Bahrain, a failed state?

3 Apr, '08

Bahrain unrest continues unabated in the absence of the political will to resolve basic issuesOnce at the vanguard of developing Gulf city-states, Bahrain has now lost that position to sheikdoms like Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, as well as neighboring Qatar. Although Bahrain’s capital, Manama, has some of the glitz of other Gulf capitals, its early lead in development — achieved during the 1970s with the creation of a dry dock, an aluminum smelter, and offshore banking infrastructure — is no more. Similarly, political reforms appear stalled, with little or no progress made since the bicameral legislature was introduced in 2002. The 2006 elections were manipulated, if not rigged, to ensure that Shiite legislators did not win a majority. And members of the royal family still hold the majority of cabinet positions.

Perhaps most worrisome for Washington, the regime no longer seems to be exercising the canny balancing of political tensions that other Gulf rulers employ to ensure stability. Instead, Sunni-Shiite friction is being played out on the streets — never a good way of attracting foreign investors.
The Washington Institute – Small Island, Big Issues: Bahrain’s King Visits Washington

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  1. Merlin says:

    And it all comes crumbling down….

  2. Sam says:

    Paints a sad & sorry picture, but oh so true.

  3. Sos says:

    Didn’t the GDN just publish an article stating that wealthy F1 fans are going to be “wooed” into bringing investment to Bahrain? Hope they don’t get stuck in one of those “demonstrations” involving rubber bullets & tear gas!

  4. Abu Shreek says:

    Usually second generation leaders come armed with the same absolute corrupting power with non of the wisdom or ability to handle crisis.
    Very similar to Jordan

  5. AZ says:

    Like a poster above said, sad yet so very true.

    This article pretty much sums what i believe in; before this nation can even begin considering all these projects that seem to be popping up every other day, they should attempt to invest some of that time, energy, & money into fixing out other, more important problems: unemployment, poverty, conflict amongst the sects (which is still going on strong, to me this is a very important issue as i see it withholding us from making any significant progress, especially with us living in denial of its existance), & generally improving the quality of human life. To me those are more important issues to invest our efforts in rather then pretty buildings that would serve the general populous little to no benefit.

  6. Sadek says:

    Mo
    If I am not mistaken the article said “stalled state”, which is significantly different from a “failed state”. A failed state – that’s a gross exaggeration. Bahrain was a stalled state in the true meaning of the word, lacking a vision or direction but in fairness Bahrain has neither the oil wealth of a number of our neighbors or the ability to look at the other way with laundry bags of money which have found happy and welcoming homes.
    The article, although interesting does not anything new to what we all know.
    On the other hand we have a very complex (and relatively sophisticated politically aware) society, that is difficult to compare with far less political mature neighboring states. Most importantly however we are reasonably free to express our thoughts, ergo this site. Anywhere else and it would have been closed pronto.
    Let’s be balanced.

  7. Sam says:

    It is a closed ended question being asked of the blogger – It’s not a quote from the article.

    A failed state – that’s a gross exaggeration

    I think not. You could quite easily use the words failed and stalled interchangeably and it would still be in context.

    in fairness Bahrain has neither the oil wealth of a number of our neighbors

    True – but how long are we going to use that as an excuse? And do you think what little oil wealth this country has is distributed fairly/evenly?

    we are reasonably free to express our thoughts, ergo this site.

    Reasonably free? That implies that allot of grey areas exist with important fundamental rights that should be either black or white. This very site you post on was blocked by our government not all that long ago – and were not talking decades here!

    Bahrain’s version of pseudo-politics has failed! At least in my own humble opinion.

  8. emma says:

    I came across this article today and thought it might be of interest:

    http://www.economist.com/world/africa/displaystory.cfm?story_id=10979869

  9. mahmood says:

    Thanks Emma.

    If I am not mistaken the article said “stalled state”, which is significantly different from a “failed state”.

    So, semantics.

  10. Just me says:

    Bahrain is not a “failed” state. In fact the state is as strong as ever. Iraq is a failed state? Yes. “Failed” and “stalled” are not interchangeable words, it changes the meaning totally.

    Bahrain’s ‘state’ is a relatively large, strong, centralised bureucracy. It is functioning, but what it is trying to do, or to deliver god knows but it is controlled and steered top-down by Khalifa bin Salman, that is the point of the article.

    Something fishy is going on:
    “Bush will likely use King Hamad’s visit as an opportunity to suggest real sectarian power-sharing over the long term.”

    The stalwart American puppet has been given his orders… let us wait and see what gifts he will bring home to us from Capitol Hill.

  11. mahmood says:

    “Failed” and “stalled” are not interchangeable words

    At this time, being in a stalled state is akin to being dead, not just left behind. So failed (even though it is used as a question to provoke thought) is the lighter of the two. Hence, to all intents and purposes, the difference here is a matter of semantics.

  12. Bahrania says:

    Sorry to be benign, but it really is all about symantics and the foremost master of linguistics, Noam Chomsky, actually has a book on “failed states” in which he defines this as “a state whose central government is so weak or ineffective that it has little practical control over much of its territory.”

    This is definitely NOT the case in Bahrain. Bahrain is a “stalled” state maybe; which according to my understand is means a fully-functioning state with effective control but isn’t doing much for the ‘greater good’ of it’s people – stalling reforms, stalling change, and maintaining the status quo. The article is saying this largely due to the Pharoah we have that has administered the country for the last 37 years.

    Having no oil is no excuse for lack of progress. Taking an extreme example, Dubai not very far has also not had much oil. If only we’d had the developmental pace and drive for change that it had (without the kitsch).

