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Law 56, again.

Member of Parliament, the right honourable Shaikh Jassim Al-Saidi, an upstanding citizen, and erstwhile Imam of a mosque in Riffa, and brought to parliament rightly by gathering 1673 votes in a hard-fought and contested election in his Southern Governate out of 4,413 (as opposed to any candidate in the Northern Governate who would have had a pool of around 10,000 to get in), wants to bring the Shi’a terrorists of the 1990s to book for the various terrorist acts they have perpetrated against the state, and its employees, citing his direct cousin’s murder at the terrorists’ hands. His cousin was a member of the respectable and ever vigilant police forces and champions of human rights then. He demands full compensation to what he claims over 1,000 affected locals and expatriates in those dark times of Bahrain.

He too wants Law 56 repealed in order to seek reparation.

He too wants to open the wounds. (arabic)

You would think that he would use his good offices to dampen the enmity between the two main sects. You would think that he would work tirelessly through the parliamentary mechanism to force the government and this country’s leaders to create a truth and reconciliation commission to repair the damage that the black nineties have wrought on these isles’ peace-loving people.

But that would take a humane human being to think of these things.

Not the respectable Shaikh Jassim Al-Saidi.

Taking his full track record of absolute hatred of the Shi’a community, who by some estimates top the 70% of the indigenous population of Bahrain, and finds fault in their very existence on these sacred isles, I am not at all surprised by his various attacks on this community, nor by his perpetual sectarianism and even simple-mindedness of seeking to inculcate his ample self only to his own constituency, thus throwing to the winds the very essence of parliamentary work: a representative of the people. All the people.

Shaikh Jassim Al-Saidi would undoubtedly would want Hussain to stand trial and compensate the police forces, including Mr. Adel Flaifel, for being too belligerent and not confessing under duress. After all, what are a few knocks and bruises to Shaikh Jassim Al-Saidi? He must have gone through more than the following:

They took me upstairs to an office, I don’t know whose. There they told me to stand on one leg and bray like a donkey. “What am I accused of?” I asked. “Get some manners,” the officer said, and he hit me and left. Then someone came in wearing a dishdasha [traditional white shoulder-to-ankle garment worn by men in the Gulf]. I recognized him from photos I had seen: It was Adil Flaifil. He asked me if I was Hussain Shahraqani and I said yes. He had a piece of paper marked “confidential” on top, otherwise blank. He told me to sign it. I refused. They took me to a different room and trussed me up with a pole under my knees. There were four men, two in uniform. They kicked me and took turns hitting me with a hose. After half an hour of this they took me back to Adil Flaifil, who told me again to sign. I refused again. I went back and forth several times between the hanging and beating and the questioning. At one point he [Flaifil] asked for my hand. Two people held my hand, and he burned the back of my hand with his cigarette [displays light scars].

Shaikh Jassim Al-Saidi didn’t have to endure the torture most probably perpetrated or at least aided and abetted by the likes of his cousin.

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Codifying Personal Status Law

There are big discussions doing the rounds in the papers this week regarding the uncodified nature of the Personal Status Law spread primarily by two national polls; one sponsored by the Supreme Council for Women executed by the Bahrain Centre for Studies and Research while the other more arbitrary by Al-Wasat using SMS responses to questions posed in the paper.

The bottom line is that Bahrainis generally want to codify Personal Status Law for various reasons, one of which is the inordinate amount of time that family cases take in the court system, and the unsatisfactory nature of judgements as they are made by a judge’s personal interpretation of Islamic Shari’a Law rather than written down code and rules.

The Personal Status Law covers marriage, engagement, marriage rights which include dowry, divorce, legal separation, alimony, child-rearing, wills, inheritance, and other aspects of family existence.

The results of the poll commissioned by the Supreme Council for Women were released on October 23rd, 2004 – 1,300 persons polled from various walks of life and locations in the 5 governates in Bahrain (meaning covering both Sunnis and Shi’as.) The results are interesting:

1. 41.2% of Bahrainis do not know enough about family laws and rites
2. of those who favour the codification of Personal Status Law 56.08% were women and 43.92% were men.
3. However of the people opposing such a law, 64.38% were men, and 35.62% were women.

As to the method and sources of this codification, 97% of people polled agreed that Personal Status Laws should be based on Islamic Shari’a Laws. 53.6% want a committee of clerics, religious scholars, lawyers and noted civilians to codify these laws, while 45.9% want that role to be restricted only to clerics and religious scholars.

The Al-Wasat SMS poll is quite interesting too. They didn’t publish their readership demographics but we can assume that most of their readership are Shi’a communities and it is also reasonable to deduce that this SMS poll in its respondents majority were Shi’a.

