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Bahrain Personal Data Protection Law coming into effect

Bahrain Personal Data Protection Law coming into effect

Some of you may know that I have been on a campaign to protect data, personal data specifically, from misuse and my demands for legislation to strenuously protect that data to prevent its misuse, and to enact stern penalties on those who do misuse personal information.

On August 1, 2019, the Bahrain’s Personal Data Protection Law (PDPL) comes into effect. And it seems to address my raised concerns, which is a relief not just for me, but for everyone in Bahrain.

The issue is, although the law will come into effect and obviously organisations large and small will be held liable for its implementation, the Data Protection Agency doesn’t actually exist! More-over, no ministry or minister has been put in its charge. It’s just 22 days for the law to come into effect, and it looks like its going to be a difficult breach birth.

In any case, to introduce the law and to help businesses understand their responsibilities and make arrangements to stay within its limits, the Chamber of Commerce held a seminar this morning at its premises which was really well attended. The number of people attending is a testament on how businesses in Bahrain are seriously taking this matter. The presentation was done by keypoint‘s Mr Srikant Ranganathan, their senior director of IT consulting and it was quite comprehensive.

What is this law and what does it contain? keypoint and KPMG have good short guides which are worth reading (click the links to download pdfs). From keypoint’s document:

Bahrain issued Law 30 of 2018 – the personal data protection law (PDPL) – on 19 July 2018, with the law coming into effect from 1 August 2019. The PDPL applies to any entity processing personal data wholly or partly by automated means – as well as the manual processing of personal data as part of an organised filing system.

The PDPL require a range of changes to the way businesses process personal data in Bahrain. Entities are required to seek prior approval from the relevant data protection authorities (DPAs) when collecting, processing and storing personal data. The PDPL imposes new obligations on how businesses manage data, including ensuring that personal data is processed fairly, that data owners are notified when their personal data is collected and processed, that collected personal data is stored securely, and that data owners can exercise their rights directly with businesses.

There are also hefty fines for breaching the law and its provisions, some criminal and others are administrative and are cumulative:

The PDPL enforces a range of criminal and administrative fines:

  • Criminal offences include the processing of sensitive personal data, the transfer of personal data outside Bahrain, and the failure to notify as required – fines of up to BD20,000 or imprisonment for up to one year
  • Administrative fines – up to BD20,000 (one- off fines) or daily penalties of up to BD1,000 (may increase for repeat offences)

The law provides for the protection of “personal data” and what it terms “sensitive personal data“. These are defined as:

Personal data: Any information of any form relating to an identified or identifiable individual, either directly or indirectly, particularly through personal ID numbers or physical, physiological, intellectual, cultural or economic characteristics or social identity.

Sensitive personal data: Any personal information that reveals – even indirectly – an individual’s race, ethnicity, political or philosophical views, religious beliefs, union affiliation or criminal record – and any data related to health or sexual activities.

I think this is really good news for all of us. Finally we have a law – once its Agency actually comes into existence – that will protect our data. And this one is actually stricter than the European GDPR, which is also good news not only for individuals, but also for businesses wanting to establish entities in Bahrain. This is such a crucial issue, that if trust is established for the sanctity of this sensitive information, businesses will want to establish and invest in this country. Read the article by Khaled Alrumaihi of the EDB which explains this issue more.

Download the Bahrain Personal Data Protection Law (PDPL) courtesy of keypoint

The obligations of this law forces companies to be better and respect personal information, something which they have not been able to do because of the non-existence of any penalties for misusing collected and processed information. For instance, businesses routinely demand your national ID number (CPR) without having to have any conceivable reason to do so. Also, they would insist on getting your mobile number, but never tell you that they will be using both to send you unwanted marketing messages. With this law, they have to get your express approval before using your data, and you can demand that they show you what data they have in their databases about you, something you can demand that they delete it and they have to oblige. Beautiful. I look forward to the day where we can gain access to a building – for instance – without having to surrender our ID card first. This to me is not only scary (as it is open to misuse) but is also disgusting.

