Bahrain: National unity and promotion of democracy are top priorities
The first seminar to be held by the newly formed Bahraini Society for Human Rights (BSHR) was held on 27 July, with Salman Kamal-u-Din presenting an outline of the programme and intentions of the society. The chairman of the seminar also presented Dr. Saeed Shehabi who returned to Bahrain a week ago after 22 years in exile. On his part, Dr. Shehabi commented on the role played by opposition forces and gave an example about a person like Mr. Abdul Rahman Al-Nuaimi, who was also in the audience. Dr. Shehabi said that the documents released by the British Foreign Office about 1968 mentions the name of Mr. Al-Nuaimi and documents of 1960s also mention the name of Mr. Ahmed Al-Thawadi. The opposition activities of these people continued for decades and it is because of the diversity and persistence of the opposition forces that Bahrain witnesses a positive outcome.
Members of the Islamic Enlightenment Society (IES) met on 27 March to elect a new board for the restart of the society. The IES was closed down by the authorities in February 1984 and its reopening was a fulfilment of one of the promises made by the Amir in front of opposition figures. The IES was burnt down last year and its buildings are in ruin. The re-launch of the IES was welcomed by the opposition who has been demanding the right to form associations without intervention from the state.
The president of Islah Society, Sheikh Isa bin Mohammed Al-Khalifa said that he “fully supports a proposal by Sheikh Al-Jamri to form a joint Shia-Sunni committee aimed at forging unity among the people of Bahrain”. He said, “everybody is preparing for the new democratic era in Bahrain”.
Islah has made a start towards achieving national unity by inviting last Saturday Sheikh Al-Jamri for a public meeting. The meeting, held in Muharraq, attracted more than 700 people from all walks of life, and was in line with efforts to bring people together and forge greater national unity. Both the Muharraq-based Islah and the Duraz-based IES are expected to play a key role in fostering national unity amongst the two major Islamic sects, the Sunnis and Shias.
Mr. Abdul Rahman Al-Nuaimi delivered a lecture on 28 March on “NGOs and Public Freedoms”. The meeting at a leading women association in Bahrain highlighted the history of clubs’ and associations’ formation in Bahrain and how the government’s counter actions have led to the downsizing and marginalisation of the NGOs. He called for a positive embrace of the recent reforms to revive the role of NGOs, which can act as a shield for protecting democracy.
Bahrain Freedom Movement 30 March 2001
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Bahrain: Pro-democracy figures and groups present their views to the nation An important gathering with far reaching positive implications took place on Saturday 24 March at Islah Society in Muharraq, Bahrain. The gathering was addressed by Sheikh Al-Jamri, Sheikh Isa bin Mohammed Al-Khalifa (of Islah Society), Dr. Abdul Latif Al-Mahmood, Mr. Abdul Wahab Hussain and Mr. Abdul Rahman Al-Nuaimi. Islah Society is a leading Islamic organisation in Bahrain with several decades of activities and roots connected to the Muslim Brotherhood that was founded by Imam Hasan Al-Banna in Egypt. Sheikh Al-Jamri said in his speech that his visit to Islah Society marks the beginning of a new era that will witness a more united and robust approach to national political action. The leaders of Islah Society welcomed Sheikh Al-Jamri and other guests heralding a new phase in national harmony and consensus. Sheikh Al-Jamri proposed the formation of a committee to resolve all issues relating to the two main Islamic sects in Bahrain, the Sunni and Shia. Islah Society welcomed the proposal and vowed to deploy their vast resources for the common good of Bahrain. Dr. Saeed Shehabi, Sheikh Ali Salman and Mr. Abdul Wahab Hussain met with the Amir, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa on 24 March. In the meeting the Amir re-affirmed that the future of Bahrain needs all the resources of Bahrainis. Dr. Shehabi, one of the BFM leaders who returned to Bahrain on 23 March after 22 years of exile, said that the meeting was a positive one indicating the seriousness of the Amir in going ahead with political reforms. Two draft manifestos have been circulated to the public by two political groupings inside Bahrain with the aim of preparing for the forthcoming parliamentary election. The first draft was issued about two weeks ago to represent the nationalist tendency, under the name of the “National Democratic Grouping”. The second draft manifesto was issued on 25 March by the moderate “Al-Wasat Islamist Tendency” . The Islamist manifesto (which is under development) stated the intents of the moderate tendency by referring to ten principles that would govern its approach. The ten principles were summarised as follows: 1. The Islamic civilisational culture is the framework for national programme, strategy and actions. 2. The pluralistic nature of Bahraini society in terms of ethnicity and religious sects is one of the important pillars. The political action programme will be based on principles that do not differentiate amongst citizens on the basis of creed, colour, race or tribal origin. 3. The 1973 Constitution is the basis for all laws and the elected council shall be the cornerstone for the legislative process. 4. The National Action Charter that received the consent of the majority of the population on 14 and 15 February 2001 refers to the Constitution. It is our belief that the actualisation of the Charter must be processed through the mechanism prescribed by the Constitution 5. The individual rights are indivisible, interdependent and inalienable. These include personal freedom that respects the general Islamic environment of society, freedom of ownership, freedom to reside in any location inside the country, freedom of work, freedom of travel and movement, freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom of press, freedom of education and freedom of belief. These individual rights also include equality before the law and before the judiciary, equality in assuming public positions and equality in political rights. 6. The rights of groups in solidarity must be guaranteed and the government’s actions must be limited in order to protect the cultural, social and economic rights of groups. 7. To guarantee the individual and group rights, the government will be urged to apply or ratify the two international covenants on civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, as well as the convention for the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, the convention against torture (which Bahrain ratified in 1998), the convention for the right of the child (which Bahrain ratified in 1992) and the convention for the elimination of all forms of racism (which Bahrain ratified in 1990). 8. The establishment of a true civil society is the way forwards to guard against the despotism of the State. 9. Protecting the environment is duty prescribed by Islamic religion. 10. Bureaucracy and routine must be minimised to activate the legislated programmes for social and economic development. Transparency and accountability must be activated to eliminate or avoid corruption. Bahrain Freedom Movement 26 March 2001
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Bahrain: Lord Avebury to visit Bahrain; Dr. Shehabi returns home after 22 years in exile After more than six years of procrastination and refusal, the Bahraini government has at last agreed to allow Lord Avebury, the Vice-Chair of the UK Parliamentary Human Rights Group, to visit the country. Lord Avebury was promised a visit in November 1994, but this was delayed until January 1995. Just before he was to leave for Bahrain, the government withdrew its invitation. Lord Avebury has consistently raised the issue of Bahrain in the House of Lords and quizzed officials in the UK and Bahrain about the then continuing violations of human rights. Lord Avebury also commissioned a report on Bahrain and published his letters with the UK Foreign Office describing the interaction with the officials on Bahrain as a “Brick Wall”. After the release of political prisoners and detainees and the ending of the State Security Law, Lord Avebury received several invitations from Bahrainis to visit the country, to witness at first hand the latest developments and to help make sure that the episode of repression is not to be repeated gain. The Bahraini opposition welcomes the government’s decision to allow Lord Avebury to visit the country and hopes that the government would also allow other international human rights observers to assess the situation. The UN Human Rights Commission started its annual meeting in Geneva and this year would be the first one in more than a decade when the Bahraini government expects less criticism from the international community. The Bahraini human rights activists are re-directing their efforts for ensuring that the torturers may not resume their atrocities against the nation. Several citizens complain that the authorities have started to intimidate them as they intend return home. For example, Mohammed Al-Alawi, 21 years old, is still in Syria and has not been allowed to return home. His father flew to Syria so that he can accompany him during his trip back home, but the authorities refused to allow the young man to be reunited with his family. Mr. Al-Alwai had been detained in the past and is suffering from an illness that requires continuous attention by his family. Other citizens were stopped at the airport upon their return and were asked to report to police stations for interrogation. Several of these acts may be attributed to the old guards who are refusing to comply with the drive for reforms. Several key opposition figures have returned to Bahrain, including Sheikh Ali Salman, whose arrest in December 1994 sparked off the mass demonstrations. Dr. Saeed Shehabi of the Bahrain Freedom Movement is expected to return home on 23 March after 22 year in exile. The BFM hopes that the Bahraini authorities would abide by the pledges made by the Amir and would not return to oppressing the opposition and the people. Bahrain Freedom Movement 23 March 2001 Tel/Fax: +44 207 278 9089
MANAMA (Reuters) 19 March – A prominent Shi’ite Muslim cleric returned to Bahrain on Monday after six years in exile, the latest of scores of dissidents returning home after a general amnesty and landmark reforms in the Gulf Arab state. Well-wishers gathered in the village of Bilad Qadim, outside the capital Manama, to greet Sheikh Ali Salman. He had been deported in 1995 for leading a campaign demanding the restoration of parliament in the conservative state. Britain granted him asylum in 1998. Dozens of exiles have returned recently after Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa issued the amnesty, pardoned political prisoners and abolished emergency laws. Bahrainis voted overwhelmingly in a referendum last month to support a charter proposed by Sheikh Hamad which calls for setting up an elected parliament and a constitutional monarchy. Bahrain dissolved its first elected parliament in 1975, two years after it was set up. The move led to unrest by members of the majority Shi’ite community who demanded political and economic reforms from the Sunni-led government. ================= KUWAIT CITY, Mar 20, 2001 (Xinhua via COMTEX) — Qatar and Bahrain on Tuesday agreed to re-start the joint Bahraini-Qatari Higher Committee, which had been charged with tackling joint projects and border disputes, to boost bilateral cooperation, the Kuwait News Agency reported. The consensus was reached during a brief visit by Bahraini Emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Issa al-Khalifa and after the two neighbors solved their territorial dispute last week. The International Court of Justice in The Hague announced last Wednesday to grant Bahrain sovereignty over the Hawar islands and the Qitat Jarada island, and give the Zubarah strip, Janan island and Feshi Al-Daibal rocks to Qatar. The ruling put an end to a dispute dating back to the 1930s between the two emirates over the potentially oil-and-gas rich islands. Doha and Manama suspended the activities of the committee last year, after both sides agreed to resort their dispute to the World Court, the highest legal body of the United Nations, for arbitration. The committee will work on a number of joint projects to cement bilateral ties, said Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani after talks with his Bahraini counterpart. For his part, the Bahraini emir said that the committee will have a busy schedule to do, including a proposed causeway linking the two emirates. =============== MANAMA, Bahrain, Mar 20, 2001 (United Press International via COMTEX) — Bahraini Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa visited Qatar Tuesday where he met his counterpart Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani to boost cooperation after the International Court of Justice ended the countries’ border dispute. Hamad said Bahrain’s acceptance of the court verdict over a number of disputed islands with Qatar “opened a new page in the relations of both countries and will give a bigger chance for cooperation and coordination.” He described the verdict as a historic victory for both countries and “a joint gain whereby we won the battle of the future together in such a way as achieving the ambitions of our people.” He called on the Qatari emir to reactivate the Joint Qatar-Bahrain Committee to discuss several joint projects, including constructing a bridge that would link the Gulf states. Hamad also visited the United Arab Emirates to thank President Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan for his efforts in helping resolve the dispute between Bahrain and Qatar. Last Friday, the International Court of Justice ruled over the border dispute, by confirming Bahrain’s sovereignty over the Howar island and Qatar’s over the islands of Zubara and Jinan.
MANAMA, March 16 (Reuters) – Bahrain Friday invited international firms to drill for oil in and around Hawar islands, hours after the World Court ruled the disputed archipelago belonged to it and not Qatar. “After overcoming all obstacles and restrictions, we invite the international exploration companies to start their drilling in any island and offshore areas of Bahrain,” Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa said in a speech after the ruling. A long-standing territorial dispute between Bahrain and Qatar has prevented any exploration work from taking place on and around the potentially oil-and gas-rich islands. The World Court earlier Friday ruled the Hawar islands should stay with Bahrain, denying Qatari claim after the court’s longest case. The territorial row, which took the two Gulf Arab neighbours to the brink of war in 1986, dates back to the 1930s when Britain stepped into a feud between the ruling families of the two emirates and awarded the islands to Bahrain. Judges rejected Bahrain’s claim to Zubarah, a disputed town on the Qatari mainland. They also awarded two minor islands — Janan and Hadd Janan — to Qatar. The International Court of Justice verdict, the highest United Nations legal body, is binding and cannot be appealed. Sheikh Hamad described the ruling as an “historic victory” and said his country would ensure it was implemented. Bahrain is an independent oil producer, pumping around 40,000 bpd from its own fields and gets the entire output of 140,000 bpd from Abu Safa offshore field, which it shares with Saudi Arabia. REUTERS
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States Friday congratulated the governments of Bahrain and Qatar on finding a peaceful resolution of their territorial dispute through the International Court of Justice in The Hague. The World Court ruled Friday that the disputed Hawar islands in the Gulf should stay with Bahrain, denying a decades-old Qatari claim after the court’s longest case. Bahrain was jubilant about the judgment. The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, called the ruling painful but said his country would accept it. U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said: “Both Bahrain and Qatar are very close friends of the United States and we have long urged a peaceful settlement to the dispute.” “We understand that both nations have announced their acceptance of the ruling, and we would congratulate both parties for their efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the issue,” he added. REUTERS
By ALI FRAIDOON Associated Press Writer, 16 March 2001 MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — Minutes after hearing the World Court verdict that awarded Bahrain the largest of a string of disputed islands in theGulf, hundreds of Bahrainis poured into the streets Friday dancing, honking the horns of their cars and waving their country’s red and white flags in celebration. In Qatar, which lost its claim to the island, life went on as usual. Sadiq Ghloom, 35, a Gulf Air steward celebrating with others in a Manama street, said Bahrainis had expected the judgment. “And now I hope that our two brotherly people can proceed forward and improve our societies for the better.” Earlier in the day, the World Court ended a a decades-old territorial dispute and 10-year judicial battle, saying the Hawar islands would remain with Bahrain but Qatar would gain sovereignty over other islands in the archipelago, as well as the Zubara land strip in Qatar where Bahrain’s ruling family lived 200 years ago. “Despite the painful feeling caused by the ruling, nevertheless it has ended the conflict between the two countries. It is in our power now to leave this conflict as something in the past,” Qatari emir Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani said on state-run television. “The court decision was not an easy matter for our spirits to accept since these islands had an important place in the hearts of our people; the roots of these feelings extend back into history,” he said. Bahrain’s emir Sheik Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa praised the World Court. “We declare that we accept its verdict and we gave the orders that all steps needed for its implementation be taken.” “The time has come to open a new and shining page between our countries,” the Bahraini emir said. His speech was carried by the official Gulf News Agency. Both Bahrain and Qatar declared Saturday a national holiday to mark the verdict. “I am overwhelmed with joy because of this verdict,” said another celebrating Bahraini, biomedical engineer Abdel-Hussein Fathi, 47. Qatar’s Al-Jazeera Television said its crew in Bahrain was banned from filming the celebrations. Speaking to reporters at The Hague, Netherlands, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheik Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabor Al Thani said his country had made a decision to not stage any celebrations “although we have got more than 80 percent of our demands” through the verdict. “It was a nightmare that we got rid of,” said the minister of the dispute. He added that Qatar and Saudi Arabia will soon sign a border agreement with Saudi, ending all of Qatar’s territorial disputes with its neighbors. af-wp-bm-ts
THE HAGUE, Netherlands, Mar 16, 2001 (United Press International via COMTEX) — Sovereignty over a group of islands being disputed by Bahrain and Qatar has been split between the two Arab countries by the International Court of Justice. Bahrain was given the potentially oil-rich Hawar Island and the Qit’at Jaradah. Qatar was given sovereignty over Zubarah and Janan islands and also the low-tide elevation of Fasht ad Diobal. In its 70-page judgment, the court also drew a single maritime boundary between the two countries. The islands are west of Qatar in the Gulf of Bahrain. “This judgment is binding, final and without appeal,” Court President Gilbert Guillaume said in a statement. “It brings to an end a long-standing dispute between these two sister states, thereby inaugurating a new stage in their relations.” The dispute between the two Arab states, which dates back to the 1930s, has been before the court since 1991 when Qatar launched the appeal. The two countries almost went to war over the issue in 1986. In the 1930s, Britain, which managed both countries’ foreign affairs, decided to hand the Hawar islands to Bahrain and Friday’s ruling upheld the British decision. “The court concludes that the decision taken by the British government on July 1939 is binding on both parties,” Guillaume said. “The states of Qatar and Bahrain have been wise enough to submit their dispute to judicial settlement,” he said. “May the wisdom of the two states and their peoples be an example to all.” In Manama, Bahraini Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa praised the verdict, which he said “affirmed the complete sovereignty of Bahrain over the Hawar islands as it has always been in the past and according to international law.” Al-Khalifa announced Saturday would be a public holiday in celebration of the verdict. Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa an-Thani said the verdict “was not easy on us because these islands have a great place in our people’s conscience.” He said the conflict with Bahrain, which lasted 62 years, “dominated relations between the two countries for a long time during which they witnessed many tensions.” “We can now put this conflict, which became part of history behind us,” Sheikh Hamad said.
