman MANAMA, July 21 (Reuters) – A leading Bahraini Shi’ite Muslim cleric on Saturday rejected as unconstitutional a recent ban on unauthorised political forums in the conservative Gulf Arab state. “The decision does not conform with the constitution or the (national) charter,” Sheikh Abdel-Amir al-Jamri told Reuters before he flew to Amman on Saturday for a medical check-up. “It (the ban) is a war against the intellectual movement… We hope that the General Organisation for Youth and Sports (GOYS) will review its decision,” Sheikh Jamri said. An official at GOYS, a government body that controls clubs and associations, said last week that hosting political forums needed prior official approval. The official said the move was aimed at enforcing law and order in the island state shaken by the 1994-98 anti-government unrest by members of the Shi’ite community demanding political and economic reforms from the Sunni-led government. Some clubs and associations have hosted forums to discuss political reforms by Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, who took power on the death of his father in March 1999. Bahrain-based diplomats and analysts said some of these debates have been seen by authorities as an attempt by some activists to stir trouble. “If there were violations by some speakers at the forums, they must be dealt with by the judiciary system…There is no justification for this ban,” said Sheikh Jamri, a former member of parliament that was dissolved by the government in 1975, two years after it was set up. Bahrainis in February voted overwhelmingly in a referendum to support the emir’s reforms, which call for an elected parliament alongside an appointed Shura consultative council, a constitutional monarchy and an independent judiciary. Sheikh Jamri said he saw no evidence that the government had retreated from the political reforms initiated by Sheikh Hamad in February, when he pardoned hundreds of political prisoners and abolished controversial emergency laws. He described the situation in Bahrain, the Gulf’s financial and banking hub, as stable, but said there were still some unresolved problems such as citizenship. Manama has granted citizenship to hundreds of people born and raised in Bahrain. The move applied to people whose families had come to Bahrain from neighbouring countries, mainly Iran, to work and later settled.
Around 15,000 people living in Bahrain — 7,000 stateless people and 8,000 from Arab and other countries — have applied for Bahraini passports.
Bahrain: GOYS launches a campaign to silence the nation The General Organisation for Youth and Sports (GOYS), headed by the son of the Interior Minister, issued an order threatening clubs and associations. In a move characteristic of the Bahrain under the notorious State Security Law that prevailed until last February, the GOYS said it will ban clubs from organising seminars that deal with political issues. The GOYS ordered all clubs to acquire a permit before holding any seminar and before announcing it to the public. This is apparently designed to ensure that all political topics are eliminated. Also, the GOYS want to prevent any individual not desired by the authorities from addressing a seminar. This attack on freedom of expression follows several letters of warning sent by the GOYS to clubs that organised seminars on political reforms. The launching of this crackdown runs in parallel to another crackdown led by the Information Minister, Mr. Nadeel Al-Hamar against freedom of press and expression. The minister has recently banned the broadcasting of a TV programme after completion of its production. He was quoted as saying “no more politics”. The Information Minister is also one of those old guards behind a failed attempt to falsely implicate Iran in the internal affairs of Bahrain. Several articles have been published attacking the Iranian Radio because the latter reported an “internal event”. It was an absurd attempt as the same event was reported by Reuters, Associated Press, and Al-Jazeerah TV, amongst others, and no other country had its ambassador summoned by the foreign ministry. Although the GOYS is responsible for sport clubs only, the information ministry published the order (on 17 July) in the two official newspapers, Akhbar Al-Khalij and Al-Ayyam, in an obscure manner, implying that the ban applies to all clubs and associations. This step, if implemented, means that the authorities will end a period of relative openness and free debate without dictatorial measures and censorship. Tightening the grip on seminars, while at the same time dictatorially controlling the press, runs contrary to the reform programme announced by the Amir. It is not yet clear how far the authorities are attempting to crackdown, or whether this is only the beginning of a backslide to the dark age which Bahrain underwent between 1975 and early 2001 under the State Security Law. The people of Bahrain have voted for the reforms last February to breath freedom and not to be dragged back into an environment similar to the one that had existed following the dissolution of the parliament in 1975. Bahrain Freedom Movement 18 July 2001 Tel/Fax: +44 207 278 9089
Some of the questions & answers Seminar: Obstacles to Democatization in Bahrain (13 July 001) Q: Would it not be good for the opposition to re-integrate into the elite and take government jobs? Dr Al Jamri: There is one danger in what is being offered here. This is the third time in 100 years that the political system in Bahrain changes: 1923, 1971 and now in 2001 it is changing again. The 1971 reforms were partly sabotaged by ex-opposition people. There were good reforms in 1971. What happened was that the government opened the door for previous opposition people to become ministers, ambassadors and leading officials. Then some of those started to attack the opposition, they not only disowned the opposition, they informed on the opposition and did so many bad things. They have created a bad image about the opposition and demoralised the morale of the people. In the 1990s the opposition just about recovered its status as an important force inside and outside the country. Now as well, there are offers for many of them to return to get houses and positions. Some of them were offered, I must say, not all of them, it is always selective targeting. Some of them have had offers to become advisers to ministers. I am against it. I said this openly in Bahrain in every speech that I gave. I am against senior opposition people assuming a government role. That is what happened in the 1970s, that is what killed the spirit inside the nation. Now that we have recovered there are many people who are running after concessions and the distribution of spoils. There is so much running after private gains and it is very disgusting. I am disgusted myself. I am sure that many opposition people could gain materially, individually, selfishly, if they wanted to. But I hope that at least some of us will remain outside this selfish game. Some have already fallen into that trap. They have become the government’s spokes people. People who were in the opposition just few months ago are now attacking the opposition. Thanks God people have not lost confidence in the opposition. The senior figures are playing a significant role in sustaining the momentum. And whoever is just following selfish things will lose or has already lost the trust of the people. Question: Are these changes indigenous or is there a regional or international direction to them? Dr Khalaf: The Bahraini changes are like the Moroccan, like the Jordanian. We can look at Spain in 1974. It is not change that occurs because a ruler dreams something and he wakes up and implements those dreams. Each situation has its own peculiarities. In Bahrain we had a sustained opposition movement for a long time. It started in 1992, 1994 and it continued despite attempts by the regime to destroy it. And it managed to unite. Elements of the opposition that were unlikely to unite: the leftists, the Islamists etc. This is one element. The second element is a sustained deficit in the budget for more than ten years. The economy of Bahrain was in shambles for a long period depending largely on grants from Saudi Arabia and sometimes from the USA, but mostly from Saudi Arabia and sometimes from Abu Dhabi, from Sheikh Zayed directly. So we have the regime buying the loyalty of people through economic incentives. The budget deficit has the country directed to an acute crisis. International help also contributed. Human rights organisations were all over the place, in US, Europe and in the Arab world. They helped us in a way that made Bahrain a daily issue in conferences in Geneva, New York, Cairo. The international contribution was immense. For a small country like Bahrain dependent on its image as a haven for international business, stability was necessary. Input by human rights organisations was important. The fourth element is that the new emir has come. The sudden death of his father on March 6th, 1999 brought this historic opportunity for a regime to change policies. Add to these factors the then conflict with Qatar and the need of the regime for popular support. Question: You are all saying that there is a dynamic and this dynamic cannot be controlled by any one party. Jaruzelski and Pinochet are going on trial. This is sending a message that at some point the power elite in Bahrain is going to start covering its own back. Just as you are concerned with the opposition being fragmented, the establishment is going to be fragmented by concern for themselves. Am I going to be carrying the can for this? Dr Khalaf: There is an element here that is rarely mentioned. Bahrain is a test case for the rest of the region. Question: The opposition seems weak because it accepts such small concessions. The emir has given very little. He has abolished the State Security Law, he has freed political prisoners. His propaganda machine is exaggerating this. The Bahrainis are on standby for when the emir makes a u-turn. He has imported citizens who are in the army and they will be used in future.
