4-11 November 2015
MPs have come in for some criticism and ridicule in the media and social media over the past week. Several media commentaries noted that the bulk of this week’s parliamentary session was given over to private bills proposed by MPs, many of which were seen as covering relatively trivial matters, like proposals for setting up youth clubs and event halls in their own constituencies.
This is at a time when Bahrain is facing a number of critical economic issues, leading to criticisms that MPs were getting their priorities wrong. In particular, a proposal for banning tattoos by a number of Islamist MPs resulted in a wide range of satirical comments.
After several weeks of internal wrangling, the composition of the smaller parliamentary committees was decided this week, with membership of the Human Rights Committee proving particularly contentious.
Tattoos, sorcery and legal writs
Islamist MPs Abdulhalim Murad, Nabil al-Balooshi, Ali al-Muqla, Jamal Dawoud and Muhsin al-Bakri on 7 November sponsored a bill for outlawing tattoos in Bahrain. The proposal cited the growing number of establishments which produced tattoos for young people. They claimed that the practice of tattooing was un-Islamic and encouraged “young people to distort their bodies with slogans and drawings which conflicted with the Islamic faith”.
This gave rise to hundreds of tweets in the social media speaking up in defence of tattoos and questioning whether MPs didn’t have better things to do. A couple of bloggers pointed out that Islam allowed everything which wasn’t expressly prohibited and so questioned how tattoos could therefore be un-Islamic.
During the debate on the tattoos proposal during the weekly parliamentary session, MP Jamal Dawoud rejected these criticisms, saying: “This is a dangerous threat to Bahrain as a whole. We shouldn’t belittle this as a trivial matter… even some girls have started putting tattoos on sensitive areas of their bodies and publishing images of this. This is against the Islamic faith and our Constitution”. The proposal was passed by a majority of MPs.
A number of media commentators also ridiculed a statement by MP Hamad al-Dossary, warning of the discovery of amulets supposedly used for sorcery on Budaya beach. Al-Dossary called for better monitoring of coastlines “to prevent those who are minded to practice magic, which is outlawed according to Islamic law”. Social media users were quick to pick up on the fact that the images Al-Dossary had used of these amulets apparently came from Yemeni websites!
There was also criticism of legal writs raised by MP Rua al-Haiki against four of her parliamentary colleagues, Jalal al-Mahfoudh, Khalid al-Shaer, Ghazi Al Rahmah and Hamad al-Dossary. These MPs had previously issued a statement in response to Al-Haiki’s 12 October interview with Al-Ayam newspaper in which she strongly criticized MPs on a wide range of grounds.
The MPs’ statement accused Al-Haiki of “engaging in imaginary confrontations which don’t benefit the nation or the public. She seeks fame and behaves haughtily towards everyone. With each day that passes she makes complaints against some MP, or the Parliament Administration. She suffers from the delusion that everybody is in conflict with her and against her. We pray that God will deliver her from this paranoia”. Al-Haiki has referred these four MPs to the Public Prosecutor, accusing them of insults and defamation.
It is disappointing to see Al-Haiki – a young businesswomen and one of the few women in Parliament – at odds with several of the young and progressive MPs from neighbouring constituencies who should be her closest allies. This has given rise to criticism that MPs are engaged with petty squabbles and not serving the public.
A report by Al-Watan newspaper cited criticisms from Bahrainis that MPs were worrying about tattoos and infighting at the time that the Financial Audit Bureau annual report was demonstrating major incidents of administrative mismanagement and corruption in various Government departments – why were MPs apparently not concerning themselves with this? A similar report in pro-opposition Al-Wasat newspaper circulated similar criticisms and said that MPs were wrong to concern themselves with trivial and unbinding private bills at a time when most Bahrainis were concerned about subsidies, the economic downturn and the findings of the Audit Bureau report.
Over past years, Islamist MPs have been particularly guilty of consuming substantial amounts of parliamentary time with proposals related to issues like banning alcohol and pork; outlawing allegedly non-Islamic practices; and seeking to cancel cultural events involving music and dancing.
Mercifully, the Islamists are a relatively small force in this Parliament, representing only a handful of MPs, although they have on occasions succeeded in mobilizing enough of their colleagues to have an impact. For example, the establishment earlier this year of a parliamentary investigation into a child who reportedly sang Quranic verses to music at a school talent contest.
The recent public reaction on the tattoos issue demonstrates that many right-thinking Bahrainis believe that wasting parliamentary time on such issues is not in the public interest and does not serve Bahrain.
Competition over committees
Reports over recent weeks have indicated that up to 15 MPs were competing for the five seats in the parliamentary Human Rights Committee. There were criticisms that the Committee, formerly led by Khalid al-Shaer, hadn’t been sufficiently assertive in promoting Bahrain’s human rights record on the world stage. Satirical comments in the media suggested that the substantial number of trips abroad for Committee members may also have been a factor in the high number of applicants!
After failing to reach agreement, the matter came to a vote during the 10 November parliamentary session. Only two former Committee members succeeded in hanging on to their seats (Mohammed al-Jowder and Mohammed al-Maarifi, with 22 and 23 votes respectively), while former Chairman Al-Shaer and his deputy Adel Bin-Hamid failed to get sufficient votes. New members, Majid al-Asfour, Abdulrahman Bumjaid and Nasir al-Qaseer were voted in, with 25, 22 and 20 votes respectively.