Before any organisation can collect and process your data, they have to gain the express permission of the DPA (when it is formed, of course! now we’re in limbo) which has a plethora of requirements before permission is granted, chief amongst these of course is the assurance that the organisation will look after and secure your data. I wonder how they will deal with cold stores who provide the service of printing the data contained in your national ID card! That too is a very worrisome affair. Making such data so easily available must ring bells.

So what are the obligations under this law?

The key obligations are:

Many of the obligations placed on “data managers” (controllers) will be familiar to organisations that operate under data protection laws in other parts of the world, including requirements to process data fairly and lawfully, to collect personal data for legitimate, specific and clear purposes and to ensure that data is adequate, relevant and not excessive as to the purpose for which it was collected.

Data cannot be processed without the consent of the relevant individual (data subject) unless it falls within one of the five grounds for processing in Article 4 of the Law. These grounds include the performance of contracts or legal obligations, protecting the data subject’s vital interests and safeguarding the data controller’s legitimate interests. There are derogations for the processing of personal data for journalistic, artistic or literary purposes and more stringent rules applying to the processing of “sensitive personal data” (i.e. personal data that directly or indirectly reveals racial or ethnic origin, political or philosophical views, religious beliefs, trade union membership, criminal record, health or sexual condition).

One interesting feature of Bahrain’s legislation is the role of the ‘Data Protection Supervisor’. This is an accredited third party that may be appointed by data controllers at their discretion or, in some cases, at the direction of the data protection authority. The Data Protection Supervisor must exercise its role in an “independent and neutral manner” (unlike, for example, the data protection officer appointed by European entities under the GDPR). Its responsibilities include monitoring and verifying the data controller’s compliance with the law, supporting the data controller in exercising its rights and performing its obligations, maintaining a register of processing, and coordinating between the data protection authority and the data controller.

The Law prohibits the transfer of personal data outside Bahrain to jurisdictions that are not approved by the data protection authority unless the data subject provides consent or the transfer falls under a specific derogation, including transfers necessary for the performance of contracts, protection of the data subject’s vital interests or preparing, pursuing or defending a legal claim. The Law also requires data controllers to enter written contracts with third parties that process personal data on their behalf (data processors). However, there is no mandatory data breach notification provision in the Law. [source: Clyde & Co]

What should entities do now?

According to keypoint:

To comply with the PDPL, organisations must:

  • Determine what personal data they acquire and process
  • Show they meet the requirements for processing personal data
  • Apply measures to protect data against unintentional or unauthorised destruction, accidental loss, unauthorised alteration, disclosure or access, or any other form of processing
  • Show how they ensure confidentiality when processing data
  • Appoint data protection supervisors to liaise with, or report to, the DPA as and when required

I’m sure there are quite a number of steps to action before it becomes the norm for people and entities to value the privacy of information, and as importantly, to make it a habit to seek approvals before using such sensitive data. It will also be a good day when people in Bahrain object to blindly hading over their personal information including their ID card to anyone who asks.

One thing that I would like to see added to this law immediately is to require entities who suffer any breach of such information to notify their user-base whose information they were entrusted with, and to make public their findings immediately. At the moment, they are not required to divulge any breaches, which – to me at least – impacts the trust that this whole operation requires.

This law is very welcome.

Now I’ve got to go and ask specific permission of those in my marketing database that they would actually like to hear from me from time to time. I won’t be offended if they choose to unsubscribe. I’ll just work harder at gaining their trust and to provide them enough value for them to willingly subscribe to my marketing efforts.

Well done Bahrain. It is high time that we have such a law in place.

I just hope its implementation will be strictly enforced, and that it doesn’t end up just ink on paper.

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Saying NO to the Shock Doctrine

Saying NO to the Shock Doctrine

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My friend Doug Doulton shared this on his Facebook timeline:

 

In it, Naomi Klein states:

Shock. It’s a word that has come up a lot since November— for obvious reasons.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about shock. Ten years ago, I published “The Shock Doctrine,” an investigation that spanned four decades from Pinochet’s U.S.-backed coup in 1970s Chile to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

I noticed a brutal and recurring tactic by right wing governments. After a shocking event – a war, coup, terrorist attack, market crash or natural disaster – exploit the public’s disorientation. Suspend democracy.  Push through radical “free market” policies that enrich the 1 percent at the expense of the poor and middle class.

The administration is creating chaos. Daily. Of course many of the scandals are the result of the president’s ignorance and blunders – not some nefarious strategy.

But there is also no doubt that some savvy people around Trump are using the daily shocks as cover to advance wildly pro-corporate policies that bear little resemblance to what Trump pledged on the campaign trail.

And the worst part? This is likely just the warm up.

Click here to read the full article.

 

Yes. We have and are living this in the Middle East. We have endured this kind of strategy for millennia. What we lack, I believe, is the implementation of points two through five of what Ms Klein proposes. Tunisia is the only country so far which has pushed through and we see them somewhat succeed.

The remaining countries have a few millennia to catch up it seems.

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Shaikh Isa Qasim Sentenced. Now what?

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After more than a year or toing and froing, Shaikh Isa Qasim, Hussain Alqassab and Mirza Aldurazi get a suspended sentence of one year in jail, three years probation, the appropriation of over BD 3 million collected as “khums” – a religious tax of 20% of surplus profits given by followers of the Shia tradition in alms to be distributed to the poor via vouched for clerics – and the appropriation also of two properties registered to Shaikha Isa Qasim. He was also stripped of his nationality last year and since then, the government has imposed a lockdown on the town of Duraz which houses over 20,000 inhabitants.

Regardless of whether the sentence is fair, will that mean that Shias can actually practice their beliefs unmolested? Who will they trust with that religious duty of paying alms? Will the Duraz Siege now be lifted? What change will we see?

The other question I must ask: why was Shaikh Isa Qasim holding three million dinars in an account? With the dilapidated state of most villages, with the absence of employment of his followers, with the meagre higher education opportunities available to them, why was that amount not spent wisely and continuously to help people, or at least invested in property or other instruments to ensure its longevity and availability for those in need?

What will happen to the appropriated funds and properties now? Will the government judiciously use those funds in a manner they were designed for or will they be simply appropriated into the treasury never to be seen by needy people again?

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False starts are common. Is this another one?

False starts are common. Is this another one?

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Something’s up.

I – like the majority of Bahrainis – have become pessimistic and always looking for hidden meanings.

This latest feeling descended on me when I heard that a staunch loyalist MP invited the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid bin Ra’ad Alhussein to come to Bahrain to personally investigate the situation here and thus be assured that everything is good and that reports of repression are exaggerated.

This was swiftly followed up by the speaker of the house of representatives to affirm the invitation.

I can’t help but think that this is not real.

If they open themselves up for even cursory examination by international bodies, a hell of a lot of skeletons will come out of closets that will forever change this country from the core. This would be a good thing of course.

We as a country are facing a lot of challenges none of which will be resolved without real political will and recognising our deficiencies and doing something concrete to address them. And sycophants and their ways will simply not do.

Is this the reconciliation and rapprochement that we all have been dreaming of for the last few years?

I truly hope so.

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The adverse effects of impunity on humanity

The adverse effects of impunity on humanity

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I happened across a couple of posts on Facebook which clearly demonstrated to me the adverse effects of impunity on humanity.

In the first instance, we witness a member of the Israeli forces physically tipping over a handicapped Palestinian in a wheelchair and then physically assaults him. The situation around that crime quickly descends in to chaos and becomes an unsafe place to be.

The question that came into my mind as I watched the following film was:

“What do these people get fed intellectually to get them to act with such impunity? How much are they given freedoms to picture the Palestinians as devoid of humanity to get them to justify their actions in their minds to be this inhuman toward them? This is simply despicable and inexcusable. Impunity should be rescinded and these people of the Israeli forces or any other forces for that matter should be held accountable for their actions, and their systems should be dismantled so this situation would never happen again.”

On the other hand, another video shows what can happen if a safe environment presents itself as a given, if the rule of law is applied equally without discrimination. My thoughts when I watched this second video were:

“On the other hand, when rule of law is applied, and impunity is punished and people are held accountable for their own actions, a safe platform presents itself for peace seeking people to utilise.”