Dr Al Jamri: To paint the picture so black you will be driven by a certain dark image. It is not a black and white issue, it is a truly complex situation. They do not have all the cards and we do not have all the cards. It is a matter of how much you are going to sustain your principles and how much you are going to negotiate. I will object to anybody who says there is no change and it is basically a game. I don’t think it’s a game, they can’t play the game. It is not a closed society anymore. Everyone knows what is going on. The internet is working, the satellite it working. There is a global, transparent environment. The emir has said so many things in public and for him to take a u-turn will be an invitation of a violent reaction from the people. And there will be another opposition which will emerge and take over. Painting a picture of black and white is not correct, it is a very complex situation. You have to deal with everything on merits of degrees and professionalism. You can’t just say everything is a game.
Obstacles to Democratization in Bahrain By Dr. Mansoor Al-Jamri An intervention delivered to the Gulf Cultural Club in London, on Friday 13th July, 2001 For me to talk about Bahrain is more than an analysis. It is a personal experience. I have been away from my country for a very long period. I returned two to three weeks ago for two weeks and my return to Bahrain was totally undreamed of. Personally I never dreamt to be back in my homeland. I always thought I was going to die here in the UK and I would never have the opportunity to see my country again. If anybody told me that I would see Bahrain in a very short period in March or April I would have said ‘you are dreaming but I am not prepared to let myself dream’. The situation has changed dramatically in Bahrain. The changes are so fast that you tend to lose track of what has caused this latest event because something has preceded it. Unless you are a keen observer and you have some sort of interest you tend to say this is a small island and I am just going to forget about it. For good or bad Bahrain is small. Its strategic implications mean that there are so many people who are observing what is going on in that island. To see the implications and what would happen. It is like a microcosm of what could have happened if these events took place in Saudi Arabia or other state. They have a different social structure but politically and regionally the interests are similar. Saudi Arabia, especially, is something big in all respects. I know events in Bahrain have been watched internationally and regionally by everybody. Bahrain has become a topic to be talked about in most Arab countries. Nowadays, we are told that even in Syria the Syrian people are looking forward to having what the Bahrainis have. They are asking ‘why don’t we have all our prisoners released, why don’t we have some freedom of expression of whatever sort’. The subject is very up and down. One day you would think that Bahrain has become so open that is unbelievable. The next day, within 24 hours, everything is turned upside down. Just before I went to Bahrain there was the story of Lord Avebury. The situation in Bahrain was calm, Lord Avebury was invited, he was welcomed by the Bahraini ambassador in London. There was also a meeting between the Amir and the Bahrain Human Rights Society during which the visit of Lord Avebury was mentioned. The Amir said Lord Avebury is most welcome and all of a sudden in the official newspapers there was a vicious attack on Lord Avebury, and “British colonialism.” And those who deal with him are branded as “traitors.” This happened just out of the blue. Then there was a calming of the storm. Two days ago the charge d’affairs of Iran was summoned by the Foreign Ministry and warned against interfering in Bahraini affairs. So you could see that there is some sort of contradiction. As an observer you would find this is so confusing to follow. The aim of the presentation is to follow through some of these things which have happened in Bahrain., with the obvious aim of supporting reforms. Bahrain at last, I believe, is witnessing a genuine opening for reform. There is an Amir who believes he must change the way in which he rules the country. The country has been used to one type of system. It was a system where the state talks and the people must listen. It was a system where the state can intervene, can punish and can do whatever it liked without listening to the people. Listening to the people is an insult. The solutions that were adopted were aimed at silencing everybody who opposed the actions of the government. All the important positions in the state were security people. The security personnel, the security advisers, whether British or otherwise are the top people in the country. Any critical statement made by any citizens would be dealt with as a threat to the state. Therefore the state is taken as something that must be protected against all attacks and everything is defined as an attack. The number one change which the Amir has made was to adopt a political, rather than a security-oriented, solution. For the first time in Bahrain he is prepared to meet with people who call themselves opposition. He talks to them and he is not ashamed of it, he does not consider this to be an insult. The other feature of the change is that this Amir has political advisers who are natives and thinkers like Mohammed Jaber Al Ansari and Hassan Fakhro who are keen persons and considered to be clean, ie not corrupt. Add to these advisors the presence of an enlightened crown prince who is an intellectual. So the environment that the Amir circulates in is totally different from the environment that used to circulate the ruler in the past. That has its own implications. Let us think about what the Amir has managed to do. He has made a small opening of confidence with a large section of people who were not listened to in the past. For that he has to be commended. He has also managed to deal with other issues in a political manner rather than deploying security personnel to crush the people. However, the problem is that everything is state-directed. This explains why all of a sudden the journalists who were attacking the opposition and those people who stood against words like ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’ started to flag them up. They started speaking about these terms as if Bahrain were practising democracy and human rights for the past several centuries. If you read the newspapers, you will read articles in favour democracy written by the same people who just a year ago were attacking anybody who uttered the word ‘election’. This is evidence of state-directed reforms. I will now outline the positive developments in the situation and the negatives that might drive the reforms back. The Amir has abolished the State Security Law and Court. However the security personnel who tortured people and harassed the ordinary people are still there in their cars. They can still be seen everywhere and even though they are not touching any person, their presence creates a very bad impression. Their dress and the colours of their jeep, for instance, send a very bad message to the citizens. So what is the situation going to be regarding these people? They are a very ugly feature of the past and they are still there. They are not doing anything now, but seeing them is bad enough. Bahrainis were allowed to return home but some have not returned. The obstacles in this situation cannot be excused. Hundreds of people in Iran were evicted from their land in 1980-81. Others are in the USA and elsewhere. They were put on boats and were the first to be exiled to Iran. They have no records because the government destroyed them. They only have copies of very old passports and have been stranded in Iran and in other countries. They cannot return. At the same time there are thousands of people in the country who are not Bahrainis, yet they are being given Bahraini passports for political reasons. They are Bedouin Syrians, Yemenis and Saudis. They can be seen everywhere and they are getting passports free of charge and they are being portrayed as true citizens. We have no objection to this if this process is natural. But it is not natural. The temperature of the nation was very high in recent days. On Saturday the Interior Ministry released figures for the first time of those people who have been given passports. The figures are not believable but it is a first step towards openness. There is the positive feature of allowing political debates. Wherever you go in Bahrain there are political debates. Before February if more than three people congregated they would be arrested and put in jail under the State Security Law. Today people open their doors, and debates are taking place everywhere. Until recently if you switched on a microphone without a permit from the Interior Ministry you would be arrested. Now there are seminars, everybody is congregating and talking. But there are certain topics the government does not want the citizens to talk about. What to do with the torturers, is a taboo question. Dr Khalaf created a storm
in Bahrain, when he went there and called for citizenship for all people to be equal and that that there must not be super-citizens and sub-citizens. That statement created a storm and the official media never stopped attacking anyone daring to raise issues of such type. There are limits to what can be discussed but these limits are not clearly defined and above all they are not constitutional. There is a government’s statement that “foreigners are not allowed to speak about Bahrain”. But the government means Lord Avebury only. They do not mean Omar Al Hassan or (with all respect) the British people working for Omar Al Hassan and are publishing a pro-government newsletter. These are on the payroll of the government. So they ban Lord Avebury from speaking about Bahrain but don’t ban Omar Al Hassan. He has a centre and he regularly publishes a newsletter which is quoted every day in the official newspapers in Bahrain. He is not a Bahraini and neither are his staff, yet they receive full coverage inside Bahrain. They are allowed to speak about Bahrain but somebody who supports democracy isn’t. These contradictions exist everywhere. Nevertheless, the Amir has taken some very daring steps. He did not wait for advise from security personnel. About six to eight weeks ago there was a picket in front of the Labour Ministry. The Labour Ministry was stormed. But instead of putting the protesters in jail he telephoned the Labour Minister and told him to accept a committee elected by the protestors to monitor all ministry’s activities with regard to finding jobs for the unemployed. The minister was told that jobs have to be found within six months and 25 million dinars was set aside for the people for six months. That committee was formed all of a sudden and it started to monitor the Labour Ministry by attending all the relevant meetings. The unemployed were engaged in all the debates and discussions. There is a will to solve this problem but the governing structure of Bahrain is so corrupt that it cannot be solved. An allocation of 25 million dinars for six months is going to give employment to only 3000 – 4000 people. The government is now recognising more than 10,000 unemployed and there are about 10,000 more still to be recognised. Hence, more than 15 thousands will still be out of work while there are more than 200,000 foreign workers in the country. Another very negative aspect is lack of free press. The press is tightly controlled by the Information Ministry. It is controlled by an elite which is basically anti-reform. They are connected with the corrupt past and they are controlling the press and everything that is to be said in Bahrain. There is a lack of transparency in many respects and the country is run by decrees. Many decrees are issued in a speedy manner to change every aspect of Bahrain’s life before the parliament comes. So many decrees have been implemented without any popular monitoring. To sum up, if someone asked me ‘do you believe there is hope?’ I think there is hope because we have somebody who wants to change the situation with a degree different from what it was in the past. Even if that will give us a small percentage of what we are aiming for, I think we should push for it because it is better than the complete darkness and the complete dictatorship that Bahrain has lived under for a very long time.
