A year after the November 2014 elections ushered in a Parliament dominated by independent MPs, political blocs are beginning to emerge.
During October 2015, two smaller blocs – the National Bloc and the Accord Bloc – were announced. In mid-November, the largest parliamentary bloc so far was announced, with around ten members and led by Hamad al-Dossary. This is socially and politically the most diverse bloc, including a mix of Shia and Sunni politicians. As yet a decision has not been reached on the bloc’s name.
So far the main result of these blocs has been for lobbying over the composition of parliamentary committees. It remains to be seen whether these blocs will be significant in coordinating parliamentary action, particularly as these blocs don’t represent clearly-defined ideological differences between MPs, and because few mechanisms seem to be in place for enforcing how MPs choose to vote and act.
It should also be noted that there has only been limited media reporting so far on these blocs. So most of the Bahraini public will still be unaware of the names of these factions (other than the previously-existing Al-Asalah and Al-Minbar), or their significance for Bahraini politics.
A Parliament without factionalism?
The 2014 Bahrain parliamentary elections were exceptional for the almost total failure of political societies to win seats. Ninety percent of new MPs were registered independents and only the Salafist political society, Al-Asalah, managed to get more than a single seat for their representatives.
As a result, the first year of this new Parliament saw very little evidence of factionalism and very often there were high levels of unity between MPs on major issues. On the negative side, although many MPs thought alike, the lack of systematic coordination arguably sometimes weakened Parliament’s position when seeking concessions from the Government; and MPs were widely criticized when Parliament failed to unite on a crucial vote over whether or not to interrogate the Health Minister.
This lack of coordination also sometimes led to a lack of organized action and a lot of parliamentary time spent with each individual MP acting in their own right and feeling the need to comment individually on key issues.
During the early months of the Parliament, there were occasional rumours of the possibility of establishing two blocs – a Salafist/Asalah bloc, consisting of a small number of Islamist MPs; and a “National Bloc”, with which four to five MPs were loosely associated. Neither bloc was ever formally announced; and there was little evidence of coordinated action from either cluster of MPs.
There was initially talk of a National Bloc and an Accord Bloc, predominantly made up of Sunni MPs. For while it looked like these two blocs might emerge as a single entity with perhaps 10-12 MPs. Then at the beginning of October, on the eve of elections for the composition and chairmanship of committees, it was indeed confirmed that there would be an Accord Bloc and a National Bloc.
At the same time there were reports of another, larger bloc being formed with a mix of Sunni and Shia politicians. This has now taken shape under Hamad al-Dossary’s leadership.
The Accord Bloc became the first political bloc to formally see the light of day. The Accord bloc is headed by Isa Turki, along with four other members, all Sunni centre-ground figures; Mohammed al-Maarifi (deputy-chairman), Muhsin al-Bakri (superintendent), Dhiyab al-Noaimi, and Osama al-Khajah.
At the forefront of the bloc’s priorities has been the desire to see a more assertive use of Parliament’s powers, particularly a streamlining of the process for interrogating ministers. All these MPs have stressed the importance of enhancing standards of living in the context of subsidy reforms.
The Accord Bloc on 18 October held a press conference to officially announce its launch. During this event, Al-Bakri stressed the bloc’s intention to “activate the available constitutional tools” for use by MPs. He strongly criticized the previous Parliament for restricting the usage of ministerial interrogation, saying that the Accord Bloc advocated the need for only one MP calling for an interrogation.
Al-Bakri noted the bloc’s coordination with other MPs for agreeing on the composition of the main five committees. He said that there was close coordination with the National Bloc and “three other MPs”. None of the current membership were MPs in the previous 2010-2014 Parliament.
Potential allies:Al-Maarifi, Al-Bakri and Al-Noaimi are all from the Southern Governorate. There had been hints that MPs from nearby constituencies may affiliate themselves; particularly Khalifa al-Ghanim and (less likely) Abdullah Bin-Huwail. The Salafist MP Anas Buhindi has recently co-signed statements by Accord MPs and can be considered an ally.
On 17 October, MP Ahmed Qaratah spoke to the media about the establishment of the Bahrain National Bloc, whose existence had been reported several months before, but effectively came into being around the elections for chairmanship of the committees. It should be noted that this bloc has yet to be formally announced and its membership may still be fluid.