They received around 500 messages for their poll. The questions put were

1. Accept codifying the Personal Status Law through the parliament (19%)
2. Accept codifying the Personal Status Law through the parliament ONLY WITH the religious scholars’ blessings (35%)
3. Do not accept codifying the Personal Status Law through the parliament (44%)
4. Unsure (2%)

It’s quite interesting to see that the majority of respondents are actually WITH codifying Personal Status Law (19% + 35% = 54%) and even giving parliament the right to do so, albeit with the blessings of the scholars, but the essence is that the majority see the need for such a law as very necessary.

The fly in the ointment of course is that various Muslim sects have interpreted Islamic laws differently. But at least as far as this issue is concerned, there seems to be a consensus by the Sunnis with their 4 sects who have formulated a single law that they all are subjected to and have agreed to abide by that law. It still has to go through parliament championed by the Al-Menbar Islamic Bloc.

The Shi’a (clerics and scholars) on the other hand are very widely split (from Al-Wasat’s poll we can reasonably deduce that the Shi’a people have no problem accepting such a law). Four forces rule the Shi’a roost in Bahrain: Shaikh Essa Qassim, Shaikh Hussain Al-Najati, Shaikh Hameed Al-Mubarak and Sayed Abdulla Al-Ghuraifi.

Against the codification are Essa Qassim and Abdulla Al-Ghuraifi, correctly stating that in Shi’ism a person can decide who they want to “emulate,’ that is, which of the Shi’a marja’iah they follow and based on that decision, the rules and laws applying to that Shi’a person might be different than another person following another marji’. And as both Qassim and Al-Ghuraifi refuse to be part of the court system, the only way for them to influence their congregation and people is through their sermons.

The four scholars have made attempts in the past to sit together and come out with a unified stance as to the Personal Status Law issue, but it seems that their differences were too much to even out, hence the issue was left hanging.

Al-Menbar’s Dr. Salah Ali did visit Qassim at his residence after Oct 15th when the latter launched a very spirited attack on the Personal Status Law and specifically his complete objection that parliament is to formulate it stating that the only people capable of doing so are clerics and scholars as they are more cognizant of Islamic laws and interpretations, rather than a parliament of civilians. He went as far as threatening that if the parliament dared to do so, then he will declare it (in not so many words) apostate and that it serves people other than the people of Bahrain.

MP Mohammed Al-Shaikh toed the line and further suggested in an interview with Al-Wasat newspaper that if parliament was allowed to codify Personal Status Laws, then what guarantees are there that at some point in the future Socialists get into the parliament and change the law as they wish? Far fetched but Al-Shaikh is famed for theatrics.

Al-Menbar have now given up their attempts to convince the Shi’a to be included in the dialogue and come out with a single set of rules for both major sects, and they’re going it alone for the Sunni sect where their formulation of Personal Status Laws will not apply to Shi’a or Ja’afari Courts.

And the loser in all this? Women! Men have nothing to fear, we just divorce, go to court and waltz out with ridiculous judgments like alimony set at BD30 ($79) per month, keep the children if they’re over 7 years old, don’t have to provide a home to the ex-wife and her children and the likes of this. There is almost no way for a woman to divorce her husband, there is no way for her to keep the children against the father’s wishes, there is no way for her to demand a higher alimony.

Yet, we find that women are actually AGAINST such a law! 35% of the people opposed to codifying the Personal Status Law are women! Is this a case of chopping off the nose to spite the face? Or did they just not understand? Or even worse, they completely agree that men are better than they are, hence should be exempt from these familial responsibilities?

I just cannot understand this at all, and I am joined by non other than Amira Al-Hussaini who have written about this subject in today’s GDN. (click “read more” at the bottom of this article to see her comment.)

In conclusion, I fully support the codification of Personal Status Law, and as soon as possible. I have seen and heard of horrific stories of irresponsibly of ex-husbands basically torturing their wives but walking away from it with hardly a slap on the wrist. I have heard of judges abusing their power, even as far as granting a woman a divorce only if she agrees to marry them for a few days (short term marriage in the Shi’a faith is acceptable and legal, this is called muta’a and is highly contentious even between Shi’as themselves.) Apart from all this, and more important, as there is no written code, judges are left to decide cases on their own basing their decision on their own personal interpretation of the law which invariably create a multitude of unsatisfied and bitter families. Now put this power of interpretation in the hands of incompetent or corrupt judges and you have a recipe for disaster.

It is high time that this situation is corrected.

