Blog Archive

Friday, September 01, 2006

London Seminar on Bahrain

On August 23 2006, the Annual Seminar on Bahrain was held in the Committee Room 134, the House of Parliament in London UK.

The theme for this year's meeting is

Codifying repression and dictatorship

Lord Avebury, Vice-Chairman of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group, the
indefatigable friend of Bahrain, chaired the meeting. He has kindly invited me to speak in the company of several other distinuished speakers .
The following is an edited transcript of my remarks.
I will begin by noting that Bahraini officialdom have been celebrating three events during the past month. I will focus on the last one of these as it bears on the theme of this seminar.

The first is the successful conclusion of the first legislative term on July 26 of the Bahraini Parliament following a royal decree on July 26. The final sessions of the twin chambers provided their speakers with occasions to praise the role of their institutions, and to laud members for their hard work and dedication to the enhancement of the legislative movement throughout the preceding four-years. Congratulations were exchanged among the royals, MPs and other officials. Those congratulatory messages were not just ceremonious signals. What was being celebrated was no mean feat. From the monarch down, Bahrain's officialdom had overcome several of the major divisive issues that plagued the country since 2002. One of those relates to the "legitimacy" of both the constitution and the elected assembly.

The second official joyous event was the graduation from Sandhurst military academy of one King Hamad’s younger sons. You, Lord Avebury, have already referred to what happened to the London traffic while our king was celebrating this event with his family and friends at the Dorchester. In Bahrain, thing were on even more grand scale. Full page ads were paid for by all ministries, other government institutions and public establishments, as well as leading business establishments, clubs and individual notables. Everyone seemed to want to show the king their loyalty and their happiness about the achievement of Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad.

The third cause for official celebration is the decision by the leading four opposition groups to end their boycott of the parliament and to take part later this autumn in the election campaign for the new parliament. This decision is the fruit of four years work by the king to discredit the opposition’s boycott strategy and to convince them to accept his blueprints for political development in Bahrain. His success is undeniable.

Four years ago, a coalition of four opposition groups, including the main Shiite group Al-Wifaq, charged that King Hamad reneged on a central component of the proposed reforms when, on February 14, 2002, he unilaterally promulgated a new constitution that restricted the national assembly's role. It turned the national assembly into a mere extension of the government with more consultative than deliberative and legislative roles. Noting the king's unwillingness to listen to their views on the substance, pace and direction of reform, they called for a boycott of the October 24, 2002 parliamentary elections. The boycott campaign was only partially successful. While most Shiite voters heeded the boycott call, some 53 percent of the electorate went to the ballot box. From the king's perspective, this was a major success because his government was able to ward off the embarrassment of an even lower voter turnout.

Unfortunately, leaders of the opposition failed to capitalize on the size of the boycott or keep the momentum. For the next two years, their tactics seemed haphazard - moving from organizing sit-ins and addressing petitions to the monarch to sponsoring seminars and launching regular but small demonstrations. At the same time, opposition leaders kept up regular contacts with the king's advisers. The monarch himself was not moved either by their public protests or by their amicable overtures. He has repeatedly signalled his unwillingness to discuss their grievances outside the established "constitutional frameworks," that is the national assembly.

While neglecting to deal directly with leaders of the opposition, King Hamad focused his attention on wooing prominent clerics. These direct and indirect contacts with leading Shiite clerics helped preserve order and keep hard-liners in check during the tense protest campaigns organized by the opposition. The open lines between the royal court and leading Shiite clerics have traditionally been the safety valve used by the ruling family for generations. They came to good use in the wake of last November's government decision to put forward a draft law on "Personal and Family Status." The move has been a masterly stroke by King Hamad and threatened to redraw the political map in Bahrain. The country was split into two camps - one, led by King Hamad's own wife, saw in the proposed legislation a step towards improving the status of women and codifying their rights within their families. The other, led by leading Shiite clerics Issa Qassim, Abdullah al-Ghuraifi and Ayatullah Hussain Najati, made out the proposed law was a step towards secularization. Both sides took their supporters to the streets. By all accounts, the Shiite clerics won the public contest in muscle-flexing. The government caved in and withdrew its draft law.

The government did not simply cave in when it withdrew its draft law. The public contention on ‘women’s rights’ and its resolution resulted in a deal between the king and Issa Qassim, the most prominent among Shia clerics. The arrangement also included an undertaking by Al-Wifaq to end its boycott and to participate in the impending election later this Autumn. The other three groups in the opposition coalition did not have any other option except to follow the Al-Wifaq lead. The arrangement enabled King Hamad and Issa Qassim to emerge from the post 2002 impasse as winners.

Major figures within and outside the opposition coalition have criticized the decision to end the boycott. Among critics are former leaders and members of al-Wifaq who, with like-minded individuals, formed the Haq Movement in November 2005. However, protests voiced by the Haq Movement stop short of openly criticizing the Shiite clerical establishment for having reached the current arrangement with King Hamad. But this is inevitable. That is why the past month’s celebrations by the king and his supporters may be a bit too premature. If the Haq Movement fails to live up to its expected role, other groups will emerge from the fringe and decide to challenge the arrangement between the King and the Shiite clerical establishment.
....................... Thank you for your patience!"
The government did not simply cave in...
......................./.........../...................... emerge from the post 2002 impasse as winners.

فيما يلى ترجمتي للفقرة التي أثارت بعض النقاش . فكما يعرف القارئ المهتم فإن الترجمة المتداولة في اكثر من مكان ليست دقيقة إذ يبدو إنها تمت بمساعدة جهاز ترجمة آلي. قيامي بترجمة هذه الفقرة لا يعني , بحالٍ من الأحوال , إنني أسعى لتحاشي النقاش حول ما تضمنه نص مداخلتي في ندوة 23 أغسطس أو المقال المنشور في جريدة الوقت بتاريخ 29 أغسطس أو ما سيُنشــر في المستقبل القريب حول الموضوع نفسه
إلا إن الحكومة لم تستسلم ببساطة حين سحبت مشروع القانون . فلقد أدى التجاذب العلني حول "حقوق المرأة" و تسوية ذلك التجاذب إلى إتفاقٍ بين الملك وعيسى قاسم , وهو أبرز رجال الدين الشيعةً. و تتضمن الترتيبة بينهما إلتزام جمعية الوفاق بإنهاء مقاطعتها و مشاركتها في الإنتخابات المقبلة في وقت لاحق من هذا الخريف. و لم يكن أمام الجمعيات الثلاث الأخرى في تحالف المعارضة إلا المضي خلف الوفاق. و لقد أدت هذه الترتيبة إلى خروج كلٍ من الملك و عيسى قاسم منتصريْن من مأزق الحائط المسدود الذي نشأ بعد عام 2002

No comments: