Latest News

March 2002..

Jordan, Bahrain kings hold talks

28 March 2002

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — Jordan’s King Abdullah met Thursday with Bahrain King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, who flew to Amman from Beirut where he attended an Arab League summit, the official Petra news agency said. Later, King Hamad left Jordan and flew to Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheik, where he held talks with President Hosni Mubarak. In Amman, the kings of Bahrain and Jordan attended a ceremony marking the naming of a public park on the outskirts of the city after King Hamad, according to an official speaking on condition of anonymity. Amman’s Mayor Nidal Haddid also presented the city’s symbolic key to the visiting king. The two monarchs later had a working lunch and held talks on bilateral relations and the Mideast situation.

King Hamad’s visit was his first to Jordan since his Gulf island nation was proclaimed a constitutional monarchy in February.

Opposition claims websites blocked by Information Ministry 27 March, 2002 By ADNAN MALIK Associated Press Writer MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — The Bahrain Telecommunication Co., the country’s sole Internet service provider, has blocked access to at least half a dozen opposition and other Internet websites at the request of the information ministry, a leading dissident said Wednesday. Information Ministry officials could not be reached for comment, but the ministry warned in the local press on Tuesday that it will take action to protect individuals and society from Internet sites that tend to “create tension between the people and to provoke resentful sectarianism.” “Only websites that conform to objective dialogue, raise issues in a civilized and democratic manner and offer information that enrich societies and contribute to their development will be welcomed,” the English-language Bahrain Tribune newspaper quoted an unnamed information ministry official as saying. The dissident, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the blockade was imposed Tuesday. He urged the information ministry to lift the blockade. Batelco confirmed the government’s move, but company officials speaking on condition of anonymity declined to name the sites affected or say why the information ministry requested the blockade. Opposition websites carry news and views — often critical — on political developments and Bahrain’s political leadership. Bahrain opposition groups say the reforms introduced recently by the king, Sheik Hamad, fall short of their demands and, despite their promise to cooperate, have criticized the reforms as giving the ruler power over lawmaking.

On Feb. 14, Sheik Hamad proclaimed himself king and Bahrain a constitutional monarchy, leading his Arab Gulf neighbors in transforming the country from the traditional emiri absolute rule toward more democratization. Municipal elections have been called for May and legislative elections for October, in which women can vote and run for office.

Mar 27, 2002 (Al-Bawaba via COMTEX) — Bahraini Authorities have blocked access to several opposition and other internet sites which they claim have been inciting sectarianism and carrying offensive content. Bahrain’s Information Minister, Nabeel Yacoub al-Hamer, said that three or four sites were affected. He stated that access might be permitted again if changes were made to their content. “We welcome and are open for criticism, but we don’t accept offences or inciting sectarian strife,” he made clear, according to a BBC report. Bahraini opposition sources said that at least four sites had been blocked, including that of the London-based Bahrain Freedom Movement. Meanwhile, a Shia Muslim opposition representative told Reuters that the move “stains the good image of Bahrain” and called upon the ministry to reconsider its decision and reopen the web sites. However, al-Hamer said, “Many opposition (leaders) contacted the Information Ministry and promised that they will abide by the rules.” The Kingdom is due to have its first parliamentary elections in 27 years in October.

King of Bahrain, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, began a series of landmark political reforms last month. The King has also set May 9th as the date for local elections that will see women running for office for the first time in that country. Analysts say the reforms are aimed at healing rifts between Bahrain’s Sunni Muslim ruling family and the Shia Muslim majority.

Bahrain blocks some opposition Internet sites 26 March 2002 MANAMA, Bahrain (Reuters) – Bahrain said Tuesday it has blocked access to some opposition and other Internet sites that it said were fomenting sectarian ideas and carrying offensive content in the Gulf archipelago. “We welcome and are open for criticism, but we don’t accept offenses or inciting sectarian strife,” Information Minister Nabeel Yacoub al-Hamer told Reuters. Hamer said between three and four sites have been blocked, noting the ministry would consider allowing access to the sites after changes were made to their content. Opposition sources said at least four have been blocked, including that of the London-based Bahrain Freedom Movement ( “Many opposition (leaders) contacted the Information Ministry and promised that they will abide by the rules,” Hamer said. However a Shi’ite Muslim opposition figure sai d the move “stains the good image of Bahrain” and urged the ministry to reconsider its decision and reopen the sites. About 65 per cent of Bahrain’s indigenous population belong to the Shi’ite sect of Islam which is dominant in Iran. The ruling family belongs to the Sunni sect which is followed by nine out of 10 of the world’s 1 billion Muslims. The Arab state is gearing up for its first parliamentary elections in 27 years after King Hamad bin Isal al-Khalifa introduced landmark political reforms in February 2000 and reactivated the constitution.


Bahrain experimenting with hollow democracy the West advocates for Arab countries By Khalil Osman Crescent International, March 16-31, 2002 Shaykh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifah, Bahrain’s emir, proclaimed himself king on February 14, declaring the emirate the Kingdom of Bahrain and adding a crown to its flag. At the same time, he also conferred assent on constitutional amendments, and called for municipal and legislative elections in May and October respectively. Hamad said that he was bringing democracy to Bahrain, but there is good reason for scepticism. The process of reform has itself been anything but democratic. It unfolded as an act of ‘political magnanimity’, starting as an emiri initiative and then proceeding as a series of hand-outs. Hamad made little effort to consult political groups. The constitutional changes, introduced without an elected parliament in office, also stand on thin constitutional ice. The constitution stipulates that such amendments ‘shall be passed by a majority vote of two-thirds of the members constituting the [legislative] Assembly and ratified by the Amir’ (Article 104). The country’s parliament was dissolved in 1975 because it refused to pass a law allowing arbitrary arrest and imprisonment. It has never been restored. Like his peers, such as Abdullah II of Jordan and Muhammad VI of Morocco, Hamad has tried to use reform to overcome a crisis of political legitimacy that is also compounded by economic difficulties. ‘Reform’ has become these regimes’ pre-emptive move to increase participation in the routine business of government, while retaining control of the most important matters. Thus, upon succeeding to power in March 1999, Hamad pledged to install a fully elected parliament. He has since released hundreds of political prisoners and allowed hundreds of political exiles to return to the country. A committee that Hamad appointed in November 2000, headed by justice minister Shaykh Abdallah bin Khalid al-Khalifah, drafted a National Action Charter that proposed constitutional changes. It called for an elected assembly and a constitutional monarchy. In the referendum last year, 98.4 percent of Bahrainis voted in favour of it. The Charter was a carefully calculated stratagem. By linking a hereditary monarchy to the call for an elected assembly, Hamad sought to secure a popular endorsement, albeit indirect, for the Khalifah dynasty’s rule. Although the Charter claims to promote a system of government based on checks and balances, with separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches, and also independence of the judiciary, it puts the king in charge of all branches, including the appointment and dismissal of the prime minister and cabinet. For most of the 1990s Bahrain suffered serious unrest, in which some 40 people died, thousands were arrested, and entire neighbourhoods and villages were besieged for extended periods. The unrest, which came to be known as an intifada (uprising), was caused by demands for the restoration of parliament, which had been established by the constitution of 1972. A general amnesty, paving the way for the return of exiles and the release of prisoners, was also on the protesters’ agenda. The intifada of Bahrain erupted after repeated efforts to petition the government peacefully on matters of political reform failed. Political manoeuvring within the ‘royal’ family has also driven the reform process indirectly. Shaykh Khalifah bin Salman, the emir’s uncle, who has been prime minister for three decades and has great influence, is a strong opponent of political reform. He and his family are considered to have the most to lose in any serious inquiry into sleaze and influence peddling. Hamad is believed to have used the reform process to establish his authority against his uncle, who had favoured his own son for the throne. The Charter is silent on a number of issues. It says nothing about the State Security Law, a decree that allowed for arbitrary detention and trials for vaguely defined ‘acts’ or ‘statements’ that allegedly pose a threat to ‘state security.’ The law, which also established the notorious State Security Court, was recently abolished by royal decree, thus leaving the door open for its re-enactment. The Charter also says nothing about the Penal Code amendments of 1976, which have been used to prevent Bahraini citizens from exercising their freedom of assembly, association and expression. Security bodies with a long history of abuses of human rights, including torture and forced exile, such as the Special Branch, the Criminal Investigative Directorate and the Public Security Force, also remain operational under interior minister Shaykh Muhammad bin Khalifah al-Khalifah, who is close to the prime minister. The Charter establishes a bicameral legislature, with a lower chamber elected by ‘direct and free elections’ and an upper, a consultative council of ‘experts and scholars,’ appointed by the government ‘to offer their advice and knowledge when needed.’ Elections for the lower chamber will be held October 24. All men and women over the age of 20 will be eligible to vote and run for office in both parliamentary and municipal elections. The two chambers will share legislative power. The elected body will watch over the government; the appointed council is likely to wield a veto power, enabling the government to interfere in the legislative process. The Charter shies away from spelling out the exact roles and powers of the two chambers. Nor does it contain prescriptions for resolving differences between them. Bicameral parliaments sharing legislative powers are usually popularly elected; when the upper chamber is not elected, as in Britain, it usually has limited and well-defined powers. Despite its limitations, these developments put Bahrain ahead of any other member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Kuwait is the only other GCC state to have public input into the policy-making process through an elected legislature. But only a small minority of ‘first-class’ Kuwaitis, men who can trace their roots in the country to before 1926, can vote or stand for election; Kuwaiti women may not do either. The other GCC states (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman and the UAE) all have only appointed consultative councils. Since the process of reform started, Bahrain has been having relatively open debate about various issues, with opposition members able, for the first time in the country’s modern history, to speak their minds without being arrested. This is a notable departure from the Bahraini government’s traditional intolerance of criticism. The government has also licensed two new newspapers. Civil society has been rejuvenated, as shown by the vigorous activity of a host of new social and political associations. There is a new human rights society, a committee opposed to normalization with Israel, and even a cat-protection group. A number of women’s organizations have announced their intention to form a Bahrain Women’s Union. But the burgeoning number of political groups, in a small country of less than half a million citizens, undermines the possibility of effective opposition. The announcement that parliamentary elections will be held in October 2002 has also thrown the opposition into disarray. Originally the government said, mainly through leaked press reports, that elections will be held in 2004. Caught off guard, the opposition groups find themselves scrambling to draft their electoral platforms in time. Other groups are still debating whether or not to take part in the elections on these terms. The government continues to harass the opposition, although not as badly as before. Ramla Jawad, a woman from the village of Sitra who was arrested and tortured in the 1990s, told the BBC recently that a senior member of the security forces continues to harass her and that ‘he threatened her life… after she spoke to the media about her time in prison’ (February 15, 2002). Last month the authorities warned more than a dozen opposition activists not to travel outside the country, claiming that their names appear on a US terrorist blacklist. The activists said
that the officials told them that they are safe only in Bahrain, and that they risk being held on international arrest warrants related to ‘terrorism’ charges while travelling abroad. The government’s bluff was exposed when word of its warning leaked to the press, prompting the US embassy in Bahrain to issue a denial on February 7: ‘There are currently no Bahraini institutions or citizens on either of these lists.’ Although it is tiny, Bahrain’s political stability is important to the West. The country is a close US ally and base to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet. Bahrain is also the GCC’s regional and commercial hub. So far the Bahraini opposition has not objected to the US’s military presence in the country, but this could change as anti-American feeling continues to sweep the region. The parliament will also increase the space available for dissent. So far the political reforms have not been combined with meaningful economic reform. Bahrain’s oil-poor economy is still dependent on GCC subsidies, mainly from Saudi Arabia but also from the UAE and Kuwait, for about one-fifth of its revenue. The Bahraini government has not changed its discriminatory employment policy against the country’s majority Shi’ah population. Overall unemployment in Bahrain is about 30 percent. The government has shown no willingness to change its spending patterns to favour social services, job-training and the private sector, especially the development of small businesses. Instead, the focus is still on the non-labour-intensive sectors of construction, tourism and banking. Nor has there been any effort to control the ruling family’s spending of public funds. The peaceful demonstrations in January that pressed the government for jobs point to the alarming implications of joblessness if it is left untackled. It remains uncertain whether the new system, in which the monarch has the final say on most matters, can bring Bahrain any benefits of genuine political reform. The current euphoria will pass sooner or later. But raised expectations may fuel more frustrations, dissent and unrest, thus aggravating tensions with the government. Eventually the stability of the monarchy may well be undermined, not shored up

