Bahrain’s road to freedom and democracy
A joint document by opposition political societies
In the name of God
The reality in Bahrain is no different from any non-democratic state, a copy of Tunisia’s Ben Ali a, Egypt’s Mubarak, and Yemen’s Saleh. Lack of democracy is evidenced by absence of popular will in formation of the government, confiscation of popular resolve in legislation, and a deficient judiciary. Recent verdicts issued by the judicial system have received widespread condemnation, described by Navy Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights as political prosecution and depicted by Amnesty International as travesty of justice.
Accordingly, this unfortunate reality has produced an unelected prime minister for some 40 years, making him of the longest serving premiers, a police state as well as confiscation of natural rights of the people, in turn guaranteed by the constitution, National Action Charter and international conventions. Other shortcomings include restrictions placed on movements of opposition figures from all ideologies plus denying a large section of the population from employment opportunities in security apparatus in a clear display of discriminatory practices.
Additionally, absence of principles of elected government together with accountability has placed limits on the authorities can achieve such as failing to diversify sources of income, with the petroleum sector accounting for 80 per cent of treasury income. Other governmental inadequacies include presence of an acute housing problem, with 54000 outstanding requests, thus affecting some 270,000 nationals or nearly half of local citizens.
Likewise, the government has failed in completing essential infrastructure, with some villages still suffering from improper roads besides disruption of electricity services during the long summer months. Sadly, all these shortfalls are occurring in a country where was oil discovered in it in 1932, ahead of many regional countries.
Furthermore, education continues to suffer, as evidenced by congested classes, with number of students increasing from 25 per class in 1984 to 35 per class in 2010. With regards to health, the country largely depends on a single hospital, namely Salmaniya Medical Complex, in turn constructed in early 1960s. Yet, financial and administrative corruption has delayed commissioning of a planned hospital for some 20 years.
In reality, sustained financial and administrative corruption practices have undermined normal governmental functioning and hence on services extended to the citizens. Also, this sad state has caused loss of investment potentials from local and foreign sources. Not surprisingly, regional rivals of Dubai and Qatar continue to make headway at the expense of Bahrain.
In the presence of an unelected government under statesmanship of a single person for 40 years, some 80 per cent of public land ended being controlled by senior members from the royal family and other influential figures. Consequently, this has placed constraints on availability of lands for the purposes of developing projects for housing, municipality, education and health facilities.
Still, the country suffers from an acute poor distribution of wealth and widespread poverty notwithstanding Bahrain being an oil exporting nation, exporting some 200,000 barrels per day. Wrong policies like extending citizenship to foreign nationals have further undermined distribution of wealth in the country.
Against a backdrop of political dictatorship, economic failure and social confusion of government policies, people of Bahrain had pressed for change. Popular demands date back to 1923 with calls made for participation in decision making and 1938 for having an elected assembly with full legislator and regulatory powers. In reality, popular uprisings kept reemerging almost like those of 1954, 1965 and still 1994-2000, the largest of its kind at the time. Thus, there were the revolts of 1954 plus that of March 1965 as well as that of 1994-2000.
Still, affected primarily by events in Tunisia and Egypt as part of Arab Spring, nearly half of Bahrain’s people took to the streets in early 2011 pressing for democracy, respect of human rights and sustained human development. Yet, the demands call for retaining the royal family in terms of ruling and governing without powers, as a true constitutional monarchy.
In short, Bahrain is undergoing rivalry between two camps, one demanding democracy, comprising of people of all walks of life and diverse ideologies with another struggling to maintain the status quo despite need for addressing political, economic and social challenges.
Primary demands of Bahraini people
The majority of people and mainstream opposition groups desire to see burgeoning of democracy whilst maintaining the monarchy under the slogan of “people want reform of the system.” Proceeding upon the seven principles spelled out by the country’s crown prince on 13 March 2011, demands of the people can be summed up as follows:
1) An elected government representing will of the people rather than an appointed government. Through their elected representative, people can cast vote of confidence to the prime minister, other ministers prior to assuming their jobs and have the means to withdraw granted confidence should they fail in their duties.
2) Fair electoral districts guaranteeing political equality amongst the people and meeting the universal principle of one person, one vote. At the moment, the current 40-member electoral system is malfunctioning by virtue of dividing the country along sectarian lines, and producing a chamber comprising of loyalists of the regime. In realty, each of number one district in northern and central governances plus number nine district in the northern governance, boasts some 16,000 voters. Conversely, the same numbers of voters in the southern governorate, known for being a loyalist to the regime, can equally elect 6 representatives.
