The Democracy Coalition Project puts Bahrain on notice

The Democracy Coalition Project, which is an initiative of the Open Society Institute committed to conducting research and advocacy relating to democracy promotion policies worldwide, and was inspired by a landmark international political event in Warsaw, Poland in June 2000, in which over 100 governments participated and ultimately included Bahrain in 2002 and again in 2005 in recognition of the strides it has made on the road to democracy, is facing the prospect of being downgraded in future events due to their panel of experts concluding that the progress to democracy has slowed down considerably and some regard as actually having regressed especially since 2005:

While tremendous change could be observed from 2001 to 2002 in the Kingdom of Bahrain, the reform process initiated by Sheikh Hamad b. Isa Al Khalifa’s 1999 ascension to the throne has since lost momentum. Since 2004, Bahrain has not been able to consolidate past gains made.

With torture, political detention, forced exile and other human rights abuses endemic in the country until 1999, Bahrain had been the GCC’s most repressive state. The country’s first constitution, enacted in 1973, established a unicameral Parliament that was dissolved 18 months later in 1975 by the then-emir, who ruled autocratically until 1999. When parliament was dissolved, substantial elements of the constitution were suspended by a state security law. The reform process begun in 1999, however, brought about fundamental change. The state security law was abolished in 2001, exiled activists were invited to return and political societies allowed to form. A National Charter promising democratization and a move toward constitutional monarchy was put to a general referendum on February 14-15, 2001. However, Sheikh Hamad proclaimed a thoroughly amended – and contentious – constitution in 2002, calling municipal elections in March and parliamentary elections in October of the same year. Four political societies, including Bahrain’s largest political group, the Shi’ite Islamist al-Wifaq (Accord), boycotted parliamentary elections as a statement of their opposition to the 2002
constitution. This boycott slowed progress in parliamentary development by hampering consensus-building on the trajectory of reform. The boycott also resulted in a parliamentary majority of deputies with greater interest in maintaining the status-quo than fostering reforms, and it restricted parliament’s representativeness significantly.

Since the Santiago Ministerial in 2005, Bahrain’s political leadership has failed to carry out reform. Though tens of thousands of Bahrainis have demonstrated for constitutional change, the contentious constitution has not been amended. There have been no changes made to those aspects of Bahrain’s political system that thwart democratic transformation. These include:

  • The executive is not elected, the cabinet is appointed by the king.
  • The legislative power of elected parliamentarians is counter-balanced by the appointed members of the consultative chamber (majlis ash-shura); both share legislative power equally.
  • Civil liberties are guaranteed by the constitution but limited by law.
  • The separation of powers is inadequate: the king dominates all three branches, and the judiciary, although formally independent, is sometimes subjected to government pressure.

Nonetheless, the elections held in November 2006 improved representation, as the boycotting societies of 2002 decided to compete since fall 2005 and the Shia opposition al-Wifaq is now strongly represented in the chamber of deputies, holding 18 out of 40 seats. This has been accompanied by a number of other positive developments including the passage of laws and regulations that address some basic demands. In June 2006, for example, the government agreed to provide basic funding for political societies. Parliament also passed legislation in July 2006 to lower the voting age from 21 to 20 in 2006 and then to 18 in 2014.

You can download the full very interesting report from this page on the DCP’s website.

We have a long road to travel yet and the pot-holes which have been unnecessarily created by sectarianism, absence of social justice and the seemingly reduced political will to proceed along the path signed up for by 98.4% of the population is quite worrying.

This realisation of our problems is no longer just internal which could be treated by the usual spent PR and paid gongos and columnists, but influential governments and international non-governmental organisations are on to us and will soon abandon us as a lost cause if that will is not re-established very quickly.

If you want to see how we might end up with if the international community does abandon us, look no further than Zimbabwe.

I doubt that any Bahraini would willingly want us to reach that state of affairs. Therefore, it is high time that the political and popular will be re-established to correct this sad and rather dangerous situation before the train fully leaves its tracks.


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  2. doncox

    “We have a long road to travel yet”____So has every country. Democracy as practised here in Britain is a bit further forward than in Bahrain, but we certainly don’t have the final answers. Democracy is a complex set of skills, like civil engineering. You sart with a simple plank across a stream, and by now we know how to construct 8-lane motorway bridges, but there is plenty still to be discovered. In the case of democracy, problems such as anger management, and the relation of politics to psychology and psychopathology generally are crucial. We only have crude tools so far, such as checks and balances.

  3. Ali

    What happened to reply no2?

    Anyhow,the point that we must not miss is without peace and quiet and a content population the rich and the titled cannot make money and lead an affluent life. Too much choas in the system is bad for business – e.g. too many democratic squabbles and nothing gets done and so economic growth slows which is bad for the rich and affluent.

    Too much repression and those that are in power spend too much on Police, internal security and population control so economic growth slows which is bad for the rich and affluent.

    What ever happens the rich guys need to get off the fence and stimulate the economy – otherwise they get screwed either by the proponents of democracy or those who want autocratic power. Either way we must listen to business and find out what they want – we cannot live off handouts form the oil economy forever.

  4. Post

    Ali, comment #2 is the trackback from Global Voices. Unfortunately the numbering system does not take that into consideration.

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