  13. Sadek says:

    Mo
    It is not a matter of semantics.
    Somalia is a failed state, Sierra Leone was a failed state, Zaire is a failed state, etc. The common theme was and is their governments’ remit was and is limited to the doorstep of the presidential palace, with nonexistent educational and health systems,a breakdown in the rule of law, etc.
    None of this applies.
    Part of our problem is that Bahrain is in fact the first post petroleum Gulf state (in other words a resource poor country), but where everybody, including the ruling class and its citizens, believe they are like their rich neighbors. wakeup we are not.
    You have to give it to Dubai, but lets not forget four factors: they have a dynamic leader with a vision, they neighbor Abu Dhabi – the ultimate guarantor, they cut corners when it comes to laundry bags and freedoms and they are truly a new society, with little of the baggage we carry, in terms of sectarian splits, etc.

  14. Sam says:

    Just an observation. Bahrain never does come out top when you compare us to our neighbors that are only a stone’s throw away. But when you name drop cities like Doha, Dubai etc. you should equally have the city of Manama as the comparison here not Bahrain as an entire nation esp when it comes to statistical and financial comparisons.

  15. Sadek says:

    Sam
    Doha is interchangeable with Qatar (with 99% of the population living in the capital) and Dubai is Dubai (everybody lives there) unless they are too poor, or don’t care about Dubai’s rents, and live in Sharjah.
    On the other hand we in Bahrain, have other than Manama, have the southern municipality (Hawar) where some birds and turtles live, unless they are soon to be sold and converted to a real estate development!

  16. Johnster says:

    There is talk of bringing foreign money in — but for what?

    there is nothing to invest in here except real estate and the very occassional industrial project.

    there is no intellectual property development, no R&D, there is certainly no real VC financing. The Bahrain stock exchnage is small, moribund and so bound up with red tape that it is well nigh impossible to flat a company and let the shares trade freely.

    In its favour, Bahrain has the strongest banking sector regulation in the area. In many senses, its economy is the most liberal especially when it comes to foreign ownership (there are veruy few sectors where foreigners cannot own 100%, obvious examples are trading companies and real estate companies).

    The real issue for Bahrain is the chronic insecutiy affecting some strata which means that there is no real desire for change and ability to enact it. The other issue is that there is no unifying plan for Bahrain – in whatever sector you look. There is no real estate zoning to spoeak of (and you can get round it anyway), there is no industrial startegy, there is not strategy for healthcae. Toursin is just sex and alcohol which is really sad because we have some amazing assets which if properly presented would b of great interest to ruise ships and short weekends away (try going to thre Portguese Fort – there is absolutely no written information or signs whatsoever). So the rsult is that Bahrainis a series of money grabbing projects by inidvual banks, financiers or busienssmen. Nothing is joined up — if it was the total value would be of far greater value than the current fractured approach.

    Red tape and paperwork is absolutely stiffling, made worse by the fact that to do anything, several ministries are involved and each will give you a different answer to the same question.

    Entrepreneurship is praised but what is missing is:
    1) Transparent land ownership as you have in the UK
    2) An effective insolvency law so that banks will lend money secured on your house and are able to get their money back if your venture fails
    3) The ability to start a business easily. If you, expat or Bahraini, want to start a business in your name, you have to resign from your current job because you cannot register a company if you are employed/sponsored by another. Thats why so many businesses are actually in the name of the wife of the entrpreneur.

    Johnster

  17. Sam says:

    Johnster – good post and I agree with allot of the points you made. Your remark about foreign ownership kinda took me by surprise as I know many sectors are not allowed to enjoy majority foreign ownership, let alone 100% foreign ownership.

    So I stumbled across the official Ministry of Industry and Commerce website and found their ‘Negatives’ list.

    Business activities allowed only for Bahraini nationals and companies

    * Real estate services and rental and management of land and property (not including buying and selling, management of personal property or consultancy services)
    * Press, publication and distribution house (Daily, non-daily, and specialized newspapers and magazines)
    * Printing Press
    * Artistic, television, radio, and theatre production and distribution
    * Cinematic filming studio

    The list goes on and on.

  18. Alcom says:

    I remember when the big F1 one hype hit Bahrain all this talk abouy creating jobs for Bahrainis especially anything to do with formula 1. A friend visiting from France asked me why the GDN he was reading has no Bahraini writting stories only VIJAY MRUTHYUNJAYA, I went on to explain the GDN is pretty much a Brit/Indian run newspaper and do not actively look for Bahraini journalist and that it is a semi mafia over there rune by Keralites and George and the main reason these indians are cheap to employ bahrainisation is just a word.

  19. mahmood says:

    That’s not fair Alcom. Amira Al-Hussaini and Tariq Khonji are both graduates of that paper and have had a good enough career with them. I am sure that if they get a chance to employ a Bahraini journalist who has good English language skills, or find one who they can train they would jump at the chance.

  20. Abu Arron says:

    You’ve made some good points Sadek.

    Yes, Bahrain was always resource poor compared to others, which is why it was set up (and respected) as the banking capital for the GCC. However, in order for that mantle to remain, Bahrain needs to be stable. No major financial institution is going to put it’s eggs in a basket that has holes in it and is subject to the occasional molotov cocktail.

    Certainly for the past five years Dubai has stated its new financial centre will be/is a challenge to Bahrain and on each occasion I’ve openly rejected the seriousness of that threat. However, each demonstration and general upheaval has chipped away at the gild on Bahrain’s trophy.

    This is not the thread to discuss why/how Bahrain is suffering domestic unrest (a rhetorical question). But as long as unrest continues in Bahrain, it’s pole position is going to disappear. A great shame for both nationals and expats who have enormous affection and a permanent place in their hearts for the country.

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