The bloc is to be headed by Abdulrahman Bumjaid and will reportedly include Mohammed al-Jowder, Ali Bufarsan, Ibrahim al-Hammadi and Ahmed Qaratah – all of whom were previously reported as being part of this bloc – along with new additions Mohammed al-Ahmed and Mohammed al-Ammadi. (Al-Ammadi represents the pro-Muslim Brotherhood political society Al-Minbar, and not all reports agree that he has joined the National Bloc.)
In the past, it was difficult to get an idea what kind of orientation such a National Bloc would have. Qaratah and Al-Jowder are outspoken figures, given to speaking out against the Government, while Bumjaid and Al-Hammadi are more low-key figures.
The inclusion of Al-Ahmed and Al-Ammadi – two of the most outspoken figures in the Parliament and, like Qaratah and Al-Jowder, given to speaking out on good governance and financial issues – would clearly suggest a more confrontational and activist orientation for the new bloc. Considering that all four of these MPs are very independent and outspoken in their stances, it remains to be seen whether this bloc remains sufficiently coherent to accommodate them all.
As discussed above, the Accord Bloc and its affiliates are centred around Riffa and the southern constituencies and so has a more conservative/loyalist orientation. Three core National Bloc members and a couple of its affiliates (Jamal Buhassan and maybe Abdulrahman Bu-Ali) are from Muharraq where economic grievances tend to be more keenly felt, so this bloc looks to be more activist and confrontational in its make-up.
Note that Chairman Bumjaid is the only surviving member of the “National Independents Bloc” from the previous Parliament, which broke away from the “Independents Bloc” (of which Ahmed al-Mulla, Adel al-Asoumi and Isa al-Kooheji were members) in July 2012. Ahmed Qaratah was from the rival “Bahrain Bloc”. Mohammed al-Ammadi remains a member of Al-Minbar Society.
Potential allies: With this grouping being centred on Muharraq, we could perhaps expect support from MPs like Jamal Buhassan (with Al-Dossary’s bloc) and Abdulrahman Bu-Ali. Adel al-Asoumi had also briefly been cited as being affiliated with this bloc.
National Participation Bloc
In mid-November 2015 Hamad al-Dossary announced that he had been selected as the leader of a new bloc, with Adel Bin-Hamid as his deputy. Reports had been circulating for over a month regarding the possible establishment of such a bloc.
Bin-Hamid told Al-Ayam newspaper that the bloc was “non-political” in its orientation and sought to focus on services and economic issues.
This bloc straddles the sectarian divide, because as well as including many Shia MPs (Jalal al-Mahfoudh, Ghazi Al Rahmah, Nasir al-Qaseer, Shaikh Majid al-Asfour, Shaikh Majid al-Majid, Jamila al-Sammak and Adel Bin-Hamid); the bloc also includes several Sunni MPs, Hamad al-Dossary, Jamal Buhassan and Khalid al-Shaer.
Already, deputies like Hamad al-Dossary, Jamal al-Mahfoudh, Ghazi Al Rahmah and Khalid al-Shaer have a strong record of coordinated action on local issues, supporting each other’s proposals and issuing joint statements. With the obvious exception of the two Shia clerics (Al-Asfour and Al-Majid) and one Sunni cleric (Buhassan) most of the members of this grouping are relatively younger figures, and none of them were in Parliament prior to 2015.
[June 2016 note: The National Participation Bloc now has eight members, after Isa al-Kooheji decided not to join. Khaled al-Shaer was earmarked as the bloc’s spokesman but members decide to distance him from the bloc after Al-Shaer was involved in confrontations with others in Parliament. Finally Shia Cleric Majid al-Asfour has also dissociated himself with the bloc, possibly over ideological differences with some of the more secular MPs.]
Although there has been little serious talk about a formal Islamist or Salafist coalition, Islamist figures like Abdulhalim Murad, Ali al-Muqla, Anas Buhindi and Nabil al-Balooshi have kept their distance from the other coalition-building exercises. Murad and Al-Muqla are members of the Salafist Al-Asalah political society and so the media occasionally talks about this handful of MPs as an informal “Asalah Bloc”.
These figures clearly share compatible social agendas, but it is unclear whether there is any intention to ever move beyond this to establish a formal alliance. It should be remembered that political societies performed very badly during the November 2014 elections, so some MPs may feel a reluctance to be affiliated with anything more formal than a loose alliance. Abdulhalim Murad previously talked about a public “sensitivity” towards formal political societies when asked about plans to construct a parliamentary Asalah bloc.
Potential allies: Jamal Dawoud is occasionally mentioned as being part of this loose Asalah bloc. Others within Parliament who have tended to co-sponsor or support measures emerging from the Islamist camp include: Jamal Buhassan (with Al-Dossary), Muhsin al-Bakri (Accord), Abdulhamid al-Najjar and occasionally Mohammed al-Maarifi (Accord) and Dhiyab al-Noaimi (Accord).
Abdulrahman Bu-Ali reportedly received support from Al-Asalah in previous elections campaigns, but has shown few inclinations to associate himself.
Al-Minbar & Al-Rabitah
Mohammed al-Ammadi is the only MP who formally represents the pro-Muslim Brotherhood Al-Minbar Society. However, he has focused more on economic and standards of living issues and appears to be affiliated with the National Bloc. Abdulhamid al-Najjar is also reportedly associated with Al-Minbar. Al-Najjar and Al-Ammadi are both Hamad Town MPs and so often lobby on similar local issues. However there has been no indication of them functioning as a “Minbar” bloc.
At the time of the 2015 elections, Ali al-Atish was the only other MP formally affiliated with any other political society – Al-Rabitah, a moderate Shia organization. However, Mohammed Milad is also reportedly affiliated with this society.
This only leaves a minority of 10-14 MPs who have not declared their affiliation to one of these new blocs and who are not clearly associated with any of these.
It is not surprising that Parliament Chairman and Deputy Chairman Ahmed al-Mulla and Ali al-Aradi have chosen to remain independent. New head of the Financial Committee Abdulrahman Bu-Ali, may also have decided that it was wiser to remain independent.
Staunchly loyalist figures like Khalifa al-Ghanim and Abdullah Bin-Huwail may have consciously decided not to hitch themselves to blocs with strongly partisan agendas. However, Al-Ghanim is reportedly still considering joining the Accord bloc and Bin-Huwail during the previous Parliament was head of the “Independents Bloc” – which also included Ahmed al-Mulla, Adel al-Asoumi and Isa al-Kooheji.
Isa al-Kooheji and Adel al-Asoumi are two individualist MPs who may prefer to remain independent. However, both at various times have been cited as considering one or the other of these new blocs.
Non-affiliated figures like Abdulhamid al-Najjar and Jamal Dawoud may be inclined towards the Islamist camp.
Many of the Shia MPs who nominally remain as independents – Ali al-Atish (Rabitah), Abbas al-Madhi, Fatimah al-Asfour, Mohammed Milad (Rabitah?), Ali al-Aradi and Rua al-Haiki – had previously been tipped to join Mohammed al-Dossary’s bloc and still could be included. Abbas al-Madhi had been grouped with Ahmed Qaratah in the “Bahrain Bloc” in the previous Parliament. Meanwhile Ali al-Atish is the only remaining MP from the non-affiliated MPs in the previous Parliament – so it appears that he prefers to remain independent.
From the ten MPs who survived from the previous Parliament, six (Al-Mulla, Al-Asoumi, Al-Atish, Bin-Huwail, Al-Kooheji, Al-Madhi) have chosen to remain independent; which may reflect a preference not to join a grouping underneath the leadership of more junior colleagues or former rivals.
If these blocs develop and become a more significant part of parliamentary work, it is likely that a number of the above independent MPs will declare their affiliations, to avoid being left out.
Importance of these blocs for parliamentary work
As noted above, these blocs do not represent firm ideological divisions between MPs and the vast majority of MPs have broadly similar outlooks on key issues like subsidy reform, public debt and service provision. As a result, it is difficult to expect these blocs being highly significant in determining parliamentary positions on major issues.
One significant motivation was Parliament’s much-criticized failure to muster the required two-thirds majority in order to interrogate any minister. MPs sought to have a stronger and better-coordinated position vis-à-vis the Government, so they could not be divided on such issues. These blocs may help in effecting this. However, it is not clear whether any of these blocs have any mechanisms for compelling members to vote and act in a specific manner. Therefore, we may find that members simply decide to vote their own way on major issues of principle.
So far, only the Accord Bloc has been observed to take specific positions on policy issues, such as on subsidies, or regarding the proposal for an investigation into inspection procedures for imported livestock.