Izzat Ibrahim in Bahrain

Mar 20, 2002 (Al-Bawaba via COMTEX) — Iraq’s number two Izzat Ibrahim, seeking to muster Arabs against a US strike on Baghdad, held talks in Manama Tuesday with Bahrain’s King Hamad and the Prime Minister, Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa. Bahrain’s official BNA news agency said that the king and Ibrahim held a meeting focused on “questions of mutual interest” and bilateral issues. On his arrival earlier that day, the Iraqi official met separately with Sheikh Khalifa to discuss “means to ensure the success of the Arab summit in Beirut” on March 27-28, BNA said. They called for Arab leaders to adopt “resolutions that can consolidate joint Arab action to face up to the challenges facing” their countries, it reported. Ibrahim, deputy chairman of Iraq’s ruling Revolutionary Command Council, has been touring the Gulf region to discuss the crisis between Washington and Baghdad over UN arms inspections. “Bahraini leaders will listen to Iraq’s views” on the standoff with the United States, a senior official said earlier. “Bahrain hopes Iraq will respect Security Council resolutions and help itself so that the Gulf countries can help it … All Iraq has to do is conform to UN Security Council resolutions and respect its neighbors,” he said. Meanwhile, in Qatar on Monday, Ibrahim said the issue of UN arms inspectors, who have been barred from Iraq since pulling out in 1998, would be dealt with “within the framework of the positive dialogue with the United Nations.” Talks between Iraq and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan would resume on April 15, “and we have high hopes that the dialogue will resolve all outstanding problems,” he told AFP. Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri, who held a round of talks on the possible return of weapons inspectors with Kofi Annan in New York on March 7, is accompanying Ibrahim. Ibrahim has already visited Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

The United States has threatened to take military action against Iraq and try to overthrow the Iraqi regime unless UN inspectors are allowed back in to check that Baghdad no longer has weapons of mass destruction.

Bahrain: Political context for change

A lecture by Dr Saeed Shehabi (delivered at the Gulf Cultural Club, London, on 14 March 2002) 

I wanted to introduce the discussion by talking about democratisation in the Middle East generally. In my own opinion democratisation is an endemic problem in the region. It is being used sometimes to argue in favour of Israel because Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East – or so it is said. There is a degree of truth in this but it does not justify the oppression of the Palestinians.

Dick Cheney is going to the Middle East today. He has just finished his trip to the United Kingdom. When talking democratisation I relate democratisation to many ills and problems in the region. The whole crisis in the world today  is at least partially related to the lack of democratisation in the Middle East, in the sense that what we have is a war against terrorism declared by the USA, following the 11th September attack on the World Trade Centre.

The perpretrators of that crime are allegedly related to Osama bin Laden. Osama bin Laden is a Saudi national and it is alleged that 15 out of the 19 pilots who carried out the attacks were Saudi nationals. The question is why are these people going to that extent and why Osama bin Laden, a rich man from a rich family would go and adopt those methods. He was in Saudi Arabia, he was asked to leave in 1992 and in 1993 we had a lot of problems in Saudi Arabia with people asking for a degree of freedom.

I would argue that if there was a degree of democratisation, a degree of liberal governance in that region, the tendency to become extremist would diminish. We do not usually get many extremists in countries where there is freedom of expression. You will get people like McVeigh in Oklohoma who would go to that extent but these are minorities. But our region is infested with extremism, with problems, with crisis and unlimited war after war during the past 30 years. Since we came into this world we knew nothing but wars. I am not saying that all these wars are related and due to a lack of democracy but to a certain extent the lack of democratisation leads to a state where people feel desperate and they would go as far as committing unnecessary acts of violence.

So when Mr Cheney spends the next ten days in the region and goes to nine countries, the least of his concerns will be democratisation in the region, even though his country and the crisis in the world are related, as I mentioned, in one way or another to the lack of democracy, and of course the American support for Israel. He will be asking for support for the American plan to attack Iraq. I think he has four main tasks: preparing the ground to attack Iraq, preparing the ground for a peace process to shelter Israel, to press the people in the region to reduce the price of oil as the USA is facing some huge bills because of the war. In recent weeks the price of oil has been going up. And of course he wants to carry the people in the region with him in his war against terrorism. So these are the four issues he will take up.

But I have argued in several articles that  if terrorism is to be diminished and contained the causes of terrorism must be addressed. Among them is the Arab Israeli conflict, the uneven distribution of wealth and the lack of democratisation.

Now when we talk about democratisation in Saudi Arabia we are talking about the Gulf and in the Gulf we have some degree of democratisation in Kuwait, limited democracy. We have some democracy in Iran. Iraq has its own problems, I don’t think democracy is very healthy there. And then we have Bahrain and Qatar, these small states which are trying to do something but unfortunately the rulers there, because of the nature of the tribal system do not have the courage to come forward and allow the people a degree of liberal participation in government or even a degree of public expression.

Why is there no democracy in that region? I think this is one question which I heard Fred Halliday repeating several times. He thinks that the fundamental question which prevents democracy is the big question posed by the people there. Where is the money? He keeps saying it in most of his lectures but I think it is a valid point. The rulers do not want you to question them because there are financial stakes involved. They do want people to ask where is the money. One third of the oil revenue often finds itself outside the national budget and into the pockets of those in authority. And they would not like to be questioned.

