Bahrain: Imagining a Way Forward Recommendations to the key
Political Players in Bahrain
Three organization, the Next Century Foundation (NCF), The Value
Web and Bahrain Human Rights Monitor (BHRM), have issued a report
on Bahrain’s ways out of its current crisis. The report presents
recommendations to the key political players such as the Government,
opposition, the USA, UK, Saudi Arabia and Iran. This report is the
outcome of long discussions on the situation in Bahrain and took
into consideration the visions and positions of all concerned parties.
The recommendations are as follow:
Recommendations to the Government
1/ the electoral system should be reformed including amending
constituencies in order to achieve fairer and more representative
system. The report proposed adopting proportional representation
with a single national constituency. It also suggested a higher
representation for women, though it did not specify how.
2/ Power Sharing - The authority to select a cabinet should be
jointly vested in the King and the Council of Representatives. According
to the latest constitutional amendments that entered into effect
on May 3rd 2012, the Cabinet must initially be approved by the House
of Representatives. The report also proposes that new amendments
must be put in place so that the cabinet represents the outcome
of elections and that the cabinet must win a vote of confidence.
3/Bill of Rights – A bill of rights should be drawn up to protect
the liberty of the citizens of Bahrain and bring the actions of
the state into line with international conventions on human rights,
including the right to religious freedom, free media and free speech.
This bill of rights should be enforced by an independent judiciary,
selected and appointed by the King under the guidance and consent
of parliament. In this respect, the steps taken so far by the Government
to ensure conformity with international standards, such as the step
taken regarding the definition of torture in Bahrain’s penal code,
should be viewed favourably. Bahrain has ratified the International
Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, and a special court needs
to be set-up so that all laws that contravene this internationally
binding covenant are nullified.
4/Accountability – To continue the process of holding to account
members of the security forces found to have broken the law or otherwise
to have committed abuses of human rights. Also to promote respect
for the rule of law by ensuring that all citizens and residents
of Bahrain are held accountable for offences such as exploiting
public office for private enrichment, and enforce transparency in
government financial dealings and the financial holdings and interests
of all officials of the cabinet.
5/ Release of Prisoners of Conscience – The government should
release prisoners of conscience. One of the major sources of contention
both domestically and internationally has been the detention of
activists because of online posts and involvement in demonstrations.
These people are often charged with stirring up unrest or writing
anti-monarchy statements. Freeing such people would demonstrate
the government’s adherence to and recognition of internationally
and nationally recognised principles of freedom of speech and expression.
We take note of the Prosecutor-General’s announcement on May 18th
that it was decided to drop charges that contravene Bahrain’s commitment
to uphold the principles of freedom of speech and expression, and
that relevant legislative amendments have been introduced to that
effect . While we applaud the fact that at least 334 of those facing
charges have benefited from that decision, including the medical
staff at Salmaniya Hospital and those accused of conspiracy to topple
the government, we sincerely hope that this pattern will continue
and that the courts would demonstrate full compliance in that respect.
6/ The Rebuilding of Mosques – The Government should speed up
the process of rebuilding the Shi’a mosques damaged or destroyed
in the past three years. This would help rebuild trust between the
authorities and the Shiite community in a way that could alleviate
some of the prevailing sectarian tension. We welcome the announcement
by the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs
last April 2013 of a scheduled rebuilding plan, and hope that such
a plan would ensure the speedy rebuilding of all the affected religious
sites as detailed in the BICI report’s recommendations. Having said
which, it should be stressed however, that Bahrain’s problems should,
wherever possible, not be viewed through a sectarian lens. This
is not, per se, a Sunni-Shiite conflict. There are Sunnis amongst
the opposition and Shiites who support the government. Essentially
the issue concerns the degree of reform to be implemented in Bahrain.
7/ The Independence of the official media – The Government should
guarantee the independence of state-owned Media by putting it under
the supervision of an independent body approved by Parliament. Royal
Decree No. 47 / 2013 established a Supreme Independent Authority
for Information and Communication. We hope that this represents
a step towards greater press freedom rather than an attempt to impose
greater control on journalists; whilst at the same time we hope
this new body will adopt a criteria and principles that would ensure
the elimination of any sectarian excesses within state-owned media
8/ Decentralisation of Power – Trust can be re-established by
devolution of power to local authorities. This is particularly the
case when it comes to policing and the security forces. Policing
should be staffed and controlled locally with minimal central control.
There should nevertheless also be a national police regulatory body
with oversight over the domestic intelligence agencies. Further
to decentralising the police force, there should also be more municipal
power to provide services, e.g. local control of schools and housing.
The strengthening of local governance would greatly help to address
the major political, economic and social grievances.
9/ Improve negotiating skills – The negotiating skills of both
the opposition and the government are poor. Both sides tend to be
confrontational and are only concerned by scoring points, rather
than trying to create the best possible outcome for the future of
the Kingdom of Bahrain. The government is best placed to change
the culture of confrontation by being more conciliatory in its approach
10/ cooperating with the international community, the report
also recommends more cooperation with human rights organizations
and allows them to visit Bahrain.
Specific Recommendations for the opposition
1/ Denounce Violence: Al-Wefaq should keep protests peaceful
and refrain from inflammatory rhetoric. It should rein in the radical
elements and make it unequivocally clear that Al-Wefaq denounces
violence and those who resort to it. It should, accordingly, distance
itself from any group that would not embrace the principles of peaceful
participation in domestic political life.
2/ Continue to participate in dialogue with the government as
well as with non-Shi’ite political societies with a view to reaching
an agreement on meaningful political reform.
3/ Openly acknowledge a well defined role for the Monarchy in
the future of Bahrain The opposition objective should be to seek
an expansion of political rights, not to overthrow the monarchy.
It should also acknowledge that the king will have a pivotal role
in the transition to a more democratic Bahrain. This will help alleviate
the fears of the Sunni population were a significant power shift
to emerge, and prevent a potential Sunni backlash against any electoral
4/ Greater Representation for Women – There needs to be greater
representation of minorities within the mainstream opposition parties.
This is particularly the case with Al Wefaq and the other Islamist
parties, which have no women representatives. If the government
of Bahrain is going to be representative of the people, it must
have a number of women representatives. Measures should be taken
towards ensuring that parties are formed on a non-sectarian basis,
5/ Wider Policy Reach – The anti-government parties need to work
on their policies so as to offer something more than mere opposition
to the current government. They need to state a clear economic and
social manifesto, so people know what they will do when elected.
6/ Encourage Shiite Participation in Various Areas – As part
of the BICI report recommendations it was advised that Shiites be
integrated into the security forces.
Recommendation to Saudi Arabia
1/ Saudi Arabia should pursue a policy that publicly supports
efforts to resolve the crisis in Bahrain through dialogue and meaningful
2/ For the sake of stability in Bahrain and the region, Saudi
Arabia should work closely with friends and allies such as the United
States to encourage all parties to the Bahrain crisis to seek a
peaceful conclusion to their conflict and to pursue the reforms
stipulated in its National Action Charter and further reinforced
by the recommendation of the BICI report.
3/ Direct Aid to Support Reform – Saudi Arabia should use its
economic influence over Bahrain to directly support reforms as they
The recommendation to the USA and the UK
1/ The US and UK should continue to encourage Bahrain to adhere
to international human rights standards, and by the same token encourage
the government to move forward by acknowledging whatever positive
steps it takes in that respect. It should also make it clear that
transgressions by the Bahrain opposition, such as the use of violence,
terror tactics and public disorder would equally not be tolerated.
2/ Encourage Dialogue – In partnership with Saudi Arabia, the
USA and UK should continue to deploy their diplomatic influence
to persuade all parties involved in the dialogue process to reach
some compromise. The NCF and BHRM contend that the USA and UK could
offer practical advice on policy decisions and offer inducement
(rather than the threat of sanctions). Their efforts to encourage
dialogue should be unremitting.
3/ Expert/Technical Training – Both the US and UK could offer
Bahrain some valuable assistance and technical support in its endeavour
to reform the judiciary systems.
Greater Trade Links –The US could help Bahrain to improve its
economic standing by increasing trade links with the country.
The recommendations to Iran
1/ Renounce claim to Bahrain as “14th province” of Iran. Iran
should officially announce its renunciation of any territorial claim
over Bahrain and openly declare its respect for Bahrain’s sovereignty.
2/ Support non-violence – Iran should publicly call for an end
to violence and aim to bring about a peaceful conclusion to the
protests. it should put an end to its hostile and divisive media
campaign in favour of a more balanced approach if regional peace
and harmony are to be maintained.
3/ Liaise with the Government – Iran can also use normal diplomatic
avenues to liaise with the government of Bahrain to reduce misunderstanding
and support reform.
4/ Landmark gesture for Shiite/Sunni cooperation – As the situation
improves in Bahrain, Iran could potentially invest in landmark gestures
that would further enhance the sort of cooperation and peaceful
coexistence that had, prior to the events of the last two years,
been the characteristic of the relations between all elements of
Bahraini population, particularly the Sunni and Shiite Muslims,
e.g. a mixed school.