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Bahrain’s Rocky Road to Reform – ICG report

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A new report from the International Crisis Group:

Following a spasm of violence, Bahrain faces a critical choice between endemic instability and slow but steady progress toward political reform. The most sensible way forward is to launch a new, genuine dialogue in which the political opposition is fairly represented and to move toward changes that will turn the country into a constitutional monarchy. In order to create an environment in which such talks could succeed, the regime should take immediate steps to address the human rights crisis, including by releasing political leaders jailed for peacefully expressing their views, and reverse the alarming sectarian polarisation that has occurred.

In February and March 2011, Bahrain experienced peaceful mass protests followed by brutal repression, leaving a distressing balance sheet: over 30 dead, mostly demonstrators or bystanders; prominent opposition leaders sentenced to lengthy jail terms, including eight for life; hundreds of others languishing in prison; torture, and at least four deaths in detentions; trials, including of medical professionals, in special security courts lacking even the semblance of due process of law; over 40 Shiite mosques and other religious structures damaged or demolished; the country’s major independent newspaper transformed into a regime mouthpiece; a witch hunt against erstwhile protesters who faced dismissal or worse, based on “loyalty” oaths; serious damage to the country’s economy; a parliament left without its opposition; and much more. More significant for the long term perhaps, the violence further polarised a society already divided along sectarian lines and left hopes for political reform in tatters, raising serious questions about the island’s stability.

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Dialogue Delegates Appreciation Society

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I’m not sure who the admin / support staff for the dialogue were nor how they were selected. From observation, they seem to have come from various government departments, maybe primarily from the parliament. In any case, at the National Dialogue participation certificate presentation / appreciation this morning, they have resolutely added to my feeling of despair for this country. That and added a good measure to my already high level of disgust with what this country has become.

Why? It’s all to do with the science of clapping.

They were selective whom to give their appreciation to; that was mostly given to the contentious personalities involved in the dialogue; Jassim Alsaidi, Khalid Alshaikh, Hisham Zayani and others rocked their boats, others who have had a lifetime of contribution to this country received a smattering, while those who were perceived to be in the opposite side, received less still. Both Alwefaq and Wa’ad didn’t attend this morning but I can imagine that we would’ve heard a pin drop had they been called up to the podium to receive their certificates and get their obligatory photograph taken.

Of course it’s well within their right to appreciate and approve of anyone they wish. They’re totally free to clap until their hands drop off, but to me at least, what this situation has demonstrated, is that we as a country and society are no where near to the claim that this country is on the way to resolve its differences and that the dialogue in itself has ameliorated feelings and charted a road to recovery.

Whether this means that the Dialogue itself is a failure, is another matter and I shall write my reflections on that at another time.

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Commission of Inquiry starts working

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Creating an independent commission to look into the killings, torture, dismissals, and prejudicial treatments and transparently report its findings and name and shame abusers is a huge, unprecedented and much awaited courageous step that can have far reaching impact on this country and its people if left to actually do its assigned work. I hope that they will be given the promised free access to all parties in order to ascertain the truth of the past few months. Only then will this country treat the path of much needed reconciliation.

So far, the various meetings and press releases emanating from the Commission are very encouraging. In order for them to have better communication with the public, the Commission launched their own website through which they will have the capability to receive complaints too. The site is available at http://bici.org.bh and according to the papers this morning, they’ve ensured that its database and administration is independent by hosting the site and its database outside of the country.

This is Good News™. I look forward to reading their report, but much more importantly, I’m looking forward to get those abusers, no matter how high they are, getting their just deserts. I must confess though, that I’m very skeptical of this ever happening as I – as do the rest of the country – know that some very high figures’ heads won’t roll, no matter how nefarious their deeds were through this whole fiasco.

But… let’s wait and see. Let’s give the Commission a chance.

Related: Reuters: Bahrain commission to investigate army, torture claims.

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The Dialogue: Parliament v1.1?