Bahrain: Democratisation by Decree Dr. Abdulhadi Khalaf (Intervention at the Seminar on Bahrain organised by the Gulf Cultural Club in London on 13 July 2001) Introduction On March 6, 1999, Sheikh Isa bin Salman Al-Khalifa died of a heart attack. His eldest son, Crown Prince Hamad, who also served as commander in chief of the Bahrain Defence Force, succeeded him. The new Amir indicated that he would follow his father’s footsteps and continue maintaining close military and political ties with the West. It was not readily clear what policy he would adopt towards the opposition movement, and particularly the Popular Petition Committee, PPC, a liaison committee for various groups, which initiated since 1994 a sustained campaign for the restoration of the parliament. The sudden change of guards gave the opposition an opportunity to initiate several conciliatory gestures towards his son and successor Sheikh Hamad. These gestures included statements of condolences and a call for a ‘temporary cessation of all protest activities”. Following the traditional forty-day mourning period, the new Amir spoke to his people. The country, he said, “is entering an era of change for the better in all areas…”. In several subsequent speeches, Hamad bin Isa reiterated the same message informing his people that his top priorities are “achieving national unity and internal security, through the solidarity of all Bahrain citizens, without discrimination, whatever their origin or creed”. For most Bahrainis, the Amiri maiden speeches evoked little enthusiasm. Similar promises were made before. Each time such promises were made the future seemed so bright and the country would soon move away from being an ethnically segmented political entity into joining the new bold world of enlightened nation-states. Notwithstanding their initial scepticism, most opponents of the regime reciprocated the Amiri gestures of goodwill by expressing their hopes that the new Amir would follow some, if not all, of the footsteps of the newly crowned kings of Morocco and Jordan. Like those monarchs, the overtly wishful reasoning went, Hamad needs to start afresh and will stand up to the more militant flanks of his family. The following account reviews attempts by the new Amir to carry out the tasks he set for himself and his reign. Testing the grounds Hamad spent most of his first year consolidating his reign. To the dismay of his opponents, all of his moves remained within the confines of the ancien régime. Following his father’s footsteps, the new Amir refused to meet with members of the PPC, let alone initiating meaningful political dialogues, which lead to national reconciliation. Like his father, he has reportedly stated that he, too, does not receive petitions. Instead, the new Amir concentrated on mobilizing the same external and internal resources of legitimacy that supported his father’s reign. One can identify the following major areas with which the Amir has been preoccupied. In similarity with other ruling families in the rest of GCC, the al-Khalifa’s own internal squabbles are the credible source of threats to its rule and to its continued prosperity. This may explain that Hamad’s foremost priority has been to preserve the cohesion of his family, preserve its domestic peace, and subsequently to establish his undisputed authority within it. Hamad’s moves towards streamlining the affairs of the family were swift. Within days of assuming power, Hamad appointed his son as Crown Prince, thus correcting the balance of power within this ‘political leadership’. Another move, designed mostly to irritate the Prime Minister has been the summoning of his estranged uncle, Mohammad, from the political wilderness. Politically more serious are the measures initiated to consolidate his authority within the ‘al-Khalifa Family Council’’ itself. As well as appointing some trusted members of his faction, including another of his sons, to various positions in the Council, the Amir raised the monthly stipends allocated for each of the 2500-3000 members of the ruling family, according to an elaborate classification. In the past year, the Amir has put greater efforts in appointing educated men and women, some of who are accomplished professionals in their fields, to senior positions in government and public institutions. His latest appointments led to charges by opposition spokespersons that he has embarked on started khalifanizing the state apparatus. It was increasingly evident to supporters and opponents of the new ruler that he needs to do more in order to balance the powers of his uncle, the Prime Minister, and establish his exclusive authority over the family and the state. In spite of all his efforts, Hamad seems to have reconciled himself, for the time being, with the fact that, short of direct confrontation, he needs to decide whether to cohabitate with his uncle. The new Amir has also made several gestures to re-assure tribal and clerical establishments. Both are vital and longstanding pillars of the al-Khalifa rule. In both establishments, Hamad benefits from a legacy of British administration that continues to shape the cordial relationship between the ruling family and the clerical and tribal establishments. Clerics-ruling family relationship continues in spite of the occasional rupture caused by activities of underground religionist groups, including recent graduates from seminaries in Qum, Najaf and Cairo. For the leading members of the clerical establishment, the relationship provides them not only with access to the centre of power but also provides them with sufficient goodwill to act as intermediaries on behalf of their own constituencies. Benefits secured through such intercession range from securing employment, housing loans or plots of land, to release from detention. The influence of leaders of the clerical establishment in some rural areas and residential urban quarters helped in reducing, if not totally eliminating riots and other forms of public protest that engulfed the rest of the country since 1994. Since assuming power, the Amir has made several gestures confirming that he appreciates the political fruits of continuing to oblige the clerical establishment. An innovative, if highly bizarre, gesture of generosity across confessional lines was his offering of a lamb and bag of rice to each of several hundred recognised Hussainiyah. While still testing his ground, Hamad has made several pronouncements on what may be grouped as human rights issues. Some of these pronouncements, such a commitment to grant women the right to vote in municipal elections, have their own historical significance. However, the sum total of all that, when everything is said and done, does not add up to a move away from despotic rule. While some of Hamad’s moves confirm his tactical skill, they also betray his reluctance to address the causes of the crises that has plagued the country since 1975. Probably more alarming is that some of his moves seem designed solely to impress an international audience. His attempts to improve Bahrain’s ‘image’ and to reassure foreign investors have been bold and innovative although not always fruitful. While one recognizes Hamad’s public relations skills, some of his early actions seemed counterproductive. On July 8, 1999, Bahrainis were treated to a show of bizarre magnanimity. A leading opponent of the regime, Sheikh Abdul Amir al-Jamri, incarcerated since 1996, was shown on TV apologizing to the Amir, the day after he had been sentenced to a fine of some five million Bahrain dinars and a 10-year imprisonment. The Amir has duly pardoned the humiliated elderly cleric. The trial, with its unprecedented harsh sentence, and the following pardon confirmed what radical opponents of the regime have been saying all along: it does not tolerate any form of opposition even the non-violent protest advocated by sheikh al-Jamri. · Other measures directly affecting human rights in the country have also been taken. § Throughout his first year as a ruler, the Amir announced several Makramah granting conditional pardon to
several hundreds detainees and some 40 exiles. To benefit from the Amiri magnanimity a person is required to send a personal attestation of his/her repentance and an assurance that he/she will not ‘meddle in politics’. Probably because of this condition most exiles, and several hundreds detainees have not been enticed by Hamad repeated show of magnanimity. § In his national day speech, the Amir announced another makrama promising citizenship to all those ‘who qualify for it’. § In October 1999, the Amir announced the formation of a Human Rights Committee. The six members of the committee were selected from members of the Shura and were charged with studying the laws and regulations currently in force in Bahrain and asked to propose amendments in line with the country’s international commitments. Its most public activity to date has been commemorating the human rights day on December 10. · In his first national day speech, the Amir announced a plan to hold municipal elections. It was also announced that women would be allowed to vote in these elections, the first since 1954. While seemingly trying hard to please everybody, the new Amir of Bahrain would soon realize that he has ventured into untested waters without first securing, among other things, a popular base of support for his moves. Mistakenly, too, he has raised expectations of his opponents and supporter alike to levels that he could not possibly carry through without confronting his powerful uncle. A Reformer in the Making In a speech delivered to members of the Shura, in early November 2000, Hamad bin Isa announced his intentions to introduce a series of measures to reform the political system. Keywords in his reform plan were constitutional monarchy and bi-cameral legislative body. Not until then did outsiders become aware that bargaining within the regime had drawn to a close and that the Amir was about to make up his mind. Following the footsteps of his role model King Hussain of Jordan, Hamad bin Isa commissioned, later that month, a 46-member ‘Supreme National Committee’, SNC, to draw up proposals for constitutional reforms and to elaborate on the perimeters of the impending liberalisation process. The work of the SNC was quickly concluded. On December 18, it presented to the Amir its final draft of mithaq al-amal al-watani, National Action Charter. In its final communiqué the SNC stated “-since the State of Bahrain has since its establishment, managed to lay down the basis of the modern state upon democratic orientations, the state of constitutional institutions and the sovereignty of law, Since Bahrain has reached high levels of maturity as a country with international relations, and a state with sovereign institutions, based on justice and equality of citizens to safeguard their interests, -since HH the Amir possesses the ambition to achieve a democratic way of life, laying down a balanced structure that confirms the political constitutional partnership between the people and the Government, the separation between the three main branches, the enhancement of the mechanism of the judiciary branch, and the establishment of the constitutional court, and the offices of financial and administrative controls, -since as we stand at the threshold of the third millennium, there is the strong willpower to move into a modern state that has completed its political and constitutional frameworks in order to interact with the latest domestic, regional and international latest developments, -since the outcome of the experience of the State of Bahrain in political and economic action in the last three decades, requires taking into consideration the latest political, economic, social and legislative developments, and to be able to confront all forthcoming challenges alongside future international developments, It has been decided to consider the national, political and constitutional components in the entity of the state, thereby enhancing the hereditary constitutional monarchy of the ruling system, whereby the monarch of the country serves his people, and represents its independent entity and its aspirations towards prosperity. There is agreement on the need to modernise the Constitution of the country to benefit from the democracy experiences of other peoples in expanding the circle of popular participation in the tasks of ruling and administration. These experiences have demonstrated that the presence of two councils in the legislative branch allows the combination of the advantages of wisdom and competence of the members of the Shura Council, and the interaction of public opinions from all sides of the elected council.” (See translation of the full text in: http://www.bahraintribune.com/others/charter.htm#one) Following its Jordanian mirror image, the Bahraini Charter has been presented as an attempt to reassert the legitimacy of the ruling family through concessions to opposition demands for reinstating the constitution and for curbing the excesses of the security services. It should be recalled that the Jordanian monarch, too, commissioned his National Charter in April 1990, in response to a legitimacy crises made worse by the consequences of a severe and chronic fiscal crisis combined with international pressure and an Islamist-dominated opposition. Authors of both charters defined the state as a constitutional monarchy where government decisions are subject to the approval of a freely elected parliament. Both Charters stipulate that decisions of the elected parliaments are balanced and moderated by an appointed consultative council. Each of the charters were presented as an integral part of a liberalisation package. The package included a general amnesty granting the release of political prisoners, return of exiles, reinstating activists to their government and semi-government jobs, return of confiscated passports, lifting travel restrictions on prominent political activists, and most significantly, lifting of state of emergency and repealing of state security laws (Cf. Amawi, 1992: 27). In Amman as well as in Manama, the liberalisation package was fashioned as an attractive element in a pre-emptive strategy whose main objectives are to restore calm, and to provide the regime with stability and political longevity without altering any of the pillars of its power (Cf. Robinson, 1998:387). Corresponding with Bahrain’s constitution, the Charter offers several guarantees of rights, and affirms that ‘the people are the source of sovereignty’. It also announces that Subsequent to the stability bestowed by God on Bahrain, to the achievements it has accomplished and to the challenges it has successfully confronted, and after it has reached maturity levels both in its international relations and within its sovereign institutions based upon equality between citizens and consideration about their independence and national unity, time has now come for Bahrain to be among the constitutional monarchies with a democratic system that achieves the aspirations of its people for a better future. The Bahraini Charter created nearly the same confusion which had hit the Jordanians a decade earlier, with regards to its juridical political status, and its relationship to constitution. (Cf. Rath:1994:549). In Bahrain, additional confusion resulted from the ambiguity surrounding the exact mandate of the proposed bi-cameral legislative body. What relationship is envisaged between the elected parliament and the appointed Shura, both procedurally and politically? Another source of confusion resulted from excluding the ‘left’ from all preparatory work that led to the launch of the Amiri reform process. The deliberate exclusion of the left from those initial negotiations led to charges that the proposed reforms were nothing more than a deal between the ruling family and religionist groups. In spite of their misgivings leftist groups joined en mass with mobilization campaigns, which led to the approval of the Charter. During the first half of February, Hamad bin Isa came out as an astute tactician. While retaining the support of leaders of major factions within t