Isn’t it more conducive to a better quality of life for the second situation to be the norm rather than the first?

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Sources of ISIS Support

Sources of ISIS Support

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Where are ISIS supporters Tweeting from?

 

The Brookings Institute published a study on where the pockets of ISIS support are around the world. They analysed the sources of supportive Tweets and found that the majority emanate from Muslim countries.

It’s no surprise to me that ISIS sympathisers are within our Arab communities. Their major support comes from the land of the birth of Islam, Saudi Arabia, as well as from war-torn Syria and Iraq. It’s somewhat surprising to see the United States ranking fourth in this infographic and I would like to know why this is and who those sympathisers are in actual fact.

The same goes for sympathisers from the UK and the rest of Europe. It is intriguing, and baffling, if those supporters turn out to be Muslims. Intriguing because I presume they and their parents escaped their Muslim countries and sought refuge in the Western world which embraced them. How they now turn to support ISIS is quite perplexing.

In any case, the fact remains that with this kind of support, ISIS is not going to go away any time soon.

To eradicate that support will take seismic change of our very culture and mindset. These are no easy tasks of course, but make no mistake; ISIS is an existential threat to our way of life as well as world peace. They are also a threat to our very Islam. I believe that if we want Islam to actually survive, a cultural shift must be allowed to happen. Immediate plans and actions must be put in place to cease the policies of hate and sectarian strife. Wars must stop in this area and a concerted effort at developing our education, healthcare and infrastructure must sincerely be made. So must the inculcation of democracy, democratic values and the respect for human rights. These must take precedence and all be made part of our culture.

Yes, of course this is a seismic change which will take generations to accomplish, and the journey must start immediately. The alternative of maintaining the status quo will see the end of our culture and our religion. Our future generations will simply be discounted and forgotten by history.

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#JohnKerry in Bahrain

#JohnKerry in Bahrain

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John KerryAs I type this, there is a joint press conference by the foreign secretaries of the US of A and Bahrain.

Here’s what I expect #JohnKerry to state. Ready? Here goes:

Blaaah blah blah bla. Blaah bla bla bla bla bla bla blaaaaah bl #IRAN blablablablabla bla blaaaaah bla bla bl blaha blahhhhh #ISIS bla bla blaaaaaaah bla bla #IRAN bl #SYRIA #bla bla bla blaaaaaah bla #YEMEN bla (human rights) bla bla blaaaab ablallaballbalbabhhh bla blaaaaa #IRAN!

#lunch? ehm, yeah, sure. ehm, let’s go!

Thank you for your visit. Bye bye.

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“This is Bahrain” group signs MoU with Israeli MEMRI organisation

“This is Bahrain” group signs MoU with Israeli MEMRI organisation

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this is bahrain group signs with memri
Ms Mathieson, third from left, Mr Fernandez, fourth from left, with clergymen, Shura Council members and delegates at the MoU signing.

What exactly is this “This is Bahrain” group? Who are they? And who gave them any authority to speak for and on behalf of us Bahrainis and the Bahraini government?

From what I could find, this group is an “initiative” emanating from The Federation of Expat Associations who lists Ms Betsy Mathieson as its secretary general. Ms Mathieson’s LinkedIn profile confirms that she is also This is Bahrain’s organiser. There is no independent website for either the Federation nor the Group in order for us to determine how they are financed and who their boards of directors are. The opaqueness surrounding these groups is one disturbing factor, of course.

The other, and as far as I’m concerned, much more nefarious activity undertaken by them is that they are jetting all over the world, holding conferences and talking on our behalf without any legal authority to do so. And now, they’re even supposedly signing memorandums of understanding with organisations like MEMRI, a partisan and deeply pro-Israeli research institute headed by ex-Israeli intelligence agencies’ personnel whose mission it seems is to translate the worst that Arab media publishes which it then sends out to opinion formers and decision makers in the Western world to increase anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiments.

