Here we look back at the events of 2015. Two decisive factors which influenced developments in Bahrain were the increasing regionaltensions resulting from events in Syria, Iraq and Yemen; as well as sharply falling global oil prices. All these issues have been extensively covered by Citizens for Bahrain and much of our reporting on these themes can be accessed via the hyperlinks below:
Falling oil prices
Events during 2015 played out in the context of a sharp drop in oil prices, although Bahrain’s private sector continued to grow at a respectable rate. Low oil prices represented a tough challenge for the Government, which saw a steep drop in the size of its net revenues, forcing an increase in borrowing and a drive to reduce expenditure.
New British naval facilities in Bahrain
2015 began with announcements concerning the building of a £15 million permanent naval base in Mina Salman. The announcement was seen in the context of growing regional challenges and the need for close coordination between GCC and Western nations. The decision represents a significant boost to Bahrain’s local economy.
In late January the Bahraini authorities issued a list of 72 individuals whose citizenships had been revoked. A substantial number of these were Sunni extremists who had affiliated themselves with ISIS and other Islamist groups. However, others were militants linked to the opposition, several of whom had received terrorist training by organizations like Hezbollah.
Ali Salman on trial
Al-Wefaq Islamic Society Secretary-General Ali Salman was put on trial and led for speeches which were judged to incite violence.
Government Action Plan approved
On 3 February a majority of MPs voted in support of the 2015-18 Government Action Plan. This was a historic moment following constitutional amendments which empowered the elected Parliament to discuss and propose amendments to the document, allowing MPs to have greater say in the policy-making process.
Opposition riots fail to disturb the peace
The 14 February 2011 marked the beginning of the period of unrest in Bahrain. In previous years opposition militants had exploited thedate to stage bouts of rioting and clashes with police. However, this year such incidents were barely noticeable, marking a return to normality after a troubled period.
During 2015, Iran escalated its support for militant groups across the region. This prompted the GCC coalition to intervene in Yemen in order to counter the Iran-backed Houthi rebels. In Bahrain, Iran increased its support for militants, resulting in substantial numbers of failed attacks and the seizure of weaponry and explosives smuggled by Iran to these militants.
In mid-March the Bahraini authorities revealed details of a captured shipment of weapons originating from Iran intended for a terroristgroup in Bahrain which had received training by Iran.
MPs reject debt increase
A majority of MPs defied the Finance Minister during the 24 March parliamentary session and voted against raising the public debt ceiling to BD 7 billion. However, in a surprise turnaround, a few weeks later in early July a majority of MPs approved the same proposal, representing a realization that in order to avoid cutting essential services to the public, an increase in borrowing was inevitable, given sharply falling oil revenues.
Many participants judged the 2015 event to be the most successful Formula One to date in Bahrain. This was the second night racefeaturing spectacular lighting; with a large number of events leading up to the Grand Prix and with a broad range of entertainments at the race track itself.
In April, Parliament approved the new Domestic Violence Protection Law, marking Bahrain out as one of the most progressive states in the region for protecting the rights of women and families.
In mid-April, Parliament approved a number of actions to address violations cited in the annual Financial Audit Bureau report. Parliament identified 51 violations across a number of government departments which appeared to be of a “criminal nature” for submission to the Public Prosecution.
Religious freedom report cites progress in rebuilding mosques
The 2015 report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom made numerous important observations about progress made in addressing outstanding issues from the 2011 Bahrain unrest. The report praised the authorities for “demonstrable progress in rebuilding mosques and religious structures” damaged during the unrest.
In late May the Government announced plans to cancel subsidies on meat and replace these with cash handouts to Bahraini citizens. This was to be the first step in a comprehensive package of measures for reducing the huge levels of Government expenditure on subsidies, primarily by means of preventing non-Bahrainis from benefitting from the subsidies regime.
GCC mosque bombings
ISIS claimed responsibility for attacks against two mosques in Eastern Saudi Arabia which killed around 25 worshippers. These were the first of several such attacks across the GCC region. ISIS also made threats against Shia mosques in Bahrain, which prompted the authorities to enhance levels of security outside mosques.
Ombudsman Office report
In its annual report, the Bahrain independent Ombudsman Office reported a 375% increase in the number of complaints it handled, with a growing number of cases being referred to the courts and other legal bodies for further action. The office’s work has been recognized through the prestigious Challiot Prize for promoting and protecting human rights.
Iranian explosives seized
In mid-June, yet another seizure was announced of explosives originating from Iran and destined to be used in attacks in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. A 6 June raid on a house in the Bahraini village of Dar Kulaib resulted in the seizure of weapons including large quantities of C4 explosives, detonators and advanced circuitry. The location was revealed by an operative working for a cell formed by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
At the beginning of July, both houses of Parliament approved the 2015-16 State Budget after a lengthy series of discussions, with the aim of reducing expenditure while minimizing the negative impact on the public.
Iran nuclear deal
The agreement reached between Iran and key Western nations over its nuclear programme was greeted with numerous expressions of concern across the Arab world. There were widespread reservations about the fact that sanctions would be lifted, allowing Iran to increase its funding for militant groups across the region.
July and August saw an escalation in attacks against police. On 14 July a militant was killed in Al-Eker while trying to plant a bomb to ambush policemen. On 28 July Bahrain has endured the single worst terrorist atrocity in the Kingdom for well over a year, with two policemen dead and several fatally injured, following an explosion in Sitra.
This attack occurred only two days after a shipment of weapons and explosives was impounded arriving from Iran and following the discovery of several carloads of bomb-making materials on the causeway between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Police officer Wajdi Saleh was killed in a terrorist bombing in Karranah on 28 August.
Painful losses in Yemen
Early September saw the tragic deaths of five Bahraini troops, alongside the loss of numerous brave Emiratis and Saudis, demonstrating the degree to which GCC states are committed to supporting regional stability and combatting the forces of extremism and sectarianism.
Iran’s envoy expelled
In late September the Bahraini authorities discovered mb-making factory in Nuwaidrat, stacked with several tonnes of materials provided by Iran. In the following days, Bahrain withdrew its ambassador to Tehran and Iran’s ambassador was expelled.
Russian interference in Syria
On 30 September the Russian Parliament agreed to airstrikes in Syria and quickly began bombing non-ISIS rebel groups in Homs and Hama, with extensive reports of civilian casualties. This marked an escalation in the involvement of Bashar al-Assad’s allies, Iran, Russia and Hezbollah, as the regime continued to crumble.
Meat subsidy reforms
After a number of delays, meat subsidy cuts were finally implemented in October and were replaced by direct payments to Bahrainicitizens. This was accompanied by a period of chaos in local meat markets as consumers stayed away, many butchers temporarily went on strike and prices fluctuated wildly.
Opening of Parliament
Following the summer recess, Parliament was formally opened once again on 11 October, marked by a formal speech by King Hamad, in which he emphasized that Bahraini citizens must be the first priority of legislators, despite economic challenges.
Over the following few weeks there were contests for the chairmanship of key parliamentary committees. This was a motivating force behind the emergence of several new political blocs in the Parliament, notably the Accord Bloc, the National Bloc and the National Participation Bloc.
The presence of some of the most senior global figures for international diplomacy underlined the strategic importance of the IISS Manama Dialogue, particularly at a time of major geopolitical challenges and tensions in the region.
Financial Audit Bureau report
In early November, the new annual Financial Audit Bureau report was issued, sparking widespread discussion about the various violations discovered in public departments, with details of these allegations covered extensively by the media. The document is currently being reviewed by Parliament for further action.
In mid-November, Parliament passed a draft law stipulating that government debt could not exceed 60% of GDP – despite repeated warnings from the Finance Minister that such a step would force the Government to review the Budget and halt essential health services and benefits. However, less than a month later MPs have reluctantly approved a rise in the debt ceiling to BD 10bn, only five months after approving a previous rise to BD 7bn in July.
In December Parliament approved a draft counter-terrorism law giving the security services and the judicial apparatus greater powers for addressing terrorism. This includes punishment for “providing training in using weapons and manufacturing explosives for use in terrorist activities”. This crime now carries a sentence of seven years to life imprisonment.
Separating religion from politics
The Shura Council on 6 December approved draft amendments to the Political Societies Law, banning active religious clerics from membership of political societies and involvement in political activity. The amended law states that any member of a religious political society cannot simultaneously be preaching in mosques or involved in religious activities, even on a voluntary basis.
Bahrain MPs discuss CEDAW women’s rights law
In December there was controversy over proposals to bring Bahrain into line with the UN’s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Islamists warned that the bill conflicted with Bahrain’s Islamic traditions, while the Supreme Council for Women and Foreign Ministry argued that the draft was important for protecting the rights of women and demonstrating Bahrain progressive credentials. The bill was still being discussed by Parliament as the year ended.
Citizens for Bahrain would like to take this opportunity to wish you health, wealth and happiness for 2016.