The next topic on my National Dialogue agenda is the powers of the parliamentary chambers. To many, this is a clear-cut issue that doesn’t need too much debate: if we contend to be a democratic country, then the powers must emanate from the people, as such, only a fully representative parliament should be entertained.

The reality of the situation in Bahrain; however, is quite different. Almost every businessman I spoke to bristles at the thought of doing away with the powers of the Shura Council. Removing the Shura Council or even reducing its powers would be a harbinger of disaster. The usual refrain is that the elected parliament will immediately turn the country into either Saudi on one hand or Iran on the other. To me, being one or the other is virtually the same thing. Both are known abusers of freedoms and human rights, so I wouldn’t want that situation either.

Looking at the results of the last elections in 2010 though gives me a different perspective; we have less representation of ultra-religious members compared to previous terms. Most Islamist societies lost out to independents. Wefaq, the largest opposition society fielded technocrats and repeatedly declared that their vision is exclusively for a modern civic government rather than a religious one. They have been at pains to officially declare that they do not think that the “Wilayat Al-Faqih” doctrine has a place for Bahrain, and although there are many from the opposite side who refuse to believe them, I am happy to give them the benefit of the doubt. I haven’t seen anything from them that would make me run scared from their declared position in that regard. I personally would rather have a completely secular government and society as I firmly believe that religion should never be intertwined with the day-to-day running of a modern country and neither should it be a main component of its constitution.

My own position for this topic is clear; if we want a full democracy then we’d better abide by that principle. There is no room for a Shura Council, nor is there one for an entity whose powers exceed that of an elected chamber. As far as I’m concerned, the Shura Council can continue to exist but only to offer non-binding advice to the elected chamber, and it should not have any powers whatsoever.

To those who say that this will invite chaos, I say that Bahrain is better than that. Societies self-regulate based on their culture and traditions. They won’t – and shouldn’t – allow a parliament to run away with their freedoms. In order to ensure that doesn’t happen, we must demand a proper, binding and clear constitution which enshrines human rights, personal freedoms and freedoms of expression as non-violate. We must demand a binding constitution that does not offer loopholes into every single code by appending that tenuous “as permitted by the law” to every paragraph, and we shouldn’t have a constitution which enshrines discrimination by declaring a state religion and be inspired and embroiled in it.

Once such a binding constitution is in place, true democratic reforms will not only exist, but even flourish.

These are the points which I shall raise at the next session of the National Dialogue on Thursday. I look forward to hearing the other delegates’ views and the ensuing debates.

What’s your view in this? Should we do away with the Shura Council and bestow all powers to an elected chamber? Or are you satisfied with the status quo?