The This is Bahrain group seem to have been given a completely free hand to do whatever they want, no oversight necessary, simply because they promised someone that they’re going to “improve” Bahrain’s reputation. If this is true, then we’ve reached a very sad state of affairs indeed. However, gullibility is of course soon exposed.

MEMRI in response to them supposedly signing a PR MoU with This is Bahrain said in a brief they’ve just released entitled “Bahrain And The Politics Of Deceit”:

It would be easy to chalk this farcical incident up to the frantic efforts of an expat businesswoman clumsily and dishonestly trying to correct the extremely negative image of her adopted homeland.[7]  But it is clear that the “This is Bahrain” roadshow is an attempt at public diplomacy embraced by the Manama government.[8]  The problem it reveals is a larger one not limited to this particular island kingdom in the Middle East.

The crisis of authority in the Middle East, the great shaking and unraveling in the Middle East supposedly unleashed by the Arab Spring but actually long in coming has terrified dynasties to their core.  The rise of the Islamic State, the increased tempo of Iranian-supported military action and terrorism, and the seemingly near complete abdication by the United States of its leading role in the region have all worked on the calculations of existing regimes. Elites rally around authority in such times.

Gone are, in all too many cases, the faltering steps at much needed reform and openness.  Regimes feel threatened existentially and intimately and respond, not by prioritizing reform or change, but by increasing repression and, in the world of the media, by making the lie and the gap between reality and the truth greater rather than lesser.  This is a dangerous, high-stakes, short-term, and even reckless strategy, in Bahrain and beyond.

read full brief

Does this look like an improvement of Bahrain’s reputation? I would say it’s actually anything but. This is what you get when you use band aids to attempt to cure cancer. This is what you get when you trust a bunch of sycophants to try to burnish a tarnished reputation.

I hope that this incident will wake up whomever is providing Ms Mathieson and her groups the cover to operate that this is not the way to do things. People have wised up and are much more informed. Groups like these will do nothing but damage the remaining good graces that this country might still have.

What Bahrain desperately needs is staring it in the face and is so easily accomplished; what it needs is the political will and courage to have an encompassing comprehensive dialogue with the authority to enact its own resolutions. Those need to be put through a national referendum to receive the necessary public backing and to achieve the required consensus to get this country out of its self-imposed quagmire.

What we don’t need is equally as obvious. We don’t need groups of sycophants and social climbers running rough-shod around the world obfuscating our problems and prolonging our genuine quest to resolve them.

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You want meat?

You want meat?

The controversial removal of meat subsidies in Bahrain will be lifted starting from tomorrow and parliament has given up the fight to have the subsidy reinstated. Had they done their job properly as they are sworn to do, they would have had a serious look at all the subsidies offered by the government to various sectors when they were reviewing the government plan for the next few years. They should have also combed through the budget professionally and raised flags of objection, or at least call for better clarifications and expenditure; thus, pretend at least to exercise their oversight role. What Bahrain did get from this parliament; however, was a white flag of surrender – as expected – allowing the government to disregard their thundering tantrums and promises of resignations, which of course will never materialise. Why give up a cushy job?

Like other Gulf Arab oil exporters, Bahrain subsidises goods and utilities including meat, fuel, electricity and water, keeping prices ultra-low to buy social peace.

But since oil prices plunged last year, slashing state revenues, the subsidies have become increasingly hard for governments to afford – especially in Bahrain, which has smaller oil and financial reserves than its neighbours.

So the government announced last month that it would remove subsidies on meat from Sept. 1, allowing domestic prices to rise and compensating Bahraini citizens – but not foreigners, who comprise about half of the population of roughly 1.3 million – with cash payments.

Reuters

What are the subsidies offered by the government I hear you ask? Well, here’s an overview (pdf) of those scheduled in the 2015/2016 budget and I also provide a comparative look at the 2011/2012 budgeted subsidies.

Bahrain 2011/2012 Subsidies Table
2011/2012 Subsidies Table
Bahrain 2015/2016 Subsidies Table
2015/2016 Subsidies Table

If you look at the food subsidy in Bahrain, the government is looking to save approximately BD24 million (US$ 63m) by 2016; however the electricity and water subsidy will increase to approximately BD65 million by then too. Apart from that not making sense to my simple brain, I’d like to know how the biggest subsidy in that schedule is actually apportioned? My understanding is a good chunk of that directly supports industry in natural gas subsidies that presumably goes to ALBA, the aluminium smelter, and other industries like it.

Of course I understand that the government must react to the appreciable drop of oil prices which is its main source of income, and I appreciate that it has put in mechanism to defray the cost increase on meats by offering citizens alone a monthly stipend and of course I thank them for their generosity, but I wonder if other subsidies should have been lifted first? Unless of course this is an initial foray into the lifting of other subsidies in the years to come, and the removal of subsidies on meat is to prepare the populace? Will the government ultimately be removing of all subsidies and even introduce of taxation to meet the increasing budgetary deficit?

I don’t have a crystal ball, but I’m willing to put in a bet that this scenario is actually closer than many people think. It’s because of this that we need much better oversight with a parliament whose members are much more aware of fiscal requirements, have the necessary understanding of budgets and fiscal policies, and also have the necessary tools to exercise proper oversight on government and its spending. Ultimately, we need a parliament which is much more accountable to those who elected them. However, had I that same crystal ball, it might well tell me that the latter just won’t happen.

In the mean time, register here to receive the subsidy if you’re a Bahraini, and here’s some meat to fill you up in the mean time.

Dig in!

camel feast for one - Camel feast in (presumably) Saudi. The upside of the removal of meat subsidies is that we'll never have this sort of excess in Bahrain.
Camel feast in (presumably) Saudi. The upside of the removal of meat subsidies is that we’ll hopefully never have this sort of excess in Bahrain. Ever.

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The Hostility of the Middle East to Freedom of Expression

The Hostility of the Middle East to Freedom of Expression

Here’s a riddle: if you heard the following, which country of region or the world would immediately jump up at you?

A female artist and activist serving a 12-year prison sentence is facing additional charges, including “indecent conduct,” after shaking her male lawyer’s hand.

South America?
China?
Belarus?
Georgia?
USA?

No. I bet the region that popped up in your mind was the Middle East. As to the specific country, it most probably was either Saudi Arabia or Iran. Okay, I’ll throw in Afghanistan in there too.

Atena Farghadani

The correct answer, of course in this case, is Iran.

Why is this region so afflicted with this disease of needing to control everyone and mould them into unthinking and unfeeling automatons beyond their own officially sanctified propriety? Aren’t the perpetually descending freedom indices enough to jolt the region’s officials to a state of utter alarm coupled with a clear realisation that the people of this region have had enough Big Brotherly oversight and repression and they’re rebelling against the chains? Don’t they realise that peoples’ aspirations have now changed beyond their recognition and broke out of their moulds? That what people now want is the plentiful bounty of choice that is available to their fellow human beings elsewhere? And that the continued application of unfair and unjust laws that curtail personal freedoms will achieve nothing but an all out ugly rebellion that might well lead to civil wars?

The Middle East is by almost any reckoning the world’s worst region for freedom of expression. Reporters Without Borders, a press freedom lobby, puts war-torn Syria 177th out of 180 countries on its latest annual ranking, in 2014. Iran is 173rd, Sudan 172nd, Yemen 167th, Saudi Arabia 164th. The highest any of the region’s countries make it is 91st, with Kuwait, which has a democracy of sorts. According to the Pew Research Centre, a think-tank, as of 2012, 14 of 20 Middle Eastern countries criminalise blasphemy and 12 of 20 make apostasy—leaving Islam—an offence. [Unholy Silence – The Economist]

Almost every country in the Middle East imprisons political activists, artists, journalists, writers, bloggers, and anyone else who dares to oppose official views or simply criticises any official body using draconian and malleable laws that will ensure their silencing and also make them examples to deter others from treading their paths.

The ludicrous story of the Iranian artist Atena Farghadani embodies all that ails this region of the world. She expressed her opinion of the political situation in her country by drawing Iranian parliamentarians as animals. That opinion got her more than twelve years behind bars in the country’s top security prison. When she shook the hand of her male lawyer, they slapped an additional prison sentence for public indecency and they both can receive over 70 lashes for their courtesy on top of the prison sentence.

