Will it explode?

17 Mar, '08

If you’re in Bahrain, you must have felt the tension over the past few months. This tension could in large part be attributed to the Bandargate scandal in which some members of the government and royal family have been implicated in disseminating sectarian strife; a conspiracy which has kept the Bahraini political and apolitical scenes alight.

That powder keg is very close to explosion.

Over the last 3 weeks, parliament, at least the House of Representatives part in it, could not be convened due to vociferous demands by Al-Wefaq (+1) to question the main minister involved in Bandargate on financial irregularities which might be enough to impeach him. The other side of the House adamantly refused to let that intrinsic legislative tool be used claiming that the questioning is unconstitutional and using every single trick they can get hold of to hinder it. So much so that the House’s main legal council quit rather suddenly and flew back to his native Egypt – some say due to him being pressured and cajoled to change his position of which he maintained the constitutionality of the motion.

The “loyalists” as they have become known – wrongly in my view – ditched the main legal council’s advice, ridden roughshod on the second council who agreed with the first, and took the advice of the most junior of councils who seems to have given them what they want.

Al-Wefaq and Aziz Abul continue to hold onto the constitutionality of their demand and did not budge from their position. They want to question Ahmed Attiyatallah and have threatened to continue to disrupt the House’s proceedings until they get their demand. According to the Constitution and the Bylaws, they are well within their right to question said minister.

If you have been following the snippets of news over the past few days, there has been several shuttle meetings between Al-Wefaq and the higher powers in society; Al-Wefaq even met first with the prime minister and then the king to share their views with them. Both, apparently, did not want to interfere in the legislative process but gave their overt blessings that any minister – even if from within the royal family – is not above questioning.

Al-Dhahrani, the speaker of the house, still insists on the unconstitutionality of the motion and wants the house to vote on it. A process that Al-Wefaq is completely against due to it being against the House’s bylaws first, and second, because they can never win that vote given that the current make-up of the House is 22 against and 18 for. You will be interested to know that Al-Wefaq is represented by 18 votes in the House, even though they have gained 63% of the actual vote! But that’s another story.

Tomorrow promises to be stellar. Will parliament be dissolved because the intransigence of the proponents and the opponents of the motion, or will it continue to be disrupted without a solution in the offing?

I personally do not believe that it will be dissolved. A magic solution – as is typical in this country – will appear at the last minute and will save the moment. The stakes are far too high for this “democratic experiment” to fail now.

My mind is still boggled as to why the parliament itself is against using a very important tool like questioning a minister. Other than them being interfered with and pushed into their respective positions, I really have no explanation to this laughable situation.

Well, tomorrow is another day. The sun will continue to shine and business will continue to be done and migrant workers will continue to strike and buildings will continue to be built in spite of everything. The “boom” that we are experiencing; however, might well have a different sound to it come tomorrow.

We shall wait and see.

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Comments (25)

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  1. Michael says:

    A few basic questions from a Bahrain-based foreign ignoramus:

    My pathetically poor understanding of Bahraini history is that parliament was suspended in 1973 and a state security law introduced, later leading to violence and strife that took almost two decades to (at least go some way to)reconcile. Do you think a suspended parliament would lead to violence again Mahmood?

    But didn’t Al Wefaq boycott the first parliament of the ‘experiment’ without any violent results?

    Seems to me there’s an impasse between the old guard riding ‘high on the hog’ and the impatient opposition waiting for things to open up. Given that I don’t see any hint of compromise, how is this going to happen? From what I hear, everyone has their hopes pinned on the CP – but presumably he’d have to fight a lot of entrenched interests to bring change too?

    Another dumb question: Perhaps admirable that the King doesn’t want to intervene, but given the ruling family are involved with most other aspects of the country, surely he could just sack both the officials at the centre of this morass? Or shift one sideways to a UN-post or something to save face? Is the future of the country beholden to protecting one guy’s reputation?

    Sorry if I’ve upset anyone with my poor grasp of things, but I’m keen to learn!