By Eric Onstad THE HAGUE (Reuters) – The World Court on Friday ruled that the disputed Hawar islands in the Gulf should stay with Bahrain, denying a decades-old Qatari claim after the court’s longest case. The territorial row, which took the Gulf Arab neighbors to the brink of war in 1986, dates back to the 1930s when Britain stepped into a feud between the ruling families of the two emirates and awarded the islands to Bahrain. “The court concludes that the decision taken by the British government on July, 1939 is binding on both parties,” said the president of the court, Judge Gilbert Guillaume. “The court concludes that Bahrain has sovereignty over the Hawar islands and that it therefore cannot uphold the submission of Qatar.” Judges rejected Bahrain’s claim to Zubarah, a disputed town on the Qatari mainland, however. They also awarded two minor islands — Janan and Hadd Janan — to Qatar. The verdict by the International Court of Justice, the highest United Nations legal body, is binding and cannot be appealed. Qatar took the case to the court in 1991, angering Bahrain, which had favored regional mediation to end the dispute. Bahrain was jubilant at the judgement. In Manama, Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa welcomed what he called a “historic victory,” saying his country would ensure the ruling was implemented. “The patience of the Bahraini people has been rewarded,” Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammad bin Mubarak al-Khalifa told reporters in The Hague after the ruling. “There is no more dispute. The Hawar are Bahraini. The judgement allows us to look forward to a peaceful and friendly relation with Qatar,” the minister said. Judges ruled that both Qatar and Bahrain had given their consent for Britain to resolve the Hawar dispute in 1939, and so it remained binding on them. Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani called the decision “painful” but said his country would accept it. “Although the ruling is painful, we understand that it has ended the dispute,” he said on state television.
“Though it is difficult for us to foresake the Hawar islands, we accept the judgement which contributes to the stability of the region. Congratulation to the people of Bahrain.”
Bahrain Seminar in the House of Lords 14 March 2001 Questions & Answers Question: I would like to talk about law and the prison service. My son was jailed for 15years. What happened to my son was not democratic. I am not going to go into the offence, I am going to go into the procedures. There are British officers inside the Interior Ministry. They are not the best of the British. One of them is a psychopath and a torturer. He was not involved in this case. There are people there who adopt the practise of listening to telephone conversations between the accused and his lawyer, they re-write confessions, they have an influence on the appeal process by denying the judge his ruling. There are no checks and balances anywhere along the line. It was one month into the trial before my son even knew what the charges against him were. He then had two weeks in which to formulate his defence. We ensured that a forensic defence statement was entered into the court. We had to do all this by political means. There are no checks on people who are responsible for the security system. They can do what they like and they do do what they like. Lord Avebury: As you know the police have been given a lot of information about Mr Henderson in particular. Adel Flaifel is another person against whom there is plenty of evidence. We are signatories of the torture convention, we have got on the statute books Section 132 of the Criminal Justice Act which allows us to prosecute in the British courts anyone against whom there is satisfactory evidence of crimes of this nature in Bahrain. And I hope that will be used and the police act on the information they have been given. You raise another important point and that is if the rule of law is going to be introduced in Bahrain what remedies will there be for those who have been convicted by unfair proceedings in the past. That is a question which might legitimately be asked by the opposition. Are they going to continue to maintain the security apparatus which has been guilty of all these atrocities in the past or should that not be disbanded as part of the reform process. Question: As you know the Bahrainis have suffered over the past 25 years. Now what has happened is the result of many factors not just one factor. But the whole internal media is attributing everything to the new emir. But that is only part of the picture. There has also been a consistent effort by the people of Bahrain who have made sacrifices and an important role has been played by the people who have supported the people of Bahrain. I see here today Joyce Mapp whose husband has played a major role before he died three years ago. He was of a similar nature to Lord Avebury, working in his own constituency. The efforts of people like these have contributed immensely to the cause of the people of Bahrain. My question to my colleagues here what advise would you give to the opposition of Bahrain either inside or outside, who are being overwhelmed by the events and at the same time find it difficult and hard to absorb all the variables in this equation. What about the continuation of the old guards? How can we have faith in a system that has not touched the most sensitive layer in the whole establishment from which the people of Bahrain have suffered. Dr Khalaf was arrested immediately after the end of the parliament and he was tortured by them. It is very difficult for me to just take what is happening for granted. What advise would you give us. Lord Avebury: My own opinion is that the red lines which have been referred to by several speakers need to be tested and pushed back. Clearly you can’t have a democratic system unless people are allowed to form their own organisations. The first step is to press for the organisations such as the leftists and the Shia Islamists to be allowed to function I as part of the local election, if it is held in October. If you don’t have people standing on a given platform it is difficult to see how that can be a genuinely democratic process. I think that mention has been made of the influence of the friends of Bahrain, perhaps the Americans and the British can encourage a little bit of give and taken in the democratic process to extend what has already been granted. Ultimately you come back to the $64 question, is there going to be any institutionalisation of the promises which have been made or are we to continue the system of accepting gifts from the emir. He can give and he can take away. I thought that the comparison which was made with his father was very obvious and what happened in the period after 1972. Everybody thought that was the beginning of the era of democracy with the parliament, the human rights that were promised, and it was all withdrawn. The same thing can happen again. You could even get to the point where an elected assembly took office and the ruler didn’t like it and it could be equally disbanded. So somehow the opposition must demand the entrenchment of the changes in constitutional form. If you don’t get that then none of the privileges that have been offered as we heard largely in the future could be maintained. So I think, if I was to advise the opposition, if I had the presumption to do that, I would say get the friends of Bahrain to insist that there promises are embodied in something which is of a permanent nature. That means a constitution. One of the good things about the changes is that the National Charter is not going to be a substitute for a constitution. It is meant to be in addition to it. If you can have a constitution and you can have a system whereby the laws are made only by the parliament and not handed down by decree from the emir that can never be withdrawn under any circumstances whatsoever. Then I think you would have a little bit more assurance that the changes would be permanent. Simon Henderson: The verdict of the International Court of Justice on the dispute between Bahrain and Qatar on 16 March and how the government and opposition respond to it could be relevant here. Question: Has the press been granted greater freedoms? And what about the influence of Saudi Arabia in derailing the democratic process. When the Saudis withdrew their support from the National Yemeni Opposition Front the front collapsed overnight. Dr Abdul Hadi Khalaf: The press and the rest of the media is witnessing relaxations. A number of subjects which were taboo are being mentioned now. But the parameters about what people can write have been expanded. Lord Avebury: There is still a certain amount of self censorship isn’t there? The red lines are not written down anywhere but people are well aware of what they are and do not transgress those limits. Dr Abdul Hadi Khalaf: I noticed that in the first three or four weeks the word makrama was used. Everything was makrama. Now this word has been changed. The Arabic language is beautiful and they have changed to initiatives mubadara and lahda. Prof Fred Halliday: Another word which is very much used in the region in shafafiya. Transparency. Seminar participant: Shafafiya really means seeing through glass. Fred Halliday: It is where the English word chiffon comes from. We have two English words, chiffon and the military expression have a shufti. On the question of the opposition. It is the opposite of Yemen. The issue is that Bahrain is under the pressure of external powers like Saudi Arabia as happened in 1975. Common sense would suggest that Bahrain cannot have an isolated democratic experiment if there isn’t at least some support from Saudi Arabia. I do not deny there are differences there is a single khalijian cultural and political space as there is in Western Europe. The Bahraini opposition is a self-standing opposition. Question: I would like to be optimistic but I don’t think one should underestimate the Shia-Sunni divide. Saudi Arabia is like the other GCC states. You are dealing with a regime that is fanatical. Officially Shia Muslims are considered infidels. If things take their normal course in Bahrain where at least 50 percent of the people are Shia. This is an island just off the coast and Bahraini Shias are Arabs. They cann
ot be called Iranians, the vast majority are tribal Arabs. I cannot see how it would be possible for Saudi Arabia to allow such a regime to exist and I would like you to take very seriously the idea of a counter coup. What worries me is that should such a clash occur can only rely on the US and UK to back Bahrain. It seems from their record that they would back the Saudis. Simon Henderson: The Saudis are very happy that Bahrain is different in one respect as anybody who observes the causeway on a Friday evening is aware. Prof Fred Halliday: The major question at the beginning of the 21st century is how do live with Saudi Arabia when it is not expansionist and when its own Islamic opposition is not interfering in other countries (which they are) is going to go through a very tough time Bahrain, Oman and Yemen are going to be living on the edge of a large and quite unstable country Saudi Arabia is changing and it could be quite a rough change Mansour Al Jamari: I think the factor of Saudi Arabia is very important. There is no doubt the emir wouldn’t have gone this far without sounding the Saudis. My personal view is that Saudi Arabia was implicitly supportive of the emir’s decision to go in the direction in which he has started. There are several signs. Prince Abdallah is pro Hamed. He is known to be more in that direction. He himself talks of controlling the princes in Saudi Arabia so if he comes to power he is going to be with Hamed. Secondly I believe Prince Salman stayed in Bahrain for a week, this is extraordinary. Usually the emirs of Saudi Arabia come for half a day, and go back. But to stay for a week must be very important. The Emir Hamed himself has gone to Saudi Arabia to brief them on what he is doing. The Saudi press has not criticised the government in Bahrain. Today in Al Hayat they refer to the kingdom of Bahrain . Saudi Arabia certainly could switch off Bahrain. A quarter of million barrels of oil go every day to Bahrain to be refined. There are 140,000 from Abu Safa off shore oil field that was given to Bahrain. The Saudis just take the cost of production and they give everything to Bahrain. If they switch off Abu Safa and they switch off a quarter of million barrels going for refining, Bahrain is switched off because that is two-thirds of the government’s revenue switched off. I believe the Saudis are happier to see some sort of tranquillity in Bahrain. Whether this will bring tranquillity without affecting the Saudis is a risk everybody has to take – themselves and ourselves. Question: How much is the government and the opposition mindful of the Kuwaiti experience? Simon Henderson: Kuwait has been looked on by the Gulf States as the model for good or bad. The role of the National Assembly in Kuwait is looked on by many people as a hopeful sign that Kuwait would undergo a lot of changes that were brought about by oil. It was the first to establish a National Assembly and despite all the viscidities. that National Assembly continues to function. Obviously people who object to change of one sort or another are going to use that as an excuse. But I don’t think that really it holds a lot of weight. There is a context of change and that change depending on which country it is occurs at different speeds and often very slowly. This is the Gulf, this is the way things have always changed in the Gulf and unless you are going to have some catastrophic event change is likely to be slow. The impact of the other Gulf states on Bahrain is that changes are slowly occurring but to draw more specific lessons is futile because the circumstances are different. There are six countries which are probably more similar to each other than any other grouping. At the same time they are six countries which have their own identity, their own circumstances and their own history and the process of change in Bahrain is also going to be determined by its own past. Mansour Al Jamri: The charter says that ministers are accountable before the emir, while the constitution says that ministers are accountable before the National Assembly. So this is a very clear difference between the National Charter and the constitution of Bahrain and I think the parliament will be told you can say what you like but then the emir will sit with the ministers as the National Charter says ministers are accountable to the emir. Not as the constitution says. Lord Avebury: I have not noticed that It contradicts the assertion that has been made that the Charter is additive to the constitution. That is one case where there is a discrepancy between the two. Simon Henderson: I think at the heart of the matter is the fact that the National Charter is a statement of intention rather than a blueprint for what is going to happen. The whole question of municipal elections, when they are likely to be held and the holding off of the creation of a new assembly for three more years may be the intention for a major step by step series of changes both to see how each step works on the one hand and to ensure hardline conservative elements of the viability of the change. At the same time it also strikes me that a lot of this vagueness is because it has not been thought out and no one knows who the people are who have set the words down on paper and given them to the emir for his approval or whatever. Putting a National Charter to public scrutiny may have been done as a way of stating the intention of the emir to carry out changes. It was important to do this now in some concrete and largely symbolic manner before everything had been carefully thought . There is another example of a bicameral council and that is in Oman where there is a Council of State which in a way functions as an upper house to the majlis al shurah, which is moving by steps to elected basis. They don’t have legally defined differences in terms of their powers. The process of election to this majlis al shourah is one that has been carried out step by step over a period of at least ten years. A similar process may be occurring in Bahrain where they say let us take this step and see if it works out and then take the next step. Municipal elections is the obvious choice. The point about political groupings being able to contest seems to me a little premature as you should really be electing people by their own personality and position who will be doing what is proper within that context. In Kuwait you have effective groupings even if they are not formally recognised but this has taken place over a number of years. Lord Avebury: The process of returning to democracy in Pakistan has been initiated by local elections which were held on a non-party basis. Local elections are a preliminary test of how the democratic system works. If they are going to have local elections in autumn it is very late to have decided issues like the boundaries etc unless people are going to be presented with a fait accompli: this is the electoral system, this is how it is going to be working, these are the safeguards. If there is no discussion at all it could be a ready-made plan but if there is to be any sort of discussion on it it is rather late in the day to begin. Seminar participant: The first red line to be broken is the breakdown of fear. If the security forces are not kept under control how can you believe in anything else. If you can’t stop the security forces from bullying a 24 year old woman, you can’t go any further. Lord Avebury: We have always tried to inform people in the foreign office, whoever happened to be the minister (last time it was Peter Haine, this time it is Brian Wilson) what the discussion focused on and the priorities that you have outlined. This is more important now than ever before when we are in the process of transition. We should take the opportunity to convey the views which people are expressing at this seminar. We will obviously do that. When you think of all the work that is being done by the UK and the European Union in trying to prop up democracies emerging in Eastern Europe, millions of pounds are being poured into that region, it is surely worth our while considering the same kind of programme in the Gulf.
We could support democracy in the region and Bahrain would be a very good place to start. It would be a very good investment from our point of view if this country had stability and was a model for the region. Dr Abdul Hadi Khalaf: We should note that King Hussein was a role model for the present emir. They faced the same challenges: a united opposition, international pressure for reform and because of a fiscal crisis. So the three factors made that crisis of legitimacy so great that King Hussein and the emir had to buy legitimacy. As far as international pressure is concerned we cannot mobilise the whole congress but we can make a plea to people like Lord Avebury to stay with us. And we should not allow the Shia part of the opposition to run away, or the Sunni part or the leftists. Somehow all of us should keep a united platform, we may have different ambitions but we should have this main ambition to survive. Lord Avebury: Perhaps that is a good note for us to end on. We can send this message to the opposition that they should maintain their unity in this period of transition. It will be vital to securing or guaranteeing the reform process. We will make a report to the FCO and they will be aware of our discussions. I hope this will be of assistance to them in trying to formulate British policy in this period of rapid transition. I hope that the FCO will do its best to help the democratic transition and to pursue the aims that we have been discussing this afternoon.
May I also echo what Saeed said how nice it is to see Mrs Mapp with us. I read with pleasure and interest her husband’s book. We are very delighted to see you here this afternoon. I would like to thank the speakers and thank you all for your presence.
Bahrain’s reforms: the next steps A seminar chaired by Lord Avebury, the Vice-chair of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group on Wednesday, March 14th 2000. Introduction: Since 5 February 2001, the Amir, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, has ordered the release of all political prisoners, the return of exiles and the repeal of the notorious State Security Law and the State Security Court. A national Charter to re-instate the 1973 Constitution was approved by the people and a process of reconciliation started. The opposition which has waged a successful campaign for these demands, has welcomed these steps. Opening address: Lord Avebury This is always a happy day for me, because it is the anniversary of the day of the Orpington by-election, 39 years ago. It is doubly exciting today, when we meet together for a seminar on Bahrain, in a rather different atmosphere from those of the past – one of hope, expectation and of pride – hope, that the reforms now underway in Bahrain will lead to the State becoming a role model for the region; expectation, that the people of Bahrian will rise to the historic challenge, proving that they can develop the infrastructure of civil society which is the necessary underpinning of democracy, and pride that so many brave men and women persevered when it looked as though nothing was ever going to change. Last time we met, in December, quite frankly we were not sure what to make of the National Charter. Was it an alternative to the Constitution? What exactly were to be the powers of the elected assembly? Would there be an end to arbitrary imprisonment and exile? Would the State Security Courts be abolished? As regards freedom of expression, would people be able to form their own non-governmental organisations? Would foreign journalists be able to report openly on Bahrain, and would privately owned newspapers and radio stations be allowed? Would control of the mosques be restored to their congregations? Now, many but not all of these questions have been answered, and the Government of Bahrain are to be congratulated on a most remarkable transformation. This week, Amnesty International has a delegation in the country, and they are not seeing only Government officials as they did last time. All the political prisoners have been released, and all the exiles are being allowed to return. A non-governmental Human Rights Society has been formed. The State Security Courts have disappeared. Elections are to be held for a legislative chamber which will have real powers. All these changes are welcome, and we thank the people of Bahrain for their steadfastness over the last 25 years, which has finally earned them their reward. We thank also the Amir, who has been wise enough to realise what is best at the end of the reform process for Bahrain and best for the ruling family: a constitutional system in which the ruler will be the ceremonial head of state, but the power is exercised by an elected government responsible to an elected parliament. It would be churlish to quibble about the detail, but I would respectfully suggest that second thoughts are required on whether a two-chamber legislature is necessary in a country the size of Bahrain. Perhaps the idea came for Lord Gillford, the PR adviser who advises the Bahrain Government. Let me, as a former management consultant, offer them two pieces of advice for nothing, which will save them millions of pounds. Get rid of your House of Lords, and sack the PR men as well. If you do the right thing, you will get a good press witho ut paying for it. That goes for the Gulf Centre for Strategic Studies too. Both their newsletter and their website are badly designed, but I would hazard a guess they are very expensive. You always pay more for services when the bills are turned face down. One reform which might benefit everybody in Bahrain would be greater transparency and open competition in the letting of contracts, to get rid of cronyism and corruption. Dr Ala’a Al-Yousuf pointed out in a fascinating lecture a week ago at the Gulf Cultural Club that the revenue from oil output of 180,000 b/d doesn’t go through the budget. At $30 a barrel, that’s $1.9 billion a year, rather a lot of money to go missing. Nobody expects a perfect democracy to be developed in a few weeks, and it is acknowledged that here in the UK we still have some distance to go. The abolition of hereditary peers’ right to legislate was long overdue, as was the devolution of power to Wales and Scotland. Many people think this process has to be developed further, so that ultimately we have a federal system. Nor are human rights fully safeguarded. We made progress with the Human Rights act and the Race Relations (Amendment) Act, but we haven’t eliminated racism and injustice. What we have developed, I suggest, is a reasonably vigilant Parliament and media, which can make the running for the reforms that are still necessary, and I hope that is how democracy will make progress in Bahrain. Let the elected Members decide on the next steps. If I had one serious criticism to make of the recent advances in Bahrain, it is that all of the reforms, including the National Charter, have been handed down from on high, rather than being decided after debate among the people. What of the next steps for human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Bahrain? I am very glad that we are welcoming the chair of the Human Rights Committee of the Shura Council, and he may be able to tell us what reforms they have in mind. One possible area of cooperation between the UK and Bahrain would be the reform of the criminal law, the rules of evidence, judicial procedures and the independence of the judiciary. When the Bar Human Rights Committee undertook their study of the State Security Court, they were ready and willing to help Bahraini lawyers to bring their systems into conformity with international standards, and that could be considered now that there is a readiness to change. Free media, and particularly free radio and TV, are matters we could advise on, as we have in some eastern European countries. Equal opportunity legislation is another key area on which there could be useful exchanges of views. In Northern Ireland, great progress has been achieved towards religious equality, and some of that experience might be useful if the Government of Bahrain now has the political will to promote equality of the Shi’a on employment and the delivery of public services. The question of the bidoon also needs to be addressed. Finally, there is the important question of workers’ rights and the development of free trade unions. The ILO has criticised Bahrain for ‘outright prohibition of trade unions’, but in today’s new situation, the ILO would no doubt be prepared to help in framing new legislation to permit the formation of free trade unions and detail their powers and responsibilities. Dr John Peterson, Fellow, International Institute for Strategic Studies: I will provide a personal assessment of what has been going on in Bahrain in the last two years and more recently. I just returned a few weeks ago from a longish visit to the Gulf including some time in Bahrain which was well before the referendum was held. It seems to be that the steps taken by Sheikh Hamad since he became Emir two years ago are a welcome series of moves that have been long overdue. They hold the real promise of reconciliation, of breaking what I see as a very long cycle of mistrust between the government and the people, between various sectors of the population, mistrust which turns to opposition which turns to violence. In the course of this century we can see this happening at various times. I repeat that this cycle may be in the first stage of being broken. But at the same time it strikes me that the moves that were made so far and the promises that have been made only tackle one part of the problem. Perhaps it is the necessary first step but other things need to be done to set things straight. First of all there is the question of economic diversification and the problem of population growth and the impact this has on employment which was one of th
e major causes of the last unrest and has been the cause of unrest decades before that. Bahrain is the poorest of the GCC countries and therefore it has the greatest need to diversify as quickly as possible. Secondly there is a great problem of economic disparity between the wealthy in Bahrain and the majority of the population who do not share in the benefits of that wealth. And in common with many of other GCC states it is not just a question of the distribution of national income and resources in a social welfare context but of redistribution and that has not been addressed anywhere in the Gulf and certainly not in Bahrain where the need is perhaps the greatest. Then there is also the problem of social stratification which is far more rigid in Bahrain than anywhere else in the Gulf and causes problems. The ruling family and the Nejid tribal allies can be described almost as a caste. You have to be born into it. This monopoly over political power and increasingly an economic elite has to be changed as well. In one specific sense there is the problem of the relationship between the emir and the prime minister. In order to assert himself and to attain true legitimacy, not just legitimacy through the office but a personal legitimacy, he is going to have to do something either reach an agreeable modus vivendi with his uncle or to usher in democracy. That will not be easy because it is not just a question between two men, it a question between two wings of the family. There are many members of the Al Khalifa who are very concerned that change has not been made because either it is going to affect them personally or they fear that their position in the family will be eroded. A few remarks on the National Charter itself. One thing that strikes me most when I go through it is the vagueness. In many parts there is a restatement of principles that no one can disagree with. There are three features which receive the most attention: the independence of the judiciary, which is not spelt out in detail, but which is a necessary step, secondly the legislative provisions and thirdly the description of Bahrain as a constitutional monarchy. Let me quote a significant paragraph from the National Charter regarding the legislature: “the bicameral system is to be adopted in Bahrain. The first council is to be formed through direct and free elections and shall have legislative attributes and the second council should be appointed and should comprise people of experience and competence who offer their advise when needed.” Then it simply goes on. It strikes me that the referendum which was held and agreed by 98% of the people who voted to approve the National Charter and amendments to the constitution that that required to put amendments to this legislature structure into place was in effect the government asking the people of Bahrain to sign a blank cheque. There is no where in the National Charter that tells us how the legislative body will be constituted beyond the promise of the bicameral system. It does not say how elections will be held, it does not specify the role of the appointed house vis a vis the elected house and of course beyond that there is the problem that the people of Bahrain feel it is retrogressive. Why have a bicameral system with an appointed house when the country had a fully elected National Assembly a quarter of a century ago? The National Charter does not specify whether the legislature will have the right to review all government laws and policy and there is a big difference here. Consultative Councils elsewhere in the Gulf have the right, sometimes the vigorous right, to discuss draft legislation in the areas of the social service ministries but only in those areas. As far as the legislation itself is concerned it does not really spell out whether the elected body will have the right to introduce legislation rather than simply approve what the government has put before it. And most importantly, and this is perhaps a question for the short rather than the long term, whether the emir will have the right of veto over all measures passed by that body and what that might consist of. As far as the change of name to kingdom (mamluka) I am not sure that this is terribly significant and I am not sure of the reasons for this. Perhaps the emir himself does not really know. Some people may say that the reason is to distance himself from the heir apparent and other members of the family rather than just being the same as the prime minister. That would emphasise the emir’s role vis a vis the rest of the family and of course in this instance the emir’s superior position to the prime minister. Others would say that he is emulating perhaps King Abdullah of Jordan from whom much of the inspiration for these changes have come. It seems to be that the promises the emir has made are just that – promises. Most of these promises actually point to substantive change or reform but as of right now the verdict has to be considered to be still out. We may have to take the emir on his word and assume that the changes will be real changes. But we have no assurance of that. The one positive note that I can make in putting Bahrain into context in the Gulf is that changes are occurring throughout the Gulf and a lot of mention has been not only in terms of the similarities of names but also of the ages of rulers of Bahrain and Qatar both of whom have been enacting various changes on behalf of their people. There is almost a yoyo effect between the two countries. After the National Charter was announced and a referendum was held Sheikh Hamid in Qatar made a statement that his long-promised parliament would be forthcoming within 18 months. Was this because of developments in Bahrain? No. Were the earlier developments in Qatar a spur to the Emir Hamid making these promises in Bahrain? Who knows. Even elsewhere in the Gulf in Kuwait there is the National Assembly which is in many ways flawed but still robust. In the Gulf context it constitutes remarkable powers and accountability vis a vis the government. Even in the other three countries of the GCC where there are no elected bodies there are changes occurring. There is a whole new spirit of realising that economic change is in the forefront of the agenda and has to be addressed. And wherever there is going to be true economic reform there also has to be political change for the economic reforms to come into being. I would say there is cause for optimism in Bahrain. Professor Fred Halliday, London School of Economics: I was asked to speak about the regional dimensions of the developments in Bahrain but I would like to begin by saying I think this is an occasion to welcome what is happening. You know what has been happening in Bahrain for many years, the struggle of the people inside and outside Bahrain for constitutional change, for the recognition of judicial and political reform. And while I share the reservation that has been expressed I think the change has been a positive one and one which has resulted from the hard work of many people, including many people in this room. I would like to pay tribute to Lord Avebury for all he has done. About three and a half years ago I was involved in a seminar with a number of NGOs and Labour Party officials, including the Foreign Secretary, on foreign policy in the 21st century. And we got into very general talk about ethical this and changing that in the world. And I thought being an academic I should bring the discussion back down to earth so I laid out ten signposts or wish lists for the first labour government’s period in office as to what I would like to see done and markers of what it had achieved. This wish list included the arrest and indictment of Bosnian war criminals Milosovecz and Radevicz, reasonable autonomy for Tibet, a just and stable settlement of the Palestinian claim to statehood. But it also included the following item: strong pressure for democratisation in Bahrain on which the Labour government has been dragging its feet. And I think it is important to say that certainly beta plus at least or perhaps even a cautious alpha double minus in recen
t weeks though necessarily in the period we were talking about then. So my first note is a positive one. But listening to what people have said today and after talking to people in the region there are very obvious questions which have to be posed. The very obvious one is are the Al Khalifa serious, is the emir serious or relatively serious to go through with this or is it a cosmetic change as we saw in Saudi Arabia in 19992 –1993. As Lord Avebury said these changes need time – a lot of time – is the Al Khalifa ready to make changes. The same question can be asked of the opposition. Is it ready, they have been out of power for a long time, they have had their own divisions and disagreements. Recent events, at least the Iranian revolution and the events in Iraq have not made it easy for the opposition. How do they relate to this, are they of one mind. Thirdly there is the issue I have been asked to speak about which is the regional context. You can’t have democratisation or the rule of law in a small archepelago of 650,000 when you are surrounded by countries like Iran and Iraq with over 100 million who are living in states which are not democratic, where there is no rule of law and no freedom of expression, where women do not have equality and where indigenous workers and also migrant workers are not treated according to internationally recognised standards. Without deprecating what has happened in Bahrain one has to ask the question how will this relate to the region and the Gulf. There are changes taking place within the GCC and more broadly in the region and the Arab world, and also in Iran, which would support what is happening in Bahrain. But there are also processes which would inhibit it and which could, as they have done in the past I am thinking of the abolition of the parliament in 1975 under Saudi pressure which could be exerted in the future. There is across the water in Iran a very important difficult thwarted democratisation process happening. I was in recently in Iran. The strength of the movement from below is very very strong indeed. It is like opening an oven door. But those in power are divided on how to respond to it and I don’t take it for granted that this process is inevitable and will reach a successful conclusion. President Khatemi is sincere and has made some changes. I do not think that he has either the power or the personality to act as the effective leader of this process. There are other changes in the Arab world. There is a significant change in Syria of atmosphere. But how far President Bashar will go is a difficult question. We have the constitutional changes in other Gulf countries and we have the situation in Kuwait. Again without deprecating the achievements of the Kuwaitis I have to say that the Kuwaiti parliament is not always a model of democratic responsibility. I was in the Kuwait parliament in December 1999 on the day when they voted on votes for women. The galleries were full of women in tea shirts which said yes, yes to rights. But a lot of very distasteful gentlemen downstairs, some of them with long beards but not all of them, some of them from the secular left were opposing this on all sorts of spurious grounds. I am also very conscious of the fact that members of the Kuwaiti parliament were very active in banning books at the Kuwaiti Book Fair, books by non Muslims like myself and well known writers on the region. So this democracy is not always in line w ith what the academics believe we should see. But in the broader sense there are two things which are true for Bahrain and the area is that the leaderships are changing for generational reasons. They are also changing because they cannot go on ruling the area as they have done. I was surprised when I was on Oman two years ago just after the change of government in Bahrain when I was speaking to people in the ministries one of the first questions was what do you think of succession. The second point which Lord Avebury mentioned and which I must confirm from my own anecdotal experience is that the most pressing of the issues for change is the issue of accountability, muhasiba. Where has the money gone? Where is it going? Where is it going to go? There seems to be a kind of rule of thumb in the peninsula and I use that word adviseably because I would include the not very rich Ali Abduallah Saleh of Yemen. About a third of state revenue does not appear in the budget. $7 billion dollars a year in Yemen is very different from $50 or 60 billion in Saudi Arabia. But there is this category of what the American Embassy in Saudi Arabia very nicely describes as off budget. This question is being posed I think for a combination of reasons, partly because of external pressure from the World Bank and other international institutions but also because even if the price of oil is $25 or 30 a barrel I the real per capita income is not rising and the indigenous population is rising and expects employment and the old contract between rulers and ruled whereby the rulers could take a third of more. So I think there is the question of accountability and that implies greater openness and power of the legislature. If you ask the question about Bahrain’s relationship with the region than as far as the Arab states are concerned Bahrain has been a historic leader. It is a country where from the first decade of this century there has been opposition by politicians and merchants and writers. During the 1950s we saw a very substantial trade union movement – the first one on the Arab side of the Gulf. The British Foreign Secretary, Selwyn Lloyd was chased off the causeway and into a boat on the road from Manama to Marakik in the run up to the Suez crisis. And throughout the 60s we saw this very wide spread movement involving both the Sunni and Shia elements of the Bahraini population demanding not a revolution as in Iran and Yemen but constitutional change as in Kuwait. The twenty five years since then have been greatly affected by what has happened in the region. It is for others to say whether the Iranian Revolution of 1979 helped or hindered the Bahraini opposition. The fact that Iran is now going through its own process and is not opposed to these changes and is playing a hands on and very reasonable role not just in Bahrain but in Oman and Saudi Arabia and Kuwait is a very helpful aspect of the change. Whether Iraq will welcome the change is another matter. I do not think they want ideas of constitutional government of any kind but their influence on Bahrain is limited. To be more specific which way can Bahrain be seen to be leading in the Gulf now? The first dimension is that of all the GCC countries it is the only one which has worked out the succession problem. None of the others have. This leads to uncertainty as can be seen in Kuwait and also in Saudi Arabia. Secondly we are seeing the establishment of some kind of legislature. Not the kind that existed in 1975 but this is an opportunity to achieve some degree of openness and this may act as a spur to the Saudis and others. Thirdly we are looking at a society where there is a Sunni and Shia population and this issue of relations between the Sunni and Shia population is one that pertains to Kuwait, to Iraq, to Saudi Arabia and in a different way Yemen and Oman. Again if Bahrain can make a go of this it will have a positive effect. Finally there are the issues of collective groups such as the workers. I would also put in a word for migrant workers. There are also the rights of women which are under challenge in Kuwait, they have constantly been challenged in Saudi Arabia. Bahrain can be a significant marker for other states. There are people around Bahrain who would like to constrain its efforts. Simon Henderson, adjunct scholar of the Washington Institute: I have to say for this audience that I am no relation to Ian Henderson who I have never met. I once tried to use this as a ruse to meet him but he didn’t bite. I am going to talk about the US attitude and I don’t think Bush knows where Bahrain is yet alone the name and the leader. I think the attitude of the US among the non Gulf powers
