The Imperative of reaching out towards Political Trust

Hasan Moosa Shafaei

Hasan Moosa Shafaei

The lack of trust between political parties and various Bahraini social segments is very clear and has reached dangerous levels. It also represents one of the most painful experiences Bahrain has witnessed in its modern history.

Dissatisfaction and distrust between different political parties, and more dangerously the claim made by some politicians that they are unable to cooperate with each other, have become prevalent features of the Bahraini political scene. This reveals that the situation in Bahrain has reached a deadlock which could lead to a complete separation on both political and social levels. Many politicians, journalists, observers and Dr. Bassiouni himself have discussed this lack of trust in several interviews, and called for adopting scientific means to overcome the problem.

In Bahrain there are two intertwined problems: on one hand there is an increasing gap between the political system and the opposition, and on the other hand there is similar gap between the political parties and Bahraini society in general.

The lack of political trust means that there is no social consensus about general political and social values in the country, such as political priorities and the means and possibility of co-existence. In other words, mutual distrust affects basic issues such as the form of the political system, the structure of political and social institutions and public aspirations and expectations. This in turn damages society’s ability to interact with, and build and support the political system. It also damages relationships between various social components and the extent of their interaction, integration and mutual participation to achieve joint objectives and promote social stability.

To find a solution we need to assess the reasons behind the lack of political trust in Bahrain, which has witnessed many serious problems before the current crisis. Levels of distrust have always fluctuated according to the political conditions of the country, but this time the indicator has reached a worryingly high point. During 1990s, the King was able to rebuild trust through his reforms and engagement with the citizens and the rule of the law was the norm. Due to this newly acquired trust and Government promises to improve conditions in the country, Bahrainis’ hopes and expectations were high.

However, distrust resurfaced due to arguments regarding the Constitution, which resulted in a low turn-out during the 2002 election. By 2006, confidence in the political system had gradually improved when the opposition agreed to participate in the political process, but then declined again until the eruption of the problem in February 2011, which resulted in a kind of ‘political divorce’ in Bahrain. It was at this time that the Opposition left Parliament and some parties even demanded the complete overthrow of the regime, which badly affected social relations and the level of trust between them. Now, the King has once again tried to rebuild trust through the establishment of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry.

Political trust is very much connected to the nature of the relationship between the political system and citizens. It is also directly connected to the performance of all the Executive, Legislative and Judicial authorities, and whether these authorities have met the expectations of the citizens and fulfilled all their promises.

The lack of political trust can lead to the following serious consequences:

1-Non-abidance by the law is an indicator of mistrust, because respecting the law indicates respect for the political system and confidence in its adequacy and ability to fulfil the demands of the citizens and address their concerns. It is noticeable that at the beginning of the second millennium in Bahrain, there were very few breaches to the law, until a period of tensions and a sharp increase in rioting began. At this time illegal political parties were also established, which resumed their activities as if the law does not apply to them.

2- Non-participation in the political process and low turn outs for elections, lack of substantial contributions in the voluntary sector and weaknesses in the performance of civil society organizations all reflect distrust in the political system. This includes a failure to appreciate Government reforms and the real achievements of some Government apparatus, as well as the withdrawal from Parliament and resignation from a number of State institutions. Withdrawing from the political process reflects a lack of trust in the ability of Parliament to meet the expectations of citizens.

3- Political chaos in the form of a conflict between all parties in the political process which paralyses Parliament’s effectiveness leading to a weak legislative institution as opposed to the executive authority. When Parliament fails to represent the aspirations of voters and MPs become unable to meet the demands and expectations of their constituents, this will affect the whole political system and its ability to address the shortcomings of any situation.

4- Resentment towards Government policies and institutions, and towards civil societies and political parties. Public satisfaction is a reflection of political trust and hopes for a better future and also means that citizens’ expectations are being met. Currently, distrust is rife among loyalists and the Opposition as well against a number of Government institutions such as in the State media, printed press, judiciary, civil service, Government ministries, human rights and other civil societies as well as in unions. All complain and hold the other party responsible, which has led to a political deadlock which can only be solved by successfully fulfilling the demands, needs and aspirations of citizens.

5- Disregard of the ‘Other’ as unworthy of being real partners, leads to an inability to forgive and accusations of being ‘traitors’ and ‘infidels’. Conversely, mutual trust breeds love and leads to social visits, intermarriages, cooperation in charity work and coordination in all walks of life. It will also help people become more accepting to diversity and sectarian and political differences, and will distance them from stereotyping and conspiracy theories.

How can we build trust?

The Government should play an important part in the rebuilding of trust in our society. Religious and political bodies and all intellectuals in Bahraini society should also participate in the rebuilding of trust. The following are a number of suggestions in this regard:

1/ Promoting respect for State institutions because they serve all of Bahraini society and not just a particular group. This can only be achieved by initiating radical changes in the performance of these institutions and their success in solving the problems of all citizens.

2/ Consensual political solutions should be reached as well as cooperation between MPs in order to promote national unity, social integration and civil peace.

3/ Promoting respect for constitutional institutions and emphasizing mutual national principles which outline the red lines of political objectives, as well as adopting a unified political discourse.

4/ Promoting the independence of the Judiciary which is a safe haven for citizens and a protector of their rights as well as of public interests.

5/ Encouraging all public and official initiatives which build trust between different social groups, as well as building trust in the political system and promoting its connections with the public. The BHRM has also encouraged the Opposition to contribute in relieving tensions and rebuilding trust by participating in implementing the recommendations of the BICI, which include activating the compensation fund. Moreover, it is imperative that the Opposition encourages any initiative that leads to unity or mutual understanding, limits divisions and expands areas of common interests.

6/ Ceasing attacks on public properties and interests, and adopting a unified national discourse, especially in the local press, as well as abandoning unconstructive political arguments.

7/ Maximizing transparency between the leadership and the public through direct speeches, field visits to different areas, receiving delegations and attending social occasions. Mutual distrust between the various political and social parties is caused by the weak connection and dialogue. Political leaders and head of parties are therefore required to be more open towards their opponents considering that living in isolation breeds suspicions, exaggerates fears and reinforces stereotyping. Social and political openness is thus key to creating a better atmosphere in the country.

8/ Promoting hope for a free, just and dignified future for all Bahrainis on equal basis and mutual respect. Bahrainis should not live in despair and should not be given empty promises.