    Can anyone recommend a good English-langauge book on Bahrain’s history? Thus far have only seen the glossy kind that present things through rose-tinted spectacles.

    By the way – George Galloway is in Bahrain today!

  2. Salman says:

    If he does get grilled over the Bandergate, and it does come out to be true, and not just a “conspiracy”, Bahrain is going to erupt.

    But either way, it will be a good push for the King and the PM to be the good guys who support democracy and truth and are fighting corruption. Especially with the “no minister is above the law” thing. Does the PM also fall under this rule?

  3. Ahmed says:

    Very well written Mahmood.

    I agree the situation is quite laughable. Unfortunately, we have grown accustom to dark comedy, here in Bahrain.

    With regard to the history of Bahrain, I suggest that Michael does a search on the internet, he’d be very surprised at what he’d find, as I was, even though I am a Bahraini.

    I believe that the issue surrounding Bandargate, is simply to buy time or to distract people from other important matters. You have the issue with Alam Flora, and I suggest that more investigative reporting in this area would reveal some of the larger problems facing Bahrain.

    Bahrain also boasts that it’s the financial center of the Middle east, unfortunately, the capital invested in dollar terms, as well as the technology used are far from being enough to support such a claim.

    More financial licenses are given, why? Regulations are too weak, why? More importantly why are companies allowed to have registered shareholders in the Cayman islands, knowing that these shareholders are legally allowed to conceal their identity? Why does the CBB and the Company’s Act allow this?

    Simply looking at the financial statements of those listed in the Bahrain Stock Exchange, or those making their accounts public for a reason or another, would reveal how poor their risks are managed. When investments of millions of dollars are made from unknown sources from the Cayman islands, together with the weak anti-money laundring audits and regulations, well, this is how corruption is managed.

    The structures and the systems of Bahrain’s biggest investment banks, without saying any names, reveals this and in a bashful way. Here’s a hint, look at the maturity profile of their assets and liabilities, why are there NO assets maturing within 3-7 years to cover for the liabilities maturing at this time?

    I hope more investigative reporting is made here, I hope the MPs recognise this and seek it out.

    Simply blocking the path of money laundering and destroying the structures of which moneys move around the financial systems, well, that would stop another Bandargate.

    Recently, the issue of Alba and the fraudulent payments comes to mind, I’ve seen this with my own eyes in places where you’d never think such a thing could happen. It is not surprising at all.

  4. Ali says:

    History repeats itself because humans do not learn from it.

    Parliaments always squabble amongst thmeselves trying hard to assert their authority on the one hand( when in opposition)or trying hard to thwart such efforts ( when they are aligned with the executive powers).

    That is democracy, nowonder the PM and HM are letting it run its course – to interfere may be against their interests but it also not in the interests of true democracy. Let the parliament sort out their own mess and if necessary vote to disband itself!!

    Ah, but then they would all loses their cushy jobs wouldn’t they.

    If history is to be believed, I think a popular demonstration calling for the disbanding of the house would be the natural result with a little disorder thrown in for local flavour resulting in HM having to listen to the people and dissolve the parliament according to the wishes of the people!!

  5. anon says:

    صاجين يوم فالوها تهاوشوا القطاوة على سبة حلاوة …. واضحة وضوح الشمس النواب بيتمون يتناتفون لين الله يشوف لهم … Ùˆ اذا وصلت الامور لطريج مسدود الوزير بينشال Ùˆ بيطلع منها مثل الشعرة من العيين …. خلوهم يتهاوشون على الاقل انجوف شوية دراما Ùˆ مسلسل خليجي لايف نتونس فيه بدل هالاخبار اللي اتييب الحارج 😛

  6. 123A says:

    Michael,
    The best English book ever written on the history of Bahrain no doubt in my mind is Looking for Dilmun written by Geoffrey Bibby. It was about his experience with the Danish archaeological expedition to the island in 1950s.

    It is an old book now. Must have been written some 30 years ago. It does not talk about modern politics though but then that could make it even more enjoyable!