is the most crucial in determining the fate of Bahrain in the next few years and it could be extremely instrumental in establishing the democracy one wants to see. I am reminded of an event twenty years ago when I had lunch with a senior American diplomat who had been ambassador to Bahrain. He told me that when the time had come for him to leave Bahrain he had an audience with the emir and he took the opportunity to say what he thought. The advise he offered to the emir was that you have to get a grip on your prime minister. The American relationship with Bahrain is long-standing. It goes back to the late 40. It had nothing to do with wanting to have a base there. The US navy became a major purchaser of the refined product of the refinery. When the Defence Secretary Cohen was in Bahrain the Americans moved at that time to make sure there was a smooth transition to Sheikh Hamed. The prime minister and his son were clearly in a state of shock that the change had taken place and they had not been able to play the cards they thought they could play at that stage. Britain is not a crucial player, America is a crucial player and one which will be encouraging the development of democracy. Lord Avebury: I hope that the Americans would chip in with the help that Bahrain needs. I would say that we have a lot of contributions to make in terms of reforming the judicial system and the law. There are many things the Americans could do along similarly constructive lines. I do not think there is any competition between us and the US. Certainly the US must be the largest economic player in the region but whether you call our role a crucial one it is a partnership between us the Americans and not a rivalry. And I hope that is how it will develop. Dr Abdul Hadi Khalaf, a scholar and former Bahraini MP: Since November I had mixed feelings. When the emir announced that he had some interest in reforming the political system and mentioned this to some members of the shurah it was of course a welcome sign. As a former victim of the State Security Law I appreciate that any relaxation is good. I have to go back to an old novel by the Arab novelist Emile Habibi a member of the Israeli kenesset who wrote about being a peso-optimist. A feeling of being a pessimist when good things are happening but they are good enough reasons to be a pessimist. The situation in Bahrain has both elements. The whole thing is an emiri project. It was started by the emir, initiated by the emir and defining the parameters of everything is the emir. The emir is rumoured to believe that as his father was the founder of an independent Bahrain his son will be founder of a democratic Bahrain. This may be true or it may not be true. His father also reneged on the same points. He promised us that we would have a nation with a parliament, equality between the citizens and the freedoms that any modern state and its citizens have. In a period of two years he reneged on his promises. That was also an emir project. There are no guarantees from the emir, no formal undertakings, that this project can survive and be sustained. It can be sustained as long as it ensures the longevity of the regime, gives the regime legitimacy and popular support, something it has lacked. In drawing comparisons with the Middle East one has to go back to April 1990. The late King Hussein brought the same project with the same name: the national action charter. It was a whole package that included freeing all political prisoners, providing some relaxation in the media, allowing political exiles to return. Everything that Sheikh Hamed has done now was also done by King Hussein including meeting the opposition in the royal house and negotiating with them. The problem with King Hussein’s example is that after 11 years of the liberalisation plans in Jordan we have nothing to show for it. There is no democracy, there is no process. The people are still waiting for the dawn of democracy. But a national euphoria developed in both Bahrain and Jordan. Everybody believes that something is developing and we can expect something good out of it. Liberalisation can create its own momentum. People who really believe are easily empowered and put forward new demands and gain concessions. But the country is divided not only according to the famous Shia-Sunni dichotomy but along a number of other lines that have been exploited for the last five or six decades by the regime so well to pre-empt any form of unity among the opposition. The only reason for our success during the last ten years is that we managed to sustain a minimum level of unity. This unity might disappear. There are definite signs that such a unity can disappear because different elements are demanding different gains and putting forward different demands. If there is a snowballing of democratic demands it will be s snowballing of democratic demands in different directions. People like myself will think of labour demands, the religionists will think of moral re-armaments. We have different demands that can shatter us in different directions. Another point that disturbed me and made me more pessimistic than optimistic was the bicameral suggestion. What we will see is in fact tri-cameral. The third chamber is the Al Khalifa family council. The Al Khalifa Family Council is a formal organic entity since 1973. It is run by an executive secretariat. It is headed by an Al Khalifa with a ministerial position. This council was in existence since 1932 but the constitutional formality changed during the elections for the National Assembly in 1973. It was part of the pre-emptive moves that the regime took to undermine any disturbances or any difficulties that the parliament can create. There is nothing at all about the Al Khalifa Family Council in the charter. What disturbs me more is that none of our representatives or those who are negotiating with the emir have raised this issue. This issue has been left to the future or again to the initiative of the emir. I mentioned the euphoria. We believe that because of the approval for this charter the Bahraini National Football Team won for the first time against Kuwait. It never won. The team is miserable but it managed to win after the referendum. It was attributed by some columnists in the Bahraini press to national pride. But euphoria can also be misleading because the people do not have anything but the euphoria. Nothing has been institutionalised. And there is no promise of institutionalisation. There is of course talk about a future parliament but there are no dates. Will we be allowed to elect as one country or will we be forced to elect our representatives as social segments, those representing the Shias, those representing the hawals (?), those representing the urban Shia, the rural Shia etc. This type of fragmented representation was implemented in the National Assembly in 1973 and it was part of the problem that for most of the two years when the parliament existed we were fighting on different demands an d shattered our efforts. Lord Avebury: It is a very interesting question about the electoral system and whether you have a common list. Dr. Mansoor Al Jamri, Bahrain Freedom Movement: The points raised among the opposition forces outside and inside the country now are how long will the sweet month last? Is it a dream? What are the red lines that we must not cross so that we do not agitate the government against us? and are there any acid tests so that we can judge the seriousness of the emir? Most of the speakers have mentioned that it is an emiri initiative, a discretionary power used to distribute gratitudes. The press still speaks about makramat, that the emir has a very generous heart and he has initiated several things and therefore if you want more of these gratitudes you have to approach the emir in the appropriate manner. Up until today the appropriate manner has been a very divided one. The Shia are met separately, the Sunnis are met separately, the business people are met separately so everything is delivered piecemeal. This method is against the spirit of the statements of the emir, that Bahrain is a “one
family”. Most importantly many of the rights that have been taken away in the past few years from the Shias were given back as part of the gratitude-approach. The Shias were even banned from using microphones In the past 2-3 years. You think this is very trivial but so many people are thinking let us go down this road and ask for more gratitudes so that very slowly we can restore our rights. Some of the acid tests that are being talked about today are matters to do with transparency and accountability – how true are these statements? Accountability of whom? Are you going to hold a thief who stole ten dinars accountable while the big shots are not tackled? When you say the rule of law, what law? All the laws were enacted by emiri decrees and through the cabinet. The cabinet is a dictatorship cabinet. There was no consultation. All the laws were enacted to serve a certain minority in power. For example just today the Minister of Labour and the editorial of Al Ayyam said that there is a red line that must not be crossed by those people inside Bahrain. You must not talk about forming political parties, or political groupings. In the past two to three weeks the leftists/nationalists have come together in meetings and they are about to declare the National Democratic Grouping. The Shia Islamists are also about to declare a political grouping. They have not decided on a name but they are in the process. Bahrain was about to have at least three groupings emerging for mobilising the public in case there is any election. So today in the newspapers, they said the law of 1989 applies, it is banned, it is against the constitution, it will not be allowed to form parties or groupings. The 1989 law is a dictatorial law that nobody will allow in any democracy. It bans the formation of any NGO without the intervention of the minister, without the minister reading copies of the minutes, without the minister receiving an application for holding a meeting before that meeting is held. The minister must know the name of the speaker and the contents of everything that is going to be said. Amnesty International which ended its visit today has called for the modification or the repeal of the 1989 law; yet today it was in the press that the 1989 law governing the formation and functioning of associations will be applied to anyone who intends to form a grouping or a political party. There is another acid test, the municipality elections. There are rumours that election is going to be in April, others are saying it is going to be in September. The government seems to be intent on having the elected local council meeting in October. If that is going to be the case nobody knows what the law is. The committee which is drafting the law is a secret committee, its deliberations are secret, no body knows where it is meeting, what are the constituencies, nobody knows. Have the various opposition groups inside the country been consulted? No. Absolutely not. Are we allowed to talk about it? We are old that we have to wait and the emir is going to do the good things and all his generous gratitudes prove that he is ahead of you. So he is going to be ahead of you and next week we might find that the law has been enacted… The constituencies are being decided with public consent or participation. Even the historical names of Bahrain are being changed without any representation from the public. Jufair, a very beautiful, historic name for a quarter in the capital has been changed to “Al Fateh”, the title given to the grandfather of the ruling family. Kaebabad has been changed to “Seef”. How can you just change the names of historical areas without proper consultation? When you say that human rights will be applied: are you taking any steps to ensure that violations will not happen again. The officers who tortured people to death are still in their offices. Two days ago I had confirmation that Adell Flaifel has again threatened the same lady (Ramlah Jawad) who had been threatened before. This lady appeared on Al Jazerria on 13 February and said she has been threatened by this very person. There is a car in front of her house following her wherever she goes. This is a young lady who is in her early 20s. She has already been in jail in the past few years, and tortured severely. These officers are still in charge, they are still operating and there is no talk of a truth and reconciliation process. For transparency to be truthful, the government must allow international monitoring agencies to enter Bahrain on a regular basis. Amnesty International I sending its visit today. There is also the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention which was supposed to visit Bahrain last February. This visit has been delayed for the third time till next October. Then there is the request by Lord Avebury to visit Bahrain. Many people in Bahrain want to meet with Lord Avebury inside Bahrain so that they can thank him for what he has done and what he is doing for Bahrain and its people. Yet the government is keeping silent. We don’t know what the red lines are yet. How serious is the government. Equality before the law is not true. Somebody who goes to the embassy to apply to return may be given one statement while another person may be given another statement. Equality before the law still cannot be realised even within the environment that we are living in at the moment. So how long will it last? We don’t know. What are the red lines? We do not know. Is it a dream? Possibly. Is it a positive thing? I think it is positive for today so people are saying let’s enjoy ourselves for today and hope for the best tomorrow.
Lord Avebury: Yes I would like to visit Bahrain, I have had several invitations and I have written to the ambassador asking whether it is possible for me to visit Bahrain. And I am hoping to get a favourable answer in the future.
Recent Political Reforms in Bahrain: A Pessoptimistic View Dr. Abdulhadi Khalaf *
I In several speeches delivered shortly after ascending to the throne in March 1999, Hamad bin Isa informed 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. During most of his first two years as ruler, Hamad bin Isa’s record seemed modest and uninspiring. Some perceived him to be too weak to initiate any of the reforms needed to salvage the country from its political bottleneck. For most of the period the Amir seemed to spend his energies on consolidating his reign. To the dismay of his more hopeful opponents, all his moves have been within the confines of the ancien régime. He has concentrated on mobilizing the same external and internal resources of legitimacy that supported his father’s reign. Understandably the Amir first priority has been consolidating his position and establishing his authority within the ruling family while negotiating different bargains with its diverse factions. Similar care was directed towards cultivating the goodwill of two longstanding pillars of the al-Khalifa rule, the ‘tribals’ and the clerical establishments. Additional efforts were spent on a series of public relations exercises such as forming a human rights committee within the Shura Council. (Cf. Khalaf: 2000). II In a speech delivered to members of the Shura, early November 2000, Hamad bin Isa announced his intentions to introduce a series of measures to reform the political system. Key words 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 a national charter to elaborate the perimeters of the impending liberalisation process. When he commissioned his national charter in April 1990, the Jordanian monarch, too, was facing the consequences of a severe and chronic fiscal crisis combined with international pressure and an Islamist-dominated opposition. In both instances, the charter was presented as an integral part of a liberalisation package. The package included a general amnesty providing for 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 both instances, 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). In similarity with its Jordanian mirror image, the Bahraini Charter, mithaq al-amal al-watani, is a serious attempt to reassert the legitimacy of the ruling family through conceding to opposition demands for reinstating the constitution and for curbing the excesses of the security services. Authors of both charters defined the state as a constitutional monarchy where government decisions are subject to the approval of a freely elected parliament. The latter’s decisions are balanced and moderated by an appointed consultative council. The Bahraini Charter created nearly the same confusion that perplexed the Jordanians a decade earlier, with regard to its juridical and political status, its relationship to constitution and, particularly, which one of the documents would take precedence (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? More alarming, perhaps, is the observation that 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. Worthy of note 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. During the first half of February, Hamad bin Isa seemed to make best use of his skills as an astute tactician to reassure his interlocutors and their increasingly apprehensive constituencies. He even abandoned the already announced parley of ‘some 2000 people of all walks of life and representatives of civil society’ that, in the Jordanian style, would ceremoniously adopt the Charter. On the eve the plebiscite on 14-15 February, 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 nearly unanimous approval. Many, otherwise sober, opposition voices started speculating whether ‘ the era of democracy in Bahrain has finally dawned’. No one cared to listen to the few sceptics or to the warnings of the ‘grand scheme of deceit’ shouted by remnants of radical networks within Bahraini opposition. In varying level 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 reached its peak on the eve of the plebiscite. Among additional measure that 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. 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% of the votes in his favour. 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 punishes and coerces, whereas the latter achieves its objectives though civil means. In spite of the persisting national euphoria, the Charter is, by design, a confusing document. Its imprecise 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). III Has Bahrain taken its first steps towards political liberalisation, or, if you wish, liberalising transition? (Not to mention the more ambitious labels such as democratisation and democratic transition). Several reasons are tinting my response with pessoptimism. Commenting on ‘experiments of controlled liberalization’ in the Arab world at
the beginning of last decade, Kr?mer (1992:22) notes that they are ‘notable for the absence of what are commonly regarded as basic socioeconomic, 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. Being largely an Amiri initiative, through a series of makramas, liberalisation in Bahrain remains an Amiri prerogative. 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 their turn, the Amiri options, however, are 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 most of the past three decades. Two additional 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, thus, assuring stability in the country. The second is formed by the extent to which the regime and its loyal opposition manage a smooth the movement towards codification and implementation of the National Action Charter and the reinstatement of commitment to constitutionality. A long history of patron-client politics could 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 changes 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 guards are 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’ as things, from their perspective, seem to get out of hand. A consequent pessoptimist needs to look no farther than at Jordan itself. In spite of eleven years of ‘pre-emptive liberalisation’, the era of democracy has not yet dawned on Jordan. ‘Corrective moves’ launched by disgruntled members of the old guard are not the only threats to a project of controlled liberalisation, such as the Amir is attempting to launch in Bahrain. A set of threats could evolve from unpredictable consequences of the ‘snowballing of democratic demands’. (Robinson, 1998:390). In this connection, one cannot overstate the threat of the unpredictable and uncontrollable radical flanks within the opposition and within the regime itself. 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 the pre-empting 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 shattering the remaining facets of 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 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. ______________________ 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. Abdulhadi Khalaf (2000), ‘The New Amir of Bahrain: Marching Sideways’, Civil Society, Volume 9, Issue 100. Gudrun Kr?mer, (1992), ‘Liberalization and Democracy in the Arab World’, Middle East Report, January-February 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. *Abdulhadi Khalaf, PhD in Sociology from University of Lund, Sweden, where he currently teaches Sociology of Development. His extra academic career includes a short spell as an elected member Bahraini parliament (1973-74); and two short spells (1974-5 and 1976) as a prisoner of conscience.
Mar 14, 2001 (M2 PRESSWIRE via COMTEX) — At the conclusion of a mission to Bahrain, Amnesty International said today it was privileged to visit the country during a truly historic period for human rights. The last two months have seen extraordinary developments in the human rights field, including the release of all political prisoners and detainees, the abolition of the 1974 decree on State Security measures and the State Security Court, and the return from the exile of many Bahraini citizens after years in forced exile abroad. Just a few weeks ago the people of Bahrain voted overwhelmingly in favour of the national Charter, referred by the Amir to population referendum. “The challenge now facing the government and the people of Bahrain is how to translate the human rights principles contained in the national Charter into every day practice”, Amnesty international said. Led by law Professor Bartam Brown, and including June Ray and Dr. Said Boumedouha, Director and Researcher , respectively, at Amnesty International’s Middle East Program, the delegation has held four days of meetings with officials and members of civil society. They participated in talks with His Highness the Amir, Saikh Hamad bin ISSA Al Khalifa, the Crown Prince Shaikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, and with Ministers and high ranking officials in the Ministries of Interior, Justice, Labour and Social affairs, Foreign Affairs and Education, as well as the Human Rights Committee of Majlis al Shura (Consultative Council). The delegation also met with Bahraini associations, including journalists, lawyers, women, workers and the newly formed human rights society.In addition, the delegates held meetings with the released prisoners of conscience and some of those who recently returned to the country after years of forcible exile abroad. All of them expressed great enthusiasm for the on-going human rights reforms. “This process of reform will only be complete when the current laws of Bahrain are reformed and implemented to fully reflect internationally accepted standards for human rights, in order to ensure these rights for the future”, Amnesty international said. Amnesty International discussed future cooperation in human rights education as well as promotion and training with the government and associations. ” Legislative changes are needed now in this delicate phase of transition”, said Professor Brown, ” We have suggested to the government of Bahrain some of the legal provisions which should be prioritized as being in urgent need of review to bring Bahrain’s legislation into compliance with human rights standards”. These include the criminal procedure code, provisions of the Penal Code and the 1989 law on non-governmental associations. “In the coming period world attention will focus on Bahrain’s moves to give substance to the human rights principles contained in the National Charter and set an example in establishing a culture of human rights in the region”, Professor Brown concluded. You may repost this message onto other sources provided the main text is not altered in any way and both the header crediting Amnesty International and this footer remain intact. Only the list subscription message may be removed.