If the scholars (that includes the above mentioned four gentlemen as well as surprisingly Adel Al-Mo’awdah who came out in support of Qassim during his Friday sermon a couple of days ago – wonders will never cease!) have a problem with that, then why not let people themselves choose at the time that they marry what authority they want to be subjected to? Religious Shari’a courts or Civil Courts and be done with it?

I think that the scholars might well have a point in that they are afraid that people will muddle up Islamic laws and norms because they don’t know how to interpret them very well, but what’s the alternative if they themselves can’t get their act together and get the code written? Not doing anything and keeping the current status quo is criminal and completely out of touch of today’s world.

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Red-Indians? Aborigines? Indigenous Bahrainis? They existed at some time? Wow!

It took them six months, reports, research, questioning, exploring, insider information, legal advice, interviews, and testimonies and our illustrious exalted MPs couldn’t determine that there were extra-legal naturalisations.

Let alone the fact that a Bahraini passport would cost you between BD 4,000 to 10,000 to get, no questions asked.

Let alone that virtually the whole of the Bahrain Defence Force and the Ministry of Interior’s “foot soldiers” are foreign.

Let alone that these same “foot soldiers” get a house, a job for life, free health and education for themselves and their brood, hell, even free underwear, bath towels, tooth brush and paste and instructions on how to use them when they get off the plane.

Let alone that we have by some estimates 30% unemployment.

Let alone that we’re suffering a BD 700 million budget deficit.

Let alone that the areas that these “new Bahrainis” live in are “no-go” areas for “old-Bahrainis” with threats of life and limb.

Let alone that these “new-Bahrainis” have no concept of human rights.

Let alone that in a population of 450,000 citizens, 20% of these are “new-Bahrainis”

Let alone that in a country which is just 600 square kilometers you can’t afford to buy a house or land.

Let alone that if you are fortunate enough to buy land, you won’t be able to afford the building materials.

Let alone that ALL Gulf Cooperation Council citizens are now automatically eligible for Bahraini dual-citizenship, yet Bahrainis are NOT in their countries.

Our MPs have all but unanimously endorsed the “report” exonerating the government of any ill-doings in granting citizenship haphazardly, politically and in a clear attempt to change the demographics of this tiny island.

It will be no wonder that the indigenous Bahrainis will be recorded in history as a race that has disappeared from existence, as the North American Indians and the Australian Aborigines.

I wouldn’t be surprised that we get put into “reservations” now. All of course thanks to our MPs, the guardians of democracy, transparency and the Bahraini ancient culture.

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Bahrain, post-Nancy

October 22nd, 2003 is an historic date for Bahrain and in a lot of Bahrainis’ minds they will remember events henceforth as pre-Nancy and post-Nancy. MPs, particularly the Islamists, should also take note of this phenomenon as it most certainly has determined their future within the democratic establishment and society.

So far we have not heard an apology from these MPs who instigated the riots, on the contrary, they – particularly Adel Al-Moawada, got further entrenched in his views with threats of a repeat performance any time a singer gets invited to Bahrain to perform for whatever function (Al-Wasat Newspaper, October 25th, 2003, page 6) he goes on to further distance himself from the riots defending his actions as a child would have after striking the match that burnt the house down. In his mind it is still a clear cut issue: “prevention of vice and promotion of virtue” and it is his God given right to “defend the faith”. Not stopping for a second to contemplate that democracy is an encompassing process that takes into consideration other people’s views, and his job is to uphold and defend our infant democracy.

This demagogue is joined by many of his ilk evidenced by the various Friday sermons, but they, to the modern thinker in any case, represent all that is dangerous to these islands of ours. Zero tolerance for the others views.

What’s next? Shut down all forms of entertainment and sports? Roll back the clock and live by paraffin lamps, dates and in camel-hair tents ruled by an elite class of religious junta? Create a cadre of religious police with sticks to go around enforcing their views of prevention of vice and promotion of virtue? Maybe we should also have another national referendum to change our country’s name to Bahrainistan?

I take pride in Bahrain’s centuries-old heritage as a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural cosmos built on the respect of other people’s views and religious beliefs. I also take pride in Islam as a modern religion where no person is forced into Islam by force, nor get Islam’s views imposed. I take pride in the great strides we have taken towards the road of democracy. I take pride in my ability as a citizen to have a say in the way the government is run. I take pride in my ability to elect my parliamentary representative. I take pride in the various people who have voiced their opinions about this subject in the local papers and internet fora regardless of whether their views coincide with mine. But I mostly take pride in being able to write this article without fear of persecution.