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Progress has been marked in last night’s Political Stream of the National Dialogue last night. According to this from the Dialogue’s official site:

Bahrain’s National Dialogue has reached ground breaking consensus to increase the powers of the Parliament. Assembled delegates including: MPs, opposition political societies; NGOs and public figures agreed to enhance the Parliament’s democratic scrutiny over the government. This decision gives the Parliament full authority to reject the entire government if they disapprove.

Commenting on the consensus, the spokesperson the National Dialogue, Isa Abdul Rahman said:

“This decision represents a radical shift in the balance of power – between our democratically elected parliament and our executive branch – further demonstrating Bahrain’s commitment to concrete reforms.”

“Under the new proposals the Prime Minister will now assume responsibility for selecting the members of his government.”

“The government will require the endorsement of our parliament before taking up office. If members of Parliament disapprove they can vote to reject the entire government.

“MPs will have the power to reject the government’s four year work plan.

“This decision guarantees that our government’s composition and work plan will reflect the will of the people.” [link]

No one can deny that this is germane progress. This has to be passed by his majesty of course and I am hopeful that he will with alacrity.

The other thing that I was happy to hear discussed is the contentious issue of separating religion from state, it wasn’t adopted unfortunately, but at least it was raised in such a forum. Is there hope then that after this taboo has been broken, that it will be raised again at a point in the not too distant future?

Onward…

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Dialogue in tatters?

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Al-Wefaq pulled out of the National Dialogue. This is not a disaster. It’s their right. They didn’t believe in its efficacy and I – and everyone else – must respect their evaluation no matter how much we differ from their conclusions. I predict that the three liberal/leftist societies soon might follow suit. Again, that’s up to them. No one should label them as traitors – an oft and liberally used word in what has become a paranoia in this country.

The question that we should ask ourselves is why they opted to abandon the process and what did they base their conclusion on? Are they valid and how should they be addressed? Let me tell you from first hand observation that these societies are not the only ones who chose not to participate, I have witnessed several personalities leaving the dialogue not to return, others did so temporarily because of a disagreement and others didn’t even bother to attend even though their names are still listed in the roster. So please, my friends, let’s leave the hysteria behind us and be pragmatic about the situation.

So what’s the problem? How and what must we learn from this experience?

The first and foremost universal complaint has been that those involved in the Dialogue are do not directly represent the Bahraini public. Yes, that is very true. We did not win our seats by public vote but have been appointed in those positions. Looking at the roster, I recognise that a good cross section of professionals, businessmen, writers, journalists, politicians of every hue and other worthy people are involved. It is quite apparent that those who did the choosing did so with an eye to include as wide a cross-section of society as they could. However; with this selection, the Dialogue could be referred to as a council of experts rather than one formed to be directly representative of society. For that to be true, elections of those in the Dialogue need to take place. This grouping – to me at least – are an acceptable medium.

The second complaint is the adopted mechanism. We are told that this is a code adopted by international arbitrators in dispute resolutions. The organisers; however, failed to explain the parameters of this mechanism in sufficient detail. All the delegates got was a printed “code” which was never fully explained in the sessions. What the organisers should have done is take the time to gather all the delegates and properly and minutely explain what the process is and how agreement or disagreements would be arrived at and adopted. This should have been done right on the very first day. What we got instead are lackluster and uninspired speeches. It was a 30-minute ceremony while those present were ready and willing to stay the full day to enter into a training session to understand what is required, how the discussions will be managed and how resolutions would be adopted.

The third complaint is that no one knows exactly how and when the resolutions are going to be presented to His Majesty the King and what he will do with those resolutions. Do the resolutions constitute a binding agreement between the people (if they are indeed regarded as represented by the delegates) and the regime? How will the resolutions be prioritised? Indeed, how will they be adopted? Will HM authorise a public referendum, or will he simply assign the resolutions to the various organs of government as he sees fit? What will the timeframe of implementation be? I couldn’t get a straight answer from any official at the Dialogue.