Seminar on Bahrain (13 March 2001) “Intervention by Roger Hardy” Questions & Answers QUESTIONS: ========= (1) The change did not come in a void. Can you provide some background? (2) Will discussion of the Gulf and Bahrain in the BBC be more open in the light of the developments in Bahrain? (3) You have generalised about the problems of the GCC but they do not all face the same problems. The main problem in Bahrain during the past 25 years has been the total breakdown of trust between the government and the people along with a communication problem. The fact that an arrested person could be held for three years without trial generated a climate of fear. But now the emir has tackled these issues and the people are now looking towards the future rather than the past. Can you comment? (4) Can you discuss the relationship between the appointed and elected chambers? The people will not elect a powerless assembly. (5) Is there still a need for an opposition overseas? (6) Why do we still have the mechanisms and structures of the torture apparatus? Can the people feel safe? (7) The changes in Bahrain are similar to those in Latin America and Eastern European regimes. They depend on the politics of retreat by despotic regimes. The instigators of these changes do not last long as in the case of Gorbachev. They do the job and they are humiliated or end their lives powerless. Can you comment on this in the light of the experiences in Bahrain? (8) I am hopeful for the future of Bahrain, it has a flexible opposition and a sincere emir but can things still go backwards? But less than 50 years ago the people had hope in Nasser and they had some degree of self respect. They also had hope in the leaders of other states who instigated coups. But it all went wrong in terms of the democratic experiment and respect for human rights? How do you see the future of Bahrain? (9) If democracy is delivered by 2004 will the scrutiny of the international community regarding human rights fade away? (10) Abdel Wahab Al Affendi: I think probably the most important and the most unexpected develops in Bahrain have been unsettling and unpredictable. If I was asked a few months ago what is the last Arab country to democratise I would say Bahrain in terms of the systems described. In this regard this might have very important implications for Middle East countries. No one has resisted the opposition in Bahrain which has been very vocal and very intractable. The emir has backed the initiatives 100 percent. If this trend is sustained it is going to have very far reaching consequences for the Arab Gulf. ANSWERS: ======== Dr John Peterson: First of all I want to emphasize that when I said the verdict was out I do not know what is in the emir’s mind, I do not know what he will do or whether he will be able to carry out the reforms. I don’t mean this as an indictment. All I am saying is that we do not know. So far we have encouraging noises, we have the lifting of measures of legal restraint, the exiles have returned and this is very encouraging no matter what the circumstances. And we have promises of substantial changes which will occur. Perhaps these are the first of a number of things that are the way. My point is that judging the situation now it is a matter of promises rather than accomplishments. That is not to say that things are not going to happen. The one thing I did not touch upon in my prepared remarks was that Bahrain is not in a vacuum. What’s happening in Bahrain is not totally divorced from what is happening elsewhere in the Gulf. It is more acute in Bahrain but there is political and economic liberalization in the region and changes are occurring. They may not be very apparent in many places, they may not be substantial but important changes are occurring. What is happening in Bahrain is parallel in some ways similar to what is happening in Qatar not because he has had a vocal and sometimes violent opposition but because he is a new ruler and a new generation. These are the winds of change and you either go along with it or you suffer the consequences. After the events of January, February in Bahrain, the emir of Qatar said that parliament is on its way and you will have it within 18 months. So who is pushing who and for what reasons? I think that a lot of what has happened in Bahrain is because Bahrain is close to Kuwait. The National Assembly in Kuwait is not the freest legislature in the world, it is not the most effective, there are problems in terms of the confrontation between the government and the legislature. We will have to see who is doing what in Bahrain and what they will do in the future. What will happen to the old guards, the security apparatus etc. I think the short and simple answer is that if there is going to be a reconciliation in Bahrain it should be along the lines of South Africa through the Reconciliation Commission. We do not take revenge on people no matter what they did because it does not bring the system together in terms of progress. The point about Bahrain being surrounded by dictatorships. It is not really true. Things are starting to change throughout the region even in Saudi Arabia which is perhaps the slowest to change because the Saudis today are concerned with globalisation and membership of the WTO. If you make true economic reforms you have to make political changes but the Saudi establishment is resisting that but they are coming around to making some sort of adjustments. With respect to Bahrain being the last country where you would expect to see democratic change. It is true. I return to my earlier point of waiting to see what the verdict will be on the emir. So far it has been a one man show. But he is promising things and he is doing things. We must remember that Bahrain is not just one person. The same is true of elsewhere in the Gulf, it is not just the emirs with an average of 66. It is not just these individuals . They are very important in their countries but there is an entire establishment, senior members of the ruling families, younger members of the ruling families, the economic elites who also have younger generations and the hungrier and more liberal members. If true democracy appears in Bahrain respect for human rights will increase. The point of the politics of dismantling is interesting. I need to argue the cause of particularism because the situation is different in the Gulf, not because politics is different but because the systems are different. Be it in Bahrain or the other GCC states the demands of the opposition and the majority of the population are not going to change persistently. The basis of the social contract between the rulers, the families and the people will be restored to its pure basis. Whether the abuses by the ruling families should cease along with the abuses by economic elites, whether corruption should cease, these are the real issues not that they should no longer be monarchies or that the social basis of societies would change. Roger Hardy: Saudi- Iranian rapprochement, does it have an impact on political change in Bahrain or the other GCC states. It helps. This is not an answer that takes you very far but it certainly helps by creating a climate which is the removal of a negative rather than the arrival of a positive. But it is not one of the big determining factors. Regarding coverage by the BBC. A fantastic change has occurred in Bahrain. I can go to Kuwait and Bahrain. I can get whatever piece of paper I need within 24 hours. Bahrain, technically speaking does not require a visa but in the past journalists were encouraged to give prior notice in the past. For Kuwait I can get a visa within 48 hours by sending a fax. I wish that were true of all the other states further down the Gulf and the one inland. I am sure you know the one I mean. The coverage of the BBC and everyone else is affected by access in the fullest sense. What has changed with Bahrain we can pick up the phone and the people at the other end want to speak. The BBC’s Arabic or English service is not going to have the roof falling on its head because it interviewed Mr X. And above all the
roof is not going to fall on the head of Mr X or Mr Y, which is also one of our concerns. Regarding the big generalisations there are very real contradictions between saying these states are different and then saying we can identify similar issues. If a ruler dies in one place but the context is different and this affects the dynamics. John Kearne’s point is a fascinating one and a huge one. A specific response and a more general response. There are no Gorby figures in the Middle East. It is almost a dirty word to these rulers. If you really want to attack someone ask them do you want to bring down the roof on all our heads. In the Arabian case they fear the ruler who tries to reform the system may bring down the system. We still use the terms of the Gorbachev era: glasnost. They are still useful terms. He started a process and we know what the result was and even Yeltsin and Putin have regrets because life has become more complicated. Of course they do not want to be see defending those dictatorship but life would have been simpler for all sorts of people if the system had proved to be reformable without the problems. The more general point is what can one draw from your very thoughtful point about the Arab world. I am just about old enough to remember that there was a culture of you say retreat, I say defeat, or words close enough. It was in 1967. I was just about to go to university and I got interested in the Middle East. It was an Arab world totally overshadowed by the events of 1967 when Israel walked all over the Arabs. It produced fantastic poetry. If produced a poetry of defeat. Allegoies for the Jews. Footnotes in the book of defeat. I am not saying defeat is great, we can learn from defeat. They are heart wrenching attempts to analyse what is wrong with us.Nazar Qabani compared what the Israelis did with the way the Arabs treat their women folk. This was not totally unconnected in his mind. Unless we get our social act together we can’t face up to anyone. I would call it a cultural defeat, partly because the Arabs are so much in love with their language. I don’t think there is any appetite for a cultural defeat. Defeat and retreat are forbidden words. In politics we may say this is always so. Gorbachev never said I am the guy who is going to destroy the system. I do not think there are leaders or political systems who are willing to seek, yet alone find a mechanism for retreat. You described retreating from the old ways. Abdul Wahab muttered think of Sadat. Sadat had reconsidered this. He never would have said it but he had a programme for defeat or retreat. That’s what it was. The peace process for Egypt, or Jordan or Syria or for anyone who signs a peace treaty with Israel is virtually accepting retreat. They say we will get American money of course politicians accentuate this. Virtually every Arab knows what it means to sign. You sign because you must sign. I can’t envisage any system which will seek for transitional figures of the kind you mention or seek to cultivate a political system or a political culture where they will arrive. I think that the figures we have been talking about tonight are not necessarily transitional figures. Their reform programmes may work. They may half work, or one quarter work which would not be so good. Or they may crumble into dust and this will have consequences. I think that is the difference. It is a very interesting area and I don’t think I can do justice to it. I would like to make two final points. Regarding the future we may say that new rulers are nothing new. I do not differ on this. There are new rulers because someone died. I have hopes and expectations but I do not think it is my business professionally to project my hopes on the situation. You and I both think that the fact that we have new rulers does not by itself mean a thing. Abdul Wahab El-Affendi said that the effect of Bahrain is unsettling. It is. Thank you.
Seminar on Bahrain (13 March 2001) Project on Democracy in the Muslim World, University of Westminster Intervention by Roger Hardy (BBC World Service Correspondent and Expert on Islam & the Middle East) It is a common mistake for people to think that all the GCC countries are the same. They all have monarchies and the countries on the Arab side of the Gulf are the same. There are all sorts of similarities. They have ruling families who have been there for 200 or 300 years. So in many ways the GCC states are similar. But the political context and their social context as well differs greatly from one to the other. And this particularly the case with Bahrain. So my introductory point is to remind some of you who will know this much better than I do, and will perhaps tell others who are less familiar with the country. Do not forget that Bahrain has a distinct history and a distinct social profile. This was the first place on the Arabian peninsula where oil was discovered during the 1930s, even before it was discovered it Saudi Arabia. When oil was found in Bahrain it was so close to Saudi Arabia that the specialists started to sniff oil in Saudi Arabia. So Bahrain was a kind of precursor as far as oil was concerned. But the important thing, and this is the point I am trying to make, is that from the 30s oil was used in Bahrain to develop the small island state. Bahrain is socially advanced. So is Kuwait. Those two states started to modernise at roughly the same time long before the others. I would say they are light years ahead of most of the GCC states. I do not want to dwell on this but the first cinema on the Arabian Peninsual was opened in Bahrain during the 1930s. The first newspaper was opened in Bahrain not many years after that. And important in a very different Bahrain has an indigenous working class and not an important one. There is a tradition of work in Bahrain and also a tradition of having a trade union movement. Look back if you do not know the history. I have been re-reading Rosemary Zarhan’s book The History of the Arab Gulf States which provides you with a very succinct and a very accurate introduction to the countries. There were strikes, sometimes large scale strikes, sometimes successful and sometimes not successful. The point seems to me this in the context of the very remarkable events which have taken place in the last couple of months that Bahrainis are not claiming their political rights – they are reclaiming them. They are looking for the missing link with their political heritage. A link which has not been there which has been broken and has remained broken since 1975, when Bahrain’s first experiment with parliamentary democracy was cut short and the national assembly was dissolved. This seems to me important because the whole image of the Arabian Peninsula is one of social backwardness and a lack of political consciousness. There is a view that there are no politics outside the ruling families. We may say that the ruling families are politically in a very special position and hold the reigns of power. I would not deny this is the case. But I would not say that there have been no recognisable public politics or for that matter no civil society. There have been all sorts of political problems and civil society has found it extremely difficult to establish roots but this does not mean it does not exist. Having made that opening point I want to slightly broaden the issue here and I hope Dr Abdul Wahab El-Affendi will forgive me for doing this. The title of the seminar talks about the implications of what is happening in Bahrain for the Gulf. I actually want to broaden that a little and talk about the implications for the Middle East or specifically I want to talk about the young Arab rulers who seem to be popping up throughout the Arab region. Therefore in a way, and this is very much a journalists method, not a scholars method, to suggest a comparative approach. The winds of change are blowing in Bahrain and Morocco and not so far away in Qatar and somewhere in between in Syria and Jordan. Young rulers have taken over in the past two years. You can never find out how old the Gulf rulers really are. Sheikh Zayed the oldest of them says he does not know. Let us assume he is 83. King Fahd perhaps 78 or 79. The rest are a bit younger, Sultan Qabbos 60, Sheikh Jaber 72. I did a quick internet search, that is a very fallible way of doing research but I wanted a rough and ready figure. When I wrote a little pamphlet for Chatam House nine years ago the average age was 63. So in my naivety I thought it was now 66. However there is a point worth making here. If you take away the two older statesmen and look at the rulers of Qatar and Bahrain they are the two youngest rulers of the GCC states. My broader point is that new young rulers are popping up in different corners of the Middle East. What does this mean? If we draw lessons from other places do they tell us anything useful about Bahrain and does the experience of Bahrain tell us anything useful about other countries? Just of remind you within the last two years Sheikh Hamed came to power in March 1999, King Abdullah had already become the new king of Jordan, King Mohammed became the king of Morocco succeeding his father in the summer of 1999. Perhaps the most interesting of all because he is not a king Dr Bashar succeeded his father provoking my jokes somewhat in poor taste about the hereditary nature of republics in this part of the world. They were made in poor taste because I had not heard anyone who made these jokes regret the outcome. Did they want a power struggle? Did they not want Bashar to follow in the footsteps of his father? The Syrians wanted to see change in their country but I think, or at least everybody I have spoken too, was mightily relieved that the son replaced the father. It is some stability and continuity. So hereditary republic or not my sense that people inside the Middle East and outside in Western capitals judge these things according to the capabilities of the new man and they don’t really care too much about his relationship in genealogical terms he has succeeded. Four new rulers in four not unimportant countries in the region known as the Middle East within the space of two years. It gave all of us the sense that an old guard was beginning to leave the scene and on the other that new blood was arriving and at least speaking a new language. And of course the populations of these countries have a very strong interest in discovering whether this new language would be matched by new realities. I guess I know the Syrian case a little better than the others so you will hear me referring to Dr Bashar. I do not mean to imply that the other countries are not important. Many of the phenomena I want to refer to apply to most of the countries I am going to mention. I have picked out five factors. For those of you sitting here in the Centre for Democracy this is your bread and butter, these are phrases that you scholarly types bandy about when talking about Latin America, the socialist movement in France, the emancipation of women in Mongolia. There are four obvious ones and one less obvious one. I think we can use as obvious litmus tests both intention and delivery. They rulers want to introduce change and reform and the test comes as to whether they can actually deliver. First comes the freedom of speech, what I call the loosening of tongues, secondly what I call the loosening up of civil society and all that that implies. At the beginning at least the blossoming of NGOs, and incidentally of all political persuasions. In the Syrian case the discussion forums that sprung up with extraordinary speed to discuss change since the death of Assad. Third a greater openess about human rights in some cases matched by the actual release of prisoners and in Bahraini case the opening of a human rights organisation, something none of us would have predicted. And last but not least economic reform or at least talk of economic reform. Those are the four obvious ones but I would add another one and I want to take it first because it is a factor of a
different kind: the arrival of a new generation which can be referred to as the biological factor. All the other things can be discussed under the existing regimes. It does not require the arrival of new boys on the block for everyone to start talking about these new things. However in the Arab case the arrival of all these factors does appear to be linked at least in a chronological sequence with the arrival of a new generation. Why? I think for fairly obvious reasons but we need to ask ourselves whether these reasons are actually genuine or really rather superficial. I will focus on political reform. It would be great to talk about economic reform in Bahrain or in other parts of the region but it would probably require another seminar. But we should not forget what John Peterson reminded us of: that Bahrain is the poorest of the GCC states and part of the promise of Sheikh Hamid is the economic promise. I do not believe that political promises will be enough to satisfy a newly awakened population if the economic reality remains exactly the same. That is to say pretty bad. That is all I am going to say about economic reform. I simply put it on the table. Now to go to the other four points which I have listed. It is interesting that each of these leaders has sought to encourage the loosening of tongues. We have seen that there is a great burst of freedom of speech, freedom of the media, freedom to set up discussion groups as in the case of Syria. Similarly these newly arrived have wished to at least imply an opening up of civil society. Again we saw the desire to have genuine NGO’s. And let me just remind you that it is extremely difficult to have genuine NGOs in countries where you do not have the rule of law. You have the shop window of an NGO but if that NGO does not have the protection of the legal system and is not independent of the state, it is not genuine. It is not really civil society, it is the desire and aspiration for civil society. No rule of law, the civil society, not in the real sense of the word. The same thing applies to greater openness about human rights. These are all examples of a change of climate, of a change of style in other words. Words that were really taboo, that were not on the list are now being spoken of. However, and some of you will have been waiting for the however, if we see that these phenomena have existed in Bahrain (and in Syria and Jordan during the last two years) what is the real durability of all of this, set against the five factors which I outlined. Let me just tick off the old realities. At what point do we see these new Arab rulers starting to think twice. I have let the cat out of the bag but what can I do now. Can I at least stuff part of the cat back into the bag? At what point do we see this happening.