  7. Mahmood,

    Bring the subject of Bandergate up at an pale face expat gathering and you’re faced with either a bunch of blank faces or a sudden changing of subject. I’m amazed how many westerners don’t want to talk about sectarianism here and want to carry on living in La la Land. What protest? I didn’t smell the tear gas when I was driving to Spinneys?…yeah right.

  8. Concerned says:

    Mahmood –

    On the subject of will it explode, I would appreciate it if you are able to look into these reports regarding gangs or armed and masked men patrolling the streets. Opposition websites (and YouTube users) have been plastering their sites with images and videos of this new phenomenon. They claim these are government linked civilian militias. As a Bahraini living abroad and seeing such images from the home country, I wonder what type of chaos we are descending into. Are we the next Iraq or Lebanon? What madness…

  9. mahmood says:

    Do you have specific links for these videos and pictures or even reports in other websites?

  10. Anonny says:

    Bahrain Taxi,

    What are we palefaces supposed to do?

    No, seriously, tell us.

    And when your compatriots come to London, what political input do you expect us to get from them?

    And when you bring up the subject of Bandargate in a gathering of brown-faced expats, what happens? Or have you not condescended to doing that yet?

    You’ll get neither a blank look nor a change of subject from this “paleface”, ya ‘ensoori ;^), but you’ll get the questions I asked above.

    You know, it’s made very clear to us expats from the outset that we are only here as long as we are working here – and then after that we are to leave, no matter how many of the best years of our lives we’ve spent in Bahrain working and striving and building and creating. By all means talk about our salaries if you want, but that’s what was offered and that’s what most expats, knowing little or nothing of Bahrain beforehand, come for. Nobody wants us ajnabis to be politically active in Bahrain now, do they?

    You get our labour and the fruits of our working hearts and minds, and you’ve had plenty of our women ;^) What more do you want? Hmm?

  11. OK Annony,

    Nobody is expecting you to go out onto the streets and join in. But how can you live somewhere and have zero interest in what’s happening beyond the comfortable cocoon of ‘the expat lifestyle’? Even if you look at it from a completely selfish point of view, political unrest could effect you directly. Surely I don’t have to spell it out to you.

    So all I’m saying is take an interest in what’s going on, keep yourself informed and maybe care a little a bit about the people who can’t go back home if things hot up. Yes, the Bahrainis.

    Bahrain Taxi, Western Expat.

  12. Anonny says:

    So all I’m saying is take an interest in what’s going on, keep yourself informed and maybe care a little a bit about the people who can’t go back home if things hot up. Yes, the Bahrainis.

    OK so you’re an expat who says that most expats don’t take enough interest in Bahraini issues. I can sympathise with that. I assumed from the “paleface” comment that you were not a Westerner. That kind of racist appellation isn’t really called for, you know.

    I assumed you were a Bahraini with a chip on his shoulder about racial and national issues. I’ve met a couple recently and the experience has not been pleasant. My Bahraini friends of long standing have been a little disconcerted to learn that I’ve grown a couple of new buttons – one of which you inadvertently pressed with your comment 🙂

    Maybe one day we can compare notes. I don’t live in an expat cocoon. Your lifestyle is probably less Bahraini than mine. Oh, and political unrest would affect me directly and I’m aware of how it would affect me.

    Take an interest? yes. Stay informed? I manage to do that in 2 languages. Mouth off about things when those concerned are unlikely to appreciate it? Well, I’m trying to grow out of that. The Bandargate scandal has roots in issues that have been “hot”, as you put it, for over a millenium. Against that backdrop, a couple of Western expats playing callow games of “I know and care more than you” don’t mean diddley-squat. In fact, purposely ignoring it may well be “best practice” – let’s try to live our lives as if sectarianism doesn’t and shouldn’t exist, and those who live otherwise may well gain some benefit from such an example.

    And for those who’ve been so kind as to read this far: NO SHIA, NO SUNNI, JUST BAHRAINI!

    Have a good day 😉

  13. Sam says:

    Nobody wants us ajnabis to be politically active in Bahrain now, do they?