Voting for other committees – Women and Children and Youth and Sports – went more smoothly, with a few minor changes to the membership. However, three MPs pulled out of the Palestine Committee (Isa al-Kooheji, Adel Bin-Hamid and Majid al-Majid), leaving behind only former Chairman Mohammed al-Ammadi, Ahmed Qaratah and new member Mohammed al-Ahmed.
In previous weeks there had been a lot of talk about the roles of nascent parliamentary blocs in influencing the membership and chairmanship of committees. Although this was clearly in evidence three weeks previously when the five main permanent committees were confirmed, this lobbying has been less in evidence during the elections this time around.
However, Mohammed al-Maarifi was clearly the choice of his own Accord Bloc and it will be interesting to see whether he subsequently succeeds in gaining the chairman role vis-à-vis Abdulrahman Bumjaid who is nominal chairman of the National Bloc.
The Accord Bloc was formally launched last month in the context of the previous round of committee elections and includes five MPs, led by Isa Turki. The National Bloc has approximately the same number of MPs, but has never been formally launched, reflecting the relative weakness of the existing alliances in the current Parliament.
Private bills dominate the agenda
This week’s parliamentary session was distinguished by a lack of discussion about any major areas of legislation. Meanwhile MPs voted in favour of around 14 proposals put forward by deputies themselves. These included:
- Agreement to conduct a comprehensive study of Bahrainis who make their income from the sea.
- Establishment of centres for the elderly in each governorate.
- Establishment of a centre for sporting injuries and a health centre for addressing problems associated with infertility.
- Awareness-raising sessions for couples embarking on marriage.
- Encouraging the Government to set up and provide support for cooperative societies.
- Setting up an events hall in Sadad.
- Several proposals for establishing new schools in Busaiteen, Sitra, Zayed Town and the Southern Governorate.
It should be noted that these private bills only have the status of proposals, which the Government can then choose to accept or reject. This has led to criticisms that the system of private members’ bills is too weak as a legislative tool.
Previous editions of A Week in Parliament
Anger over subsidies: 22 – 29 October 2015
New political alliances: 15 – 21 October 2015
A new beginning: 8 – 14 October 2015
Raising meat payments: 30 Oct – 4 Nov 2015
Know your deputy: MPs profiles
Adel al-Asoumi – 1st Capital
Chairman of Permanent Committee for Public Utilities and Environment
Ahmed Qaratah – 2nd Capital
Adel Bin-Hamid Abdulhussain – 3rd Capital
Deputy-Chairman of Parliamentary Human Rights Committee
Abdulrahman Bumjaid – 4th Capital
Nasser al-Qaseer – 5th Capital
Ali al-Atish – 6th Capital
Chairman of the Permanent Committee for Shari’ah and Legal Matters
Osamah al-Khajah – 7th Capital
Shaikh Majid al-Asfour – 8th Capital
Mohammed Jaffar Milad – 9th Capital
Nabil al-Balooshi – 10th Capital
Ali Bufarsan – 1st Muharraq
Chairman of Committee for Youth and Sports
Ibrahim al-Hammadi – 2nd Muharraq
Jamal Buhassan – 3rd Muharraq
Isa al-Kooheji – 4th Muharraq
Mohammed al-Jowder – 5th Muharraq
Abbas al-Madhi – 6th Muharraq
Ali al-Muqla – 7th Muharraq
Abdulrahman Bu-Ali – 8th Muharraq
Chairman of the Permanent Committee for Financial and Economic Matters
Fatimah al-Asfour – 1st Northern
Deputy Chairwoman of the Committee for Women and Children
Jalal Kadhim al-Mahfoudh – 2nd Northern
Deputy Chairman of the Permanent Committee for Financial and Economic Matters
Deputy Chairman of Committee for Youth and Sports
Hamad al-Dossary – 3rd Northern
Ghazi Al Rahmah – 4th Northern
Ali al-Aradi – 5th Northern
Deputy Chairman of Parliament
Rua al-Haiki – 6th Northern
Shaikh Majid al-Majid – 7th Northern
Dr. Isa Turki – 8th Northern
Abdulhamid Abdulhussain al-Najjar – 9th Northern
Deputy Chairman of Committee for Supporting the Palestinian People
Mohammed al-Ammadi – 10th Northern
Chairman of Committee for Supporting the Palestinian People
Jamal Dawoud – 11th Northern
Jamila al-Sammak – 12th Northern
Chairwoman of the Committee for Women and Children
Khalid al-Shaer – 1st Southern
Chairman of Parliamentary Human Rights Committee
Mohammed al-Ahmed – 2nd Southern
Abdulhalim Murad – 3rd Southern
Second Deputy Chairman of Parliament
Mohammed al-Maarifi – 4th Southern
Deputy Chairman of the Permanent Committee for Services
Khalifa al-Ghanim – 5th Southern
Anas Buhindi – 6th Southern
Deputy Chairman of the Permanent Committee for Shari’ah and Legal Matters
Abdullah Bin-Huwail – 7th Southern
Chairman of the Permanent Committee for Foreign, Defence and National Security Affairs
Dhiyab al-Noaimi – 8th Southern
Mohsin al-Bakri – 9th Southern
Deputy Chairman of Permanent Committee for Public Utilities and Environment
Ahmed al-Mulla – 10th Southern
Chairman of Parliament