Secondly we have to look at the vested interests in these countries and simply ask whether it is realistic to expect either the rulers or elites, the people with the real levers of power, the merchants and the newspapers editors, clustering around and having an interest in the maintenance of the system as it is. It is okay to give the system a new face but not if it means endangering vested interests.
KUWAIT, March 13 (Reuters) – Kuwait’s emir has ordered the release of a Bahraini .. opposition activist held in the Gulf Arab state for more than 18 months, the Interior Ministry said on Tuesday. The ministry said in a statement carried by the official KUNA news agency that the emir, Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah, had pardoned Bahraini national Adel Jassem al-Haiky and ordered his release. Bahraini opposition activists say Haiky was serving a three-year sentence in Kuwait on charges of taking part in anti-Bahraini government activities. Bahrain’s prime minister, Sheikh Khalifa bin Sulman al-Khalifa, pledged in February during talks with Bahraini opposition members to personally intervene to free Haiky.
The Emir of Bahrain, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, has pardoned more than 900 political prisoners and exiles as part of landmark political reforms launched since he took power after the death of his father in 1999
Bahrain: Calls for continuation of reforms The Kuwaiti MP, Mr. Abdul Mohsin Jamal, who is also the rapporteur of foreign affairs committee in the Kuwaiti parliament and head of the human rights committee, called on the Kuwaiti government to release the four Bahraini citizens who are still languishing in Kuwaiti jails accused of distributing pamphlets calling for constitutional rights in Bahrain. They were given three years imprisonment and at least one of them has spent one and half years, as part of his sentence. Mr. Jamal said that this would be the best gift for the people of Bahrain on the occasion of their political reforms. The Gulf States Newsletter said in its edition of 5 March that the reforms announced by the Amir were “quite remarkable and totally unexpected.” The newsletter reiterated the call of the opposition that the new reforms would be incomplete if the old guards were to remain in the their places. The delegation of Amnesty International starting their assessment visit on 10 March and have up until now met with many people inside Bahrain. They were prevented during their previous visit from meeting representatives of civil society. During their current visit, they have met with some of the prisoners who had recently been released and held talks with senior figures in Bahrain society. The International Count of Justice in the Hague is expected to issue its verdict on the Bahrain -Qatar border dispute on 16 March. It is expected that the court would confirm the status quo, that is Bahrain retains control on Hawar. However, it is not yet clear how the marine boundaries would be decided. Bahrain might be asked to relinquish some of the marine areas for Qatar. The court decision is however a guarded secret. Dr. Abdelwahab El-Affendi, Director of the Project on Democracy in the Muslim World, University of Westminster will be organizing a seminar on Bahrain with the main speaker Mr. Roger Hardy, Journalist and Specialist on Islam & the Middle East, discussing the recent changes in Bahrain. The seminar will be taking place on Tuesday 13 March, 6.30 pm, at 100 Park Village East, London NW1 Nearest Underground Station: Mornington Crescent Lord Avebury, the Vice-Chair of Parliamentary Human Rights Group will be organizing the main conference on Bahrain under the title “Bahrain’s Reforms: The Next Steps”. Speakers will include Dr John Peterson, Fellow, International Institute for Strategic Studies, London; Prof Fred Halliday, London School of Economics, London; Mr. Simon Henderson, adjunct scholar of The Washington Institute; Dr. Abdul Hadi Khalaf, a scholar and former Bahraini MP; Mr. Jeremy Corbyn, MP and member of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group and Dr. Mansoor Al Jamri, of the Bahrain Freedom Movement. The conference will be held on Wednesday 14 March at 12.00 pm. At 1 Abbey Gardens (Annex to the House of Lords, by the Car Park opposite the House of Parliament),London SW1. Nearest underground: Westminster Bahrain Freedom Movement 12 March 2001
Tel/Fax: +44 207 278 9089
10 March 2001 MANAMA, Bahrain (AP)
Amnesty International hopes to meet with former political prisoners and exiles who have been returning to this Gulf island nation since an amnesty and pledges of democratic reform, a spokesman said Saturday. Kamal Samari said a five-day visit led by Chicago University law professor Bart Brown also would include discussions with senior Bahraini officials. Amnesty, which last visited in June — 12 years after being barred from Bahrain — also would urge ratification of international human rights treaties, he said. The delegation arrived Friday night. “We are hoping to talk more in depth with members of the civil society, and senior officials,” Samari said in a telephone interview from London, where Amnesty is based. “Bahrain recently has taken some very positive steps and we want to assist in promoting and protecting such positive and encouraging development.”
Last month, Bahrainis overwhelmingly approved a national referendum that would set up an elected parliament in the emirate. Reinstatement of parliament, which was dissolved in 1975, was a key demand of Shiite Muslims whose violent uprising for more rights in the mid-1990s was quashed by the government. Among the reforms are plans to abolish a security law allowing detention without trial that had been used extensively in the government crackdown. Bahrain also recently allowed establishment of the first independent Bahraini human rights society, which says its mission is to increase human rights awareness and investigate individual cases of abuse.
“Bahrain: A promising future?” A transcript of a lecture delivered to the Gulf Cultural Club By Dr Ala’a Al-Yousuf, a Bahraini political activist and economist On March 8th, 2001 Ladies and Gentleman: Let us start with a summary of the news from Reuters & other news agencies: 1st October, 2000: Jewish council member loyal only to Bahrain; 3rd October, Bahrain’s emir promises new political era; 13th October, the WTO (World Trade Organisation) says Bahrain needs fast reform to boost growth; 1st November, Annan leaves next week for Geneva, Bahrain and Qatar; 5th November, Bahrain projects $833m deficit for 2001-2002; 6th November, Bahraini emir says he won’t attend Organisation of Islamic Conference Summit in Qatar; 7th November, Bahrain arrests university lecturer; 11th November, UN Secretary General arrives in Bahrain for talks; 15th November, Bahrain allocates 106 million more for 1999 – 2000 budget. A bit of elaboration on that – it is normally to cover development projects and so on including public sector wage increases; 23rd November Bahrain plans national charter as part of reforms; 14th December, Bahrain body proposes two parliament chamber (The item says a newly appointed Bahraini committee has recommended the setting up of two parliamentary chambers, including an elected one in the Gulf Arab state; 20th December, Bahrain allocates $80m more for 1999-2000 budget; (and here again it is about a one month salary grant to government employees); 24th December, Bahrain plans to put national charter to referendum; 26th December, Bahrain commutes death penalty for three Bahrainis (these are Bahrainis who had been sentenced to death for an attack on a restaurant that killed several people; 23rd January, Bahrain sets referendum date on national charter; (the date was going to be 14th & 15th February); 24th January, Bahrain eases restrictions on opposition leader (a reference to Mansour’s father, Sheikh Al-Jamri); 4th February, Bahrain conference urges yes vote for charter; 5th February, Bahraini emir pardons security detainees and exiles (this is the amnesty); 8th February, Amnesty welcomes Bahraini pardon of detainees; 8th February: The BFM calls for a “no” vote to the charter. Amir meets opposition leaders inside Bahrain. The latter contact the BFM following clarifiction of some key issues. 10th February: The BFM freezes its call. Opposition figures inside Bahrain declare their support to the charter following the meeting with the Amir on 8 February. 14-15 February, Bahrainis cast their votes; Bahraini women participate for the first time. 16th February: Results of referendum: 98.6% vote yes for the national charter. 18 February, Bahrain drops emergency laws ( the state security law and the state security court); 19th February, Bahrain opposition backs landmark reforms; 20th February, Bahrain to give citizenship to over 1,000 people; 22nd February, Bahrain says about 15,000 people seek citizenship; 28th February, exiles return to heroes welcome in Bahrain (a reference to the return of Abdul Nabi Al-Ekri and Abdel Rahman Nuamin after several decades in exile). 8 March: Two senior opposition figures (Sheikh Isa Qassim and Sheikh Abdul Nabi Ali) return to a heros’ welcome in Bahrain And finally 8th March, World Court to rule on Bahrain-Qatar row and the deadline has been set for Friday a week tomorrow, 16 February. This has been a whirl wind tour of the news headlines about Bahrain in a matter of five months. These have been a momentous five months by any measure. I selected these headlines because they are in my view related. There are three ingredients: the political reforms, the conflict with Qatar and the economic challenges. In my view they are related. By way of background as you all know, the suspension of the constitution, the abolition of the National Assembly and all the other measures that took place in the early 70s had forced many Bahrainis to stand in opposition to their government. And because of the legal and political system such opposition had to be outside the legal-constitutional framework, theoretically. Over the years and decades many people, organisations and individuals have expressed solidarity with the people of Bahrain and sympathy for their cause. Various bodies have supported the Bahraini people’s demands for the respect of human rights and civil liberties. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have added their voice and campaigned along with many brave and selfless individuals. So it has been a very long struggle. But I would characterise it as being a level-headed, enlightened and reasonable one. The demands were not outrageous and even the government was hard put to argue against them. After all we were demanding the restoration of a constitution which the government itself had adopted for a short period of time. So ours were not revolutionary demands, yet it has taken two and a half decades or more. Now what has changed? Why this dramatic turn of events? One can only speculate and the historians and analysts among you will be looking back on this period and trying to piece together the different bits of evidence to try to work out cause and effect. It will be a very hard task because many of the events were taking place behind the scenes and were not necessarily revealed in chronological order. Let me add my own towpence worth. Let me bring in the dispute with Qatar. I will put it to you that it had some bearing on the turn of events. Qatar took the dispute to the International Court of Justice. This irritated Bahrain and also upset the neighbours simply because it was not the way things have always been done. The dispute kept bubbling on and tensions surfaced every now and then. Then there were very important, but perhaps neglected, developments in Qatar itself. In early 1999 there were municipal elections in which men and women voted and stood for elections. Women were given equal rights and men were given their rights for the first time. We are talking about Qatar a country with a much smaller population than Bahrain with a more recent record of primary education yet alone higher education than Bahrain and for many many years Bahrain used to look down on Qatar and the Qataris as being backward and uneducated. But the municipal elections were a very important event. Then the emir set up the constituent assembly in July of 1999 to draft the constitution and to report within three years. The committee was given maximum latitude: it was asked to think the unthinkable and propose radical changes. The committee of the constituent assembly is supposed to report by July next year and already the emir has publicaly declared just a few days ago (earlier this week or perhaps at the end of last week) that the country would have a constitution by July of next year and that there would be an elected parliament and that he would cede some of his powers to that parliament. These are very important developments which were not achieved by agitation, demonstrations, torture or violence. They came from an enlightened, young leader, who used to be described as brash and arrogant and so on. But that was a different matter. Let us not forget the role of the media, the Internet and Al Jazeera. What a thorn it has been in the side of the enemies of democracy and human rights. Now while all this was happening in Qatar what was happening in Bahrain? More of the same old repression and denial of rights, stagnation on all fronts, political and economic. As you know governments are there to steer the country on a daily basis. Every budget, every year has to tinker with the tax law, with this, that and the other. Every legislative session of any parliament has to review laws, change this, change that. Bahrain was in a very long slumber. Let me move on to the economic factors. Let us look at the economic developments in Bahrain in very broad strokes. Look at the budget. I would characterise it as non comprehensive and non transparent. And this is putting it charitably. Non comprehensive because there are a lot of extra budgetary transactions, revenues and
expenditures and the government knows this and does not deny it. Bahrain’s production of crude oil consists of two distinct sources. About 40,000 bpd come out of the Dokhan field, a aging on-shore field. The bulk ie 140,000 bpd come from the Abu Safa field which is offshore and straddles the maritime border between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. In 1996 Saudi Arabia ceded to Bahrain the entire output. In the past they used to share it half and half and then the ratio changed more in favour of Bahrain. But in 1996 Saudi Arabia saw reason to be pitiful and charitable and ceded the entire production to Bahrain. But that amount is not in the budget. It goes in extra budgetary funds from which extra budgetary expenditures are financed. This needs to change. Bahrain needs to have a proper budgeting system that is comprehensive, and transparent. Transparency implies accountability and that hopefully leads to good governance. These are catch phrases these days. In any dialogue, in any development forum you would hear these phrases. Representatives of governments glibly throw these terms at each other. We need to see implementation. Transparency, accountability and good governance cannot take place in the absence of an elected and empowered assembly. Now this is a two-edged sword. You can have accountability, transparency and good governance and parliaments that quiz ministers and bring them to account and get good results. Or you can get log jams and paralysis. Witness what is going on in Kuwait. Nevertheless, despite the obstacles that Kuwait is going through at the moment, in the long run it is better for Kuwait, better for its constitution, better for its people. Now since Bahrain’s elected national assembly was largely modeled on the Kuwaiti mode, very similar to it, expect to see the same confrontation. After all this was the reason, ostensibly, for abolishing it in 1975. But hopefully, when we have an elected assembly we will also have some constitutional amendments that would improve the relationship between the elected assembly and the government and to avoid the pitfalls that Kuwait is going through at the moment. That is not an argument for not having an elected assembly. Democracy might be a terrible thing, it might be the worse form of government but it is probably the least of all the evils when you consider what else you can have. Apart from the budgetary issues Bahrain suffers from deep-rooted structural problems. It is not unique in having them but it has not been addressing them for two and a half decades. Most importantly among them are labour market segregation and impediments. The labour market in Bahrain consists of a large number of immigrants as well as nationals. They are not treated equally, there is an awful lot of abuse going on and Bahrain is not unique in this. It might not even be the worse. Foreign workers need their rights, they need to be protected, abuse must not be allowed to continue. But abuse and the denial of labour rights is not confined to the immigrant workers. Bahraini workers are also denied that right. Yes, there is a Joint Council of Workers and Employers but it is not enough. Labour laws need to change. Trade unions need to be allowed to be established. Job centers need to be set up to improve the functioning of the labour market. All forms of discrimination need to be made illegal and punishable. Discrimination according to creed, sect, gender. Until then the labour market problems will persist. Until Bahrain addresses the problem of imported labour in concert with its fellow members in the GCC not much progress can be expected. This is after all a Gulf problem and one member of the GCC will be waiting for the others to take action. This is a classic case of a co-ordination problem. If the GCC can do anything to help its member states than it would be this, to have sensible labour and immigration laws and sensible working conditions so that Bahrain cannot make the argument or the excuse that tightening labour laws would export jobs to Dubai or elsewhere. Everyone has been arguing the same thing. This is a race to the bottom. So I would like to see a lot of progress on this front. Bahrain, like the other Gulf states has a fast-growing population and the labour market is not coping. Unemployment is rising. But the unemployment is not just about numbers. It is about the mismatch of skills. The skills required in the job market are not being produced by Bahrain’s schools, university or training institutions. The government needs to tackle this forthwith. The education system needs a shake-up from the roots from primary school onwards. Large class sizes need to come down. I am talking about Bahrain, not the UK, even though the debate is the same. Teachers must be remunerated better. Moving up the education ladder the university needs to be run strictly on meritocratic lines: no favouratism, no discrimination, no political interference. The best and the brightest are leaving in droves, students as well as faculty members. The arrest of one of the lecturers was an indictment of the way the government used to treat students and lecturers alike. So that is something else for the government to tackle. They need to beef up their training programmes. We need to catch up with the modern age. Information technology. It is not that these skills are not needed in Bahrain, they are needed in Bahrain and some of the brightest Bahrainis are working abroad in fields as complex as animation, computers. They could be working in Bahrain if the market was conducive. Bahrain has growing development needs. The infrastructure needs to be updated. For many years the development agenda has been totally skwed. Not enough attention has been given to the basic fabric of the infrastructure around the country with some areas favoured above others. We need to end censorship and to embrace the Internet. Fear of the Internet was one of the reasons, in my judgment that Bahrain has been lagging. Just look at Dubai. They have set up an Internet city. The Internet has played an enormous role in bringing about changes. Think of the impact of the internet in China. It is the same in Bahrain. You can no longer block the flow of information and ideas. Now that the internal Berlin wall has come down in Bahrain we need to embrace the Internet fully. Bahrain was also late in tackling monopolies. The economy was, and largely is, shackled by restrictive and anti-competitive practices. The external instrument for change in this area is the World Trade Organisation (WTO) of which Bahrain is a member. But implementation of the various agreements to liberalise investment and commerce and has been largely backloaded. More needs to be done and soon. All of the above has meant that for the last two and half decades Bahrain has lost competitiveness to Dubai and to other places. It is no longer the darling it used to be in the mid 70s. Add to all this the cost of political instability as a result of the political agitation. Banks were closing down their branches and were moving down the Gulf. So we have a serious economic agenda and what I would like to see is a serious statement of intent from the ministers responsible to grab the bull by the horns. The impasse has been broken at last. We have a new emir who came in early 1999, we have a new crown prince. In other words, new blood. However the leadership of the country is largely the same as it has been since the January 1, 1970. The prime minister, the foreign minister and the interior minister are the same and so on. While many countries had cabinet reshuffles, the Bahraini government survived without reshuffles until 1995. That was the first reshuffle in its modern, post-independence history. Before this ministers used to be replaced after they had died because it was judged that their presence was no longer serving any purpose. So we have a new emir and a new crown prince, cohabiting with an old prime minister. There are old scores to be settled, to be sure. I can imagine a dialogue between the emir and the prime minister shortly after the emir took over and inherited the position in early 199
