February 14 is a day that marked a new chapter for Bahrain. The constitutional referendum is considered the cornerstone for promoting freedoms on the social, economic and political level, following a period of political instability in the 90’s. 

The late Amir, Sheikh Isa, died in March 1999 and was succeeded by his eldest son, Sheikh Hamad. In 2001 Bahrainis strongly backed proposals to turn the country into a Constitutional Monarchy with an elected Parliament and independent judiciary – 98.4% voted yes in the referendum on the National Action Charter (new constitution).   


Bahrain before National Action Charter

Bahrain after National Action Charter

Parliamentary life

Several Shia hold ministerial posts.

1992: Amir appoints a 30-member Consultative Council.

1994: Cleric Ali Salman arrested after calling for restoration of the National Assembly – later deported.

2002: 1st Parliamentary elections in 30 years.

2006: Shia opposition wins 40% of parliamentary seats. Shia occupy senior posts, including deputy prime minister & Shura Council chairman.

Freedom of expression & human rights

1974: Amir dissolves National Assembly & ratifies State Security Law (allowing detention without trial for up to 3 years & restricting freedoms).

1990s: Growing criticism of the lack of democratic reforms. Unrest is suppressed by security services, resulting in around 40 deaths.

National Action Charter enshrines freedom of expression and democratic rights.

NGOs and labour unions are licensed.

Substantial growth in the diversity of media outlets, including opposition newspaper Al-Wasat.

Political oppositionists

Many opposition leaders undergo jail or exile.

The new King releases all political prisoners and pardons political exiles.

Women’s rights

1973: Women lose the voting rights that they were originally accorded in the first Constitution.

NGOs promote role of women in society.

The King gives women the right to vote and stand as candidates.

2004: Health Minister Nada Haffadh – the first woman to head a government ministry. Women take leading Ministerial and Ambassadorial posts.

Religious freedoms

Substantial non-Muslim expat population in Bahrain enjoys wide freedoms, but lacks political representation.

2000: Non-Muslims (a Christian & Jew) & four women appointed to the Consultative Council.

2008: A Jewish woman, Houda Nonoo ambassador to USA – Arab world’s first Jewish ambassador.


Prior to 1999 GDP was characterized by sharp fluctuations as the economy struggled to diversify.

Bahrain sought to develop its petrochemical &aluminum industries.

Several institutions rate Bahrain as “freest economy” in Arab World (around 10th globally)

2002-2010: Financial sector triples in size to $224bn –employing over 13,000 people, contributing to around 25% of GDP. IT & Telecom sectors also important.

2006: UN cites Bahrain as fastest growing economy in Arab world. Decrease in unemployment to around 4%


Free health services and education established through public schools and health centres

Around 90% decrease in University of Bahrain’s academic fees to promote education among people with limited income.

Major initiatives for provision of housing.


Excerpts from the 2000 National Action Charter

Basis of Government

…Justice is the basis of government. Equality, rule of law, liberty, security, peace, education, social solidarity and equal opportunity are all core principles of the society that are ensured by the state…

Protection of individual freedoms and equality

Individual freedoms quality, justice and equal opportunity are core principles of the society. The State shoulders the responsibility of ensuring them for all citizens on an equal footing…

1- All citizens are equal before the law in terms of rights and duties, without distinction of race, origin, language, religion or belief…

2- Personal liberty is ensured under the law…

3- No person shall in any way be subjected to any kind of physical or moral torture, inhumane, humiliating or indignant treatment. Any confession or utterance obtained under torture, threatening or persuasion shall be null and void…

5- …An accused person remains innocent until convicted in a fair trial in which all guarantees are provided with a view to ensuring to an accused person the right to defense…

6- Places of residence are inviolable…

7- Personal correspondence shall enjoy inviolability and secrecy…

Freedom of belief

The state ensures freedom of belief. Freedom of conscience shall be absolute. The state maintains inviolability of houses of worship…

Freedom of expression and publishing

Every citizen shall have the right to express himself orally, in writing or in any other way of expression of personal opinion or creativity…

Civil Society

…the state ensures the freedom to form non- governmental, scientific, cultural, professional associations and unions at a national level for legitimate purposes through peaceful means under terms and conditions as may be prescribed by law…

Government System

The Government system of Bahrain shall be a constitutional monarchy as may be prescribed by the constitution… The Amir exercises his powers through ministers who are accountable to him…

…Bahrain should join democratic constitutional monarchies with a view to meeting people’s aspirations to further progress.

Government system of the state of Bahrain is a democracy where all powers vest with the people…

…the government system is based on checks and balances, i.e., the separation of, and cooperation among, the three powers namely, the legislature, the executive and the judiciary…

Government in the state of Bahrain is based on the rule of law. The independence and immunity of the judiciary are two key guarantees for protecting rights and freedom…

Citizens, men and women alike, have the right to participate in public affairs…

Democratic Life

Bahrain has experienced direct democracy ever since Al-Khalifa assumed the rule of the country. Constant contact and consultation between the ruler and people, free and full access by the people to the ruler -constant of the relationship between the government and the people in Bahrain has helped mould government policies in a way that is consistent with the wishes and interests of the people.

It is in the interest of the state of Bahrain to adopt a bicameral system whereby the legislature will consist of two chambers, namely one that is constituted through free, direct elections whose mandate will be to enact laws, and a second one that would have people with experience and expertise who would give advice as necessary…

Principle of free economy

…An open-door policy must be accompanied by a new public administration mindset, one that is oriented to streamlined procedure, transparency, elimination of jurisdictional overlapping, improved services and updated economic legislation within a framework of integrity and equal opportunity…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *