Main English

December 2001

MUSCAT, Dec 31, 2001 (Xinhua) — The six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) here on Monday signed an agreement to introduce an economic union in 2003 by unifying customs tariffs at 5 percent and a single currency by 2010. The agreement was signed at the 22nd GCC summit, which closed in the day. The deal replaces a joint economic agreement signed when the GCC, an economic, political and security bloc, was established in 1981 to give big boost to regional cooperation. According to the agreement, the GCC will unify their customs tariffs at 5 percent as of January 1, 2003, two years ahead of schedule, as a major step to realize economic integration in the Gulf region. A single currency will also be launched by 2010 among the GCC member states, namely, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Economic topics are high on the agenda of the two-day Muscat summit, which was held at a crucial time amid the current regional and international situation.

By Ghaida Ghantous MUSCAT, Dec 31 (Reuters) – The six Gulf Arab states that own half the world’s oil reserves agreed on Monday to set up a customs union and single currency, paving the way for a long-sought trade deal with the European Union. Leaders of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates signed an agreement at the end of a two-day annual summit in Oman to move forward setting up a customs union to 2003 from 2005 and to establish a single currency by 2010 — part of a planned joint trade zone. “The leaders decided to advance the date for implementing the customs union to January 1, 2003…and lowered tariffs on foreign imports to five percent,” said a communique read by Jameel al-Hujailan, secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). A previous agreement lowering customs from the present 4-15 percent had set a start date of 2005. The deal paves the way for a free trade pact with the European Union, the region’s main trading partner. Gulf officials have accused the Union of foot-dragging over free trade, saying the GCC had fulfilled its requirements to reach a deal streamlining trade worth about $46 billion. They warned they may reconsider the pact if no progress is made in talks on the deal — hampered by EU demands for GCC common tariffs and by protectionist EU policies. “Now there are no more excuses for them to postpone signing the free trade zone (agreement) between the two blocs,” the GCC envoy to the European Union, Najeeb al-Rawas, told reporters. A main dispute is over a six percent EU duty on primary aluminium Gulf exports. Two aluminium smelters in Bahrain and the UAE produce more than a million tonnes per year, about 5 percent of the world’s total. MORE LEVERAGE Analysts said the customs union would also help the GCC attract foreign investors and speed up economic reforms to diversify its oil-dependent economies. They said the five percent levies deal was in line with World Trade Organisation (WTO) requirements and would help Saudi Arabia, the Gulf’s largest economy, to follow its GCC partners in joining the WTO. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdullah criticised Gulf governments on Sunday, saying they had done little to achieve their long-sought aim of economic and military unity. The prince, representing his country at the summit in the absence of ailing King Fahd, said: “We have not yet set up a unified military force that deters enemies and supports friends. We have not reached a common market, nor formulated a unified political position on political crises.” The GCC was set up in 1981 as a loose political and economic alliance. It started active steps towards military integration after failing to defend Kuwait when it was invaded by Iraq in 1990. A U.S.-led coalition ousted Iraqi troops seven months later. The GCC states, among the world’s largest arms importers, last year approved a joint defence pact to pool resources, expand a joint defence force four- or five-fold to 25,000 and equip it with a modern early warning system. They depend largely on the United States and Britain for protection against more powerful neighbours Iraq and Iran.

MUSCAT, Dec 31, 2001 (Xinhua) — Bahrain, a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has called for enhancing regional defense alliance to meet the challenge of the day. “World events have proven the need to consolidate and deepen joint defense cooperation and coordination to defend our peoples and world nations against acts of violence and terrorism,” said Amir of Bahrain Sheikh Hamad Bin Isa al-Khalifa here to mark the 22nd summit of the GCC, which is due to end on Monday in the Omani capital. He said that “Today’s gathering is significant and necessary to promptly encounter the newly emerging changes at regional and international arenas, with no delays nor waits.” “Yet, the current developments have, in the same way, necessitated the prompt upgrading, re-assessing and updating of the level of mechanism of work within the council, in a way which fosters collective action and copes with future requirements,” he stressed. It was in Bahrain last year that the GCC joint defense pact was signed to create a Supreme Defense Council which is expected to be approved by the Muscat summit.

The two-day summit aims to further deepen links between the six nations of GCC, which was established in 1981 and groups Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Bahrain.

MUSCAT, Dec 30, 2001 (Xinhua) — The 22nd summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) kicked off here on Sunday afternoon. The two-day summit is expected to further push forward the integration process of its six member states, namely Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The summit, the fourth of its kind held in Oman since the regional alliance was set up in 1981, assumes great importance against the backdrop of the current regional and international developments. The two-day summit aims to further press ahead GCC’s integration process by seeking to make the GCC joint economic agreement more flexible to the Gulf economic developments. It will approve the introduction of a customs union in 2003 instead of 2005 with customs tariffs to be unified at 5 percent, and the launch of a single currency by 2010. “The Muscat summit is of great importance to Gulf economic integration and forward march,” GCC Secretary General Jameel al-Hujailan has stressed. Gulf foreign and financial ministers finalized the agenda for the summit at their joint meeting Friday night. High on the agenda are a wide range of topics covering economic, political, security and social domains. The Muscat summit comes at a crucial stage of history which highlight the need for even closer cohesion and mutual support among the GCC states. More concerted plans are expected to be adopted at the summit to increase the economic and political weight of the GCC as a growing entity, regionally and globally. Attending the summit are Sultan of Oman Qaboos Bin Said, Amir of Bahrain Sheikh Hamad Bin Isa al-Khalifa, Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Sheikh Maktoum Bin Rashid al-Maktoum, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince and First Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Bin Abdul-Aziz, and Kuwait’s Acting Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah.

Over 120 journalists from more than 50 countries have gathered in the Omani capital to cover the GCC summit.

By JAMAL HALABY Associated Press Writer MUSCAT, Oman (AP) — Gulf Arab leaders converged on this seaside city Sunday for a crucial summit, pledging economic integration and closer cooperation to combat terrorism. The two-day meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council was to open later Sunday at the beachfront Al-Bustan Palace Hotel on the southeastern edge of Oman’s capital city in an isolated spot protected by a series of mountains. At the summit’s venue, armed policemen were deployed around the hotel and streets in the vicinity were closed to vehicle and pedestrian traffic. Omani state television and radio on Sunday broadcast songs praising Arab nationalism and Arab unity. “The aim is one and the destiny is joint, that is why Gulf leaders are meeting,” according to a song played on television while video clips were shown of GCC leaders at previous summits. The GCC groups Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in a loose political and economic alliance. Only Oman, Bahrain and Qatar were represented by their heads of state while poor health kept the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Emirates away. The summit’s agenda is dominated by complex economic issues, including plans for a customs union by January 2003 and a single currency by 2010. But the repercussions of the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States is likely to figure high in the discussions. “World events have proven the need to consolidate and deepen joint defense cooperation and coordination to defend our peoples and world nations against acts of violence and terrorism,” Bahrain’s Emir Sheik Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa said in an arrival statement. Delegates to the summit said their leaders were expected to announce the creation of a supreme defense council, adopt a joint strategy for fighting terrorism and finalize an accord against money laundering. The most significant economic issue on the summit’s agenda is applying a unified customs rate of 5 percent after two years. Now, the rate varies from a low of 4 percent in the United Arab Emirates to a high of 15 percent in Saudi Arabia. The Gulf leaders are also expected to debate ways to familiarize the West with Islamic traditions to combat what they see as a campaign against Islam in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks on Washington and New York. One proposal is to establish a satellite station with programs in English, French and Spanish to target audiences in Europe and North America, said the Bahraini information minister, Sheik Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan. A similar idea was proposed Saturday at the opening of a meeting of culture ministers of the 56-member Organization of the Islamic Conference meeting in Doha, Qatar.

On the political front, leaders at the summit were also expected to discuss Palestinian-Israeli violence, the fate of the disputed islands between the United Arab Emirates and Iran, the Pakistan-India crisis and ways to contribute toward international efforts to rebuild Afghanistan in the post-Taliban era.

Bahraini frigate to escort ships to Afghanistan

MANAMA, Dec 29 (Reuters) – Bahrain said on Saturday it would send its only frigate to escort and protect vessels taking part in the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan. A Defence Ministry statement said the Bahraini Royal Ship Sabha would take part in search and rescue operations, evacuating casualties and help ships carrying humanitarian aid. “(The Sabha) will also facilitate the vessels’ arrival to their ports,” the statement said. The United States donated the Sabha, a former navy frigate, to Bahrain as a token of appreciation for Manama’s close friendship with Washington. In October U.S. President George W. Bush named Bahrain as a major non-NATO ally, which allows Bahrain to participate more fully in U.S. military training and gives it greater flexibility in procurement of U.S. defence articles. Bahrain, which has a defence cooperation agreement with the United States, is the administrative headquarters for the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.


By ADNAN MALIK Associated Press Writer (29 Dec 2001) MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — Bahrain became the second Arab country after Jordan to contribute troops for the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan on Saturday, when its only frigate, a gift from the U.S. Navy, joined an international naval coalition in the Arabian Sea. Bahrain, a close ally of the United States, is home to the U.S. Navy 5th Fleet. “We are totally prepared for taking part in the international humanitarian effort and the task aiming at strengthening the stability and reconstruction of Afghanistan,” Maj. Gen. Rashid bin Abdullah Al-Khalifa, chief of staff of the Bahrain Defense Force, told reporters aboard the frigate Bans Sabha. The guided-missile cruiser and its 240-member crew will begin their duties within a week, Al-Khalifa said. Those duties include escorting ships that provide humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan and taking part in search, rescue and evacuation operations at sea. Last week, more than 200 Jordanian special forces troops and military medical staff arrived in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif to set up a field hospital there. The troops will not take part in any combat operations. The commanding officer of the 3,700-ton Bahrani warship, Col. Sager al-Maawdah, said that the crew had been training for a month for this particular mission. While Bahrain is the first to be so open about it’s support of the campaign, other Gulf states close to Washington have been quietly providing staging grounds and other kinds of support. For example, U.S. officials announced earlier this month that the Third U.S. Army had temporarily moved its command headquarters, including for its campaign in Afghanistan, to Kuwait. Saudi Arabia also is believed to be offering behind-the-scenes support, though the dilemma for the desert kingdom is clear. Many ordinary Saudis have said they see Saudi-born terror suspect Osama bin Laden as a champion of Arab and Muslim rights. Bin Laden and his al-Qaida network are the prime suspects in the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States. The Bans Sabha is Bahrain’s largest warship. The Oliver Hazard Perry class ship operates a guided-missile launching system with standard surface-to-air and Harpoon surface-to-surface missiles. The former USS Jack Williams was handed over to Bahrain in 1996 and arrived in July 1997. It has joined coalition ships in the Arabian Sea that include the U.S. aircraft carriers Theodore Roosevelt and John C. Stennis, which have been launching aircraft over Afghanistan as well as intercepting vessels suspected of aiding the al-Qaida network. The Bans Sabha will be deployed for two to three weeks, al-Maawdah said.

Gulf Arabs agree to speed up customs union to 2003

 MUSCAT, Dec 29 (Reuters) Ministers from Saudi Arabia and five Arab allies agreed on Saturday to speed up implementation of a unified customs union by two years to 2003, Oman’s Foreign Minister Youssef bin Alawi Abdullah said. The agreement, expected to be ratified by leaders of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) at their summit opening in Oman on Sunday, would pave the way for a long-sought free trade agreement with the European Union, the GCC’s main trading partner. “Agreement has been reached on the economic issues, including the customs union, whose implementation will start on January 2003,” Abdullah told reporters after nearly four hours of talks by GCC foreign and finance ministers. The GCC a loose political and economic alliance set up in 1981 comprises Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain. Together the six sit on nearly 45 percent of the world’s total proven oil reserves. Under the proposed deal, the GCC states would unify customs to five percent from the present range of five to 15 percent levied by members on foreign imports. An earlier agreement had set the start date for the customs union in 2005. The move is part of a wider plan by the GCC for a single regional currency and a unified trade zone, and is designed to speed up negotiations with the EU. Abdullah said the ministers had also approved establishing a single currency by 2010, pegged to the U.S. dollar. Currencies of GCC states, with the exception of Kuwait, are pegged to the U.S. dollar, in which their main crude oil export is traded. Kuwait’s dinar is currently linked to a basket of currencies. Free trade negotiations with the EU have been hampered by European demands for a GCC common tariff structure and protectionist EU policies. A key dispute is over a six percent EU duty on primary aluminium exports from the Gulf. Two aluminium smelters in Bahrain and the UAE produce more than one million tonnes per year. “The customs union will strengthen the position of the GCC in trade negotiations with the EU and the United States, especially with respect to the free trade agreement,” said Saudi economist Saeed al-Shaikh.

He said the five percent unified tariff would move the Gulf in line with requirements by the World Trade Organisation (WTO), particularly concerning Saudi Arabia, the only GCC state yet to join.

MUSCAT, Dec 28, 2001 (Xinhua) — The 22nd summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), to be held here on December 30-31, will focus on economic cooperation among the six members, Oman’s information minister said on Friday. The summit will discuss ways of further improving the measures aimed at realizing a customs union in 2003 and launching the single currency by 2010, Hamad Bin Mohamed al Rashdi told Xinhua. GCC, a regional political and economic alliance established in 1981, groups Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Facing the challenges of economic globalization, the GCC members are required to make their unified economic agreement, signed in 1981, more suitable to the economic developments, and to establish the customs union and launch the single currency, Rashdi stressed. Leaders of the six countries will also discuss the problems facing the Gulf region and the whole world, he said, adding that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the Afghanistan issue will be high on the agenda. The establishment of a supreme committee for joint defense of the GCC states will be discussed, as a step to implement the GCC joint defense pact signed at the last summit held in 2000 in Manama, Bahrain, the Omani official said.

The Muscat summit will help boost the cooperation between the GCC members, improve Gulf Arab countries’ status and enhance security and stability, regionally and internationally, he added.

MUSCAT, Dec 27, 2001 (Xinhua) — Oman has been well prepared for the 22nd summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), scheduled to kick off here on Sunday, Oman Daily reported on Thursday. GCC foreign ministers will hold a meeting on Saturday in preparation for the two-day annual summit, which will cover economic, security and social issues among the six GCC nations, namely Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The Muscat summit will seek to approve the advancement of the implementation of the GCC customs union in 2003 instead of 2005 by unifying customs tariffs at 5 percent, said GCC Secretary-General Jameel al-Hujailan, quoted by the daily. The realization of the GCC customs union is envisaged as a step paving the way for the launching of the group’s single currency by 2010, to push forward the economic integration process in the six countries. The upcoming summit will also discuss the unified GCC economic agreement to make it more flexible to the Gulf economic developments and keep in line with the rapid pace of changes in the international economic arena, said Hujailan.

Since the regional political, economic and military alliance established in 1981, the leaders of the member nations have been working together to promote the interests of their citizens, and firm foundations for joint actions in a wide range of fields have been established, said the report.

 27 December 2001

CAIRO, Egypt (AP)– Saudi Arabia’s Oil Minister Ali Naimi expects the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to cut production by 1.5 million barrels a day beginning Jan. 1. Speaking to journalists in Cairo Thursday, Naimi said he was certain the cut — which would be OPEC’s third this year — would be by 1.5 million barrels, Dow Jones Newswires reported. He said the output cut was likely to last six months, depending on market conditions. Naimi’s comment, on the eve of an extraordinary OPEC meeting in Cairo called to consider the production proposal, was the latest in a series of broad hints from the cartel that the cut aimed at shoring up oil prices was coming. The market has already reacted, with February crude oil prices on the New York Mercantile Exchange ending dlrs 1.65 higher at dlrs 21.27 a barrel Wednesday, up 8 percent on the day. OPEC’s target price range is dlrs 22-28 a barrel. Prices have fallen more than 30 percent since the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States hit an already faltering global economy. Crude oil prices have fluctuated between dlrs 18 and dlrs 21 per barrel since November, when OPEC agreed to slash production by 1.5 million barrels a day beginning Jan. 1 if non-OPEC nations chipped in cuts of 500,000 barrels a day. The non-OPEC members have come close, cobbling together cuts of 462,500 barrels a day: Norway and Russia have each pledged to cut daily supplies by 150,000 barrels, while Mexico has promised to cut by 100,000 barrels, Oman by 40,000 barrels and Angola by 22,500 barrels OPEC’s official daily output target is 23.2 million barrels. It pumps about a third of the world’s oil. OPEC’s 11 members are: Algeria, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela.

On Saturday, the Organization of the Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries is holding its annual meeting in Cairo. The OAPEC includes seven Arab OPEC members plus Egypt, Bahrain and Syria. dj/db

Source: Gulf States News

Bahrain Leadership Accepts An Opening to Dissident Voices

MANAMA/LONDON – Amid rumours of several new newspapers being developed to exploit Bahrain’s opening to pluralist politics, Emir Shaikh Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa appears poised to give definitive approval for the creation of a new independent Arabic daily.  This project is being planned by a group of liberals and moderate Islamists with the backing of prominent Sunni and Shia business families.

The Emir’s office has been in touch with London-based former exile Mansoor Al-Jamri, leader of the project and putative editor-in-chief, to discuss how it should proceed.  Sheikh Hamad is said to have instructed Information Minister Nabeel Bin Yacoub Al-Hamer to contact Jamri and explore the way forward.  In public, Hamer has been playing down the prospects for new papers.

Titled Al-Wasat (The Centrist), the planned paper aims to provide an independent voice of monitoring and analysis.  Provided government regulatory approval is granted, it should be launched in the middle of next year.  Broadsheet in style, Al-Wasat will probably have about 28 pages daily.  There will be a website version and, eventually, an English language edition.  It will be neither loyally pro-government nor slavishly oppositionist; neither strongly religious nor aggressively secular.  The project’s developers are well aware that a narrow or highly partisan stance would find little echo among the Bahraini public and the comment pages will offer space to a varied range of opinions.

As the son of the Shia leader Sheikh Abdel Amir Al-Jamri and a prominent leader of the Bahrain Freedom Movement, Mansoor Al-Jamri has connections to both secular and Islamic circles.  But while voicing selective criticisms on points of detail, he has given strong public support to the main planks of the Emir’s programme of political change; on his first visit home in the summer, after many years of exile in the U.K., he had an audience with Sheikh Hamad.

Information Minister Hamer – who has had close links to the existing, solidly pro-government, papers Al-Ayyam and Akhbar Al-Khaleej – appears to have deep reservations about the plans for Al-Wasat.  But the developers of the new paper took their plans directly to Sheikh Hamad.

Jamri has set up a locally registered company to own the newspaper.  The scheme has the support of a broad range of business interests, and it seems to have satisfied the main technical requirements for regulatory approval.  The holding company is now in place, with an accounting structure and capital base.  A bank account holding the $2.5 million launch capital has been set up.

Domestic subjects will occupy a major role in the coverage.  Al-Wasat will try not to follow the Gulf tradition of extensive coverage of foreign news but bland reporting of home affairs.  The group preparing the venture includes a dozen or so liberals of various complexions and a handful of moderate Islamists.  They are thinking in terms of a team of about 50 journalists, given the demands of a daily schedule.

A-Wasat – whose name can also be translated as The Moderate – will pursue an editorial line broadly supportive of the reform programme launched by Sheikh Hamad.  But the paper will be prepared to take a stronger line, for or against government policy, on individual issues.

It will take a strong reformist interest on key social issues, such as the rights of women, young people and, significantly, non-national residents of Bahrain.  It will, for example, report on the condition of migrant workers from Pakistan, treating global standards set by the International Labour Organisation as a benchmark for assessing their treatment.

This may reflect the sort of debate that the Emir accepts is now necessary to create the more modern society advocated by younger leaders such as Crown Prince Sheikh Salman Bin Salam Al-Khalifa.  Conservatives are not sure.

Gulf States News – 14 November 2001

 MANAMA, Dec 24 (Reuters) – Bahrain Telecommunications Co (Batelco), the country’s sole telecoms provider, said on Monday the new mobile telephone tariffs it had introduced earlier this month would considerably reduce its revenues. “The number of customers will go up when the tariffs are introduced,” Batelco’s Chief Executive Andrew Hearn told reporters. “But the new tariffs will hit our bottom line by a considerable amount.” He declined to say how much the firm’s revenues would be affected. Batelco earlier this month said it would cut mobile telephone charges by up to 16 percent as from January 1, 2002. A company statement said that registration fees would be slashed by 43 percent and monthly charges by up to 40 percent. Batelco made a net profit of 42.7 million dinars ($113.3 million) in the first nine months of 2001, up from 39.6 million dinars a year earlier. It recorded a nine percent increase in 2000 to 52.5 million dinars. Bahrain has said it plans to open the telecommunications sector to international firms to end Batelco’s monopoly. A Transport Ministry official said a number of international consultation companies were studying the feasibility of opening Bahrain’s market for more firms. He said they were expected to submit the results by June 2002. Hearn said the introduction of the new tariffs has nothing to do with Bahrain’s policy to bring in more companies. Batelco is 39 percent owned by the Bahraini government and 20 percent by Cable and Wirless of Britain. The rest is traded on the local stock market.

Los Angeles Times December 16, 2001 Bahrain Taking High Road Toward Future Mideast: The tiny country seeks to make amends for its history of political repression. By MICHAEL SLACKMAN, TIMES STAFF WRITER MANAMA, Bahrain — The Jamri family business was revolution, its goal to undermine a regime that relied on prisons, blacklists and the threat of exile to rule this Persian Gulf nation. For their efforts, Mohammed Jamri was imprisoned; his younger brother, Monsour, was exiled; and their father, Sheik Abdul-Ameer Jamri, served time in both prison and under house arrest. Today the Jamri family members live relatively quiet lives as model citizens. But it was not the strong hand of oppression that silenced their revolutionary resolve. On the contrary, it was the government’s decision to effectively apologize to its citizens for decades of human rights abuses. As nations throughout the Arab world use draconian tactics to control extremism, this sliver of a country, smaller than New York City, has decided to pioneer a different approach. Bahrain’s emir, Sheik Hamed ibn Isa Khalifa, who came to power in 1999, has defused tensions by taking steps to address the grievances of his people. In moves that have largely silenced even the most vocal critics, the government released all political prisoners and welcomed home hundreds of exiles, abolished summary imprisonment, did away with state security courts and began to introduce principals of democracy into the management of the country. A few years ago, Bahrain was caught in the grip of a violent uprising. Today it is preparing for municipal elections. “To pardon all these people with no conditions, to allow all the exiles to come home with no conditions, it is very extraordinary,” said Mohammed Jamri, who was hauled off to prison just after his third child was born and was held for 10 years. “You must be optimistic, you must have faith in the emir.” Bahrain’s experiment is not only of interest to its citizens. Though it is a relatively poor relation among the oil-rich Persian Gulf countries, Bahrain is the site of the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet and so its stability is of strategic importance to the U.S. At the same time, it is bringing modern ideas, such as allowing women to vote, to a region clinging to autocratic rule. That could make some of its neighbors, such as Saudi Arabia, nervous. At one time Saudi officials pressured Bahrain to suspend its parliament. But with the involvement of several Saudis in the Sept. 11 attacks, there is talk of the need for reform within the larger kingdom itself. “Saudi Arabia can say nothing about us this time,” said Sabika Najjar, general secretary of the Bahrain Human Rights Society. “Saudi Arabia has to change itself. It has its own problems.” Bahrain won its independence from Britain in 1971 and set out to build a constitutional monarchy. Sheik Isa ibn Salman Khalifa assumed the title of emir. A parliament was elected and a constitution approved. But social and political disturbances led to unrest, and the emir dissolved the parliament and suspended the constitution in 1975. Over the next two decades, the emir built what appeared to be a stable, contemporary society, winning his country entry into the World Trade Organization and using oil revenues to build modern cities. The country, which now has about 650,000 people, developed a multicultural feel as foreign workers were brought in for mostly service jobs. And socially, it appeared relaxed, even selling alcohol at restaurants and bars, a rarity in much of the Arab world. The emir also appointed a consultative council to give at least the appearance that he was not ruling by decree. But the society was being held together by secret police and a 1974 security decree that allowed anyone to be arrested and held for up to three years without charge. Salman Kamal Deen is a product of the old Bahrain, and his story is fairly typical. He was 5 when his father was exiled to Iraq for seeking political reform. Deen didn’t see his father again in Bahrain for 15 years. As an adult, Deen went to work for the Ministry of Health and tried to unionize the staff, seeking better pay and hours. For his efforts, he was imprisoned for seven years. When he was finally released, he was blacklisted and denied work. “They changed their way of fighting me from physical to economic,” he said. “I could not find anyplace to work. We all suffered a lot.” Najjar, the human rights worker, was imprisoned for eight months in the early 1970s without the chance to appear before a judge. In the 1980s, authorities prevented her from traveling to Cairo for an Arab conference on women and took away her passport for several years. She was given no explanation. “They demanded that you bow to them and obey them blindly,” she said. “But if you put a limit between them and your principals, they didn’t like you.” The major fault line in Bahraini society is over religion. Within Islam, those of the Shiite sect are largely outnumbered by the more conservative Sunni Muslims. But in Bahrain, the majority of the population is Shiite while the ruling family is Sunni. In the past that dynamic, coupled with the political oppression and high unemployment in the Shiite community, led to tensions. Officials here also blamed Shiite-controlled Iran with inciting Bahrainis to revolt. Though the Shiites initially called for creation of an Islamic republic, they eventually altered their goals to demand the reinstatement of parliament and the release of political prisoners. The government refused, and a chaotic uprising broke out. By 1996, bombs were exploding in downtown Manama, the capital, destroying banks, offices and a hotel. Thousands of Shiite citizens were imprisoned. By 1998, the government had restored order with the aid of Saudi security agents and its own police force. A year later the emir died. Hamed, his son, assumed control. Though he started cautiously, first cozying up to the military, he changed directions. He released some political prisoners and pardoned Sheik Jamri. “The ruling family did not exercise such courageous actions for the last 100 years,” said Abdul Rahman Naimi, a former Marxist guerrilla who returned to Bahrain recently after 33 years in exile. “It was not a revolution, but it’s a lot of changes.” In March of this year, Bahrain held its first plebiscite in more than two decades. A proposed national charter was approved by 98.4% of the vote, with a turnout of 90%. The charter creates a bicameral parliament. The upper house will be appointed by the emir and the lower house elected by the people. The charter also calls for creation of a national audit agency and local governments. Municipal elections are expected to be held in April and balloting for the parliament in 2003. Yet for all the changes, Bahrain remains a kingdom. The exact power of the parliament is unclear, but one thing remains certain: The emir is expected to keep the final say. When and how he chooses to weigh in may determine the ultimate success of the new institutions. At the same time, despite the increase in tolerance, the old guard is still in charge of the police and the government. Shiites are not allowed to serve in the police or armed forces. Instead the government employees foreigners, supplemented by Sunni citizens. Political parties are still not permitted, though political “societies” have been formed. And there is still at least one red line that cannot be crossed: directly criticizing the emir or his son, Crown Prince Sheik Salman ibn Hamed Khalifa. Hafedh ash Shaikh Saleh, a well-known journalist, says he speaks for many fellow Sunnis when he expresses concern about the benefits being granted to Shiites. The sectarian content of his writings worries the leadership. But what seemed to be the breaking point was an article by Shaikh in a Lebanese newspaper. It criticized the crown prince’s recent trip to the United States, during which the emir’s heir told President Bush that Bahrain supports the U.S. war on terrorism. After the article appeared, Shaikh was barred from publishing in Bahrain and prohibited from traveling abroad. Shaikh’s situation is well-know
n, but has done little to dampen enthusiasm for the reforms. Society has changed so much in so little time, few expect everything to be perfect. Whether among Shiites or Sunnis, communists or nationalists, there is broad support for the emir’s approach.

 Dec 19, 2001 (Xinhua) — MANAMA — Bahrain has decided to slash its tariffs on commodity and automobile to 5 percent, while keeping zero tariffs on all items on the list of consumption food. The move was one of the Gulf nation’s measures to speed up the application of the Gulf Cooperation Council’s uniform tariff system, which will take effect as of next January.

Previous tariffs on commodity and automobile were 7.5 percent and 15 percent respectively.

18 December,  NEW YORK (AP) — An annual study of world freedom released Tuesday highlights a gap between predominantly Islamic nations and other countries, rating only one majority Islamic country, the African nation Mali, as “free.” The Freedom House study rated 192 nations based on the civil liberties and political rights enjoyed by their citizens. Of those nations, 86 were given the highest rating of “free.” Afghanistan, Cuba, North Korea, Syria, Sudan and Iraq were among 48 countries — 28 of them Islamic — that received the organization’s lowest rating, “not free.” Fifty-eight countries — 18 of them Islamic — were rated “partly free.” “In the wake of the terrorist attacks against the United States on Sept. 11, it is imperative that policy-makers around the globe give serious attention to the democracy gap in the Islamic world,” said Bill Richardson, chairman of Freedom House, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group founded nearly 60 years ago by Americans concerned about democracy, including Eleanor Roosevelt. By population, the ratings showed 41 percent of the world’s people living in “free” countries, 23 percent in “not free” countries, and 35 percent in “partly free” countries. The overall breakdown in the ratings was similar to last year’s results because 17 countries registered significant gains in freedom and 17 registered setbacks. The report listed 17 states with significant setbacks in freedom, including Liberia, Zimbabwe, Argentina, Egypt, Haiti, Jordan, Yemen, Nigeria and the Central African Republic. The study also cites progress: Peru re-entered the ranks of the free countries; the countries of Gambia and Mauritania improved from not free to partly free; and gains were recorded for Croatia, Yugoslavia, Bahrain and Congo, among others. The Freedom House study was conducted by a team of 14 people who met with advisers and groups from around the world including political parties and associations, human rights monitors, religious figures, academics and journalists. The group rated the countries on a scale based on the countries’ records in granting citizens political rights, such as allowing them to form political parties that compete for positions of power, and civil liberties, such as respecting religious, ethnic, economic, gender and free press rights. —— On the Net: Freedom House:

Bahrainis hold anti-U.S. march to back Palestinians

MANAMA, Dec 14 (Reuters) – Around 3,000 Bahrainis chanting anti-U.S. slogans marched in the capital Manama on Friday to support the Palestinians’ struggle against Israeli occupation. Some demonstrators called for the Gulf Arab state to cut its ties with the United States. “We demand the (U.S.) embassy to be shut,” they chanted in the peaceful demonstration. “Death to America, death to Israel. America is the big Satan,” chanted the demonstrators who had earlier gathered for the weekly Muslim prayers at a main mosque. Bahrain is home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet. Washington in October designated the island state as a major non-NATO ally, which allows Bahrain to participate more fully in U.S. military training and gives it greater flexibility in procurement of U.S. defence articles.

Many Arabs criticise U.S. policies in the Middle East as strongly biased in Israel’s favour during nearly 15 months of violence in which 774 Palestinians and 233 Israelis have been killed.

Bahrain levies cut to cost state $71.6 mln-minister

MANAMA, Dec 13 (Reuters) – Bahrain’s recent decision to cut custom duties on imported consumer goods and cars to 5 percent would cost the country’s budget 27 million dinars ($71.6 million), finance minister said on Thursday. “The decision to reduce custom duties on imported goods will cost…27 million dinars,” said Finance Minister Abdullah Saif in the staial Bahrain News Agency. “However, there shall be many positive impacts, which will for the benefit of citizens and residents,” said Saif of the cut that would reduce the prices of basic goods. The move would help raise the liv???with a 1999 agreement by the six states that make the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to unify tariffs by March 2005. Bahrain currently imposes a 7.5 percent levy on imported consumer goods and 15 percent on cars. The GCC which also comprises Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. Bahrain abolished custom duties on essential foodstuffs in 2000, and said it would implement the common deal by 2003.

Bahrain stocks clock up 0.9 pct gain after hefty deal

MANAMA, Dec 13 (Reuters) – Bahraini shares edged up 0.9 percent in the week to Thursday, boosted by a $25 million purchase of Ahli United Bank shares by Kuwaiti investors. The Bahrain Stock Exchange (BSE) index finished the week at 1,789.75 points, up 15.14 points compared to last week. The volume and value of traded shares also increased. “Big deals on some shares have encouraged investors to stay in the market and buy more,” a broker told Reuters. On Monday, Kuwaiti investors bought more than 83 million shares worth $25 million in Ahli United Bank, which finished the week up half a cent at 33 cents. The BSE said around 86.31 million shares worth 10.77 million dinars ($28.6 million) changed hands during the week compared with 2.5 million shares worth 961,000 dinars in the previous week. Investcorp closed at $1.54, up from $1.50 in the last week. National Bank of Bahrain was unchanged at 505 fils. Bank of Bahrain and Kuwait gained two fils closing at 314 fils. There are 1,000 fils to the dinar. The Bahraini bourse with market capitalisation of around 2.5 billion dinars ($6.6 billion) is open to investors from other Gulf Arab states — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar. Some firms are also open to foreign investors.

($1-0.377 dinar)

UN: Arab economy deteriorates in 2001

BEIRUT, Lebanon, Dec 12, 2001 (United Press International) — A U.N. official on Wednesday said a sharp drop in oil prices, slowdown in world economic growth, the Sept. 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington as well as continued violence in the Palestinian territories led to considerable deterioration in Arab economic conditions during 2001. While economic projections for 2002 were equally “not brilliant,” positive developments in the region such as continued economic reforms and low inflation rates might help to dispel pessimism, according to Mervat Tellawy. Tellawy, executive secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia — a U.N. body that includes 13 Arab countries — said economic conditions in the ESCWA region were “not encouraging as they were the previous year.” She explained during a news conference in Beirut that the sharp decline in oil production and prices led the region to lose revenues of up to $29.6 billion. Oil prices dropped from an average of $27 per barrel to $21 in 2001. According to an ESCWA report, total oil revenue in the region declined from $156.34 billion in 2000 (which had been up by 56 percent from 1999) to $126.8 billion this year. The report said besides oil, the Sept. 11 attacks intensified the world economic slowdown and had a negative effect on most non-oil sectors, particularly tourism and transport. It said the violence connected with the intifada in the West Bank and Gaza Strip has also had an adverse impact on the whole region. The report noted that the combined real gross domestic product of the ESCWA members, excluding Iraq, registered a growth rate of 2.2 percent in 2001, a sharp decline from the 4.3 percent registered in 2000. Qatar and Oman registered the highest economic growth rates of the Gulf Cooperation Council states while Kuwait and Saudi Arabia the lowest. Real GDP declined by a devastating 30 percent in the West Bank and Gaza Strip while Yemen, the least developed country in the region, achieved the highest real GDP growth rate of all the more diversified economies of Western Asia. According to the report, the region’s oil sector performed poorly in 2001, with world oil prices declining by 16.6 percent and the region’s oil production falling by 3.1 percent. OPEC members, five of which are ESCWA members, announced reductions in production quotas three times during 2001 in an attempt to prevent a decline in oil prices. Oil production in the ESCWA region was estimated to have averaged 18.1 million barrels a day, a decline of 580,000 barrels a day from its 2000 level. For most ESCWA countries, labor market conditions remained generally unfavorable and economic growth was not sufficiently high to provide work opportunities. While several countries made progress in combating their respective unemployment problems during the first half of the year, labor market conditions were dealt a serious blow by the Sept. 11 terror attacks, which particularly affected tourism. The rate of women’s participation in the labor force continued to rise no more than modestly and remains relatively low in the region. The most affected areas were the West Bank and Gaza Strip, showing a “catastrophic” unemployment increase of 35.3 percent in the second quarter of 2001. All ESCWA countries were able to keep inflation rates low. Kuwait and Qatar were the only countries to have registered budget surpluses, while even Saudi Arabia and Bahrain registered deficits in 2001. With most ESCWA countries being heavily dependent on oil, the performance of their external sector deteriorated considerably in 2001 because of the oil price drop, the Sept. 11 attacks and the subsequent attack on Afghanistan, which sharply lowered tourism revenues. Tellawy said she could not “expect a big and sudden improvement” in the region’s economic conditions during 2002 even if the region gets closer to peace and calm is restored in the region. “Expectations for 2002 are not brilliant but we don’t want to be pessimistic more than necessary,” she said, noting some “positive developments” in the region. She explained that some Arab countries were pursuing “the process of economic reforms and rates of inflation are still low.” She thus called for “strong measures” by all Arab countries that “should be convinced about the need to diversify their economies and secure revenues from commodities other than oil.” Tellawy encouraged the Arab countries to promote regional economic cooperation and integration and concentrate their investment inside the Arab region. ESCWA is made up of Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

By DALAL SAOUD, UPI Correspondent

Bahrain to cut duties on goods, cars from 2002

MANAMA, Dec 12 (Reuters) – Bahrain said on Wednesday it would cut custom duties on consumer goods and imported cars to five percent from January 1, 2002 as part of a deal by Gulf Arab states to unify tariffs. The Bahrain News Agency said the cabinet decided to cut the duties, currently at 7.5 percent duties on imported consumer goods and 15 percent on cars. The six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) reached agreement in 1999 to unify custom duties at between 5.5 and 7.5 percent starting in March 2005. The GCC, which also comprises Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, is now considering setting custom duties at five percent and implementing the agreement in 2002 instead of 2005. Bahrain abolished custom duties on essential foodstuffs in 2000, and said it would implement the common deal by 2003.

(Bahrain newsroom +973-524424, fax +973-536194))

Bahrain gives go-ahead to pro-reform newspaper

MANAMA, Dec 10 (Reuters) – Bahrain has licensed a new pro-reform newspaper to support landmark reforms launched by the conservative Gulf Arab state’s ruler, the head of the planned daily said on Monday. Mohammad Ali al-Sitry, a member of the consultative Shura council, told Reuters a two million dinar ($5.3 million) shareholding firm would be set up to own and run the Arabic-language paper, Bahrain’s fifth daily. Publication of Al-Mithaq (the charter), named after a reform charter launched by Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, was expected to start in the first half of 2002, said Sitry, a member of the majority Shi’ite Muslim community. There are currently two Arabic and two English-language pro-government newspapers in Bahrain, which has a population of 650,000. Bahrainis this year overwhelmingly approved the charter, which calls for setting up an elected parliament alongside the appointed Shura council and a constitutional monarchy. The proposed reforms followed years of Shi’ite unrest against the Sunni-led government. Bahrain recently banned outspoken journalist Hafez al-Shaikh from writing for allegedly inciting sectarian strife between Shi’ites and Sunnis. Shaikh said the ban, which is rare in Bahrain where many journalists observe self-censorship, was illegal and that he had filed a lawsuit to get it lifted. ($1-0.377 dinar)

U.S. now running Afghan operations from Gulf

By Ashraf Fouad KUWAIT, Dec 9 (Reuters) – The United States has transferred command of its ground forces in Afghanistan to Kuwait and sent the head of the U.S. Third Army to the Gulf Arab state to run operations, defence sources and officials said on Sunday. The U.S. embassy in Kuwait said Lieutenant-General Paul Mikolashek, 54, head of the U.S. Third Army, had temporarily deployed to Kuwait from Atlanta to run U.S. Army Forces Central Command (USARCENT) operations in Afghanistan. The decision to move ground forces command operations for Afghanistan to Kuwait was taken “due to time zone and distance challenges,” the U.S. embassy said. Mindful of the sensitivity of the U.S. military presence in the oil-rich region among many Arab states, the defence sources stressed that allied commanders were only directing operations from the region and not deploying forces from there.. “The U.S. military is not deploying ground combat units from Kuwait to Afghanistan,” a U.S. embassy spokeswoman said. Mikolashek was previously based in Kuwait when he served as Chief of the U.S. Office of Military Cooperation in the Gulf Arab state in the mid-1990s. Kuwait, the Gulf region along with Afghanistan fall within his area of responsibility under Central Command which is based in Tampa, Florida. He assumed command of USARCENT in June 2000. Apart from U.S. army commanders, senior officers from allied countries with troops in Afghanistan such as France and Britain also operate from the U.S. facility at Camp Doha on the outskirts of Kuwait City, the defence sources told Reuters. “It only involves the headquarters element for command and control for all ground forces in CENTCOM’s (Central Command) geographic area of responsibility in the region,” the embassy spokeswoman said. “The ground forces under USARCENT’s command includes ground forces in Afghanistan, humanitarian assistance and also the ‘Desert Spring’ military exercises in Kuwait,” she added. The Third Army USARCENT is Washington’s only remaining fully deployable numbered army with an area of responsibility from the Horn of Africa to Central Asian states. Central Command and its USARCENT ground forces component cover 25 states. USARCENT, which led ground operations in the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq, is in charge of all ground operations within that region. SECURE LINKS The U.S. ground forces command room in Kuwait is securely linked to the United States and to similar command rooms in the Gulf Arab region running naval and air force operations. “The three U.S. forward locations for Central Command in the region are Saudi Arabia for air, Kuwait for ground troops and navy from Bahrain” the headquarters of the U.S. Fifth Fleet, a Western officer said. USARCENT commanders are conducting Afghanistan ground operations from the sophisticated command and control room inside Camp Doha which is also used to store heavy U.S. military hardware including main battle tanks. The U.S. military presence in the Gulf region has become a politically sensitive issue in some states and for many ordinary Arabs who see Washington as biased towards Israel. Kuwait made clear in the early stages of the U.S.-led campaign to hunt down Saudi-born dissident Osama bin Laden, Washington’s top suspect for the September 11 suicide attacks in the United States, that its ally was not flying missions to Afghanistan from Kuwait. Any direct involvement in the campaign against Afghanistan could trigger domestic anger in several fellow Muslim states. Last month, the United States sent a brigade of some 2,000 U.S. soldiers to Kuwait to train near the border with former occupier Iraq in a programme codenamed “Desert Spring.” It already had some 5,000 troops in Kuwait. Some 150 special Australian forces have also deployed in Kuwait. Washington has maintained a presence in the region and in Kuwait since leading the 1991 Gulf War which ended Iraq’s seven-month occupation.

Associated PressP: 7 December 2001

In Bahrain, about 300 pro-Palestinian demonstrators gathered outside a mosque in Muharraq, three miles east of the capital Manama, chanting slogans in support of the Palestinian uprising. 

Bahrain to revive municipal vote as part of reforms

By Abbas Salman MANAMA, Dec 5 (Reuters) – Bahrain will revive municipal elections by mid-2002 as part of social and political reforms in the small Gulf Arab state, a senior government official said on Wednesday. Bahrain stopped electing municipal councils in the 1960s. Members have since been appointed by the government. The elections are seen as a first step towards an elected parliament by 2004 following last year’s pledges by Bahrain’s Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa to give his people a bigger say in running the island state. “The emir is expected to ratify the municipal election law by the end of December,” Information Minister Nabeel Yacoub al-Hamer told Reuters. “The elections will be held in the first half of next year after Bahrain completes final small touches on the law. I think it will be in the first four months of 2002,” Hamer said. Bahrain’s cabinet on Sunday discussed a draft law on the planned elections submitted by the Justice Ministry. It referred it to the appointed Shura Council for debate. The council advises the government on draft laws before they are sent to the emir for final approval. It has no legislative powers. According to the draft, men and women will have the right to vote and may be elected as members of the board of directors of the municipal council for a four-year term. It also allows nationals of neighbouring Gulf Arab allies — Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait — who own real estate in Bahrain and are permanent residents the right to vote in the elections. Diplomats said it would be the first time that an Arab state allows non-nationals to participate in its own elections. “No Arab state has done this before, and this clearly shows Bahrain is pressing ahead with its democratic moves,” one said. Bahrain dissolved its first elected parliament in 1975, two years after it was set up. It now has a 40-member Shura consultative council, appointed by the emir to advise him. Sheikh Hamad, who came to power in 1999 on the death of his father, said in October he would not object to the creation of political parties provided they did not divide the conservative society. He did not say what he considered divisive. Since February, the emir — whose Sunni Muslim family has ruled Bahrain for more than 200 years — has pardoned hundreds of political prisoners amd abolished emergency laws to reunite the country after four years of unrest by members of the majority Shi’ite Muslim community demanding political and economic reforms.

Statement issued by the Preparatory Committee for establishing the Bahraini Students Union in the UK

A group of Bahraini students studying in the UK attended the preparatory general meeting for establishing the Bahraini Students Union (BSU) on 11 November 2001 at the headquarters of the National Union of Kuwaiti Students (UK Branch). The latest developments were presented at the meeting and the attendees discussed the proposed aims and constitution of the BSU and have agreed on the following objectives:

Students-related objectives:

1. Promoting academic development and monitoring advancements in the world of academia in order to provide the best environment for students.

 2. Consolidating bonds amongst students and promoting understanding between education officials and students. 

3. Promoting interaction amongst Bahraini students in all universties around the world. 

4. Monitoring problems facing students, whether material or academic-related, and striving to solve them.

 5. Promoting innovation through supporting the works of art. 

6. Supporting social activities as well as sports and entertainment.

National objectives:

1. Promoting the culture of national unity, of all forms of extremism and giving precedence to national interest over all other interests, whether personal, factional or sectarian. 

2. Abiding the Constitution and the National Action Charter. 

3. Adopting the principle of merits of citizens as related participation in public life.

 4. Achieving the aims of the BSU shall be governed by the rule of law.

Arab, Islamic and international objectives:

1. Linking BSU to similar organizations in Arab, Islamic and international universities. 

2. Preparing studies and papers on issues of relevance to Arab, Islamic and international spheres and communicating them to appropriate decision makers.

At the end of the meeting, a 28-strong Foundational Committee was formed, and a 5-menber Preparatory Committee was elected for a duration of one year. The five members who won the election (out of 10 original candidates) were: Mr. Jamil Awachi, Ms. Hameeda Al-Shabib, Mr. Khalid Mattar, Ms. Zainab Jawad, and Mr. Fadel Abbas.

The elected Preparatory Committee thanked those who attended the meeting as well as the National Union of Kuwaiti Students for providing the premises and facilities for the meeting. The Preparatory Committee noted that the initial activities that resulted in its birth requires further development so that all Bahraini students in the UK are involved in the formation of the BSU.