There are other issues – just as critical – that contributed to the current state of the Dialogue. The Dialogue is the direct result of the February 14th movement whose bedrock are demands for increased political rights and freedoms. It was never just about jobs, housing and government services. However, from my own personal observations, the topics being discussed and resolved do not adequately touch upon these main aspirations, in fact, what is happening is a surprising attempt by some delegates to reduce the ceiling even lower by calling for further restrictions on freedoms and rights.

Like others in the various sessions, I have complained to the sessions’ moderators that we should ensure that we raise the ceiling of rights in this country. I reminded them that we have been given an opportunity to challenge current laws, directives and even the constitution itself, but what I have witnessed so far is a concerted effort not only to stay within the confines of the already contentious laws, but enact new, even more restrictive ones.

I would have thought that these critical issues should have been addressed right at the start. Having them remain unanswered, I feel, contributed to both Alwefaq and several other personalities abandoning the Dialogue.

Regardless, I fully believe that being part of a dialogue is much better than being outside of it. Through this dialogue, no matter how ineffectual some have determined it to be, I still believe that at the very least it will serve as a first step to a much needed national reconciliation, and through it, aspirations will be vocalised and noted, and steps could be taken in the right direction.

I fought for the reduction in the amount of restrictive laws in this country and the enactment of mechanisms which ensure that we get ready for the challenges of the future by completely reforming education – making critical thinking, innovation and creativity central to curricula; supporting SMEs by removing restrictive laws and procedures; engendering social responsibility; supporting businesses against foreign competition; allowing local businesses a variance of up to 10% difference in bids against foreign firms as long as part of that bid’s budget goes directly to societal needs; protecting the environment by penalising polluters and ensuring new and old projects adhere to stringent environmental requirements; untethering electronic media, removal of all Internet filters and ensuring that judicial orders be gained should a site blocking be required. I’m satisfied that I managed to get almost all of those points recognised and adopted. However, the demands for the more intrinsic issues of political rights and freedoms remain divergent and contentious between delegates in the Political, Rights and Social streams.

From my understanding after discussions with those who participated in the Political, Rights and Social streams, the direction there seem to run counter to the main aspirations of the people, let alone that some of the resolutions actually run against those adopted in other sessions. Other very important and quite critical resolutions have not been adopted as no consensus was arrived at either; an example of those issues include the formation of political parties (rather than societies), a less restrictive law on the rights of assembly, more freedoms of speech and the press, more equitable distribution of electoral districts, one-man-one-vote principle, holding the cabinet accountable to the elected parliament, restricting legislation to the elected parliament amongst others.

Is there any rays of hope emanating from this dialogue? Yes, I think there are. The results of the Dialogue won’t be as Earth moving as some might have wanted it to be, but having some things adopted for the better is an improvement on the current situation. I believe that this dialogue is a right step in the evolution of this country and its people and is very much worthy of consideration. I would have loved it if real political change is gained through them, but I don’t think this will happen immediately. I can tell you with some measure of confidence; however, that the presidency of the Parliament will now be with the elected Speaker of the House, rather than the appointed chairman of the Shura council. This must be recognised as a good step forward and one that has been demanded by many.

I personally would also like to see the EDB taking a much bigger role in the running of the country in as much as continuing to be the incubator of successful projects, as well as be the main over-sight entity over the government. If that comes to being, I think we can record this Dialogue as a successful one. Not one that answered all the aspirations of the people, but at least one that provided a glimmer of hope taking Bahrain into the future.

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The Dialogue: Government Services

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Off to the National Dialogue again in a few minutes. This time I’ll be participating in the 2nd stream of the Economic Committee dealing with Government Services and I’ll be particularly interested in Education and the Environment, their challenges and what we should do to promote them in Bahrain. This is a continuation session from last week.

My submissions to the committee last week involved the following:

  • 1. The overhaul of the educational curricula to engender and encourage critical thinking
  • 2. Teach and encourage innovators and innovations
  • 3. Review the classical way in which tests and exams are done and marked
  • 4. Elevate vocational training and intensify it so that graduates would be readily absorbed into the job market
Rubbish strewn Duraz beach

As to the environment, I suggested

  • 1. Review the environmental laws and enact them. Find ways to encourage and stimulate the preservation of our environment
  • 2. Allocate part of the budget of real estate developments to create gardens or works of art for public benefit
  • 3. Impose strict penalties on polluters

I hope to emphasise these points this afternoon and encourage their adoption for the final communique.