he ruling family, he succeeded in reassuring his interlocutors from the opposition and their increasingly apprehensive constituencies. As a result, the Amir and his interlocutors among leaders of the opposition did not raise the future role of the al-Khalifa Family Council in the proposed reform project. It is worth noting that the ruling family’s council, in existence since 1932, was made a formal organ of the state in 1973 with an executive secretariat headed an al-Khalifa with a rank of minister. It remains to be seen how long these three councils are able to endure each other, and how detrimental is their coexistence to the constitutional monarchy project. On the eve the plebiscite on 14-15 February, 2001, Hamad bin Isa looked triumphant. He has already appeased most critics of the text of the Charter, and of the ways it was drafted and the modalities proposed for its adoption. Bahrainis, including most of the opposition networks, offered a near unanimous approval. Many, otherwise sober, opposition voices started speculating whether ‘ the era of democracy in Bahrain has finally dawned’. No one listened to the few sceptics or to the warnings of the ‘grand scheme of deceit’ shouted by remnants of radical networks within the Bahraini opposition. In varying levels of enthusiasm, everyone, from the Crown Prince to the exiled bidoons, joined in singing the praise of the Amir, his audacious moves, and the launching of what was designated, rather prematurely, as the ‘democratisation process’ in Bahrain. As the pace of political relaxation gained momentum, a state of national euphoria seemed to engulf the country, the rulers and the ruled. Among additional measures that convinced most sceptics and turned the whole country into a carnival site, were the two Amiri decrees, of February 18, abrogating the State Security Law, and abolishing the State Security Court. Sheikh Hamad said that the new legislature would be elected in 2004, while the existing Shura council would remain in existence as an advisory body. However, according to the Middle East International of Feb. 23, it would be difficult for Bahrain “to evolve into a fully-fledged democracy” within three years “without the existence of legal civil institutions, political parties or trade unions” unless the Amir were to agree to their legalisation beforehand. (Keesings Records of World Events, Vol. 47, February 2001). Popular approval of the Amiri moves was evident in the massive turn out for the plebiscite, in which women participated, and in the reported 98.4% in favour of the revised text of the National Action Charter. Everyone was declared a winner. To his, by now loyal opposition, the Amir offered to give back the parliament in exchange for their active participation in mobilising popular support and legitimacy for his constitutional monarchy project. In the process Hamad bin Isa appears set to transform Bahrain, to use Nazih Ayubi’s (1995) distinction, from being a ‘hard state’ into becoming a ‘strong state. The former uses punishment and coercion, whereas the latter achieves its objectives though civil means. In spite of the persisting national euphoria, the Charter remains, by design, a confusing document. Its vague language and its other deficiencies could become a source for serious contentions between, as well as within, the regime and the opposition. Yet, the Bahraini Charter, like its Jordanian counterpart, is likely to provide more time for the Amir to attend to his other pressing business of state, and to strengthen his position vis-à-vis his rivals within the ruling family. Moreover, because of its long-term perspective, it could ease some of the immediate pressures on his regime and could give it some additional room for manoeuvre (Cf. Rath, 1994:543). Obstacles to Political Reforms Has Bahrain taken its first steps towards democratic transition as the official media would have us believe? Several months after the Plebiscite, most opposition groups remain euphoric about the political reform process and about the role of the Amir in that process. An unmistakably favourable commentary published by a leading opposition group, the Bahrain Freedom Movement listed some ten important measures, noting that: “During the past months, the Amir of Bahrain positively responded to several key demands that had been raised by the people of Bahrain. He also undertook several steps to open up channels of dialogue with the active political forces inside and outside the country. The main steps of reforms included the following: 1. Abolishing the State Security Law and Court 2. Releasing all political detainees and prisoners 3. Allowing most exiles to return home and promising to allow the rest back as soon as possible. 4. Allowing citizens to debate political issues with greater freedom of expression than ever before. 5. Allowing citizens to form non-governmental organisations that are important for activating civil society. 6. Initiating a new process for granting public contracts that avoid corrupt practices. 7. Allocating temporary benefits for the unemployed and allowing a committee of citizens to monitor the work of the labour ministry in relation to finding jobs for the unemployed. 8. Authorising the formation of labour and women unions. 9. Lowering the fees for the university students. 10. Announcing future plans for improving the housing conditions. (Voice of Bahrain Commentary: July 2001) Whether Bahrain has taken its first steps towards political liberalisation, or, if you wish, democratic transition, remains a matter of debate. Bahrainis have several causes for scepticism. The Jordanian and Moroccan experiments in ‘democratisation by royal decree’ are faltering. While Morocco marks the second anniversary of Muhammad VI’s accession to the Alawite throne, it is becoming increasingly evident that he has failed to live up to his promises. Like his Bahraini counterpart, The Moroccan king “impressed public opinion by the speed with which he took measures in regard to greater freedoms, political exiles and victims of repression; and his skill in handling Islamist groups and the sacking of the former interior minister were welcomed as evidence of his desire for progress. But recently this progress has come to a halt, leaving society impatient for the real change it expects” (Dalle, 2001). Worse are the ominous signs that can be read from the Jordanian model itself. In spite of eleven years of ‘pre-emptive liberalisation’, the era of democracy has not yet dawned on Jordan. Indeed, the advent of political liberalization in Jordan enhanced the regime’s ability to prevent real dissension and/or democratisation as well as to regulate the opposition through an array of bureaucratic and legal mechanisms. (Wiktorowicz, 2001). Commenting on ‘experiments of controlled liberalization’ in the Arab world at the beginning of last decade, Krämer (1992:22) notes that they are “notable for the absence of what are commonly regarded as basic socio-economic, political and cultural prerequisites of liberal democracy, such as involvement of broad sections of ‘civil society’, government dependence on internal mobilization of resources rather than oil or political rent, and a stable regional environment”. A decade later, the Bahraini infitah is not an exception. Nevertheless, certain events of the last few months have given a substantial boost to talks on the process of democratisation in the country, and have at the same time opened up at least the prospect of reshaping the local political order. Students of other regions, who have examined disjunction between increased demands for the freedom and participation and the insufficient supply of these political goods, have identified some major impediments that have fuelled collective scepticism about democratisation and democratic transition in Authoritarian states. In an insightful review of the African processes of political reforms Celstin Monga (1997) notes eight phenomena that hinders democratic transition in Africa. These are: the weakness of political organisations; the strength of alternative networks