Now with regard to Bahrain the subject of today I would like to mention one or two points. Bahrain is a small island in the Gulf that had been under the protection of Britain until 1971. The Shah had a claim over Bahrain but that dispute was solved in 1971, just before the British withdrew. Before the British withdrew they insured there was a security regime in the country headed by British officers and they have been there ever since. The most notorious was Ian Henderson but although he retired three years ago there are some others behind him who are still today.

After the withdrawal of Britain, Bahrain flirted with democracy for three 1972 – 1975. In 1975 the parliament was dissolved and the constitution was suspended. Between 1975 and 1994 – for about 20 years – the people were under the State Security Law. There were many arrests and international condemnation. But in 1994 the crisis reached its climax  with an uprising that continued for four to five years. In 1999 the ruler of the country died and was succeeded by his son Sheikh Hamad, who is the present ruler.

That uprising meant to put forward several objectives, the most important of which was the reinstatement of the country’s constitution. Of course in implementing that objective the people called for the release of prisoners, the allowing of the return of exiles and Bahrain was almost the country in the region that forcibly exiled its own citizens. The repeal of the emergency laws was also asked for.

When Sheikh Isa passed away and his son took over people started to feel some hope that a new ruler is there and he would initiate a process of dialogue, reconciliation and normalisation of the situation. In the first two years he did almost nothing, the protests continued almost on and off until a year ago. In January-February last year he introduced his programme, he promised to release the political prisoners and than he allowed the exiles to come back.

He introduced the national charter in early February last year and was to be voted on on February 14.

Now before the people voted for the charter, they wanted to ensure that the charter was not just another way of bypassing the peoples demands. So they wanted to ensure that the charter would not infringe on their rights to have their constitution reinstated. The ruler at that time, Sheikh Hamid, did give several pledges, openly documented and have been documented in the newspapers and in private documents he signed. The pledges were concentrated on three points: First that the 1973 constitution would be preserved and would not be changed outside the articles contained in it. Second in the charter it was stipulated that the legislative power would consist of two chambers and elected one and an appointed one. Then the emir gave a pledge that the elected parliament would be entrusted with legislation and that the appointed one would only be for advise. Third that the king or the ruler would be obliged by the constitution and his powers would be within the constitution and he would not be above it. So when he gave these pledges people endorsed the charter on February 14.

Now for the past year there has been a degree of relaxation. Political exiles were allowed back. I personally went back twice and I thought the situation was much better than it used to be although at the time I also sensed that something fishy was going on. I never trusted that the charter was necessary. There is a movement, there are demands, it would have been easier for the ruler to just say ‘yes’ we have a constitution and we will reinstate it. People were not aware of what was going on. The emir formed two committees one for reapplication – implementing the national charter and the second one was the change the constitution. People were asking what was going on – nobody knew and there was no answer to exactly what these committees were up to. Further more the people realised that a process of Bahrainisation of non-Bahrainis was going on and they did not know to what extent, they asked but they did not receive any answers as to what was going on.

On February 14, one year after the national charter was endorsed and approved the emir addressed the nation. That was to many people a catastrophic day in the history of the country. He declared himself a king and he reneged on all the promises that he gave the people. He introduced a new constitution, he abrogated the old one. This is the new constitution and this is the old one. And anybody who opens the two and compares them would realize that the important articles in the first one have been abrogated and any articles that refer to people’s participation and freedom have been completely obliterated. So the people on that day felt very sad because it was clear that he gave himself everything and he gave the people nothing.

So from that day on there was been a degree of crisis, but no violence, the people have decided not to demonstrate or object. At the same time the government has not said anything. It has not commented on the pledges that have been given earlier and the country appears to be on the fringe of another crisis for the next I don’t know how many years. The people are asking the question why didn’t the ruler reinstate the constitution, why did he have to abrogate the only legal binding document between the people and the government. Why are we as people obliged to accept the new constitution. Why do I have to abide by a document in which I did not have a say?

The contractual document between the government and the people has been abrogated. Apart from the details of the new constitution there are a few points – first of all the idea of abrogating a constitution and introducing a new one is null and void because article 104 of the old constitution stipulates that any change in the constitution could only be achieved by an elected parliament with tow-thirds majority..

Secondly the articles that were giving the people the right to participate in legislation have been watered down to the extent that the new chamber which is called the national assembly and consists of two chambers an elected and an appointed one does not offer the people the right to legislate because there will be 40 people elected, 40 people appointed and the casting vote lies with the appointed ones. And for any change from this constitution to the new one there is a need for two-thirds majority. The 40 appointed members will only do what they have been told by the government, because they are employees of the government. So we will never get the two-thirds majority unless the government wants it.

Furthermore one of the articles stipulates in the old one if the parliament is dissolved then within two months elections must be held. Otherwise the dissolution is null and void and people could come back and claim to be the real representatives of the people. In the new constitution the king has the right to dissolve the parliament up to four months and if the government feels that the circumstances which demanded the dissolution still persist it could be extended. So it could be dissolved for years and that could be considered constitutional.

So all in all of course there are many articles that protect. the articles which are not wanted by the people. So you cannot change them. some people say we will go to the parliament and we will change them. But there is a protection and they cannot do that. So the crisis in the country to me appears to be still on, nobody is calling for violence but people are calling for peaceful protests and the only thing that has been achieved is a degree of freedom of expression. That has to be tested to see to what extent the new king is prepared to allow dissenting voices although already dissenting voices do not find their way to the newspapers.


Commentary by Shabir Radwi from the audience:

 I am not an academic or a journalist – I am just a simple businessman so my remarks may be not that profound but observations of what I have seen in Bahrain and in the wider Middle East. One of the issues which Dr Saeed commented on is the issue of freedom and democracy which very much relates – no matter how wealthy the people may be (the local populations in the Gulf countries are very insignificant when you look at the ex pats who are working in that part of the world). So the freedom that one talks about – is it the freedom of the local individuals, the indigenous population or the expats who make – in the UAE constitute 2.4 million while the local population is only 300,000. So what sort of freedom issues are we talking about? So it is a much wider concept of freedom and having an opportunity. I know the issue in Bahrain is currently the Bahrainisation of some of the expats who are working in certain occupations. That will change the demography of Bahrain. But these are also issues which will need to be addressed at a different level. I think the important factor whenever one travels in any part of the Middle East is certainly the glamouress situation, the outwardly superficial brand new highways, communications, infrastructure – everything being first world. But internally, inherently there are other problems. What are the issues. Obviously in Bahrain there have been problems which are continuous. I would like to refer to what an American president said that fear is the foundation of most governments. An American president saying 200 years ago that government operate because they want to inoculate some sort of fear in the ordinary people. Obviously in our part of the world, India, Pakistan and the Middle East if I take it to the wider horizon the fear is more raw in the sense that it is applied, implemented at a very basic level. Therefore the governments survive not because they have any democratic mandate. They just survive because they inoculate fear.

How do we move from there? At an economic level there seems to be prosperity. It is often said that Bahrain is the poorest of the Gulf countries but compared to a lot of African and Asian countries it is certainly a very rich country, in that sense. The comparison of what is poor vis a vis what is happening in other Gulf nations. So there is the issue of democracy and the issue of economic development.

   Bahrain was certainly seen on the global scene as a banking and financial services centre. Due to developments in the last ten  years it has lost a lot of the institutional bankers and so on. Due  to what happened in Beirut during the last 20 years meant that a lot of the financial institutes moved to Bahrain and then from Bahrain, because of the problems there, to the UAE.

   So again, is Bahrain loosing out because of what has been happening in the last ten years on the economic front. It is also an interesting thing to consider.

   With reference to what you said earlier – where is the money? Where is the meat in the McDonalds? Where is the money really going? That is the issue that concerns everyone – whether one talks to the middle classes. They want to know how the bulk of the money is being spent. Superfically money has been spent because obviously the roads are good, everything appears to be perfect in so far as the economic development is concerned.  According to Mr Blair’s 15 points of happiness. Those kinds of measures if they apply, people appear to be happy, especially in the GCC countries. But at the end of the day no matter how much wealth one has one still wants to have the freedom  to think and to have a method of consultation which his open, clear and through which everyone can see that the people are being consulted for the decisions that are taken.

Cheney confers with Bahrainis on Iraq

17 March 2002

 MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney visited the major U.S. military base in Gulf on Sunday, saying his Middle East tour remained focused on Iraq despite opposition to any attack on the country from regional leaders. Bahrain was the seventh stop on Cheney’s trip to 11 Middle Eastern states, during which he is sounding out opinion about U.S. proposals to unseat Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. So far the leaders have told Cheney they oppose any military strike on a fellow Arab state. Speaking to hundreds of U.S. sailors and Marines at the 5th Fleet’s base in Bahrain, Cheney said his meetings focused on tackling regimes seeking weapons of mass destruction. “The danger is very real and growing,” he said. Cheney then held talks with the king, Sheik Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, and members of the Bahraini Cabinet.

The vice president was scheduled to fly to Qatar later Sunday. On Monday he is due to hold talks in Kuwait, which U.S. troops helped liberate in 1991 from a seven-month Iraqi occupation, and then fly to Israel. (am-jbm)


By Randall Mikkelsen MANAMA, March 17 (Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney held talks in Bahrain on Sunday following crucial late night discussions with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdullah on a Middle East peace proposal. Cheney met King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa of Bahrain, the Gulf headquarters of the U.S. navy’s Fifth Fleet which is heavily involved in the U.S.-led military campaign on Afghanistan. Before meeting the king, Cheney visited U.S. servicemen based in this pro-Western Gulf island state and thanked them for their role in the anti-terror campaign launched after the September 11 attacks on U.S. cities. Bahrain is the headquarters of the U.S. navy’s Fifth Fleet, heavily involved in the military campaign in Afghanistan. “You’re serving with honour. The American people are proud of you and I consider it a privilege to bring that message to you in person this morning,” Cheney said. He said a “great coalition” was forming to support the campaign, adding that the “success of liberty and the future of the civilised world now depends on us.” The vice president’s regional tour was initially aimed at maintaining momentum for the U.S. war on terrorism. But the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and efforts to end it, have forced themselves to the top of the agenda. On Saturday, Cheney and Crown Prince Abdullah talked into the night about the Saudi peace initiative, which offers Arab normalisation of relations with Israel in return for Israeli withdrawal from Arab lands captured in the 1967 Middle East war. Cheney also invited Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler to visit Washington, and the official Saudi Press Agency said Prince Abdullah had accepted the offer, nine months after he snubbed a similar invitation over perceived U.S. bias towards Israel. Cheney will be able to take his impressions of the Saudi peace proposal to Israel, one of his scheduled stops in the 11-country Middle East swing. OPPOSITION TO ATTACK ON IRAQ Crown Prince Abdullah has said that most Arab states agree with his initiative, which he intends to propose formally at an Arab summit this month in Beirut. Some observers have asked whether Riyadh is drawing back from its original proposal to “normalise” relations with Israel, by recently talking instead of “full peace,” which some view as implying a less dramatic rapprochement. But Prince Abdullah said in an interview with ABC, broadcast on Friday, that he envisaged “normal relations” with Israel, including a resumption of trade, diplomatic recognition and an exchange of ambassadors. Cheney is also promoting Washington’s campaign to stop Iraqi President Saddam Hussein acquiring weapons of mass destruction, but several Arab leaders Cheney has met on the trip said they would oppose any military action against Iraq. Crown Prince Abdullah said in the ABC interview that an attack on Iraq would not be in the interests of the United States, the region or the world, echoing language used by other regional leaders. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said in a French television interview on Friday that the United States had no attack plans “on the desk of the president.”


Gulf Air must restructure or face bankruptcy-paper

 MANAMA, March 17 (Reuters) – The chairman of loss-making regional carrier Gulf Air was quoted on Sunday as saying the airline must cut jobs and overhaul its operations to receive a much-needed 60 million dinar ($159 million) cash injection. Gulf Air Chairman Hamdan bin Mubarak al-Nahyan was quoted by Bahrain’s Gulf Daily News newspaper as telling senior management that the massive restructuring operation was necessary to save the airline from bankruptcy. “A 60 million dinar cash injection agreed by owning states last summer will only be paid if the restructuring plan goes ahead,” Nahyan said. “Without it, the airline faces insolvency.” “No longer can anyone, regardless of whether or not he or she is a Gulf national or an expatriate, see a job with Gulf Air as a job for life,” it added. Gulf Air officials were not immediately available to verify the report. Bahrain-based Gulf Air said last year it would cut up to 450 staff in 2002 to trim costs due to the global economic slowdown after the September 11 attacks on the United States. It has also said it would reduce its fleet to 26 aircraft from 30 this year. The owners of Gulf Air — the governments of Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the Abu Dhabi emirate of the United Arab Emirates — last year agreed to inject 60 million dinars into the company to help restore its profitability. The airline lost $98 million in 2000. Gulf Daily News said U.S.-based consultancy firm Simet Hellielson & Eicher (SH&E) will spearhead the rescue plan ,which includes disposing of A340s to reduce debt. ($1-0.377 dinar)

Cheney Hopes for Success of Mideast Truce Efforts

17 March 2002

 By Randall Mikkelsen MANAMA (Reuters) – Vice President Dick Cheney said Sunday he hoped U.S. efforts to broker a cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians would succeed this week. U.S. special envoy Anthony Zinni is currently in Israel to try and end 17 months of Palestinian-Israeli fighting to prepare for the resumption of peace talks. Zinni’s mission has been described by both Israeli and Palestinian analysts as extremely difficult. But Cheney said he hoped Zinni’s talks would yield a result by the time he lands in Israel Monday. “General Zinni is sort of on the frontline … I hope he will have something positive to report by the time I arrive,” the vice president told a news conference shortly before leaving Bahrain for the neighboring Gulf state of Qatar. Both Israel and the Palestinians have so far refused to take part in the U.S.-sponsored talks. The Palestinians say they will not attend the meeting unless Israeli forces withdraw from all areas the army has re-occupied since the start of the September 2000 independence uprising. Israel has said it will only quit the Palestinian territories in return for security guarantees. Cheney’s 11-nation Middle East tour was initially aimed at drumming up support for the U.S.-led war on terrorism, but the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has so far dominated the agenda. In Bahrain, headquarters of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, Cheney met the servicemen who are heavily involved in the war on Afghanistan and thanked them for their anti-terror efforts. But his discussions with Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa remained focused on the situation in the Middle East, and on a Saudi proposal to bring peace to the region. Saturday, the U.S. vice president and Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Abdullah, talked into the night about the peace initiative that offers Arab normalization of relations with Israel in return for Israeli withdrawal from Arab lands captured in the 1967 Middle East war. Cheney described his visit to Saudi Arabia as the “warmest I’ve ever had,” adding the Saudi proposal had given some impetus to the peace process. “We think it’s a good one,” he said. Crown Prince Abdullah has said that most Arab states agree with his initiative, which he intends to propose formally at an Arab summit this month in Beirut. Cheney also invited the kingdom’s de facto ruler to visit Washington, and the official Saudi Press Agency said Prince Abdullah had accepted the offer, nine months after he snubbed a similar invitation over perceived U.S. bias toward Israel. MIDEAST VIOLENCE, NOT IRAQ,THREATENING REGION Cheney is also promoting Washington’s campaign to stop Iraqi President Saddam Hussein acquiring weapons of mass destruction. Several Arab leaders Cheney has met on the trip said they would oppose any military action against Iraq, but the vice president dismissed talk of an imminent U.S. attack as “a speculative bubble that needed to be burst.” Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, speaking at a joint news conference with Cheney, urged Iraq to comply with the U.N. sanctions to avoid “potential harm” to the region. But he stressed that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and not Baghdad’s longstanding dispute with the West, was the real threat to stability in the region. “The perception of threat in the Arab world really focuses around that issue. We are preoccupied by it,” he explained. “The people who are dying today in the streets are not a result of Iraqi action, the people who are dying today are dying as a result of Israeli action and likewise, people in Israel are dying as a result of actions in response to those actions.”

Cheney extends Bush invitation to Saudi leader

17 March 2002

By TOM RAUM Associated Press Writer MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney announced Sunday that President George W. Bush has invited Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdullah to visit him at the president’s ranch in Texas. Cheney, continuing his tour of Middle Eastern countries, said the United States views a peace initiative offered up by Abdullah to end years of Israeli-Palestinian violence as a hopeful overture. Cheney traveled to Bahrain after his top-level meetings in Saudi Arabia. He met with Bahrain’s king, Sheik Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, and also visited the headquarters here of the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet. Bahrain was the seventh stop on Cheney’s tour of 11 Middle Eastern nations. Arab leaders are focusing on the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, no matter how much Cheney tries to shift the focus to Iraq. The vice president, speaking at a news conference, criticized reports on the controversy over U.S. plans for a tougher line on Iraq “as a speculative bubble.” Cheney said no decision had yet been made by Bush on what to do about Iraq and its leader. The real question, he said, was why Saddam Hussein was not following U.N. resolutions and continued to refuse to allow international weapons inspectors into his country. Cheney told reporters that he had extended Bush’s invitation to visit the United States in his meeting Saturday with Abdullah in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia. At that session, Abdullah reportedly told Cheney that Saudi Arabia remains opposed to attacking Iraq and would not allow the United States to use Saudi bases for such an operation. However, Cheney would not disclose what Abdullah said and suggested that news accounts of their meeting may have been misleading. “The only people in the meeting were the crown prince and myself and an interpreter and I have his notes,” Cheney said. He insisted that his meeting with the Saudi leader was “very warm and friendly.” Speaking earlier at the 5th Fleet headquarters, Cheney told some 3,000 American servicemen and women working there that “a long struggle” still faces the United States and its allies in the war on terror. “No matter how long it takes the forces of freedom will defeat the forces of terror,” he said. The vice president was scheduled to fly to Qatar later Sunday. On Monday he is due to hold talks in Kuwait, which U.S. troops helped liberate in 1991 from a seven-month Iraqi occupation. He then travels on to Israel.