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The Dialogue: Detriments to Economic Competitiveness

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In a previous post we talked about the competitiveness of Bahrain and what it would take to aid it along the prosperity path. This is of vital importance of course as achieving good economic growth will create jobs, fill stomachs and redraw missing smiles.

But economic growth cannot flourish in an environment where onerous and crippling (sometimes ludicrous) laws exist. Yes, a structure is undisputedly needed, but not to the extent that they would cripple innovation and creativity, and I personally believe that they shouldn’t discourage calculated risk-taking either.

What are those laws or directives which you think are detrimental to the country’s growth? Please specify those laws and directives so that we research them and form an actual recommendation for their removal through the Dialogue.

My own experience is the ridiculous requirement for an entrepreneur to have a specific educational achievement to start particular projects; if I were to start a web design studio then the government requires me – as a business owner – to have gained a BSc. If anyone is to start a landscaping or gardening business then they are required to have a high school certificate. What has both to do with being creative? What does either have to do with being entrepreneurial? I believe having this sort of restriction is preventing entrepreneurial innovation.

There must be others as well. What are those?

20110715-125828.jpg

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The Dialogue: Freedom of Speech

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I won’t talk about specifics of the sessions as I find that to be unethical. We’re all in there at the invitation of this nation to find way in which we can recoup losses, ameliorate passions and find a way forward for us all to live peacefully together. I will; however, share with you my submission yesterday through which I hope to have imparted the importance of protecting freedom of speech and everyone’s right to that freedom because I firmly believe that without it, unchecked power will corrupt, with all of what that entails.

I also related, other than what you’re going to read below, that apart from the Press & Publications Law currently under discussion in parliament – as it has been since 2002 – which is destined to replace the contentious Law 47 or 2002 and in it, we were assured, that it shall not call for the imprisonment of journalists, while the loopholes leading to the Penal Code are still to be ironed out – that we need to think of what happens beyond this to-be-promulgated law. We need a to think of a way beyond that still, version 3.0 if you will.

My contention is that with the frenetic speed of change in the media industry, we no longer need a strenuous and extremely detailed law which by definition of this pace of change will be obsolescent at best or obsolete at worst on release. What we probably need is the encouragement of self-regulation and an ombudsman charged from within the industry to oversee it.

If there were a law to be considered, then let that be a strong libel code to which journalists and bloggers or anyone else for that matter be held to account. That code must not condone imprisonment for expressing and opinion, but levy financial fines which will make people think much more seriously about libeling anyone. And calling someone stupid or swearing at them or something like that should never be counted as libel, improper social behavior, maybe, but libel, no! I personally think that this will be a much more effective way to limit intransigence and more importantly will improve and raise the level of journalism we currently are encumbered with.

I’m hopeful that a consensus will be reached in which freedoms will be seen as important and necessary through which society as a whole can be improved, and longer term thinking – certainly beyond Feb 14 – can be adopted in which a much better future is envisioned and is less restricted than what we currently have.

The submission:

Freedom of Speech

Our international metrics and rankings – particularly those concerned with freedoms of expression – have deteriorated significantly since 2002.

What started as a promise for freedom of expression in this country has now transformed into a nightmare.

Rankings in press freedoms have descended from an RSF high of 67 in 2002 – the best in the Gulf – to languishing now at 144 just ahead of Saudi Arabia, second last in this important international ranking. The latest Press Freedom Report ranks it even worse, ranking Bahrain at 159, rating it at 72 and giving it the status of “Not Free”.

The Internet Freedom indices have not faired any better. We are a highly connected country, ranked second in the Arab world, with multiple internet access providers with a rising Internet population from 40,000 in 2000 to around 500,000 in 2009, most of whom access the internet through broadband and a rapidly rising access rate through mobile devices. Yet with this quantum leap was faced not with an explosion of Internet-based businesses and a rise of innovation and discoveries, but with the Great Wall of Bahrain!

Thousands of websites are now blocked with just an administrative nod, but in order to rescind that ban, a website owner needs to resort to the judicial authorities. And for those who say that the block notice page has a function to send an unblock request, I suggest they try it. You’ll end up in a 404 loop! It continuously results in submission errors strengthening the opinion that there is absolutely no intention to communicate with the public, nor is there any intention to actually entertain any unblock requests.

All of this has not gone unnoticed by the international community. Freedom House has bestowed a ranking of 62 on Bahrain, with a status of “Not Free”.

Is this “Business Friendly Bahrain”?

Do you think that with this attitude that Bahrain will breed any Internet innovators? Can we expect that a Google, or Facebook, or a Yahoo!, or a Twitter, or even a Maktoob to be invented here? How can we expect that anyone would bother thinking of Internet businesses or innovations in a country where there is no guarantee that your business venture won’t be shut down arbitrarily?

Personal freedoms have even reached an all time low recently with people being dragged off in the middle of the night or at dawn to languish in unknown locations for days, weeks or months for simply “Liking” a post on Facebook or re-Tweeting a message.

The main industry and wealth-building facet of countries now is knowledge-based, how can we join the journey if the state harbours such a hostility to the very essence of future growth?

We need to reverse that spiral of ignominy. We need to release the bounds hampering our growth. We need to remove the shackles to seeking knowledge. We need to transform that Great Wall of Bahrain into a bridge on which Bahrainis can reach a more conducive and constructive knowledge-based future.

Therefore; I propose the following:

  • do not jail journalists, bloggers or anyone else for that matter for simply expressing their opinions
  • enshrine and protect freedoms, especially those concerned with expression
  • allow people to reach the internet without restriction and regard this as a basic human right
  • remove all internet filters and screening software
  • should there be a need to ban a website, an order must be sought from a higher judicial authority rather than the ban be effected through an administrative order

In Arabic

الحوار الوطني – حرية التعبير و حرية الرأي – ١٠ يولو ٢٠١١

مما يؤسَف له أننا رأينا كيف تدهور ترتيب البحرين منذ العام 2002م تدهوراً حاداً في المقاييس العالمية للحريات و على الأخص منها تلك المتعلقة بحرية التعبير، فما بدأ لدينا كبادرة انفتاح تبشر بتأصيل حرية التعبير في مجتمعنا تحول إلى كابوس يجثم على الصدور.

في عام 2002 أحرزت البحرين المرتبة 67 في التصنيف العالمي لحرية الصحافة لدى منظمة “مراسلين بلا حدود” Ùˆ هو ترتيب متقدم Ùˆ كان الأفضل خليجياً Ùˆ إذا بنا نتراجع إلى المرتبة 144 Ùˆ هي مرتبة متأخرة جداً. أما في آخر تقرير لمنظمة عالمية أخرى Ùˆ هي فريدم هاوس فالوضع أسوأ بكثير فقد تراجع ترتيب البحرين إلى 159 Ùˆ حيث حازت على تقييم 72 مما يضعها في خانة الدول الـ “غير حرة”.

و أذا أتينا لتصنيف حرية الانترنت فلم يكن أداؤنا بأفضل حالاً. فرغم أن البحرين تعد الثانية عربياً في انتشار الانترنت فيها، فلدينا عدة مزودين لخدمة الانترنت وقد ارتفع تعداد المتصلين بالانترنت في البحرين من أربعين ألفاً (40000) في عام 2000 إلى نصف مليون تقريباً في 2009 و معظم هؤلاء يتصلون بالانترنت عبر شبكة البرودباند السريعة ، مع تزايد في ارتفاع أعداد من يتصلون بالانترنت عبر الهواتف و الأجهزة المحمولة ، لكن هذا الارتفاع العددي لم يقابله ارتفاع مواز و مماثل في معدل التجارة والأعمال التي تعتمد الانترنت كبيئة لعملها و لم نر ارتفاعاً في الابداع و الاكتشاف في هذا المجال ، بل قابله جدار منيع أشبه بسور الصين العظيم.

فـبـ”سور البحرين العظيم” تحظر الآلاف من مواقع الانترنت ØŒ Ùˆ يتم ذلك الحظر بقرار إداري ØŒ Ùˆ إذا أراد أحد أي يطلب رفع المنع عن موقعه فعليه اللجوء إلى القضاء ØŒ Ùˆ أقول لمن يزعمون أنه يمكن إرسال طلب إلكتروني لرفع المنع أن حاولوا ذلك بأنفسكم لتروا إن كانت رسالتكم ستصل لأحد! إن عدم توفير طريقة لطلب رفع المنع إلكترونياً لهو أمر يقوي لدينا الظن بأن الجهة المعنية بالمنع لا نية لديها أصلاً للتواصل مع الجمهور، أو النظر في أي طلب لرفع الحظر عن المواقع الممنوعة.

هل هذا هو ما نعنيه بشعار‮ ‮ ‬Bahrain Friendly Business‮ ‬ ؟

هل نصدق أنه في وضع كهذا يمكن للبحرين أن تنجب المبتكرين أو المبدعين أو المبادرين في مجال الأعمال على الإنترنت؟ هل‮ ‬يمكننا أن نتوقع أنه‮ ‬في يوم ما يمكن أن ‬يخترع بحريني منتجاً مثل‮ ‮ ‏Google أو‮ ‬Facebook أو‮ ‬Yahoo أو‮ ‬Twitter أو حتى‮ ‬Maktoob؟

كيف‮ ‬يمكن لنا أن نتوقع أن أحدا ما سيكلف نفسه عناء التفكير في‮ أعمال أو ابتكارات الانترنت حيث لا‮ ‬يوجد ضمان انه لن يتفاجأ يوماً بإيقاف تعسفي‮ ‬لإستثماره؟

هذا وقد وصلت الأمور في‮ ‬الآونة الأخيرة لأدنى المستويات سوءاً ، فصار الناس‮ ‬يسحبون من بيوتهم في‮ ‬منتصف الليل و عند الفجر ليعتقلوا في‮ ‬أماكن مجهولة لفترات ليست بالقصيرة لمجرد التعبير عن آرائهم على الانترنت ، كأن يضيفوا‮ ‬Like‭ ‬على Facebook أو يعيدوا إرسال‭ ‬رسالة ‬على ‏Twitter.‬

إن الصناعة المعرفية هي‮ ‬الركيزة الأساسية للثروة الاقتصادية في‮ ‬العالم الآن‮. ‬فكل الميادين قائمة على صناعة المعرفة التي‮ ‬تعتبر الإنترنت و الكلمة الحرة عمودها الفقري،‮ ‬فكيف‮ ‬يمكننا الانضمام إلى هذه الرحلة إذا كانت أجهزة الدولة تَكُنّ مثل هذا العداء لجوهر النمو ‮‬المستقبلي؟

نحن بحاجة إلى أن نعكس تيار هذه الدوامة المخجلة، و لا يمكننا ذلك إلا إذا أزلنا الحدود التي‮ ‬تعوق نمونا و فككنا القيود التي وضعناها على طلب المعرفة.‬ علينا بإستبدال سور البحرين العظيم بجسر يساعد البحرين و أبنائها للولوج لمستقبل معرفيّ أفضل.

فلذا‮ ‬،‮ ‬أقترح الآتي‮ :‬

    1. عدم سجن الصحفي‮ ‬أوالمدون أو أيّ‮ ‬كان لمجرد التعبير عن آرائهم.
    2. تكريس و حماية الحريات‮ ‬،‮ ‬خصوصا تلك المتعلقة بحرية التعبير.
    3. السماح للناس بالوصول إلى مواقع الانترنت من‮ ‬غير قيود أو عقبات و إعتبار هذا حق جوهري من حقوق الإنسان.
    4. إزالة جميع مرشحات و فلترات الانترنت‮‬ التي إما تمنع أو تحصي على الناس ما دخلوه من مواقع.
    5. ‬إن كانت هناك حاجة لحظر موقع ما، فيستوجب ذلك الحصول على أمر من السلطة القضائية و ليس مجرد إصدار أمر أداري بذلك.