The Preparatory Committee of the BSU pledges that it will strive to achieve the best results and will work towards the strengthening of the parent organization being formed inside Bahrain. Furthermore, the Preparatory Committee reconfirmed that all its activities will be bound by the Constitution of Bahrain, the National Action Charter and the Constitution of the BSU.

The Preparatory Committee of the Bahraini Students Union 

Bahrain’s 2001 population up 28 pct from decade ago

MANAMA, Dec 4 (Reuters) – Bahrain said on Tuesday that its population had increased by 28 percent in the last decade and that foreigners, mostly from Asia, constituted more than a third of the Gulf island’s residents. The head of the Central Statistics Organisation Sheikh Mohammed bin Atiyattallah told the state-owned Bahrain News Agency that Bahrain’s total population in 2001 stood at 650,604 — 405,667 Bahrainis and 244,937 foreigners. In 1991, the population figure was lower at 508,037 — 323,305 Bahrainis and 184,732 non-Bahrainis. The agency did not give any other details. Most of the foreigners living in the island state are unskilled, low-paid workers from the Indian subcontinent and the Philippines who flock to the oil-rich Gulf state seeking a better livelihood.

Bahrain government says to grant citizenship to 2,090 people

MANAMA, Dec 3 (Reuters) – Bahrain decided on Monday to grant citizenship to 2,090 people living in the Gulf Arab state, the official Bahrain News Agency (BNA) reported. It said Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Sulman al-Khalifa ordered the Interior Ministry to issue Bahraini passports to 2,090 of those “who are qualified.” It did not elaborate. The agency said they were the third group to be granted citizenship since Khalifa ordered the ministry in February to issue passports to people born and raised in Bahrain. BNA did not say how many people have been issued passports so far. The Interior Ministry has said that 8,000 people from 24 Arab and other countries as well as 7,000 stateless people had applied for Bahraini citizenship.

Most of stateless are Iranians whose families had come to Bahrain to work and later settled in island state — which has a population of 666,000, one-third of whom are foreigners.

Voice of Bahrain Commentray: December 2001

A momentous year and a challenging future

As the year draws to a close, the people of Bahrain will be looking back at one of their most eventful periods of their recent history, with the hope that the future will yield better developments. It has been a time of mixed feelings, happiness for the optimists and a guarded hope for those who have strong reservations with regards to the Amir’s programme of reforms. There have been positive changes in terms of security matters, political issues and relations between the ruling family and the people. The main issue, however, remains unresolved as yet. The constitution is the cornerstone of the change and if it is not done, scepticism will remain. There have recently been some indications that the Amir may assume the power to change the constitution without recourse to parliament in the first place. The National Charter is taken to justify this. The government is well-advised to remain faithful to the constitution and refrain from unconstitutional moves that could reverse the positive atmosphere in the country.

Over the last quarter of a century, the country has been ruled by decrees issued by the Amir. This was done in the absence of the constitution. Many laws were enacted, and major decisions were implemented in the absence of the legislative power of the National Assembly. With the advent of the reforms by Sheikh Hamad, it had been hoped that such practices would cease, and the full rule of law would be restored. Undoubtedly, the Amir has endeavoured to introduce a new dynamism in the political process after decades of absolute rule. In addition to the measures taken to ease the political tension and stop the international condemnation by releasing the political prisoners, repealing both the State Security Law and Court, the Amir has allowed the formation of political associations and allowed a degree of media openness. He has also decreed that trade unions be formed. Furthermore, he introduced several initiatives to help some of the needy, the orphans, the widows and unemployed. These were received well by the people. But there are those who view such steps with a degree of scepticism, arguing that the modern state cannot be run by royal decrees, gracious acts or alms-giving initiatives. In their opinion, for the country to become more advanced, the rule of law must be upheld at all times. There is a need to institutionalise reforms and transform them into laws and defended by civil society institutions.

The government has strengthened its pro-American strategy, giving the US forces unlimited access to military facilities for use in the war against Afghanistan. The Crown Prince was received by President George W Bush and Bahrain was afforded the status of a non-Nato ally. This is a positive development that fits within the Amir’s strategy and is likely to provide strong American backing for his rule in the coming years. On the other hand, the financial support offered by the President of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan to the Amiris proving useful both as an economic asset and a political weapon. Sheikh Zayed, who had himself attempted to diffuse the crisis few years ago, is encouraged by the developments and is ready to pump in more money to enable Sheikh Hamad to see through his programme of reform. The Amir has adopted a strategy that aims at providing support to a wider sector society, and the extra cash has enabled him to please more people. Again, most of the Amir’s financial commitments have been made easier with these financial offers. The others now expect him to deliver on his promises to transform the country to be ruled by modern values of government and human rights.

The opposition, on the other hand, has been of two minds. Some of them view these development with a degree of scepticism, whilst others have given their full support to what they see as genuine political reforms. They believe that political openness must be accompanied by progress on two other fronts. The political front needs solid commitment to the reinstatement of the Constitution, upholding the rule of law and introduce democratic practices. Media is one of the areas which need an overhaul. The establishment of civil society institutions is a step in the right direction. These newly-formed entities will play a positive role in the coming months and years in re-affirming the return to a degree of civility to the political order. But the government has, so far, discouraged the emergence of a national consensus on major political issues. The Amir would meet leading figures of the various social, religious and political formations, but would not accept to meet adelegation that represents the national consensus. Furthermore, he would meet these representatives as a protocol but would not engage them in a serious political debate. For the reform programme to succeed the Amir needs to have working relationship with the national consensus represented by the collective delegations of the political, religious and social institutions. Dialogue is the secret of a long-lasting relationship between the government and the people.

On the economic front, much needs to be done to alleviate the people’s suffering. There have been some gestures towards the un-employed and the needy, but not a grand scale. Work opportunities for them is perhaps more important than the financial aid that they sometimes receive as a gracious act by the Amir. The economic reforms are important and necessary components for the success of the political initiatives. The problem is that members of the ruling family have their own personal interests to guard. These interests sometimes clash with those of the people. The Amir is aware of the need to appease his own constituency in order to secure strong backing. The duality of some Al-Khalifa members as politician and a businessmen, has created a clash of interest at the expense of the rights of the people.

Whether the Amir will be able to end the corruption of the high-ranking elements of his family remains to be seen. He is still in the business of wooing them to his side at this crucial stage. Other economic challenges are also presented by the large foreign labour force whose existence has comrpromised the interests of the locals and led to political tension. The hope is that the Amir will be couragous enough to initiate a serious debate with the opposition in order to convince the sceptics that he meant business when he introduced political reforms. Otherwise, it will not be long before the chaos returns.

Bahrain Freedom Movement

December 2001

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