Citizens for Bahrain response to 3 September New Statesman article; “Arms sales can never be apolitical acts: the UK should not sell to Bahrain”
The article by Andrew Smith forcefully puts the case for not doing business with Bahrain. Please allow us to put forward an alternative perspective.
The article starts by claiming that “There are few regimes as authoritarian as the one in Bahrain”. In actual fact, many of the challenges facing Bahrain result from its efforts to move away from the authoritarian political culture found elsewhere in the region:
Bahrain is about to embark on its fourth round of elections since King Hamad’s new Constitution of 2002, which put the country on the path of Constitutional Monarchy and reform. This has not been a smooth and easy process and it has not happened as rapidly as many Bahrainis would have liked.
However, the net result is that Bahrain has a political culture that is moving progressively forward, over a time period when many states in the region only seem to have gone backwards. The implosion of the Iraqi, Libyan and Syrian states are only three examples.
The constitutional amendments of 2012 further empower elected representatives and so a new cross-section of MPs entering Parliament through these elections will be able to properly put these reforms to the test. The fact that many of these reforms have occurred against a backdrop of civil unrest is particularly commendable.
Nobody is claiming that Bahrain has somehow arrived at a fully-democratic end point. However, the lengthy investigation by the British Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee made very clear in its recommendations that the process of reform should be constructively encouraged.
The article wrongly claims that the National Dialogue process “fell apart”. It is still ongoing, albeit slowly. But more than one side is required to make a dialogue work. Following the Crown Prince’s initiative earlier this year to reach out to the opposition, more seriousness and momentum is required from all sides.
The article states very clearly that “arms sales can never be apolitical acts”. We would agree with this. However, Britain is not the imperial power of the nineteenth century, that coerces “less developed” nations to move in the right direction.
Britain can and does use its constructive and positive political relationship with the Bahraini authorities to push for further reforms as well as working with Bahrain on specific projects to further this aim, such as prison reform and programmes for judicial reforms and strengthening the rule of law.
Bahrain is a tiny island nation in amongst larger regional powers, in the tense Arabian Gulf region. The suggestion that Britain should try and deprive Bahrain of its ability to exercise the right to defend itself is naïve and insulting; particularly as the defence sales that the writer refers to have no possible relationship to the policing of riots and protest rallies.
Bahrain is slowly but surely moving in the right direction. If people like the writer succeeded in getting their way in isolating Bahrain from the international community and shutting the door on its diplomatic relations with nations like Britain, then the prospects for reform would be immeasurably damaged.
We thank the UK and our other allies for standing alongside Bahrain in seeking to encourage progress, reform and regional stability.