Middle East International

12 March 2002

By: Joe Stork

Shaikh Hassan al-Mushaima was worried. “What do we tell the people?” he asked. We were sitting in Shaikh Hassan’s house in Jidhafs, just outside Manama. A few days earlier, on 14 February, Bahrain’s ruler, Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, issued by decree an “amended constitution” that elevated himself from Amir to King and set up a bicameral National Assembly, with one chamber elected and the other appointed, and with women able to vote and stand for office. This much was in accord with a National Charter approved overwhelmingly in a country-wide referendum a year earlier. The devil, for Shaikh Hassan and others, was in one detail. The Charter specified that the elected chamber would have all “legislative attributes” while the appointed chamber would “offer advice and knowledge as requested.” But the decree of 14 February stipulates that the 40-member elected assembly will share legislative prerogatives with an equal number of appointed members, with the head of the appointed body holding the tie-breaking vote. “What has happened is very dangerous,” Shaikh Hassan continued. “Many people want to march in the street. There haven’t been any demonstrations yet, but we can’t say it won’t happen.” Shaikh Ali Salman, another leader in Bahrain’s Shi`a community, joined us. “We have been calling on people not to demonstrate,” he said. “We’re asking them to let the political leaders handle it for now. We hope that elections will make for a political atmosphere better than this constitution.” There were some grounds for optiminsm. The last time I visited Bahrain, in 1996, the country was in the midst of its own intifada demanding civil rights and restoration of the abrogated 1973 Constitution, Shaikh Hassan was in prison-the fate of numerous Shi`a opposition leaders. Shaikh Ali was in involuntary exile, along with hundreds of leftists, nationalists, and Islamists. Last February Shaikh Hassan was finally released-he had never been charged with any crime-and Shaikh Ali returned home, part of a general amnesty preceding the referendum. Then the amir abolished the notorious State Security Courts that had been used to enforce emergency rule since 1975. Political parties are still prohibited, and the press remains under stifling government control. Activists told me that surveillance of their activities continues but that it is now “polite.” Before visiting Shaikh Hassan, though, I attended a seminar on “democratic transformation” sponsored by the venerable Uruba Club. For three days dozens of Bahraini political and trade union activists who had spent years in prison or exile met with guests from Oman, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere for discussions that until a year ago got people thrown in jail and fired from their jobs. The free-wheeling exchanges at the seminar and other public meetings I attended were exhilarating. As they debated how to confront the new constitutional diktat, every critic insisted that this-free speech–was their most important gain and must be preserved. “The government just buried our constitution,” one told me, referring to the 1973 document. He too had spent more than five years in prison without charges for his unbending campaign to restore constitutional rule. “We cannot accept this one-sided policy,” he said. “But we have to use this space to establish a new movement based on national unity and responsible behavior.” In a series of early February meetings with individual critics-“he refuses to meet with the opposition all together,” one told me-the king dropped broad hints about what he was planning. When they objected, they said, he insisted that “international experts” had approved of the new document. According to several participants in one meeting, Abbas Hilal, the head of the Bar Association, earned the king’s displeasure by telling him that “these experts are just tailors, cutting the cloth to fit.” Neither the Bar Association nor any independent Bahraini lawyers, they pointed out, were consulted. The king reportedly claimed that he had gotten the approval of all but maybe five of Bahrain’s civic societies. “That’s right,” said Abd al-Aziz Abul, president of the Uruba Club. “The Dilmun Cat Society and others like that raised no objection, but the societies that are political and represent thousands of people opposed this move. We urged him to consult openly before taking this step.” He then pulled out a small, compact Arabic version of the 1973 Constitution. “We asked for permission to reprint this, like you have to for anything you want to print in Bahrain,” he said. “But we got no response, so finally we got these printed up and shipped in from Kuwait. Here, have one.”

Bahrain wants nationals held at US base extradited

13 March 2002

MANAMA, Bahrain (Reuters) – Bahrain, a close U.S. ally, is seeking the extradition of three Bahrainis believed to be among suspected al Qaeda and Taliban members held at a U.S. base in Cuba, newspapers reported Wednesday. The Gulf Daily News quoted an unnamed Foreign Ministry official as saying Bahrain wanted the three Bahrainis held at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base and three others possibly arrested in Afghanistan handed over. Bahrain has asked the United States to allow a security team to visit the base to identify and repatriate the Bahraini prisoners, Bahrain Tribune said. The Gulf Arab state is also seeking information about Bahrainis possibly held in Pakistan, it said. The United States has yet to accept similar extradition requests from other allies such as Saudi Arabia. Bahrain is the headquarters of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet. The small kingdom has voiced support for the U.S. anti-terror war and frozen bank accounts suspected of links to the Al Qaeda networks and its leader, Saudi-born dissident Osama bin Laden. Washington has accused bin Laden of plotting Sept. 11 attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center.


45 Chalton Street, London NW1 1HY, Tel/Fax: 020 7608 2564 Bahrain: the political and economic context for change by Jon Marks Editorial Director of Middle East Newsletters 6. 30 pm, Thursday 14 March 2002 Refreshments served from 6.00 pm, dinner at 8.00 pm

Jon Marks is the Editorial Director of Middle East Newsletters, and a long-time observer of Arab and Gulf affairs. He is a regular traveler to the Gulf with a wide-ranging interest both in political development, economic and business trends.

Unemployed Bahrainis protest outside prime minister’s office

10 March 2002

MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — About 400 unemployed men and women marched through Bahrain’s capital to the prime minister’s office Sunday, demanding jobs. In the fourth such demonstration in three months, the protesters carried a banner saying: “We demand appropriate jobs and fair salaries.” Officials in the Prime Minister’s office invited four leaders of the demonstration to meet Sheik Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa. The protesters, who were mostly graduates, said they had a plan to present to Sheik Khalifa. The plan urged the government to introduce a minimum wage for civil servants and to pick applicants for jobs according to their qualifications rather than their connections in government. A copy of the plan was made available to The Associated Press. There was no immediate word on the outcome of the meeting, but the demonstrators dispersed peacefully afterward. After a similar protest in January, Al Khalifa promised to find jobs for the unemployed. In June, the government launched a dlrs 66 million program to train and find jobs for citizens. Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Abdulnabi al-Shoa’la told reporters on Wednesday that some 6,957 Bahrainis were recruited by private and government establishments last year. Of these, 2,500 were given jobs in the public sector — the bulk of them as teachers in the Ministry of Education, al-Shoa’la said. He said official figures showed that some 17,402 Bahrainis, or 5.6 percent of the local manpower, remained unemployed at the end of 2001. Unemployment long has been a problem in Bahrain, a tiny island state in the Gulf.

The lack of jobs was a factor in the unrest that erupted in the mid-1990s, when the Shiite Muslim majority claimed they suffered job discrimination as the government was headed by Sunni Muslims.

Bahrain women gear up for their first election

 By Isa Mubarak MANAMA, March 10 (Reuters) – Bahrain has spared its women an arduous fight for political rights by adopting a constitution that grants them the right to vote and stand for office in its first election for 27 years. But although Bahrain may have become the first state to give women political equality in the conservative Gulf Arab region, activists say women face an uphill battle trying to organise an effective challenge in the polls. “The new constitution has spared women the effort that otherwise would have been needed to obtain their rights,” said Lulwa al-Awadi, secretary-general of the Supreme Council for Women. “At least, we don’t have to go through what Kuwaiti women are going through,” she added, referring to repeated failed efforts by women in neighbouring Kuwait to win the right to vote and stand for election. King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, who became emir upon the death of his father in 1999, last month declared the emirate a kingdom and set municipal elections for May followed by a parliamentary vote in October. The king, a Sunni Muslim, also proclaimed a new constitution giving women the right to vote and to stand for office in both local and parliamentary elections. The moves were part of steps to reunite Bahrain, which was shaken by four years of unrest by majority Shi’ite Muslims demanding political and economic reforms. Although many opposition activists have criticised some provisions of the reforms — especially those giving legislative powers to an appointed upper house of parliament on a par with the elected body — women have hailed the new constitution as a victory. Many, however, acknowledge that competing against men in a popular contest for the first time since Bahrain’s independence from Britain in 1971 will be tough. BIG TASKS AHEAD They say the first task is to educate women, long accustomed to living in a male-dominated society, about their rights and to persuade them to vote for female candidates. Financing the election campaign could be another obstacle that women might face to win enough seats in the 40-member parliament to ensure that essential issues are discussed and acted on. “Competing against men will be a big challenge, especially since this will be the first time for women,” said Nadia al-Masqati, head of a local women’s organisation. “It will be up to civil associations, especially women’s groups, to prepare women to take an active role in the election,” she added. Activists say the entry of women into parliament will be crucial for giving women equality at home and in the workplace. “The top priority is (to approve) a family law. We have been and will continue to seek such a law, with or without the election,” lawyer Jalila al-Sayid said. “But taking part in the parliament will definitely help our cause.” Bahrain does not have a law that clearly defines and guarantees women’s rights before and after marriage. Judges usually refer to Islamic sharia law in dealing with family disputes. “When it (the family law) is issued we won’t be living in heaven, but we can resolve a lot of our problems, like improving work conditions for women,” Sayid said. Bahrain Human Rights Society member Hossa al-Khameeri agrees that women need to play a bigger role in society.

“If women had not been given this (election) right, their role would still be incomplete. Now, this role should be taken up in a serious and effective way,” al-Khameeri said.

Six Bahrainis among Guantanamo Bay

10 March 2002

MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — At least six Bahrainis are detained by the U.S. military in Cuba and Afghanistan, the Foreign Ministry was quoted as saying Sunday in the first official comment on its citizens believed missing in the war in Afghanistan. Three Bahrainis are believed to be among the 300 men held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the remaining three are believed held in Afghanistan, a Foreign Ministry spokesman was quoted as saying in the newspaper Gulf Daily News. Officials were not immediately available to verify the report. But the newspaper has a history of credible reporting. Bahrain learned of the detentions through “numerous contacts” with the United States and Pakistan, the spokesman was quoted as saying, adding authorities were “making efforts through various channels in this case.” He did not elaborate. Many Arabs who fought alongside the defeated Taliban and allied al-Qaida forces under terror suspect Osama bin Laden have been captured since the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan began in October. Bin laden is the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington. Last month, Salman Kamal al-Deen, vice president of the Bahrain Human Rights Society, said up to four Bahrainis who went to Afghanistan after the U.S. offensive remained unaccounted for. He said it was not clear if they were still in Afghanistan, had fled the country or were being detained.

Al-Deen said the men, all in their 30s, had entered Afghanistan through Pakistan shortly after the U.S. bombing campaign began. He said he did not think they intended to join the Taliban or al-Qaida.

Gulf Arabs to recreate Venice in Bahrain

By Abbas Salman MANAMA, March 7 (Reuters) – Gulf Arabs, captivated by the beauty of Venice, are investing millions of dollars to create a replica of the romantic Italian city in the Gulf region. Investors, mainly from Saudi Arabia, have launched a project to build an artificial island in the Bahrain archipelago at a cost of $15 million dinars ($40 million), replete with Venice’s canals and gondolas. Construction will take about two years and is expected to start later in 2002. Bahrain, the poorest of the six Gulf Arab states, hopes to cash in on its relaxed social environment to lure foreign tourists to its warm climate and sandy beaches. “Gulf Arabs love Venice, so they decided to build a similar, floating island. It will be designed exactly like the Italian city of Venice, but with chalets,” said Saud Kanoo, the chairman of privately owned holding firm Ossis. Ossis are the developers and will hold a stake in the “Floating Island.” In January, Bahrain contracted a French group to build 325 chalets on the 28,000-sq metre Floating Island, as part of the country’s drive to boost tourism. The island state’s permissive society is a magnet for Saudis, who flood to Bahrain over a causeway linking it to the conservative kingdom, where mixing between the sexes and alcohol are strictly banned. But Kanoo said the Floating Island would cater mainly for families and foreign visitors. “There are many hotels in Bahrain, enough to accommodate other classes of tourists, so we decided to build the island to attract more foreigners,” Kanoo told Reuters. “A feasibility study showed that a certain class of tourist has not been catered for in Bahrain — the family tourist.” A subsidiary of Ossis, Amwaj Property Development Co, has launched another $1 billion project to build five artificial islands off Bahrain with a total of three hotels, up to 1,200 villas, commercial centres, sports complexes and two marinas. “We expect to receive 25,000 tourists to Amwaj in the first three years,” Kanoo said without giving further details. MORE FOREIGN TOURISTS SOUGHT A Tourism Ministry official said four million people visited Bahrain in 2001, up 13 percent from 2000. There are currently 80 hotels, 16 apartment hotels and two resorts in Bahrain, along with a thriving market in furnished flat rentals. “At present, there are enough hotels to accommodate the number of tourists arriving in Bahrain. The maximum occupancy last year was around 72 percent,” said Mohamed Buzizi, chief executive of the Bahrain Hotels Company. “What we really need is to build more facilities to attract foreign tourists,” he added. In 2000, Bahrain, the Gulf’s financial hub, approved the establishment of a 100 million-dinar tourism firm to develop the sector as part of its drive to boost its economy amid shrinking oil revenues and to create jobs. The government has also spent millions of dollars to restore old buildings and forts, promote traditional crafts and create more leisure parks that appeal to other Gulf Arab nationals. This year is expected to see the opening of the al-Dana resort, which has been designed in a traditional way to serve the family and business sectors. Al-Dana is a joint Bahrain-Saudi venture, which is being built at a cost of 10 million dinars. The project will have 180 chalets.

Bahrain to Host Japan-Islamic Dialogue Seminar

Mar 6, 2002 (Al-Bawaba via COMTEX) — Bahraini foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Mubarak al-Khalifa is due to patronize a seminar on the issue of cultural dialogue between the Islamic world and Japan scheduled to be held in Manama between March 12-13. Assistant secretary general of research finance at the Bahraini studies and Research center, Dr. Fuad al-Rumaih, told the Al-Ayam daily that the central aim of the seminar is to encourage cultural dialogue between Japanese and Islamic intellectuals. The seminar is organized with the cooperation of the foreign ministries from the two countries and the Bahraini studies and research center. Al-Rumaih added that the seminar would include topics of discussion such as “the coexistence of Islam and Japan ” by a Japanese intellectual and “Japan, Islam and International Relations”, by Dr. Ahmad Abu al-Majid from Egypt, “Islam and Globalization” by Dr. Tala Mahjarani from Iran. Moreover, Dr. al-Rumaih stated that intellectuals from Kuwait, Oman, UAE, Qatar, Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, Yemen and the Arab League would participate in the seminar as well.

Participants will be separated into workshop groups to review the issues presented throughout the seminar. He added that reports from the workshop discussions and recommendations presented would be published and presented to the participating countries

Bahrain, Jordan discuss reviving Mideast peacemaking

MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — The leaders of Bahrain and Jordan discussed Tuesday ways to restart Middle East peacemaking and end spiraling Palestinian-Israeli violence. Talks between Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Bahrain’s newly proclaimed king, Sheik Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, focused on the “oppressive Israeli practices against the Palestinian people and efforts to push forward the (Mideast) peace process,” Bahrain News Agency reported. It provided no other details. Abdullah is trying to get Israelis and Palestinians to end 17 months of violence which has claimed the lives of more than 1,000 people. Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994.

Abdullah later left to the United Arab Emirates, his final stop in a two-day Gulf Arab swing.

O’Neill Says Islamic Charities Need Monitoring!!

5 March 2002

 By Glenn Somerville KUWAIT (Reuters) – U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill said Tuesday Islamic charities needed closer monitoring because proceeds from some had gone to groups supporting terrorism. “We don’t want to do anything that interferes with the regular flow of charitable giving and support for good causes,” O’Neill, touring the Middle East for economic and security talks, told a news conference. “But we do have information from places around the world of instances (in which) some of the money they gave ended up providing support to those who want to do evil things.” Charities pose a complex and sensitive issue because they are a common means in the Middle East of raising money to help Muslims around the world but are seen by some in the West as falling under loose regulatory control. The Bush administration sees Islamic charities as one potential link in a complex of fundraising methods used by groups to raise money for attacks like the Sept. 11 suicide hijack attacks on the United States. O’Neill met Kuwaiti Finance Minister Youssef al-Abrahim, other senior officials and banking representatives during a brief stop Tuesday before flying on to Saudi Arabia, which has hundreds of Islamic charities. GUARD CHARITIES FROM ABUSE Tighter regulation of Islamic charities also came up at O’Neill’s first Middle East stop in Bahrain Monday, where he praised official efforts to apply closer scrutiny to charities. He noted that one of the first charities to be shut down under a U.S.-led drive to identify and block assets of groups which raise money for terror attacks was located in Texas. The Bush administration shut down the Holy Land Foundation, the largest Islamic charity in the United States, after it was accused of raising money for militant Islamic group Hamas. “So this is not the United States saying everyone else has a problem and we don’t have a problem,” O’Neill said. “We think it is something we should all work on together and we’re very pleased with the response and the conversations we had (with Kuwaiti officials) and with the resolve to accomplish this purpose.” O’Neill winds up his Mideast tour Friday in the United Arab Emirates, completing a four-country swing to seek support in choking the flow of funds to militant groups. In response to a question, he said it was “simply not true” that the United States was trying to force its prescriptions on other countries for fighting groups which back terror. “We have not given direction or instructions or even suggestions to individual countries about how they should be responding, but every place in the world has responded in an affirmative way to this call to support civilization.”