9. I can imagine him turning to his uncle saying: ‘Dear uncle, what a mess we are in.’ “And who has been in charge for the last 30 years, who has landed me with this wonderful legacy: a broken economy, a political crisis, a rebellious population – I want a way out of this”. Now without speculating any further, I am leaving it to you to continue this dialogue in your spare time. Let me move on to another aspect – the interplay between politics and economics. We all know that there is nothing better than an economic crisis to bring forward political change. We have seen it in Morocco, Egypt, Jordan and Asia where countries were torn asunder by the financial crisis of 1997. In all these countries political change came too late and it came to sweeten the bitter pill of harsh economic adjustment measures. In Jordan, in Morocco, not a coincidence. In Bahrain, what does that mean? So while we are now celebrating the newly found or re-gained civil liberties and while we look forward to implementation and to true participation in decision-making let us pause and reflect. Could this be a poisoned chalice? Might we regret what we have wished for all along? Maybe not. The agenda I have outlined requires tough decisions, tough measures. In any change there are always winners and losers and that is the business of government to balance the interests, winners and losers, to keep adjusting the balance, day in, day out. We have a very long way to go. A dynamic economy and a dynamic political system need to keep adjusting, every day to the realities to keep in touch with world markets and to remain competitive. To make sure that no one is left behind, that everyone suffers, everyone gains. For three decades what has been happening in Bahrain could be characterized simply as the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. No balancing act, no adjustment, no attempt at addressing the serious deep-rooted problems. So we have an economic problem, to put it mildly. We have a dispute with Qatar, we have an impending court decision. Now as you will recall from my very quick tour of the headlines the first hint of constitutional change came on October 3rd when the emir opened the first session of the Consultative Assembly. So three weeks is all it took for the special body set up by the government to draft the charter and I must say it is a remarkable achievement in three weeks. If you put 46 people in one room for three weeks and you can get a political agenda then you have to take your hat off for that. The government’s original plan was not exactly what transpired. If you recall the original plan was for this body to very quickly rubber-stamp the proposals, preferably before December 16th, the national day and then there would be a popular convention consisting of two – three thousan d people, invitees, mainly, to show their support for the charter. Do you recall that? Do you still remember this idea of having a very small convention? Well it has been ditched as we all know. It was de-railed. Why was that? Where did the idea of a referendum come from? Why didn’t the government originally announce it if it had been its intention all along? In my view it was a conversion on the road to Damascus and just to let you in on a little secret, the opposition had some say in this about face turn. The opposition raised legitimate questions of legitimacy, how could the government push through a coach and four horses of constitutional reforms without proper consultation. Well I am pleased to say that the government listened in the end and held a proper referendum. And I distinctly remember a press release which the Bahrain Freedom Movement issued on the 16th of December on the eve of Bahrain’s national day calling for precisely that, when it was completely fanciful and the press release was drafted at the time thinking it was not going to be implemented. Who in their right mind would expect the Bahraini government to put the charter to a popular referendum, conducted according to international standards of probity and transparency? Well the rest is history. You will remember from the sequence of events that once the government adopted the idea of a referendum and announced the date it was a mere two weeks – so imagine the preparations that must have gone on. And it immediately went into campaign mode, unprecedented, unheard of for the emir and crown prince to go out campaigning for the charter. It was a scene befitting of local government elections here with MP’s or councilors knocking on doors or talking to households on their doorsteps. The emir went to assemblies, to houses, made public pledges and his pledges became more and more generous and in line with what people wanted. He was listening and he was responding, he wanted the referendum to succeed. He stood to gain from it, he was getting a promotion. Bahrain as a whole stood to gain from it. So the sequence of events was one of piecemeal revelation of reforms. Then we heard that the government was going to issue an amnesty. Again the opposition was piling on the pressure, legitimately, speaking in an organized fashion for a repeal of the State Security Law and State Security Court. And that was granted and I myself and all my colleagues and all Bahrainis are very pleased to say the least. Now, you could say that was the easy part. Now comes the hard part, now comes the implementation, now comes delivery on promises. The encouraging sign is that the emir set up recently a committee headed by his son the crown prince to see that these promises are implemented. I am glad he chose a young person who seems to be enthusiastic about these reforms and these changes. Clearly we are witnessing an internal coup d’etat against the old guard who could not be trusted to implement these reforms. After all could you trust the implementation of these reforms to those who blocked them. It would be like entrusting a vampire with a blood bank. Now the agenda is long on all fronts. Constitutional reforms; and that extends to all laws, civil, commercial and the system of justice. There will need to be administrative reforms to all government departments to make sure that government departments and civil servants do what their titles suggest they do: serve the people. The economic agenda is enormous and we need to build a national consensus on how to proceed. For that we need an elected assembly tomorrow, not 2004. Why wait until 2004? And I am encouraged by a statement that the crown prince made that elections could be held sooner. Now remember what I said earlier about the economic conditions leading to political change? Remember the dictum no taxation without representation. This used to be thrown back at democracy advocates by the government and they would say we don’t tax you, there are no taxes in Bahrain. In fact we provide you with free health and education. This is a trifle disingenuous of a government that controlled the main source of national income that there is no taxation. In fact taxation of oil resources is 100 percent by definition. If you wanted to reverse that you would have to send every man woman a child a cheque in the post every month. The fact that this did not happen means there was implicit taxation at a very extortionate rate. I might say that sending cheques in the post is not a flight of fantasy it is actually being practiced in Alaska and Alberta, a province of Canada. They call it negative taxation. Be that as it may that was the old deal. What is the new deal? I fear that it is going to be representation with taxation. I think it is inescapable, the question is how, how to make it fair. But before you even contemplate a single tax measure you would have to ask yourselves what happened to the government’s resources for three decades? Can we please have a status report and audited accounts for the last three decades? Do not hold your breaths. So the new deal will mean, in my view, hard decisions, hard measures, some taxes but the pre-condition would be accountability and strong justifications. I think the people of Bahrain can be persuaded but you would have to work very hard on that. And
just in case the government of the time, whenever that might be, turns around and says that these unpopular economic measures are the brainchilds of your elected assembly and that is where the blame should be let me put this on the record and say that is not correct and that is not fair. If we get an elected assembly any time soon it will have to deal with an inherited problem and not one of its making. So let us be clear about that and I hope that all Bahrainis of all income levels, will feel the urgency of the patriotic duty to support re-distributive measures to make Bahrain a more just, a more humane and a more pleasant society in which all Bahranis can live with dignity.
By ADNAN MALIK Associated Press Writer, 8 March 2001 MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — A leading Shiite Muslim cleric associated with the opposition returned to a hero’s welcome in Bahrain on Thursday after years of self-imposed exile. “Welcome! Welcome! Sheik Qassim,” hundreds of Bahraini Shiites chanted at the airport after Sheik Isa Qassim alighted from a plane that had flown him from Iran. Looking weary, Qassim, who is believed to be in his 60s, was whisked through the airport, where security was especially tight, and taken to a waiting minibus. Members of the crowd clapped and shouted “Victory for Islam” as Qassim boarded the minibus to be driven to his home in Diraz, a village southwest of the capital Manama. Scores of honking vehicles, moving bumper to bumper, followed the sheik’s vehicle as it slowly made its way along the 10-kilometer (6-mile) route. The cars carried pictures of Qassim and Bahrain’s emir Sheik Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. Qassim did not speak to the media, but his son-in-law, Ali Jassem, said the sheik believed he had returned at an important time for Bahrain because of the constitutional reforms under way. “He is very calm and wants to shoulder the responsibility of developing the country by peaceful means,” said Ali Jassem, Qassim’s son-in-law. Last month, Bahrainis voted by an overwhelming majority for a national charter that provides for an elected parliament and equal rights for all citizens. Ten days earlier, the emir pardoned 108 exiles and 289 other people who had been accused, detained or convicted on security charges. Bahrain experienced a violent campaign for political reform during the mid-1990s, led by Shiites who demanded the restoration of the parliament that was dissolved in 1975. Shiites, who form the majority of the population, felt they did not enjoy economic and social parity with the Sunni Muslims, to which the ruling family belongs. More than 40 people died in the unrest and hundreds were imprisoned. Qassim had been an active member of the dissolved parliament and is a close associate of Bahrain’s most prominent internal dissident, Sheik Abdul Ameer al-Jamri. Al-Jamri spent 3 1/2 years in detention on charges of espionage and inciting unrest. He was pardoned in July 1999, a day after he was convicted of the offenses and sentenced to 10 years in jail and a massive fine. Qassim left Bahrain to study theology in the Iranian holy city of Qom before the unrest began in December 1994. He is believed to have remained abroad for fear of being detained on his return. Diraz, where Qassim used to lead daily prayers at the island’s largest Shiite mosque, was a hotbed of anti-government activity during the unrest. And Qom, where Qassim lived in Iran, hosted many Bahraini dissidents. In an interview with Bahrain’s Gulf Daily News, published Thursday, Qassim welcomed the reforms of the Western-educated emir, who succeeded his father in 1999.
“These bold political steps taken by the emir will certainly yield enormously positive results in a new environment where everyone will contribute to the march toward progress,” he said.
* News Release Issued by the International Secretariat of Amnesty International * 8 March 2001 MDE 11/004/2001 43/01 An Amnesty International delegation led by Mr Bartram Brown, Professor of Law at Chicago University, and including Ms June Ray, Director of the Middle East program in the International Secretariat and Said Boumedouha, a researcher in the Middle East program, will be visiting Bahrain from 10-14 March 2001 to discuss with the authorities issues related to the protection and promotion of culture of human rights in the country. The delegation will be meeting senior government officials, as well as representatives of the civil society, former prisoners of conscience and the media. For more information on the activities of the delegation in Bahrain, please contact Kamal Samari at Amnesty International Press office in London, UK, on 44 207 413 5831/mobile 44 777 847 21 26
Gulf States Newsletter, Vol 25, No. 656, 5 March 2001
Bahrain Cabinet Reshuffle Expected To Speed Radical Reforms
Supporters of reform within Bahain’s ruling Al-Khlaifa family believe the programme of democratisation and liberal change launched by Emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khlaifa, and massively endorsed in a 14-15 February referendum, is now irreversible. Strengthened by the 98.4 percent yes vote for his constitutional plans, the reformists’ champion Crown Prince Shiekh Salaman Bin Hamad Al-Khalifa has committed the government to a broadening of full citizenship rights and begun the preparation of a major cabinet reshuffle. Senior Bahrainis told GSN the reshuffle was likely to see many of the old guard removed from key portfolios, including defence, foreign affairs and interior. Unwieldy briefs -such as housing, municipal affairs and the environment, and cabinet affairs and information- will probably be split. Reformist officials believe that with public support so clearly expressed in the referendum, in which 196,000 of the 217,000 eligible voters took part, Sheikh Hamad should make a sweeping overhaul of the government. But they expect veteran Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa Bin Salman Al-Khalifa, seen as the standard bearer for conservative values, to remain in office. Opposition groups, while thrilled at the promise of democracy, the release of political prisoners and the amnesty for exiles -from which more than 300 people are thought to have benefited- remain fearful that Sheikh Khalifa will stage a fight-back and succeed in watering down the changes. The opposition wants the Emir to exploit the momentum built up over recent weeks and force his uncle to resign as premier. Close supporters of the Emir insist this would be an unnecessary humiliation for a man who, although associated with the repression of past years, has also steered Bahrain safely through the revolution in Iran, two Gulf Wars and economic crises. They are confident that conservatives, whatever their private reservations, will not stand in the way, let alone attempt a reversion to the hard-line policies of the mid-1990s. Indeed, Sheikh Hamad and his son, the 31-year old Sheikh Salman, are allowing new freedoms to reinforce the momentum of change. Over the past two weeks the authorities have stood aside as emboldened newspaper commentators test the extent of the new freedom, with a barrage of opinion pieces pressing for the departure of old guard figures from the government. Members of the present veteran cabinet dominate the committee set up to translate the National Charter -the authorities’ reform agenda- into concrete constitutional changes. But Salman has already made plain his intention to bring fresh faces onto the committee he will chair to oversee implementation of the charter as a whole. Just before the referendum, Sheikh Hamad moved to unilaterally scrap the main pillars of the old authoritarian system, abolishing the notorious state pardoning all political prisoners, and granting an open amnesty to all exiled opponents. Opposition (B.F.M.) had previously thought the Emir lacked the confidence to face up to Shiekh Khalifa and would limit the terms of prisoner releases -but detainees have been released unconditionally. Internation opinion has been almost universally positive in its welcome for the reforms. “They are quite remarkable and totally unexpected in their extent. I didn’t imagine that the state security law was going to abolished,” Lord Avebury, a leading British human rights campaigner told GSN. He presumes there will now be a definitive end to freedom of assembly -including for the clubs, which have been a traditional Bahraini forum for discussion of politics and other matters. The B.F.M. remains concerned that the Prime Minister -who flew back to Bahrain on the eve of the referendum, after weeks away- will limit the practical implementation of reform. Opposition sources say that the security forces are still patrolling in an intimidating manner in centres of opposition activity such as Duraz village. Critics also want to see officials accused of involvement in torture put on which even the Emir’s reform-minded allies seem reluctant to give ground. They want to “let bygones be bygones” and point out that the government itself has made a gesture in this direction, by releasing prisoners convicted of violence -even including those convicted of a racist murder of eight Bangladeshis. The government may yet have to weather some awkward questions about past events from the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions, which is still expected to go ahead with a long-scheduled visit to Bahrain in April, even though al detainees are now free.
MANAMA, March 8 (Reuters)
A leading Bahraini Shi’ite Muslim cleric returned to Bahrain on Thursday from 17 years in exile after a general amnesty and political changes in the Gulf Arab state. Witnesses said Sheikh Abdel-Nabi Ali Qafood, 48, returned to his Duraz village, 12 km (7.5 miles) from the capital Manama, from the Iranian Shi’ite holy city of Qom. “He has been in Qom since 1984,” one of his relatives said. Qafood was the latest Bahraini dissident to return to the island state under an amnesty declared by the Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa in February as part of democratic reforms. Another prominent Shi’ite opposition figure, Sheikh Isa Qassim, is due to return on Thursday from Iran, relatives said. “My return is aimed at serving the country and to strengthen national unity,” Sheikh Qassim said in an interview published on Thursday by the pan-Arab Asharq al-Awsat daily. Several opposition leaders and activists have already returned to Bahrain after Sheikh Hamad pardoned more than 900 prisoners and exiles since he came to power in 1999 on the death of his father. He has also abolished two controversial emergency laws — the State Security Law and the State Security Court. Bahrainis voted overwhelmingly in a referendum last month to support a charter proposed by Sheikh Hamad which calls for the setting up of an elected parliament alongside a Shura council, a constitutional monarchy and an independent judiciary. Hundreds of people were arrested during unrest between 1994 and 1998. They were members of the majority Shi’ite community seeking political reforms from the Sunni-led government. Bahrain dissolved its first elected parliament in 1975, two years after it was set up. It now has a 40-member Shura council, which has no legislative powers, to assist the government on draft laws before they are sent to the emir for final approval. A group of opposition figures met Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Isa al-Khalifa on Sunday and discussed reforms as well as the proposed elected parliament, expected to be set up in 2004. The group includes Sheikh Abdel-Amir al-Jamri, the main opposition figure who was pardoned by the emir in 1999, one day after a Bahraini court sentenced him to 10 years in jail. “The meeting with the crown prince was aimed at coordinating stands between the government and the political forces in the country mainly on the planned parliament and political groups,” opposition figure Abdel-Wahab Hussain said. “There will be further talks between the political forces and the crown prince in the future,” Hussain told Reuters. REUTERS
Invitation Lord Avebury, the Vice-Chair of Parliamentary Human Rights Group invites you to a seminar on Bahrain’s Reforms: The Next Steps Speakers: Dr John Peterson, Fellow, International Institute for Strategic Studies, London Prof Fred Halliday, London School of Economics, London Mr. Simon Henderson, adjunct scholar of The Washington Institute Dr. Abdul Hadi Khalaf, a scholar and former Bahraini MP Mr. Jeremy Corbyn, MP and member of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group Dr. Mansoor Al Jamri, of the Bahrain Freedom Movement Time: 12 – 2.00 pm Date: Wednesday 14 March 2001 Venue: 1 Abbey Gardens (Annexe to the House of Lords, by the Car Park opposite the House of Parliament), London SW1. Nearest underground: Westminster Since 5 February 2001, the Amir, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, has ordered the release of all political prisoners, the return of exiles and the repeal of the notorious State Security Law and the State Security Court. A National Charter to re-instate the 1973 Constitution was approved by the people and a process of reconciliation started. The opposition which has waged a successful campaign for these demands, has welcomed these steps.
For more information on the seminar, please contact Lord Avebury on: 020 7274 4617
Dr. Abdelwahab El-Affendi, Director of the Project on Democracy in the Muslim World, University of Westminster, invites you to a seminar on Bahrain
Speaker: Mr. Roger Hardy, Journalist and Specialist on Islam & the Middle East Date: Tuesday 13 March Time: 6.30 pm Venue: 100 Park Village East, London NW1
Nearest Underground Station: Mornington Crescent
Celebrtaion by the Bahraini Community in London
On the Occassion of abolishing the Emergency Laws in Bahrain, The Bahraini Community will organise a celebration with contributions from inside and outside Bahrain. Speakers to include: Dr. Saeed Shehabi and Mr. Hassan Mossa Date: Saturday 10 March 2001 Time: 3.30 pm Venue: 45 Chalton Street, London NW1, Tel: 0207 383 2058
The Celebration will be in Arabic
Seminar on Bahrain on 8 March
Bahrain; a promising future
By Dr. Ala’a Al-Yousuf Bahraini political activist and economist Thursday 8 March 2001 Venue: Gulf Cultural Club, 45 Chalton Street, King’s Cross/Euston, London NW1, Tel: 0207 383 2058 Time: 6.00 pm Ala’a Al-Yousuf is the Director for the Middle East & Africa in Standard & Poor’s Sovereign Ratings Group in London. Until April 2000, he was a senior economist at the IMF in Washington D.C. where he worked for several years in both regional and policy departments. Prior to that, Mr. Al-Yousuf worked as a research officer at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies at Oxford University and a lecturer at Oxford Brookes University (formerly Oxford Polytechnic). He also worked as an independent economic consultant and authored a number of reports on several Middle Eastern countries for the Economist Intelligence Unit.
Mr. Al-Yousuf was born in Bahrain in 1960 and holds a D.Phil. in economics from Oxford University.
Bahrain: Pro-democracy leaders pledge their support for reforms and call for greater openness
The Heir Apparent, Sheikh Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa met with a delegation of senior opposition figures on 3 March. The delegation comprised, amongst others, Sheikh Abdul Amir Al-Jamri, Mr. Abdul Wahab Hussain and Mr. Hassan Mushaimaa. During the meeting several issues of national concern were raised and the crown prince vowed to continue the new path for reforms. The opposition delegation welcomed the approach of the crown prince regarding accountability, equality of all citizens and the rule of law. One of the issues discussed was the fate of about a hundred families who had been stripped of their Bahraini citizenship and inhumanly deported to Iran in 1980. The crown prince promised to restore the rights of the citizenship of these family who have suffered for the past 20 years. The labour minister announced on 4 March that he implemented the directives for re-opening the Islamic Enlightenment Society that was closed down in 1984. This was one of the promises given by the Amir to the opposition figures who met with him on 8 February. Moreover, the labour minister confirmed the registration of a non-governmental organization for human rights. Dr. Sabeeka Al-Najjar will be heading the Bahrain Human Rights Society. The latter is one of the key demands of the opposition and its formation would help to consolidate a new phase in Bahrain. The labour minister said there were now 222 societies in Bahrain, 16 of which have been registered in the past year and 10 within the last two months. The Amir Sheikh Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa met visiting Qatari Amir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani on 2 March, ahead of the ruling to be issued by the International Court of Justice in The Hague on the territorial. Last June, the Court completed a five-week public hearing into the dispute that almost led to war in 1986. Following the visit, Qatar released four Bahrainis who had been detained for about a month. Abdul Aziz Mobarak Bu-Qais, Yahya Mohamed Al-Ansari, Ali Mohammed Al-Jamea and Khalil Abdul Rasool Bu-Cheeri were detained after camping in Qatar. Following their arrest, they were told that the area was a restricted one and were then detained for about a month. Two Bahraini opposition figures who returned on 28 February joined a gathering at Al-Oroba Club on 3 March. Mr. Abdul Rahman A-Nuaimi, 57, and Mr. Abdul Nabi Al-Ekri, 50, returned home after three decades in exile. They had been well received by the people of Bahrain who thanked them for their continuos struggle. The meeting at Al-Oroba Club on 3 March was addressed by the pro-democracy personality, Dr. Monira Fakhro. Dr. Fakhro assessed the future role to be played by the Bahraini civil society institutions. In her intervention, she said that the “link between democracy and civil society is crucial”. Civil society institutions are free, vulnerary, and pluralistic ones that foster societal cohesion and strengthen the political system. She welcomed the recent steps and called for the amendment or abolishing of the law governing the formation and functioning of associations. She also called for the formation of unions to group the various interests in democratically elected set-ups. She also called for the reforming of the University of Bahrain and openness in dealing with critical issues, such as the preparations for the municipality elections. She also called for lifting the ban on political parties, without which the reforms would be incomplete. Bahrain Freedom Movement 4 March 2001
Tel/Fax: +44 207 278 9089
INTERVIEW-Bahrain opposition leader urges reforms support
By Abbas Salman
ARAD, Bahrain, March 1 (Reuters) – A Bahraini opposition leader, back home from a 33-year exile, urged exiled groups on Thursday to support landmark reforms launched by the Gulf Arab state’s emir. Bahrainis voted overwhelmingly in a referendum last month to support a charter proposed by Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa calling for a partly elected parliament, a constitutional monarchy and an independent judiciary.
Abdul-Rahman al-Naimi, 57, returned home on Wednesday from exile in Syria and Lebanon following a general amnesty issued by the emir.
“The moves taken by the emir have helped the exiled opposition to support him. We back the emir because his steps have opened a wide door for dialogue between him, his crown prince and the political forces.
“We support the emir’s measures…and consider them a way of restoring parliamentary life in the country,” Naimi, a Sunni Muslim, told Reuters in an interview.
Sheikh Hamad, who took power in 1999 following the death of his father, abolished emergency laws last month after pardoning 900 prisoners and exiles.
Officials have said the planned parliament, expected to be established in 2004, would enjoy legislative powers.
“The emir has tried to end an era of crises and political turmoil between the government and political forces,” said Naimi, a former secretary-general of the outlawed Bahrain Popular Liberation Front.
Bahrain dissolved its first elected parliament in 1975, only two years after it was set up. The move led to unrest among Bahrain’s majority Sh’ite community demanding political and economic reforms by the Sunni-led government.
The island state now has an appointed Shura council which advises the government on draft laws before they are sent to the emir for final approval.
EXILES’ RETURN A MAIN OPPOSITION DEMAND
“After the emir’s amnesty decision, the road is open for the return of all Bahrainis in exile, which had been a main demand of the opposition,” Naimi said.
Some of the exiles were deported by the government at the height of the 1994-1998 unrest.
“All political groups in the country should support the emir’s measures because we don’t want (emergency) laws to be reactivated or any Bahraini remaining in exile,” said Naimi,
He stopped short of calling for a ban on political parties to be withdrawn, saying “political societies” should be allowed. Another opposition leader, Abdel-Nabi al-Ekri, a Shi’ite, returned home from Syria on Wednesday after 15 years in exile.
Naimi praised a government move to grant full citizenship to people born and raised in Bahrain. “I hope there will be no stateless people in Bahrain in future.”
Bahrain has so far granted full citizenship to 169 people. Officials have said around 15,000 people, comprising 700 stateless people and 8,000 from Arab and other countries, had applied for Bahraini citizenship.
“Every Bahraini in exile has the right to get a Bahraini passport instead of providing him with an entry paper as is done now,” Naimi said, adding that he and his family had no Bahraini passports.
MANAMA, March 3 (Reuters)
Qatar has promised to release four Bahraini nationals held in Doha for nearly one month, a local newspaper reported on Saturday. “The (detainees’) case was discussed during yesterday’s visit by Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, who promised to release them upon his return to Doha,” the English-language Bahrain Tribune said. The paper did not give any reason for their arrest. Bahrain and its Gulf Arab neighbour Qatar have been at odds for years over small but potentially oil-and-gas-rich islands, which Bahrain controls and Qatar lays claim to. The Hague-based International Court of Justice is due to issue its verdict on the dispute this year. Qatar’s emir paid a brief visit to Bahrain on Friday for talks with Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa.
Bahrain’s emir has pardoned 900 prisoners and exiles since he came to power in 1999 and has made landmark political reforms in the Gulf Arab state.
RIYADH, Mar 2, 2001 (Xinhua via COMTEX)
Bahraini Emir Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa met visiting Qatari Emir Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani on Friday in Manama, capital of Bahrain, as a World Court ruling on their territorial dispute was imminent.
According to Bahrain’s Al-Khalij news agency, the Qatari emir congratulated his Bahraini counterpart on the success of a referendum on Bahrain’s National Action Charter.
In a February 14-15 referendum, the vast majority of Bahrainis voted in favor of the Charter that will turn the emirate into a constitutional monarchy and will restore parliamentary life after a lapse of 26 years.
The news agency reported that the two leaders discussed their bilateral ties and ways of strengthening the mechanisms of cooperation in all fields to serve the interests of their peoples.
They also discussed issues of common interest including the regional, Arab and international situations and ways of enhancing the progress of the Gulf Cooperation Council to ensure the development and prosperity in the Persian Gulf region. The agency said a Bahraini Foreign Ministry official denied media reports that the Qatari emir’s visit was aimed to settle the border dispute between the two countries which is being probed by the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
The Court last June completed a five-week public hearing into a dispute that almost led to war between the two Gulf Arab neighbors in 1986. A Court ruling had been expected at the end of February.!! Their dispute focused on Qatar’s claim to the Bahraini-controlled Hawar Islands and Fashet al-Dubel rocks that could be potentially rich in oil and gas deposits, and Bahrain’s claim to the al-Zubara strip on Qatar’s west coast.
The two sides referred their dispute to the International Court in 1991.
No one has asked the International Court to postpone its ruling on the dispute, the official said, noting that the date for issuing the ruling will be decided by the court itself.
MANAMA, March 2 (Reuters)
The ruler of Qatar briefly visited Bahrain on Friday for talks with his Bahraini counterpart as the two Gulf Arab states await a ruling by the world court on their territorial dispute. Bahrain’s Gulf News Agency said Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Than and Bahrain’s Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa discussed regional developments and “issues of common interest.” It said the Bahraini ruler called for improving ties and that Qatar’s emir welcomed the results of last month’s referendum in Bahrain in which voters overwhelmingly backed a charter on landmark reforms. The charter, proposed by Bahrain’s emir, calls for a partly elected parliament, a constitutional monarchy and an independent judiciary. Bahrain and Qatar have been taking steps to improve their relations, strained by a long-running dispute over small but potentially oil and gas-rich Gulf islands controlled by Bahrain but also claimed by Qatar.
The Hague-based International Court of Justice is expected to issue its verdict on the dispute later this year.
Voice of Bahrain Commentary (March 2001): From despotism to democracy; Sacrifices make the day Has the era of democracy in Bahrain finally dawned? The recent developments have suddenly given rise to the feeling that the black ear may have come to an end. In addition to other measures, the repeal of the emergency laws on 18 February has special significance. The two Amiri decree has come as a surprise even to those related to the authorities. Since the prime minister imposed the State Security Law in 1974, a large establishment flourished over the years. The ministry of interior has employed more recruits, than the ministry of defence. Both ministries are allocated almost a third of the country’s budget, whereas other service ministries such as education, health and social affairs, are allocated much less. The decision to repeal the notorious laws is thus of a far important significance than other concessions. The State Security Court has sent thousands of innocent people to prison. It had allowed confessions drawn from defendants under duress to be presented as evidence, and disallowed the right to appeal its verdicts. International human rights organizations have, over the years, directed their criticisms to these emergency laws and demanded their repeal. The prime minister has established his iron-fist policy over the country aided by these draconian measures. The brave decision by the Amir to close that chapter has been welcomed by these orgnaisations. However, there are reservations about the security apparatus that is still intact.. The mechanisms that have facilitated serious abuse of human rights remain in force.. The Security & Intelligence Service (SIS) established by the British colonial officers headed by Ian Henderson in mid sixties is still feared by the people. Unless the machine of torture and terror are dismantled, confidence in the ongoing political process is likely to be shaken. People are now waiting for more courageous decisions by the Amir to change the image of the country from despotism to a form of democracy. Despite some reservations expressed by the opposition and pro-democracy activists, the National Charter proposed by the Amir has been endorsed by 98.4% of people in the referendum that took place on 14-15 February. The BFM initially rejected the Charter because of its vagueness. When it issued its statement to this effect on 8 February, the authorities became alarmed and the Amir had to intervene himself in order to remove the people’s suspicions. After meeting with four senior opposition figures on 8 February (Sheikh Al-Jamri, Seyyed Abdulla Al-Ghoreifi, Mr. Abdul Wahab Hussain and Dr. Ali Al-Oreibi) the Amir instructed the Minister of Justice to issue a statement to clear the vagueness on the main issues raised. The local press published them on 9 February clarifying that the Constitution is above the Charter and that the appointed body will not have legislative powers in the bicameral system.. The BFM, having achieved these pledges, modified its position on 10 February and called on people to express their views as they saw the situation. The Amir also decided to release all political prisoners and allow the unconditional return of the exiles. By the time the people went to the ballot box, Bahrain’s torture chambers and prisons became totally depleted of any political prisoners for the first time since the mid fifties. Political exiles have started their journey home after decades in the Diaspora. The mechanisms of the old regime, however, continue to pose a threat to the political reforms being undertaken by the Amir. Bahrain has now taken the first steps on the road to a more open and democratic political system. There is an atmosphere of fresh air in the horizon, which enables people to express themselves with a degree of confidence that they would not be prosecuted by the henchmen of Ian Henderson and his clique. However, it is hoped that the reforms would restore basic justice and the rule of law. It is hoped that the perpetrators of crimes against humanity through torture and maltreatment of prisoners will eventually be brought to account for their crimes. This will help the people to overcome the trauma of decades of horror created by the ancient torture regime. The future political process will become more meaningful if the rights of people are protected and the rule of law upheld. It is of special importance for Bahrain to ratify the two international covenants on political, civil, cultural, social and economic rights. A process of national reconciliation is needed in order to pave the way for future elections and political pluralism. It is also hoped that the government will not wait long before deciding on engage the political process on the lines prescribed by the Constitution. The confidence building measures needed to establish the country on firm grounds necessitate that any changes to the Constitution be effected within article 104 of the Constitution which confines any changes to the agreement of two thirds of the elected members of the National Assembly. Any changes outside the Constitution are likely to lead to unnecessary political crisis. Further openness especially with regards to general freedoms will lead to stronger confidence in the Amir’s programme of reforms. The Bahraini opposition feels optimistic about the future. Most of the demands presented over the past quarter of a century have now been fulfilled, although some of them await being put in practice. It also feels indebted to the international support offered by international human rights organisaitons and personalities. The sacrifices of the people of Bahrain over the years have been enormous, and the moderate nature of the demands, together with the openness of the opposition and its coherent policies and unified stands, have been the crucial factors in defeating the mentality of the old guards in the country. Over the past few weeks, the language of the opposition has been put in use by Bahraini journalists and media. Many are now talking of the black era and calling for its perpetrators to be brought to justice. This is a healthy sign in a country that has experienced hard times. The opposition has welcomed these positive developments and called for mature relationships among the various forces operating in the country. The various political and religious groups have expressed their keenness on maintaining a unified position with regards to the political change and taking active part in ensuring a swift return to normality. They strife to create civil society institutions and lead the societal changes towards development and prosperity. The new generation of youth, especially those who have been released from prisons or allowed back from exile need to be assessed in taking a more positive role in the process. So far, the Amiri decrees have been the main elements of change, but establishment of the rule of law must become a reality. The people like to become citizens who have constitutional rights and obligations and are not ruled by personal goodwill gestures. It is a long process, but is necessary if the future of Bahrain is to be safeguarded. The long march of the Bahraini people started decades ago, now is the time for a march of different nature; the establishment of the rule of law in a democratic and pluralistic system. Bahrain Freedom Movement March 2001
Tel/Fax: +44 207 278 9089