and corporatives; constriction of the political field; constrained civil society; state-controlled media; confidence in sources of external support; institutional corruption, and clientalism. Students of the evolving situation in Bahrain are likely to appreciate the relevance of most of the problems identified by Monga. Admittedly, remedying some of these phenomena which hinders democratisation can take several generations of political reformers. However, some of these obstacles are so acute that one cannot imagine the launching of a serious political reform, let alone a process of democratisation, without first resolving them. In the following I will discuss the effects of some of these obstacles on the pace of political reforms in Bahrain. In spite of all the praise hailed at the Amir and his project of ‘political reform and democratisation’, the changes he introduced remain manifestly fragile and are hostage to a number of factors including the balance of power within the ruling family. There are, however, anecdotal indications that reveal the seriousness of quarrels within the ruling family, and in particular its top echelons. While Al-Khalifa’s squabbles are public knowledge, the family as a whole has remained outwardly united. I have already noted that cohesion of the ruling family remains a key to the regime’s future and, to the future of the infitah in Bahrain. Whether the Amir can rely on this cohesion or whether he, and the country, can afford indefinitely to pay its financial, political and security costs, will determine the pace and direction of the reform process. Can this unity withstand the pressures that would undoubtedly surface as soon as the political reforms start affecting the ruling family’s privileges? A major weakness in the reform process in Bahrain is that it has started as an Amiri initiative. It was launched through a series of makramas, which are exclusive prerogative of the Amir. In short, the promises of democratisation remain subject to Amiri decrees. For the time being, only he has the power to chart the future of the liberalisation process, its perimeters, its intensity and its extent. He also has the power to determine what social groups and what opposition networks are to be included in or excluded from actively participating in the liberalisation process. In turn, the Amiri options, however, will be constrained by the unresolved squabbles within the core of the ruling family. Of these the most conspicuous is conflict between the Amir and his uncle, the country’s undisputed strong man for the past three decades. Two sets of factors may influence the shaping of the Amiri options. The first is formed by the extent to which leaders of the opposition, religionist or otherwise, are capable of maintaining a credible united front and of maintaining their hold on their respective constituencies. The second is formed by the extent to which the regime and its loyal opposition manage a smooth the transition towards codification and implementation of the National Action Charter and the reinstatement of commitment to constitutionality. A long history of clientalist politics provide some difficult and unexpected hurdles on that path. Elevated popular expectations fuelled by both the Amir and his euphoric opposition of dramatic changes are not likely to be satisfied by reforms that stop at an elected parliament and self-proclaimed constitutional monarchy. For their own different reasons, the Amir and his loyal opposition pushed popular expectation of change to unrealistic levels. In spite of the initial limitation imposed on the social and political spaces that are affected by controlled liberalisation, and in spite of the stringent control, liberalisation could gather its own momentum. As more people become aware of their collective civic power, they are likely to act to expand the perimeters of liberalisation by pressing for additional and possibly far-reaching demands. On the Amir’s side, the old guard is too strong to be ignored. For, in spite of all euphoric statements, and in spite of minor changes among mid-level security officers, the old regime remains in place. No one can be certain of when the old guard, or the Amir himself, will consider it necessary to call for a ‘corrective move’ when things, from their perspective, will seem to get out of hand. Corrective moves could be triggered by the unavoidable cutbacks in the ruling family’s privileges when the elected parliament starts monitoring state revenues and its budgetary outlays. ‘Corrective moves’ launched by disgruntled members of the old guard are not the only threats to the current project of controlled liberalisation. A number of threats could come from unpredictable consequences of the ‘snowballing of democratic demands’. (Robinson, 1998:390). On the side of the loyal opposition, the ‘snowballing of democratic demands’ may become counterproductive. The current infitah is due partly to a sustained national-based movement that transcended those social segmentations enforced by the old regime. For decades, effective manipulation of existing divisions within society and pre-empting the opportunities for horizontal interaction have provided the old regime with a strategic asset to maintain its rule. The expected ‘snowballing of demands’ would give rise to competing and often incompatible demands by representatives of ethnic groups and sub-groups, of urban and rural cleavages, and of tribal and confessional corporatives. Aside from shattering the remaining façades of the opposition unity, such a development could allow the regime to once again roll out one of its most trusted and effective instruments of rule: a fragmented and self-disillusioned opposition. In other words, nationification of politics is a prerequisite for sustaining the current political reforms and for their evolution into a serious liberalisation process. This, obviously, is contingent on the ability of the Amir and other political leaders to sustain required levels of reciprocity and trust as well as their ability, and will, to transcend those forms of social segmentation that reinforced the old regime for so long. Standing Still ? In a recent appraisal of the political reforms initiated by King Mohammad VI in Morocco, Abdeslam Maghraoui (2001) concluded that they remained largely symbolic gestures. He notes that Mohammed VI “ has appointed no serious team of reformers and announced no discernible has appointed no serious team of reformers and announced no discernible program of reforms. Three important signs confirm the new king’s inability to reform the authoritarian system he has inherited. His initiatives seem impulsive and ad hoc rather than guided by a clear reformist strategy. He bypasses due process and formal decision-making institutions, diluting his professed aim to establish the rule of law. Third, King Mohammed’s personal initiatives reproduce, in a different form, the old image of the benevolent despot. The medieval mechanisms of exercising political authority in Morocco are still in place. Mirroring his Moroccan and Jordanian counterparts, the Amir of Bahrain after more than two years on the throne, has introduced a number of adjustments to system. Certainly, many Bahrainis are grateful to him for improving their lot. But Hamad bin Isa’s political reform process did not effect a systemic change. Notwithstanding his genuine modesty and his visible concern for the future of the country, the Amir of Bahrain, like King Mohammed VI and King Abdulla II, remains hostage of the ancien régime, its politics and institutions. Bibliography Abla Amawi, (1992), ‘Democracy Dilemmas in Jordan’, Middle East Report, January-February. Nazih H. Ayubi, (1995) Over-stating the Arab State: Politics and Society in the Middle East, I.B. Tauris, London. Bahrain Freedom Movement (2001), Voice of Bahrain Commentary: July Bahrain Tribune, Bahrain National Action Charter, http://www.bahraintribune.com/others/charter.htm#one) Ignace Dalle (2001), Mobile King and Static Society: Morocco: waiting for serious change http://www.en.monde-diplomatique.f
r/2001/06/ Keesings Records of World Events (2001), February, 2001) Abdulhadi Khalaf (2000), ‘The New Amir of Bahrain: Marching Sideways’, Civil Society, Volume 9, Issue 100. Gudrun Krämer, (1992), ‘Liberalization and Democracy in the Arab World’, Middle East Report, January-February Abdeslam Maghraoui (2001), Political Authority in Crisis: Mohammed VI’s Morocco, Middle East Report 218, Spring , Celstin Monga (1997), “Eight Problems with African Politics”, Journal of Democracy 8.3 Kathrine Rath (1994) ‘The Process of Democratization in Jordan’, Middle East Studies, Vol.30, No. 3. Glenn E. Robinson, (1998), ‘Defensive Democratisation in Jordan’, International Journal of Middle East, 30, 3. Quintan Wiktorowicz , Management of Islamic Activism, the Salafis, the Muslim Brotherhood, and State Power in Jordan, in Jordan, State University of New York Press, N.Y., 2001 *Abdulhadi Khalaf, PhD in Sociology from University of Lund, Sweden, where he currently teaches Sociology of Development.