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National Dialogue – The Powers of the Parliamentary Chambers

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?

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National Dialogue: Strengthening Economic Competitiveness

National Dialogue: Strengthening Economic Competitiveness

I’ll be involved in the Economic Competitiveness stream this afternoon as part of the National Dialogue, I would love to hear your thoughts on this: best way to do this is to

(1) Present your case,
(2) describe the problem, and
(3) offer a solution.

Please think globally in terms of the country rather than you as an individual or group.

The points I have marked to raise this afternoon is related to the difficulty in registering SMEs and some of the hurdles entrepreneurs face when attempting to do so.

I look forward to your thoughts.


Update 6 July, 2011: The mechanism of the Dialogue is emerging slightly clearer, though the end-result is still opaque. The format of the first session yesterday was allowing each participant – if they wished – to declare his vision and points offered and a time-limit of five minutes per person was imposed. Needless to say, a lot went beyond both limitations.

73 delegates packed the Economics stream to discuss the Economic Competitiveness of Bahrain going into the future; while some have stuck to the declared principle, others have chosen to digress and use the dialogue as a forum to air their grievances. A few – but not many – wanted to pour the ills that the country has been facing solely at the doorsteps of “those bad protestors” and demanded an even firmer application of the law/force – with all that entails.

Now that everyone had their say, the secretariat’s job is to categorise the points raised and summarise the proceedings in preparation for the next meeting in which individual recommendations will be discussed and a consensus might be formed. Points which are in contention will take longer to conclude, obviously, but those will be minor – judging by the atmosphere and the topics raised yesterday. I suspect that the Economic Competitiveness stream will conclude its sessions ahead of the more contentious ones.

Thanks to the discussion with Leena, I’ve submitted the following views to the panel in the hope that some of them will be considered for the final produced document:

ما الذي ينقصنا لنكون قادرين على المنافسة على الصعيد العالمي في القرن الـ 21؟

ما ينقصنا هو الابتكار. ثم الابتكار. و ثم الابتكار.

إبتكاراتنا ضئيلة جداً؟ لماذا؟

أنا اعتقد انها لعدة عوامل، منها

1.قصر النظر في التفكير في ، والمقاومة الثقافية للتغيير لدى الجهات التنظيمية و كذلك الفردية
2.وجود ضعيف جداً للأطر القانونية المعنية بالملكية الفكرية وبراءات الاختراع
3.نقص شديد في البحوث و التنمية و الجهات المحفزة لها
4.بطيء للغاية في محاولة اللحاق بمختلف نماذج الابتكار العالمية
5.ضعف في تعليم الابتكار
6.روح مبادرة ضئيلة مرتاحة للمبادرات البسيطة – معامل الكبكيك مثالاً – بدلا من التفكير على نطاق أوسع Ùˆ مخاطر أكثر كالإنخراط في عالم التكنولوجيا Ùˆ المبادرات الإنترنتية.
7.في إعتقادي أن جزء من سبب هذا الفشل للتفكير على نطاق مبادرات أوسع ، هي بعض من القوانين واللوائح المعمول بها حاليا التي تقف كحجرة يتعثر عليها المبادر:

مثال على ذلك هو إلزام المبادر بحصوله على شهادة أو درجة من الدراسة للبدئ في بعض المشاريع

1.لتسجيل مؤسسة في مجال تزيين و العناية بالحدائق تفرض وزارة التجارة حصول المبادر لشهادة الثانوية العامة؛ أو
2.لتسجيل مؤسسة في مجال تصميم مواقع الإنترنت، يُلزَم المبادر بالحصول على شهادة بكالوريوس، مع العلم أنه لا يستلزم حصول تلك الشهادة في مجال مطابق أو حتى مقارب للعمل المطلوب. سيما ان تصميم و إطلاق موقع الكتروني في متناول أي طالب إبتدائي