Concurrently, a call is made for establishing an independent commission for administering the election process rather than being dominated by the state through justice ministry and statistical agency.
3) A parliament comprising of a single chamber having sole legislative and regulatory powers, replacing the current bi-cameral arrangement, one elected and the other appointed.
4) A trustworthy judicial system independent from the executive branch both financially and administratively. The judicial system must act in transparent ways and serve as an impartial entity and show willingness to look on all cases including possible assaults carried out by members of security forces.
5) Security for all via participation of all walks of life in the country in formation of the army and other security apparatus on the basis of providing security for all, and trained to show respect for human rights at all times, rather than serving wishes of the government in suppressing the opposition.
These demanded reforms stipulate setting up a new constitutional formula, in turn requiring approval of the majority of people via either an elected constituent assembly or a popular referendum. In retrospect, the crown prince has embraced the notion of the referendum whilst announcing his 7 principles on 13 March 2011.
Concurrently, three critical issues must be addressed in parallel with the mentioned political reforms, namely
1) Political naturalization: This can be addressed through setting up a committee mandated to study cases of granted citizenship over the last 20 years, sorting out granting passports via questionable means and correcting wrong cases in the context of human rights.
2) Discrimination: It is vital to do away with all sorts of discriminatory practices on any basis whilst addressing consequences resulting from this wrong policy.
3) Official media: Agreeing on a new media policy encompassing views of all nationals.
In pursuit of democracy, opposition forces intend to fully and solely embrace peaceful measures, as follows:
1) Popular movement: Engaging in peaceful rallies, marches and sit-ins as guaranteed by international conventions notably the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
2) Media sources: Making use of traditional and modern media means, inside and outside Bahrain.
3) Political activities: Keeping channels of communications open for all those interested in reforming the system as well as reaching out to governments and associations across the globe.
4) Human rights issues: Recording all major human rights violations and communicating them with concerned international organisations in the hope of stopping such wrong practices.
Opposition forces are determined to attain their just demands via adoption of peaceful measures and rejection of tyranny.
Bahrain of the future
Undoubtedly, Bahrain is an Arab and a Muslim. And in of attaining the desired popular demands in pursuit of democracy, then the opposition intends to ensure the following:
- Developing full democracy by allowing formation of political parties, strengthening civil society, ensuring respect for human rights, opening up horizons for freedom of expression and assembly and strengthening of personal freedom
- Maintaining interests of all sides in Bahrain in an environment of no tolerance for discriminatory practices of all types, be they racial, religious, sectarian or political
- Exerting efforts for stopping all types of violations pertaining to immigrant workers and improving working and living conditions of non-nationals
- Strengthening ties with members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Arab League and Organisation of Islamic Conference
- Pressing for strong ties with democratic and friendly countries, as stipulated in international conventions
- Developing the economic environment based on market economy and enticing local and foreign investments whilst ensuring sustained competitiveness and transparency
Road to solution
Undoubtedly, the wrong practices of threatening people demanding reforms and democracy could not success. Hence, the only forward is that of a dialogue between the authorities and opposition forces for the goal of achieving democracy, based on the seven principles outlined by the crown prince on 13 March 2011. Amongst others, the principles press for a government representing will of the people, an elected parliament with comprehensive powers and fair electoral districts. Still, the dialogue should take place with international guarantees.
Outcome of the dialogue should lead to a new constitutional framework resulting from approval of the majority via a constituent assembly, in turn the best possible option, or a referendum, as put forward by the crown prince on 13 March 2011. When calling for dialogue with the authorities, the opposition has not called for exclusion of any party and has no intention of monopoly of views.
For the sake of democracy
1) The international community is looked up to encourage reforms and moderates in the system and concurrently to exclude the extremists. Also, the international community would need to provide political and economic support during the transition to democracy whilst blocking whilst undermining those seeking to bock proliferation of democracy in the country.
2) Whilst welcomed, international condemnation of human rights violation in Bahrain is certainly not sufficient. Sadly, Bahrain remains a police state.
3) Support for democracy in Bahrain should encourage development of democracy elsewhere in the region and beyond.
4) Support for democracy in Bahrain should serve the benefits of all people of all walks of life in Bahrain.
Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society
National Democratic Action Society (Waad)
Nationalist Democratic Assembly
National Democratic Assemblage
Al-Ekha National Society
Manama, Bahrain, 12 October 2011