“The laws on the books in Iran are a kind of arsenal or tool kit always available for use by the authorities in their efforts to suppress any form of expression they don’t approve of,” Elise Auerbach, Iran country specialist at Amnesty International, told The Huffington Post.

How are these laws allowed to be legislated in the first place? How can parliamentarians continue to have any respect for themselves after allowing such legislation to pass? Don’t their conscience and honour question their actions or lack thereof?

Of course, the practical effects of this suppression are manifold; chief amongst them is the killing of innovation and creativity. People cannot be creative and innovative if they’re continuously looking over their shoulders and censoring themselves. This creates such a corrosive and unproductive environment which enforces subservience to foreign products, workforce and talent. This situation will ultimately unbalance the very foundations of a sustainable society and put whole countries at the mercy of the external powers they are beholden to. The local disenfranchised population will of course lose hope, lose their kinship with their own country of birth and might well stand on the sidelines while its resources continue to be plundered because they would be unsure whether they are empowered to act to protect the resources. Under these conditions, there is no doubt that governments will ultimately lose the support of their own people and chaos will ensue.

The great Mark Twain once said that “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it”.  Judging by the acceleration in arbitrary arrests, the fashioning of even more opaque laws whose sole purpose is for their use against any form of opposition or dissent, the further choking of freedoms of expression and penalising almost any form of criticism, that governmental support across the Middle East is declining to a level that open rebellion – small as it may currently be – is begining to be witnessed on a daily basis.

There is a way out of this, of course. Paradoxically, Bahrain once provided the guiding light for how things can be reversed and corrected. Just look at what its RSF Press Freedom Index was in 2002 and compare it to every year since. What did Bahrain do in 2001 that warranted that huge increase in its press freedom ranking and all other freedom of expression indices?

Here’s a brief, courtesy of 2002 report from Freedom House:

Bahrain’s political rights rating improved from 7 to 6, and its civil liberties rating improved from 6 to 5, because of political reforms that set the stage for the establishment of an elected legislature, abolished emergency laws and courts, released political prisoners and allowed exiles to return, granted nationality to bidoon (stateless peoples), and improved political debate and freedom of association.

Sheikh Hamad ibn Isa al-Khalifa ended almost a decade of civil unrest in February 2001, when he presented Bahrainis with the opportunity to vote in a referendum on a new national charter. The charter, which calls for the establishment of a partially elected legislature, an independent judiciary, political rights for women, equality for all citizens, and a body to investigate public complaints, addresses the key grievances of Shiite-led opposition groups. Ninety percent of Bahrainis turned out to vote in the referendum, and 98 percent of them approved the new charter.

Although the 2002 Freedom House index for Bahrain rates it as “Not Free”, it does recognise that some solid steps have taken place that warranted that upward change in ranking. In fact, the effect of those changes were clearly seen from 2003 – 2009 when the country’s status changed to “Partly Free”, which is a big achievement.

From a practical level, I remember the heady days of 2001 when people stood up straighter, looked each other in the eye, had fruitful debates without resorting to hushed tones and continuously looking over their shoulders and political lectures and workshops were aplenty. We actually started to understand what “debate” actually was rather than resort to the usual accusations of treason, or lobbying choice epithets at people we disagree with. The whole country was abuzz and business was booming. Everyone had an air of accomplishment and a sense of worth and pride.

That feeling is a universal requirement for a healthy and effective Middle East. Unfortunately it has disappeared, or at least, it got lost in the interim. For our own survival and our much needed growth as effective nations, we need to get that sense of self-worth back.

How the people of this region might go about this will not be easy. The road will require sacrifices to re-establish trust between all parties. Shared goals need to be set that have national interest fully in sight and which transcend personal aggrandisement and selfish benefit. I personally believe that this can and must be achieved. I can’t give up on more than 400 million people and neither can the world for that matter.

We all individually have a part to play, no matter how small, to achieve that much required correction to rejoin a world, without terrorism, wars or strife. We owe it to ourselves and future generations to try.

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