فما هي الحلول المتاحة إذاً؟

1.تحويل العقل الجماعي الثقافي للاحتفال بـ، و تشجيع الابتكارات والمبتكرين، و بث ثقافة القبول بالفشل و أخذ العظه منه كجزء من هذه العملية ؛
2.تدشين قياس الابتكار للمنظمات
3.تطبيق قوانين الملكية الفكرية و إنشاء مكتب الملكية الفكرية وبراءات الاختراع و تكليفه بتوعية وتثقيف الجمهور والمنظمات ، وتسهيل تسجيل براءات الاختراع
4.تخصيص ميزانيات البحث والتطوير في المؤسسات الأكاديمية، والمنظمات الحكومية وتوفير الحوافز للشركات للقيام بها أيضاً
5.تخطيط Ùˆ إدراج نماذج للتنبؤ للمستقبل، والتعلم من أخطاء الآخرين والقفز إلى نماذج مستقبلية – الهند مثالاً.
6.دمج الابتكار في المناهج التعليمية و أنشطة ما بعد الفصل
7.خلق الابتكار من خلال مسابقات العلوم والتكنولوجيا و إعطاء منح للبحث والتطوير و خلق برامج أخرى لتشجيع الابتكار
8.يجب إعادة دراسة القوانين التجارية و تذييل العقبات لتشجيع روح المبادرة بشتى أنواعها
9.و أخيراً يجب ترك السوق لحاله، ليفتي برواج أو نجاح المبادرة من عدمها بدون تدخل الدوائر الحكومية.

What do we need to be able to compete globally in the 21st century?

What we lack is innovation, innovation and more innovation.

Our innovation is negligible? Why?

I think it’s for a number of factors, including

    1. Myopic thinking, and cultural resistance to change, both organizationally and individually
    2. Very weak legal frameworks on Intellectual Property and Patents
    3. A severe lack of research and development bodies and the conditions which stimulates them
    4. Too slow in trying to catch up with various models of global innovation
    5. Weakness in the education of innovation
    6. The spirit of entrepreneurship is limited with small-scale “cupcake entrepreneurship” instead of thinking on a larger scale, take more risks and enter into the worlds of technology and cyberspace initiatives.
    7. I think that part of the reason for the failure to engage in a broader and larger scope of initiatives, is some of the laws and regulations currently in force which stands as a hindrance which trips the entrepreneur:

    An example of this is to oblige an entrepreneur to obtain a certificate or a degree of the study to start some projects; for example:

    a. To register a landscaping business, the Ministry of Commerce requires the entrepreneur to have graduated from high school; or
    b. To create a web design business, the entrepreneur is required to have obtained a bachelor’s degree, even though that degree needn’t be within the same field or even comparable with the initiative under consideration. It’s worth noting that the creation of websites is within the capabilities of most primary school students.

What are the available solutions then?

    1. Transform the collective cultural mind to celebrate, and encourage innovations and innovators, and create a culture of acceptance of failure and take cues from it as part of the journey to success;
    2. Inaugurate a mechanism to measure innovation in organizations
    3. The application of intellectual property laws and the establishment of the Office of Intellectual Property and Patents and task it to raise awareness and educate the public as well as organizations in regards to IP and patents and also facilitate an easier process to registre of patents
    4. The allocation of budgets for research and development in academic institutions, government organizations and providing incentives for companies to do well
    5. Planning and the inclusion of models to predict future trends, and learn from the mistakes of others – a successful example of this policy is India
    6. The integration of innovation into curricula and extra-curricula activities
    7. The creation of innovation through science and technology competitions, and giving grants for research and development, and create other programs to encourage innovation
    8. Trade laws must be re-examined and remove obstacles to encourage entrepreneurship
    9. Finally, the market should be left to its own devices and let ideas succeed on their own merit without governmental interference.

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