Bahrain: Yet again, the old guards attempt to play the Iranian card Whenever the situation calms down and matters move forward in the path of reforms, the “old guards” feel threatened and go back to playing their old tricks. This is the view generally believed to be behind the shameless commentaries published the Information Minister, Mr. Nabil Al-Hamar, and the summoning by the foreign ministry of Iran’s charge d’affaires “to protest” at the reporting of events in Bahrain by the Iranian Radio. A statement issued by the foreign ministry said that it “regrets Tehran’s policy of intervening in Bahrain’s internal affairs. It does not follow principles of good neighbourliness and aspirations of establishing good relations,”. The statement failed to give any details and why is it that the Iranian Radio is singled out amongst all others. It is known that the Arabic BBC and Radio Monte Carlo report regularly on Bahrain but the old guards do not make such a fuss. The Information Minister is leading a campaign to bring back the environment of enmity amongst the people and to enflame the situation. He has tightened his grip on the media and issued several orders in the past days banning the publications of certain items of news and issues. He even banned leading columnists from publishing their regular columns and has not spared any effort in his attempts to take Bahrain back to the medieval black days that preceded the abolishment of the State Security Law last February. There is at present a case raised against the information ministry by the leading Bahraini opposition figure, Mr. Ali Rabea, who was intentionally misquoted in the local media through the direct intervention of Mr. Al-Hamar. Mr. Rabea had criticised the discrimination against certain elements of Bahrain’s society when it comes to employment in the army. The remarks were reported by the French News Agency (AFP) and by several radio stations. Mr. Nabil Al-Hamar contacted the foreign media organisations and attempted to force them to publish statements denying the ones already published. Having failed to impose his will on the foreign media, he went ahead and published statements in the local newspapers claiming that Mr. Rabea had denied the statements published by AFP. It is sad that these types of people are allowed to strain the relations amongst the people of Bahrain and between Bahrain and its neighbours. Bahrainis stand together to gain from the reforms that have been initiated following the referendum on the National Charter and abolishment of the State Security Law last February. There is a tiny minority which benefited from the corrupt and oppressive environment of the past and this minority will not cease its attempts to drive Bahrain backward. However, the strength and unity of the Bahraini people will defeat all such attempts. Bahrain Freedom Movement 12 July 2001 Tel/Fax: +44 207 278 9089
10 July 2001
MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — Bahrain’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Iranian charge d’affaires Tuesday and protested comments broadcast by Tehran radio, the country’s official Gulf News Agency said. The report did not cite the remarks that caused offense, but it accused the state-run radio of intervening “in the internal affairs of the state of Bahrain.” A spokesman for Tehran radio could not be reached late Tuesday. Relations between the two Gulf states have been strained since 1996 when Bahrain accused Iran of orchestrating a coup plot among its Shiite Muslims. Iran, a Shiite majority state, denied the charge, but both countries recalled their ambassadors. The Iranian charge d’affaires, Mahdi Agha Jafari, confirmed to The Associated Press that he had met Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Sheik Mohammed bin Mubarak Al Khalifa, but he declined to speak about the discussion. The news agency reported Jafari had promised to follow up the Bahraini protest with the relevant authorities in Iran. Bahraini-Iranian ties began to improve after Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, a moderate, took office in August 1997. The following year Bahrain received a new Iranian ambassador.
Last year the two countries signed several commercial agreements.
DOHA, July 9 (Reuters) – Work on a billion-dollar causeway linking Qatar and Bahrain is expected to start by early 2003, beginning a “new chapter” of friendship between the two Gulf states, Qatari officials said on Monday. “We hope the techno-economic feasibility study will be completed by February next year and tender documents will be ready by mid-2002,” an official at the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Agriculture said. He told Reuters the bridge would cost about $1 billion and would be built with the help of private businesses in both states. Minister of Municipal Affairs and Agriculture, Ali bin Mohammad al-Khater, was quoted on Sunday as saying Qatar wanted to “accomplish this vital and important project linking the two brotherly countries in the soonest possible time.” The idea of the “Friendship Bridge” was mooted by Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, in late 1999, when he paid a surprise visit to Bahrain seeking ways to defuse tension between the two states over a territorial dispute. A joint committee decided to begin the project immediately after the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled on the dispute in March. The court verdict, accepted by both sides, confirmed Bahrain’s sovereignty over the Hawar islands and Qatar’s over Zubarah, a coastal strip on the Qatari mainland.
Both countries have vowed to bury past bitterness and open a new chapter in their relations through joint projects, easing travel between each other and enhancing economic cooperation.
Bahrain: A new society to be formed for grouping Islamists ahead of elections Another society will be formed to represent political activists in the forthcoming parliamentary elections in Bahrain. Seventy-five people (men and women) met at Sarr Club on 6 July and agreed on the general principles of the new society. The proposed society will be called “Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society” and the intention will be to register it officially with the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs. The Crown Prince has recently said that societies will be allowed to function without restrictions. This is expected to be in lieu of allowing political parties. Hence, semi-political institutions will take the place of parties to enable activists to participate in public life. It is known that key opposition figures and groups, such Sheikh Al-Jamri, Mr. Abdul Wahab Hussain, Mr. Hussain Mushaimaa and others have supported the proposed society. Several political programmes will be debated by the proposed society before officially presenting them to the public at large. On the other hand, the Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRS) is to organize an important regional workshop on 27 and 28 July (in Manama) for Arab youths in preparation for the youth’s summit that will be held in South Africa in August ahead of the World Conference on Racism. The regional workshop will bring together youths (under 30 years of age) from all Arab countries and will be fully supported by the UN office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights. This is a significant development for the BHRS, which was formed earlier in the year and since then, managed to carry out quality activities in the field of human rights. A sad development of events took place in Jidhafs on Friday 6 July. The town of Jedhafs was engulfed in quarrels and physical confrontations between two groups of people following differences emanating from the failure to resolve an issue relating to the control of a community centre. Key social figures, including Seyyed Abdulla Al-Ghoreifi and Sheikh Isa Qassim attempted to mediate between the two groups. But unfortunately matters went out of hand due to the presence of extremists and anti-riot police had to be deployed to reestablish law and order. In Sanabiss, a seminar was addressed by Dr. Saeed Al-Shehabi on 5 July during which he criticized the state of freedom of expression in Bahrain. He said that the ministry of information intervenes in all matters of the press and the two daily newspapers are not free and do not represent the public opinion of Bahrain. He called for the abolishment of the ministry of information to pave the way for true freedom of expression. A seminar will be held in London on Friday 13 July (6.30 pm) at Gulf Cultural Club (45 Chalton Street, Euston, London NW1). Three speakers who had recently been in Bahrain will give their accounts of the situation. The speakers are Dr. Abdul Hadi Khalaf, Dr. Mansoor Al-Jamri and Dr. Saeed Al-Shehabi. Bahrain Freedom Movement 7 July 2001 Tel/Fax: +44 207 278 9089
Report by the Associated Press on 7 July 2001
MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — Police broke up violent street clashes in a Shiite Muslim village sparked by a dispute over the control of a temporarily closed Shiite congregational hall, residents said Saturday. Dozens were injured and several homes and cars damaged in Friday night’s violence in Jidhafs, a village on the southern outskirts of the capital, Manama, the residents said on condition of anonymity. “It was like a war zone, everybody was out there to get everybody else,” one of the residents said. Police quickly quelled the clashes that involved some 300 people, armed with bottles, steel poles and broken bricks, were involved in the fighting, residents said. The clashes follow Thursday’s successful bid by Shiite authorities to have the police close the hall to end the dispute, the residents said. Rival Shiite group village leaders have accused each other of starting the violence by trying to take control of the hall. Hassan Ali Mushaima, 53, a Shiite opposition figure, told The Associated Press Saturday that the violence was triggered by a group supporting the cleric and judge, Sheik Sulaiman Madani. Madani told the AP that Mushaima’s followers had beaten the hall’s owners and had been trying to seize the hall for the past seven years to “preach politics.” Mushaima walked free in February after being jailed in 1996 in connection with a violent Shiite-led reform movement in Bahrain, in which more than 40 people have died since 1994. He is a close associate leading Bahraini opposition leader Sheik Abdul-Ameer al-Jamri. Bahrain’s Emir Sheik Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa came to power after his father died in 1999. Since then the emir, a Sunni Muslim, has worked to soothe political and religious tensions and released more than 1,000 political prisoners and detainees.
Bahrain — an island-state — has 400,000 citizens, the slight majority of which being Shiite Muslim.
Bahrain: Undemocratic plans for municipality elections rejected Rumours, hesitation and secrecy shroud a long-awaited government plan for municipality elections. Bahrain was the first to have municipality elections in 1926. But the people of Bahrain have been denied their right in this field since 1956 when the government abolished the elected municipalities and replaced them with government appointees and local individuals, called “mukhtars”. In 1996, the government issued a dictatorial law whereby “mukhtars” were to be re-appointed for monitoring public activities and reporting them to the interior ministry. The security-focused scheme was aimed at wiping out the remaining margins of freedom available to people with regard to local issues. The government went as far as banning microphones from mosques and instituting a licensing scheme to be supervised by the “mukhtars”, who were viewed by the people as informers for the intelligence service. In December 1999, the Amir announced that the municipality elections will be resumed. A secret governmental committee has been deliberating the issue since then. After the prolonged period of silence, the opposition managed to leak out one document that specified a powerless and useless municipal council that will be subjected to direct cabinet control. The leaked document exposed a mentality that has no trust in the people of Bahrain to even control their local affairs. Lastly, the government leaked through Al-Ayyam newspaper on 3 July that the government is studying two proposals for the municipal council. There is unhappiness with such attitude. The idea of popular participation means that such an issue must be subjected to public debate and then a democratic and constitutional process must be pursued for implementation. It is feared that a hidden agenda is behind imposing undemocratic framework concerning municipal arrangements and elections. There are many anti-reform influential people within the establishment and their aim will be to rob the people of Bahrain their constitutional rights. The people are also wondering how will a municipal council exist alongside “mukhtars” who are linked to the interior ministry and who are given superior powers to impose the will of the security apparatus with regard to local issues. The opposition calls for an open debate before imposing a powerless structure. The Budaya Club will be organising a function on freedom of speech and future of Bahrain on 7 July at 8.30pm. Speakers will include the information minister as well as Jamal Fakhro, Abdulla Al-Binali and lawyer Jalila Al-Sayed. Also, and on the same night, Al-Zahra Mosque in Hamad Town will be organising a seminar on the subject of “citizenship and passports”. The seminar will be addressed by lawyer Abdul Shahid Khalaf. Bahrain Freedom Movement 6 July 2001
Tel/Fax: +44 207 278 9089
Bahrain: Information Minster launches a vicious attack against freedom of expression The Minister of Information launched another vicious attack against freedom of expression. In the editorial of 30 June, which he writes in Al-Ayyam newspaper, he attacked all citizens who talk about the necessity to bring the torturers to justice. This was a reference to the debate that took place on 26 June during a seminar organised by the Bahrain Human Rights society on the occasion of the UN International Day in Support of Torture Victims. During the debate, some citizens called for investigating the cases of torture that took place in the past three decades, and to bring those responsible to justice. Some commented that for reconciliation to be completed, the Amir could pardon the torturers after investigating their misdeeds. Another citizen called for the changing of cloths and symbology of the Public Security personnel (police, etc) because the people could not trust these types of people, and their appearance reminds all people of the ugly role they had played in Bahrain. The majority of people in Bahrain feel that the reforms championed by the Amir have enemies from within the establishment. The Information Minister has always played a mischievous role and has been known for specialising in hurling insults and writing bad-language articles against those who demand their rights to live honourably in Bahrain. On the positive front, the Labour Minster met on 30 June with a group of people representing the professional societies and discussed with them the possibility of creating a union for professionals in Bahrain. This will complement the on-going efforts to establish general unions for labour and women. The students have also applied to form their union but are still awaiting a response. One of the problems facing the university students is the fact that the university campuses are governed like military barracks. The students hope that those in charge of education recognise that Bahrain is changing towards democracy, and theretofore respect for the university and its students must be restored. The first “mass gathering” of women will take place on 11 July (8.00 pm) in Al-Sadiq Grand Mosque of Duraz. Two leading women lawyers, Shahnaz Abdulla and Jalila Al-Sayyed will initially address the gathering, before starting a debate on the best way forward for activating the role of Bahraini women in public life. On the other hand, Dr. Saeed Al-Shehabi will lecture on 13 July (8.30 pm) at Samahij Club on the role of the opposition during the present transitional period. The seminar is expected to highlight the positive role that can be played by opposition forces in consolidating the path of reforms in the country. Bahrain Freedom Movement 1 July 2001
Tel/Fax: +44 207 278 9089
Voice of Bahrain Commentray: July 2001
Reforms necessitate tackling critical issues
During the past months, the Amir of Bahrain positively responded to several key demands that had been raised by the people of Bahrain. He also undertook several steps to open up channels of dialogue with the active political forces inside and outside the country. The main steps of reforms included the following:
1. Abolishing the State Security Law and Court
2. Releasing all political detainees and prisoners
3. Allowing most exiles to return home and promising to allow the rest back as soon as possible.
4. Allowing citizens to debate political issues with greater freedom of expression than ever before.
5. Allowing citizens to form non-governmental organisations that are important for activating civil society.
6. Initiating a new process for granting public contracts that avoid corrupt practices.
7. Allocating temporary benefits for the unemployed and allowing a committee of citizens to monitor the work of the labour ministry in relation to finding jobs for the unemployed.
8. Authorising the formation of labour and women unions.
9. Lowering the fees for the university students.
10. Announcing future plans for improving the housing conditions.
The above steps created a new environment of hope in the country. Nevertheless, it is noted that there are still some negative aspects which require careful attention. These include:
1. Freedom of press is not yet achieved. The press is mainly controlled by an elite that has not yet identified itself with the reforms. There are many restrictions on freedom of expression that must be removed to enable Bahrainis to fully express themselves within the bounds of the Constitution.
2. There is a lack of transparency in relation to a programme aimed at changing the demography of Bahrain. The people of Bahrain continue to express their concern in relation to the granting of passports to large number of imported people.
3. Bahrain is going through a transitional period, and this period lacks any popularly accepted mechanisms for monitoring the situation.
4. Bahrainis are yet to be treated as equals in relation to employment in several key sectors, such as employment in the interior and defence ministries.
Bahrainis are striving to play an active part in an open, plural and constitutional political process. An integral part of such participation is to point out the areas of democratic deficit, so that a brighter future for Bahrain can be secured.
All opposition forces are examining the best approach for effective participation in the political process. Ideally, this is to be through allowing political parties to peacefully and publicly organise themselves inside Bahrain. At present, it seems the reform programme is falling short of this demand. Nevertheless, it is necesary for all political forces to form themselves within the present laws, until they are amended. Presently, each tendency would have to form a non-governmental organization to represent it and enable it to present its political programme before the people.
The BFM believes that all forces in the society ought to come together to solve the problem of unemployment. The 25 million dinars allocated for six months by the government to distribute benefits will run out next November. It is forecast that only 3000 – 4000 citizens would join the work force while 6000 – 7000 of them who had registered will still be looking for work. Total unemployed is estimated to be over 20,000. There are 6000 – 7000 others who are expected to start looking for work next year. Already slogans started to appear on the walls warning of a time bomb waiting to explode as a result of the failure to employ Bahrainis.
It is important for the political leadership, primarily the Amir, and the opposition to establish understanding on several key issues so that the potential problems are resolved before going out of hand. In addition to the problem of unemployment, there are suspicions that an ill-intentioned programme for changing the demography of Bahrain is continuing.
The government ought to open up and allow popularly accepted bodies to act as watchdogs during the transitional period up until the election of the parliament. The example of the “Committee to Assist the Jobless” is a good one. This committee was given the authority (by the Amir) to observe and monitor all actions being implemented by the ministry of labour with regard to the jobless. More of the same sort is needed to monitor the situation with regard to other critical issues.
Another issue that continues to boil is how will the government deal with those who had tortured and ill-treated thousands of citizens in the past three decades. It is not acceptable to leave these types of people in their positions without questioning and disciplinary action. The Amir could issue a pardon for them, but only after they are made to answer for the crimes they committed against the nation.
Bahrain Freedom Movement July 2001
Tel/Fax: +44 207 278 9089