During the 2010-2014 Parliament, after the 2011 walkout by 18 Al-Wefaq opposition MPs and the resulting by-election, there were a number of political blocs: The Bahrain Bloc with nine MPs; the Asalah Bloc and its affiliates, consisting of five MPs; the Minbar Bloc of two MPs and one affiliate; and the Independents Bloc, which started off with twelve members, but ended up with seven after five broke away to form the National Independents Bloc in July 2012.
The Independents Bloc included: Abdullah Bin-Huwail (Chairman); Abdullah al-Dossary, Othman Sharif, Ahmed al-Mulla, Adel al-Asoumi, Mahmoud al-Mahmoud and Isa al-Kooheji. (Seven members)
The MPs who broke away from the Independents Bloc to form the National Independents in July 2012 were Khamis al-Rumaihi (Chairman) Abdulrahman Bumjaid, Hassan al-Dossary, Latifah Gaoud – with Ibtisam Hijres joining from outside the bloc. (Five members)
The Bahrain bloc – primarily made up of MPs who gained their seats in the 2011 by-election – included Jawad Buhassan, Ahmed al-Saati, Hassan Bukhamis, Abbas al-Madhi, Sumayya al-Jowder, Ali al-Dirazi, Sawsan Taqawi, Jamal Saleh and Ahmed Qaratah. (nine members)
The Salafist political Society and its affiliates in the 2010-2014 Parliament after the 2011 by-election were: Abdulhalim Murad, Adel al-Moawdeh, Ali Zayed, Adnan al-Maliki and Khalid al-Maloud. The latter three nominated themselves as independents and only latterly affiliated themselves with Asalah. Ghanim Buanayn from Asalah was elected in 2010 but left Parliament in 2012.
The pro-Muslim Brotherhood Al-Minbar Society was represented by Ali Ahmed and Mohammed al-Ammadi, with Abdulhamid Mir affiliated. (three members)
The non-affiliated MPs (11 MPs) during the latter two years of the Parliament were, Khalifa al-Dhahrani (Parliament Chairman), Jassim al-Saeedi, Osama Mihna al-Tamimi (ejected from Parliament in spring 2014), Ali Shamtout, Mohammed Buqais, Khalid Abdulal, Ali al-Atish, Salim al-Shaykh, Abdulhalim al-Shammari, Isa al-Qadhi, and Samir al-Khadim (who replaced Asalah’s Ghanim Buaynayn in a 2012 by-election)
During the 2011-2012 parliamentary year, Ali Dirazi (Bahrain Bloc) was Chairman of the Finance Committee; Ahmed al-Mulla (Independents Bloc) was Chairman of the Legal Committee; Hassan al-Dossary (Independents Bloc) was Chairman of the Public Utilities Committee and Adel al-Asoumi (Independents Bloc) was Chairman of the Services Committee; and Sawsan Taqawi was Chairwoman of the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee.
During the 2012-2013 parliamentary year, after the splitting of the National Independents from the Independents Bloc, this new National Independents bloc came out dominating the chairmanship roles of the five permanent committees with three seats: Latifah Gaoud, Chairwoman of the Finance Committee; Abdulrahman Bumjaid, Chairman of the Defence Committee; and Hassan al-Dossary, Chairman of the Public Utilities Committee. Non-affiliated MP Ali al-Atish held the Legal Committee; while Abbas al-Madhi from the Bahrain Bloc was Services Committee Chairman.
During the 2013-2014 parliamentary year Sawsan Taqawi (National Independents Bloc) was Chairwoman of the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee; Ahmed al-Mulla (Independents Bloc) was Chairman of the Legal Committee; Abdulhalim Murad (Asalah) was Chairman of the Finance Committee; Abbas al-Madhi (Bahrain Bloc) was Services Committee Chairman; and Hassan al-Dossary (National Independents Bloc) was Chairman of the Public Utilities Committee.
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
Abdulrahman Bumjaid – 4th Capital
Nasser al-Qaseer – 5th Capital
Chairman of Parliamentary Human Rights Committee
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
Ibrahim al-Hammadi – 2nd Muharraq
Jamal Buhassan – 3rd Muharraq
Isa al-Kooheji – 4th Muharraq
Mohammed al-Jowder – 5th Muharraq
Deputy-Chairman of Parliamentary Human Rights Committee
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
Hamad al-Dossary – 3rd Northern
Deputy Chairman of Committee for Youth and Sports
Ghazi Al Rahmah – 4th Northern
Chairman of Committee for Youth and Sports
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
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
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