If we as a nation don’t take a firm stand against these extremist views and show these elected representatives that they are indeed being watched, then there is no hope in the future. We also have to take a firm stand against the saboteurs who terrorised innocent people and destroyed the peace and property and not allow the government to treat them with a soft hand, nor accept that they be released by pardon. They should serve their term in the hope that they will realise their error and think twice about responding to such incitement in the future.

In the post-Nancy era, we have to seriously consider the separation of religion and politics as the events and responses of the past few days clearly demonstrated the kind of polarised society we live in. For some people personal freedom and choice is paramount, while to others it is restricted and governed by their own ideology. The only way to guarantee tolerance and personal freedoms is patently obvious. It is this that the parliament should concern themselves with rather than frivolous matters like permitting veiled women to drive or allowing Nancy to perform.

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The National ID “smart card” idea continues to take hold

yet no answers to the questions I asked are forthcoming, even though the same article has been sent twice to the national papers in Bahrain. No one seems to be interested in protecting their most basic of human rights: privacy. Amazing.

Now the BDF (Bahrain Defence Forces) Hospital which is one of the leading hospitals on the island just signed a contract to use these cards to access patient records, lab tests and various other information.

DOCTORS and paramedics will soon have instant access to life-saving information on patients, thanks to Bahrain’s smart card system.

BDF Hospital yesterday signed an agreement with the Central Informatics Organisation, which will make it the first hospital to implement the system.

People’s medical records will be saved on the new “smart” Central Population Register (CPR) cards, which will be introduced early next year.

This will give doctors, paramedics and other medical staff instant access to vital information, said Royal Medical Services commander Brigadier Dr Shaikh Salman bin Atiyatallah Al Khalifa.

“Paramedics will be able to get the medical information of the patient’s smart card and that will help them determine the best course of treatment,” he said.

“They could also inform the hospital en route of the patient’s condition electronically, by using a GSM device that will be installed in the ambulance, helping staff at the hospital to assess the condition more accurately.”

Great. Although it can and most probably will save people’s lives because doctors will have information about the patient at their fingertips through this smart card, we still don’t know – and it appears that we never will know – how that information is stored, secured and accessed. Who has access to what information stored on the card?

Next step… take this complaint to the parliament.

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Bye privacy… welcome totalitarianism

The government is going to introduce a national ID card next year that will further control our lives, expose our most private details: any and all financial transactions, every time we travel, obtain health care, work, rent or buy a house yet no one asked us, the people, if we support such a totalitarian measure. They didn’t even explain how information is stored and retrieved from the card nor who is authorised to view our private details.

For example, when one uses the card, is all the information contained in it exposed or will there be sub-levels of access? That is, will the doctor only be able to see our health record? The bank our financial transactions? The traffic police our traffic related offenses only? Or will anyone with an appropriate card reader be able to drill down every conceivable private detail stored on the card? Giving our consent to whoever is going to read our details by scanning our thumb-print is not enough if that will result in an unrestricted view of the contents.

The government from what I’ve read so far is selling the concept of convenience. I don’t buy it. To me, this looks much more like total control of an individual’s life.

Consider the case of using a credit card for instance: when this card is used, the authorisation software does much more than merely check the identity and available credit. Before getting an authorisation number a credit card number is transmitted to a central computer which performs a large number of transaction: is the card on the system? Has it been reported lost or stolen? Does the account have adequate credit for the current transaction? It goes further: it checks the transaction history, the nature of the current transaction and compares it with the current proposed transaction to see if this transaction fits the customer profile and compares all of that with profiles of fraudulent transactions stored on the system. Once this operation is complete it assigns a “core”to the prospective transaction which it uses to determine whether or not to authorise the transaction.

I can see the national ID card to follow the same path should strict controls not be specifically introduced.

Say you go to a doctor and some software glitch happens in the myriad of equipment and software, will you be satisfied by the rejection of provision of medical aid because of this glitch? What if you want to buy a ticket for a concert and you give your ID number to a distant clerk on the phone who then taps your number on his terminal and not only knows your full home address, but now also when you’re NOT going to be at home? Can the government vouch for the honesty of every clerk? Or will the information be restricted for that type of transactions? If so, what will that clerk have access to?

The proposed card is a huge invasion of privacy, and privacy is one very basic human right. Do we give this away as citizens without question? Why is the government so insistent on knowing every detail of our private life when we see a whole continent like Europe almost doing away with passports? Why does the government want to track every aspect of our lives?

We should at least let Parliament examine these issues closely before even starting such a pervasive scheme. What I’ve heard so far is everyone applauding a clearly “big brother” scheme without any thought given to the real effect that such a card will introduce, whether we like it or not.

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