Strong Civil Society, but...

It has been argued that the civil society in Bahrain is the strongest among all six Gulf States. It has certainly exceeded its Kuwaiti counterpart, despite the fact that the Kuwaiti experience is much older and has had more freedom to grow and develop. While the Kuwaiti experience has slowed down, the Bahraini experience on the other hand shows vitality and substantial public participation in public affairs. The experience of civil society in Bahrain-despite its shortcomings- has become a landmark in the Gulf, since the beginning of the political reform project in 2000.

In his first meeting with the members of the National Institution for Human Rights on 7 June 2010, the King expressed his great sense of pride in all the activities of civil society, which he believed represent an important part of social, developmental, cultural, political and trade union life of the country. The King also said that the vitality of Bahraini civil society has always been complimented by his visitors. This was evident in the participation of both Bahraini and Kuwaiti civil society in the Fleet of Freedom, which attempted to break the siege on Gaza. The King also noted that Bahraini civil society and its various activities have relieved the Government of some of its burdens, adding that it was very active even during colonialism in the 1950s when trade unions, political movements and cultural activities had laid their foundations early. Finally, the King stressed that it was the responsibility of the Bahraini Government to provide the appropriate atmosphere and necessary capabilities to ensure the continuation of civil society contributions.

Despite the fact that civil society in Bahrain is ahead of its peers, however, it has still not reached its full potential, and there is still room for improvement in all aspects. Ultimately, we still have some weak societies with poor performances, and our society in general has not given enough of its time, fund and effort. There is also need to establish new civil society organizations that can adopt and take charge of a number of causes, which have yet to be championed. The King strongly stressed his confidence in the ability of Bahraini society to produce and contribute in good deeds inside and outside Bahrain.

In order for a positive turning point to take place, the Government needs to follow words with actions, increase its financial and logistical support for NGOs, and make the necessary amendments to the laws and regulations that govern the NGOs.