What the Future Holds for the Reform Process?

Has the democratization process in Bahrain actually stopped, or has it only slowed down? And have traditional factions succeeded in not only halting the process but in also overturning it?

Some politicians and human rights activists believe that the strong surge of reforms, which began in the first years of the reform period, is now coming to a halt. Others say that traditional factions which oppose reform have succeeded in slowing down its pace. To what extent is this opinion true?

Up until now, there are no clear local standards that can be referred to in order to evaluate the democratization process, although there are international standards in this regard. Despite the fact that officials constantly stress that the reform process is still continuing, and both the public and political forces accept the idea of gradual reform, it must be admitted that the pace of the reform process has slowed down significantly throughout the past years.

Currently there is no time limit for the democratization process, for this issue is assessed by the higher authorities. Also, there is no clear agenda with regards to the steps that should be taken towards achieving a gradual transition. Therefore, ambiguities exist when analyzing the current situation and determining the outcome of the reform project.

Some desire a ‘constitutional monarchy’ in accordance with the Constitution and based on the principle of a peaceful transition of power. This includes allowing the opposition the opportunity to rule if it represents the majority. According to Tahir Hikmat – who is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Bahrain Institute for Political Development- this does not contradict the fact that the political system is a monarchy. Between the present situation and the final target is a long way filled with obstacles and uncertainties regarding the steps that need to be taken. This is despite the existence of an official document that is similar to a manifesto, which paints a picture of Bahrain in 2030.

It is worth mentioning here some of the reasons for the slowing-down of the political reform process and the modernization of the state’s apparatus and laws. These are as follows:

- The continuing situation of fear and lack of trust between the Government and the opposition, for it seems that common grounds and dialogue between them are still very limited.

- The election of some anti- reform parties into the House of Representatives which has re-enforced the position of those opposing the reforms from within the Government.

- The continuation of the incitement of violence and riots for years which is regarded by some as a direct outcome of promoting public freedoms.

- The pressure exercised by undemocratic regional powers on the Bahraini experience in order to discourage reforms.

- The opposition’s poor parliamentary performance and their inability to encourage Government’s organs to accelerate the democratic transition process.

In his speech on 21 September 2009, the King stressed the continuation of his political reform project through the promotion of what he called ‘the foundations and pillars of the civil and constitutional state’. He also affirmed the importance of respecting human rights and freedom of expression through the use of legitimate and peaceful means. In addition to this, he vowed to continue with the existing reform policies in a gradual manner. State organs should translate the King’s words into actions in order to add more vitality to the political arena and restore momentum to the reform project as it was the case when the reform project first started.

Hasan Moosa Shafaei
President - Bahrain Human Rights Monitor