    Whilst “ajnabees” may not be eligible to vote here,they should not feel as if they can not be politically active and campaign for change. You would be surprised at the large number of non-Bahrainis that consider Bahrain home. Why wouldn’t they? Many have worked/lived/brought their children up this country for years! This county really does need to define what constitutes a Bahraini resident, and a Bahraini national.

  14. mahmood says:

    That’s why they are allowed to vote in the Municipal elections if they own property. They (the expatriates) should have a voice into how this country is run if they do consider it home too.

  15. Anonny,

    I don’t consider ‘pale face’ a racist term, I get fed up with ‘western’ and ‘westerner’. I am applying the term to myself after all.

    I don’t like the way you make assumptions about me. First of all, you thought I was a Bahraini with a ‘chip on my shoulder’, as you say. when you discover I’m a Westerner then you assume that my ‘lifestyle is probably less Bahraini than yours’. How do you know? Even if it is, does that make me unqualified to take an interest in Bahraini politics?

    Who said that the issues surrounding the Bandargate scandal are new? I didn’t. Again, you’re putting words in my mouth. All I’m saying is it could get even hotter

    As for ‘mouthing off’, I know you’d like to imagine me as a some shallow being who likes to bring up the topic to spice up dinner party conversation but I’m afraid to say it’s because I care about these issues deeply and it just disturbs me that there are some western expats who don’t give local politics a moments thought.

    I support Just Bahraini too. Does that mean we should all stick our heads in the sand?

  16. Abu Arron says:

    Hi Bahrain Taxi,

    I think the problem here is that you have made a sweeping generalisation regarding the “pale faces” and their lack of interest in Bahrain socio/economic issues.

    True, there is a very high perecentage that have no interest, but there are also quite a few that do care about any disparities that exist within the ‘local’ population. Consequently, such a generalisation is bound to provoke a reaction from those few.

    I think it’s also fair to say that the “pale faces” that don’t care are unlikely to access Mahmood’s blog – or even be aware of its existence!

  17. Hi Abu Arron,

    It’s a shame that Anonny saw ‘how many westerners’ as a generalisation and got upset. I never said ‘all westerners’, or even ‘westerners’. I said ‘how many westerners’ which means I have met that a fair amount of people I have met reacted this way. Like you said, there is a high percentage that have no interest which surprised me, that’s all.

  18. last post sent should read:

    I said ‘how many westerners’ which meant that a fair amount of people I have met reacted this way.

  19. Merlin says:

    Wow! Has anyone seen what “Concerned” was talking about??

  20. Hamad says:

    I know Merlin… that swept me from under my feet!! pretty scary images.

  21. Merlin says:

    It looks like we need Mahmood to get his silky investigative skills out and get us all some answers. What is going on??? Who are these people??

  22. Sadek says:

    Bahrain Taxi: what do Pale Faces’ have to do with what’s happening in the lower house of parliament? Going totally off tangent from what I see.
    This house of representatives is a total joke; constructed in such a way to negate any potential for the development of a real and non-sectarian political life. The sole interest, on both sides of the fence, is to legitimise the sectarian division, and playing to the most basic and regressive elements of our society. I have never seen anything thought through or constructive from these people. Good riddance.

  23. Concerned II says:

    20Merlin | 20 Mar, 2008 at 19:08 | Reply

    Wow! Has anyone seen what “Concerned” was talking about??
    #

    21Hamad | 21 Mar, 2008 at 3:27 | Reply

    I know Merlin… that swept me from under my feet!! pretty scary images.
    #

    22Merlin | 21 Mar, 2008 at 14:39 | Reply

    It looks like we need Mahmood to get his silky investigative skills out and get us all some answers. What is going on??? Who are these people??

    Naturalised Bahrainis from sectarian Iraq. Most probably former Baath party members. After seeing this the big funeral that was organised in Bahrain for the death of the Iraqi dictator should come as no surprise.

    The Bandargate report said this would happen. Yet it happened so quickly and silently and now we have Iraqis in the bahraini riot police that are the most sectarian and vicious of the lot. Bring the Iraq war to Bahrain for the pleasure of the Bandaris.

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