Political, Religious and Human Rights Bodies:
Time to Reassess

Hasan Moosa Shafaie

Hasan Moosa Shafaei

The Government’s recent security procedures have placed political societies, civil society organizations and important social and religious figures in a new and uncertain phase. Some political parties are concerned that what happened constitutes a return to square one and a setback on previous reforms. On the other hand, there are those who stress that the Bahraini political reform experience is continuing, and that the Government’s decision to resort to security confrontations was just a necessary measure. Despite the different views on the issue, and the fear of a return to the pre-reform period, political and social parties in general participated directly or indirectly in the events leading up to the unrest. Many lacked political awareness and experience, whilst others had kept silent for the sake of temporary interests, or due to the fear of making a difficult decision in confronting advocates of violence which might undermine their popularity. Therefore, it is natural that they bear some responsibility for the consequences of this unrest.

Reassessment is required for two basic reasons:

First: in order to rebuild trust between the political system and the various social and political parties, as well as rebuilding trust in the reforms. This is in order to affirm the ability of reforms to confront challenges, including the most important challenge of all: that of violence and riots, without resulting in a setback in the strategy on which the King’s political reforms were built.

Commitment to Democratic Reform and Human Rights Standards Strengthens State and Society

Second: reviewing the political discourse and views of the past years will reduce the growth of the movement that does not believe in the political process or the reforms. It will also minimize losses expected due to security confrontations, and protect the wide margin of freedom achieved by Bahrain and praised locally and internationally.

It is possible to add a third reason. According to our interpretation of the events of the last two months, the political system has reviewed the way in which it deals with issues of reform and security. We believe that these two issues should complement one another, and that implementing one should not be at the expense of the other because there is no reform without security or stability without maintaining the reforms’ achievements. This is one of the most important benefits that democracy provides. On 5 September 2010, the King stressed in his speech that reforms will continue, and that the State’s foundations, which include truth, law, democracy and economic, social and cultural prosperity, will be enforced. This adjusted official view should be met with a similar change in the discourse of political parties.

There are some who believe that the reforms failed to provide the required and expected security (which may be accurate to some extent), and that human rights organizations are biased. With the existence of critical writings in the Bahraini press, the opposite opinion says that comprehensive security cannot be guaranteed if the reforms (which the King stressed should continue) are abandoned. The commitment to democratic reform and human rights standards represent an additional strength to State and society. There are some claims that the reforms are the cause of the security tensions, as they provided a wide margin of freedom, pushing those who reject the political reform project to benefit from it. These extremists did not only aim to go back on the reforms, but also on the political system itself, targeting its symbols and belittling its achievements.

Clearly the political reforms launched by the King are not the cause of security tensions. On the contrary, the reforms have decreased levels of tension and unrest, without which the situation would be far worse. Political reforms are not the reason behind violence and have never given it legitimacy or justified it. In fact, the roots of social, economic and cultural unrests can be attributed to the pre-reform period. However, this cannot justify the continuation of violence, rioting and the rejection of the political process. The solution to the problem should be achieved through the law and existent constitutional institutions, and should benefit from the available margin of freedom. No one can deny the existence of a problem, but the way it is approached should be changed, and this is what active political parties in Bahrain should review.

No Reform without Security and No Stability without Maintaining the Accomplishments of the Reforms

Another issue which should be reviewed concerns the necessity of abiding by the law and condemning any actions that go against it. It is not possible to accept the law in Parliament and then reject it outside. With regards to lawless practices, they do not represent a political opportunity to attack the political system but they also represent a problem, which could undermine the political process as a whole. According to the King: ‘the law is above everyone. It is designed to protect society, the State and civil peace, as well as spreading peace and tranquillity’. Thus, the law should be respected at all times by the Government and other political parties, as this is the real meaning of the: ‘law is above all’. The law organises political practices, protects the interests of society and keeps the Government and its apparatus from diverging from performing their responsibilities. Political parties bear the responsibility for maintaining social unity; much of the unrest that took place in the past was due to the presence of a sectarian discourse and a lack of respect for cultural diversity. Political parties must have noticed the recent escalation in sectarian mobilizations with the increase in security tensions. This highlights the fact that security unrest necessarily leads to a sectarian schism. We have repeatedly witnessed this in Bahrain without learning any lessons, and we should not repeat our mistakes.

The security tensions have their own clear political dimensions, which make some parties worry about their interests and the future. This is especially true if the extremists’ political discourse is selective in sectarian vocabulary or in emphasizing words with a sectarian dimension, and build on that and consequently explaining political and security events on such basis. The peaks of sectarian tensions in Bahrain mostly took place during periods of unrest and security confrontations. In a speech, the King connected security with prosperity, and stressed the importance of the principles of solidarity, cooperation, brotherhood, civil peace, collective security and avoiding schism and disagreements. He also described the events as sad, aggressive and a schism, and called upon religious preachers to be competent, moderate and reject violence. The King also called upon intellectuals and civil society organizations to work towards bringing together different Islamic sects and ensuring their cooperation and closeness.

In summary, political parties, religious and human rights figures should review their political discourse, views and announcements. They need to favour the interest of the country and social unity, and provide the minimum amount of trust between the various segments of society and the Government. This will have a positive effect on protecting society and political accomplishments. It will also reassure society that political disagreements have red lines and that political and religious leaders are matured and therefore, they will not demolish what has been built or distort what has been achieved, including their reputation and the reputation of the country in the eyes of the region and the world.