Bahrain Affirms Anti-Terror Moves

MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — Bahrain has reaffirmed its commitment to blocking bank accounts tied to suspected terrorists, U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill said Monday after talks with authorities here. Bahrain had temporarily frozen two bank accounts early this year tied to terrorist suspects that the United States targeted after the Sept. 11 attacks. But Bahrain officials had sought more information from the United States before making the freeze permanent. “Bahrain’s reaffirmation of its commitment to block terrorist accounts has been particularly important, and the U.S. welcomes continued close cooperation in the future,” O’Neill said in a joint statement with his Bahraini counterpart, Abdullah Hassan Saif. O’Neill did not give details on his talks with Bahrain’s newly proclaimed king, Sheik Hamad Ibn Isa Al Khalifa, and other senior officials. But he said they touched on networks that could be used by global terrorists to move money, including the Islamic banking system, money transfers known as hawala, and charitable organizations. Saif, the Bahraini finance minister, also said his country recently set up a law enforcement unit at Bahrain Monetary Agency, the equivalent of the central bank, to monitor transactions that could be linked to money laundering. Bahrain, a tiny Gulf island nation of a half million people, is a regional banking hub with more than 180 banks and financial institutions.

Bahrain says committed to disrupting terror-related financial transactions

4 March 2002

By JAMAL HALABY Associated Press Writer MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — Bahrain said it was committed to disrupting terrorism-related financial transactions and money laundering, U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill said Monday after talks with authorities here. “Bahrain’s reaffirmation of its commitment to block terrorist accounts has been particularly important, and the U.S. welcomes continued close cooperation in the future,” O’Neill said in a joint statement with his Bahraini counterpart, Abdullah Hassan Saif. “The U.S. looks forward to joining Bahrain and other countries in the region in a combined initiative to ensure that charities throughout the world are not abused by terrorists,” the statement said. O’Neill arrived in Bahrain on Monday as part of a four-day tour of Gulf Arab states. He was also scheduled to visit Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Speaking to reporters, O’Neill said his talks with Bahrain’s newly proclaimed king, Sheik Hamad Ibn Isa Al Khalifa, and other senior officials focused on “topics related to terrorism, economics, banking and finance.” He did not provide details, but said he had a “valuable exchange on the intricacies” of the Islamic banking system, money transfers — known as hawala — and ways to obstruct terror-related transactions that may be channeled through charitable organizations. In the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States, some Islamic banking practices, such as hawala, were suspected of being used by international terrorist organizations to finance their activities. Saif, the Bahraini finance minister, said his country has recently set up a law enforcement unit at Bahrain Monetary Agency, the equivalent of the central bank, to monitor transactions that could be linked to money laundering.

“So far, Bahrain has not had a case that led to prosecution among the transactions,” Saif said.


MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — Bahrain has reaffirmed its commitment to blocking bank accounts tied to suspected terrorists, U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill said Monday after talks with authorities here. Bahrain had temporarily frozen two bank accounts early this year tied to terrorist suspects that the United States targeted after the Sept. 11 attacks. But Bahrain officials had sought more information from the United States before making the freeze permanent. “Bahrain’s reaffirmation of its commitment to block terrorist accounts has been particularly important, and the U.S. welcomes continued close cooperation in the future,” O’Neill said in a joint statement with his Bahraini counterpart, Abdullah Hassan Saif. O’Neill did not give details on his talks with Bahrain’s newly proclaimed king, Sheik Hamad Ibn Isa Al Khalifa, and other senior officials. But he said they touched on networks that could be used by global terrorists to move money, including the Islamic banking system, money transfers known as hawala, and charitable organizations. Saif, the Bahraini finance minister, also said his country recently set up a law enforcement unit at Bahrain Monetary Agency, the equivalent of the central bank, to monitor transactions that could be linked to money laundering. Bahrain, a tiny Gulf island nation of a half million people, is a regional banking hub with more than 180 banks and financial institutions.


By Glenn Somerville MANAMA, Bahrain (Reuters) – U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill Monday hailed the cooperation of the Gulf state of Bahrain in efforts to halt the flow of funds to groups that sponsor terrorism. At the start of a five-day Middle East tour, O’Neill also said progress was being made in ensuring that Islamic charities were not used to channel money for illegal uses. The U.S. Treasury chief heaped praise on Bahrain for its willingness to join in the U.S.-led campaign against terror financing and said its swift work in blocking the assets of suspected groups had been pivotal. “As an important financial center of the world, it was critical that Bahrain respond in a good way and work in a cooperative way on this subject and no one could have asked for more.., he told a news conference. Bahrain is a Gulf banking and financial hub, home to more than 100 banks and Islamic financial houses that have combined assets topping $100 billion. In a joint statement, O’Neill and Bahrain’s Finance Minister Abdulla Hassan Saif noted that Bahrain has passed new laws to combat money laundering in accordance with guidelines set by the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force and said charities were also subject to special scrutiny. Saudi Arabia alone has hundreds of charities and the United States is pressing for closer regulation their activities throughout the Middle East. “Money that people give to help other people (should) be channeled to charitable purposes and only for charitable purposes,” O’Neill said. WARY EYE ON ISLAMIC BANKS One of the objectives of O’Neill’s visit was to learn more about Islamic banking, which operates in accordance with Islamic laws that forbid the payment and receipt of interest. He was asked whether the United States was suspicious about Islamic banking, as it is about an ancient Arab fund-swapping system called “hawala” that was allegedly used to help the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks. O’Neill said that as new accounting rules that increase transparency of Islamic banking transactions come into place, it will “take away the mystery” and make it easier to determine the similarities and differences between it and conventional commercial banking. O’Neill said that hawalas, which move money from one trader to another, often in different countries and in hard-to-trace transactions, needed more regulation. “Our concern about hawalas is (that) in many places they don’t have the same regulatory process present that other technical banking systems have, so we have to make sure that we pursue those who would hurt people anyplace in the world through terrorist activities,” O’Neill said. He added the United States was determined that “we don’t overlook any possible mechanism that’s used to provide money to evil people, and so it’s in that sense that we’re interested in hawalas.” O’Neill will visit Kuwait Tuesday before heading to Saudi Arabia and then travels to the United Arab Emirates Thursday. It is one of the most wide-ranging Middle East trips by a U.S. Treasury secretary in the past decade.


U.N.’s Robinson wants primary role for Bahrain MPs

 MANAMA, March 3 (Reuters) – The United Nations human rights chief said on Sunday she had urged Bahrain to guarantee that elected parliamentarians would have a primary role when the Gulf state revives its parliament under landmark reforms. “I raised some concerns about the structure of the bi-chamber council because it was not clear that the elected members would have the predominant place in that council,” Mary Robinson told a news conference after talks with top Bahrainis. Bahrain plans to hold its first public elections in 27 years in October as part of political and economic reforms introduced by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa to reunite his country, shaken by four years of anti-government unrest in the 1990s. But an appointed Shura council would be given legislative powers on a par with those of the new elected parliament — a sore point with the opposition. “I indicated that it will be important that the upper chamber be selected in a manner that is open and reinforces its role,” she said. “I was very struck by the commitment particularly of his majesty (King Hamad) today that this must work and work well,” she said. Bahrain dissolved its first elected parliament in 1975, two years after it was set up, and replaced it with an appointed consultative Shura Council. Robinson, who arrived in the island state on Saturday, said her talks had also tackled issues like discrimination, unemployment and women’s rights. “One of the issues raised today by NGOs, which i also referred to his majesty, was discrimination in the defence force for example and in public service,” she said. Opposition activists claim that discrimination against the country’s Shi’ite Muslim majority has exacerbated the country’s unemployment problem.


JAMAL HALABY Associated Press Writer MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — Bahrain should have a parliament with strong legislative powers to reinforce a democratic process in the newly proclaimed kingdom, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights said Sunday. In meetings with top officials, Mary Robinson said she raised “some concerns” over the structure and duties of a bicameral parliament, one house of which will be elected later this year and the other appointed by the king, Sheik Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. Legislative elections are part of constitutional amendments introduced Feb. 14, when Sheik Hamad, the former emir of Bahrain, proclaimed himself king and the tiny Gulf island nation a constitutional monarchy. “It is not clear that the elected members would have the predominant place in that council (to) reinforce its democratic structure,” Robinson told reporters after a working lunch with the king. She said she told Sheik Hamad “it would be important that the elected legislative council (is) the strong deciding chamber … and be directly elected by the people.” The appointed chamber will represent components of Bahraini society that must be included in parliament, but have not been elected to the legislative body, Robinson quoted the king as saying. “I referred to the fact of the importance of ensuring that there is a separation of powers and that the second chamber … is not under the control” of the government, Robinson said. Opposition groups have criticized aspects of the political reform, saying it gives the ruler power over lawmaking. The government says the changes are essential for the modernization of the country’s institutions, which had been based on the traditional Arab Gulf emiri system of government in which the ruler, or emir, enjoyed absolute power.

A year ago, Bahrainis overwhelmingly approved the reforms in a referendum for a national charter, which promised to turn the nation into a constitutional monarchy with elected parliament and local officials. The charter allows women to vote and run for office.

Mary Robinson’s interview with “AFP” – Q1- the Purpose of the visit? – – A1 – The main purpose of the visit is to re-enforce my offices priority to give technical support and encouragement for human rights in Arab states. My visit to the reign Attended to strongly underlin ment ..(..) I came from Egypt and I’m leaving to Lebanon and I leave 2 human rights officers in the economic commission (Iskwa). I acknowledge progress here in Bahrain and I also been concerned about some aspects obviously I have been looking for more progress. I have been concerned about press reports have been to bland..(..) saying good things.. I’ve been raising quit serious issues and concerns and I have just have good meeting with Ingo’s whom they told me about other concerns which I’m going to discus with his majesty. Bahrain is moving to the right direction, but there are also concerns for example, the manner of adoptment of tw chambers of the council have raised quick worries about the democratic ..(..) because a democratically elected council side by side with the selected council which can not be have …( ..) I want to speck to his majesty about a process of selection for the upper chamber which well be given more democratic legitimacy. “..i have acknowledged the significant progress for example the abolishing of security lows and the national charter..(..) I expressed concerns about the manner ad mention about the constitution, but I see that can be improved by having a process of selection by transparency. It have been a constructive process because the points that I’m making has been I think listened to very carefully. By those who I’ve met”. Q2 – What else did you discus with officials here? Did you ask Bahrain government to singe some conventions related to human rights? A 2- I’ve asked to begin a process which they have agree to do. The foreign minister confirm this morning to begin a process leading to ratification of the “international convent for political and civil rights” and the “international convent of economic, social and culture rights”. Obviously I note the import antsy of low and press freedom and the low of associations leading ultimately to the establishment of political parties here. and the import antsy of working in a low for family states which well give legal bases to the position of women more strongly. “this morning. Ingo’s raised the discrimination in employment in public sector , unemployment. And the need to address the wrongs of the past to have maybe a “truth and reconciliation and compensation.”. Q 3- in the last 48 hours the situation between Israelis and Palestinians went in a new dramatic circle of violence how do you see this situation?. A3 ­ I’ve been deeply concern about the wore sting situation in the occupied Palestinian territories and in Israel and I issued a statement in Cairo, expressing my deep concern about military occupations of the refuge camps and the death it has accord and serious injuries to a large number of Palestinians, equally I deeply dismayed at the suicide attack in Jerusalem killing 9 civilians as well as the sup- rater of the suicide..(..) this is totally unjustified and it does not serve just course. ..(..) I think it damages the course that it was seek to serve. “ I noted this morning also further killing of an Israeli solders, it is so urgent to get a political frame work that gives some hope in order to break this terrible cycle of violence.

“but I can’t state strongly enough how much it is both of international responsibility and the responsibility of the Israelis and the Palestinian authority to provide that political ( play forwarded??? ).

Bahraini Women to Establish Union

Mar 3, 2002 (Al-Bawaba via COMTEX) — Inspired by the democratic reforms in the kingdom, women in Bahrain are due to soon establish their new union to serve as “an umbrella organization for all women’s associations in the island to tackle all political, social and economic, and other issues related to women”, Mariam Al Ruwai’ee, member of the Bahrain Young Ladies Association (BYLA), told Gulf News on Saturday. She stated that the women’s associations in the country would run a series of workshops for women who are considering running as candidates in the upcoming municipal elections. “The new Bahrain Women’s Union (BWU) received the initial approval for its formation from Labor and Social Affairs Minister three months ago”. “The union’s draft constitution has been submitted to the ministry’s legal affairs department for final review and approval. We are awaiting now for the final and official approval from the department,” Mariam told the paper. Mariam, who chairs the proposed union’s preparatory committee comprising of 32 members representing all women’s societies throughout Bahrain, said that once it is approved, the union will hold its first meeting to elect its board. “All women societies in Bahrain as well as the training and vocational societies can become members of the union,” she said. The union is aimed at encouraging women’s involvement in politics and improving their social, economic and educational status. “It will also unify the efforts made by different women societies. For instance, instead of having each society discussing issues and concerns related to women individually, the union members will try to review and find solutions for them together”. She hopes to get the final approval before May 9, when the municipal elections are scheduled to take place. “It would be a great help for women candidates and even for voters of both sexes,” she said. Several associations are planning to form electoral workshops for women voters and would-be candidates, and hold seminars all over the country. “In the Young Ladies Association, we have already started,” said Mariam. “The union will also play an important role in coordinating women’s societies programs and projects. It will help unify and strengthen the efforts to tackle social, political, economic and legal issues,” she conveyed. “It will be a dream come true for all the women’s societies. We have been waiting for this for a long time.”

Bahraini women, explained Mariam, have been involved in social work for the past 5 decades and many of the pioneers in this field will be involved in the union.

FEATURE-Bahrain faces tough unemployment challenge

By Abbas Salman MANAMA, March 3 (Reuters) – Shafeeqah graduated in 1993 with a business degree from an Egyptian university and Fatemah obtained her Arabic degree in 1995 in Bahrain. But neither of these Bahraini women has managed to find work in the Gulf’s financial centre. Sayyed Ahmed, married with one daughter, has been unemployed since he quit his job as a contractor in 1998 to look for a better-paid position. The trio are among thousands of jobless Bahrainis in the tiny Gulf Arab state, where a series of peaceful demonstrations took place in January to press the government for jobs. Official figures showed 15,800 Bahrainis, or five percent of the workforce, had registered as unemployed with the Labour Ministry in December — the highest on record. About 181,000 foreigners — mainly unskilled labourers from the Indian subcontinent and the Philippines — make up 60 percent of Bahrain’s total workforce. Foreigners make up a third of the 651,000 population of Bahrain, the Gulf’s regional banking centre but known to be less wealthy than its oil-rich Arab neighbours. Alarmed by the growing number of jobless, officials have set aside 25 million dinars ($66 million) to help create jobs for Bahrainis, mainly as guards in schools and other government installations. The island nation has also banned foreigners from some professions in a bid to ensure more jobs for Bahraini nationals. SOME JOBS UNPOPULAR Western diplomats said the unemployment problem was partly due to a refusal of some Bahrainis to take low-status jobs after years of being guaranteed well-paid jobs in the public sector or family businesses. “Quite a few of them already have jobs, but they want better jobs,” said British Ambassador Peter William Ford. “Expectations have developed during the years of prosperity that the government will always provide jobs, but those days are finished. Many new graduates are unrealistic and they have to make themselves more employable,” he said. Labour and Social Affairs Minister Abdel-Nabi al-Shula expressed hope that the government would be able to control the problem within two years. “We are working very closely with the community including non-governmental organisations and the private sector…to resolve the problem,” he told Reuters. Shula said a decision to ban foreigners from some professions would provide 24,000 jobs, more than enough to accommodate job seekers. The island state was rocked by four years of anti-government unrest in the 1990s by the majority Shi’ite Muslim community seeking political and economic reforms. But Western diplomats, who estimate Bahrani unemployment at eight percent, said joblessness was continuing to grow despite recent government efforts to combat it. “It is obviously a serious social problem, but it is not, I would say, a serious political problem,” Ford told Reuters. “There are limits to what any government can do in a free economy… the private sector is not creating enough jobs.” INVESTMENT NEEDED Some Bahrani businessmen said the government should promote private investment to create jobs. “Bahrain needs to actively promote investment in projects, backed by the necessary transparency of policies and legal framework which should be fair to investors,” one banker said. “It should focus on areas it knows and does best, such as the services sector, which generate faster employment.” Opposition activists claimed unemployment had been exacerbated by past job discrimination against Shi’ites. “This is the issue of the past three decades as some Bahrainis were discriminated against for political reasons,” one activist said.. “We hope that after the national charter is carried out this will be addressed by the top leadership,” he said, referring to political reforms proposed by Bahrain’s ruler, Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. Bahrainis overwhelmingly backed the emir’s charter in a referendum last year. It calls for an elected parliament — the last one was dissolved in 1975 — a constitutional monarchy and an independent judiciary. The emir has also pardoned hundreds of Shi’ite dissidents and political prisoners in his drive to reunite and reform the island state.

Show More

Related Articles

This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.