A Serious Challenge Faces Bahrain
Bahrain can be described as 'an emerging democracy' as it has
been engaging in a rapid process of democratization. As with all
new democracies in transitional periods, it is a country which faces
serious challenges that could either hamper its progress, or could
successfully yield a stable state with well established laws and
accepted norms. The challenges which have confronted Bahrain recently
are the most serious challenges faced by the process of democratization
since the beginning of the reforms eight years ago
The Kingdom's initial political reforms were based on reconciliation
between the government and the people, during which the country
was expected to move gradually towards democracy, practise freedom
of expression and regulate government bodies and their practises
according to human rights standards and clear legal bases.
However, this move did not at first satisfy all political parties,
and was criticised by some as a tiny step which does not meet the
minimum aspirations of Bahraini citizens. Others saw it as a generous
initiative on the King's part that should be built upon and developed,
whilst a third group alternated between these two views before finally
deciding to take part in the political process.
As a result, legislative and council elections took place, the
margin of freedom of expression has widened in all its forms, civil
society organizations have increased in number, existing laws have
been developed and new ones adopted, attempts were made to enforce
control and accountability laws as well as many attempts to develop
public services, strengthen the country's economy and combat unemployment,
and so on.
But the experience has also uncovered the following:
1- Some active political parties do not want the experience of
democracy to continue and succeed, either because they are below
the required level, or they lack faith in democracy and its results
2- Government performances were below the required level particularly
regarding public services and the economy.
3- The hard-line current of opposition has raised its demands,
calling for the abolition of the political process, and was able
to cause tensions on the street through continuous rioting, which
not only disturbed the regime, but also reinforced the position
of the opponents of reform.
4- Because of turmoil in the street, the reform process has lost
some momentum and has tended to slow down at the political level
in particular, perhaps due to the apprehension that accelerating
the reform process might lead to chaos with unexpected consequences.
5- Some economic and political factors such as the Council of
Representatives' failure to achieve major achievements to meet the
aspirations of citizens, all combined to increase tensions in the
street and then to transfer them to the Parliament itself. These
tensions reached to its peak level last December after the government
announced the discovery of a plot to overthrow the regime, in addition
to the provocative speeches of last January which called for the
overturning of the political system, and finally the arrest of some
political activists who were charged with extremism and inciting
violence, which in turn sparked a series of riots and protests.
Obviously, we are faced with a serious split that threatens the
reform process, and is a cause for concern among political parties
who are participating in the reforms and the government alike.
Writers, journalists and politicians are raising questions as
to whether this constitutes a return to the previous security situation.
Or can this political split transform into a split in the society
itself due to the polarizing ideological and sectarian discourses?
And does the government intend to overturn the reform project? And
will the 'dark period' of the State Security Courts return?
On the other hand, the government is now questioning the purpose
of freedoms and compromises if these did not provide security, and
cannot remain handcuffed, unable to enforce its own laws in order
to restrain those who breach them and call publicly for the overthrow
of the royal family and the regime.
Undoubtedly, the ongoing rioting and breach of the law do not
serve the advocates of reform or develop the current political process,
particularly at the legislative level. Reformists will pay dearly
if the current crisis is not contained, which can only benefit those
hostile to reform and stability. The crisis has caused a split in
opinions, for some say the reforms have undermined the country's
security and weakened the political system, whilst others say that
the political system is not serious enough about reforms and should
The inevitable result of this kind of logic is a great loss to
both country and society, and will draw all those involved into
an endless conflict, benefiting no one. So Advocates of reform and
those who are great believers in political reform on both sides,
official and public, are in need of a new reconciliation and also
need to reconsider their relationship, emphasising national fundamentals,
and giving new life to the political process. Moreover, it is a
need to exercise restraint in accordance with the law and to also
respect citizens' rights in order to preserve the gains achieved,
without any abandonment of the strict application of the law on