4-10 February 2016
The Bahraini media this week has been full of coverage of King Hamad’s State visit to Russia. However, there has also been strong condemnation of the EU Parliament statement on Bahrain’s human record, while Bahraini MPs clashed fiercely with each other during their weekly session. Meanwhile, the subsidies issue remains at the forefront of people’s minds, as Bahrainis adjust to paying higher petrol prices and increased electricity and water bills are mooted.
A lot of media and political debate has occurred in the context of the upcoming 14 February anniversary of the 2001 referendum on the National Action Charter. However, in 2011 the same debate marked the triggering of the period of unrest, coinciding with the so-called “Arab Spring” events which shook the entire region. Several media commentators and at least one high profile opposition activist have marked this upcoming date by calling on the opposition to rejoin the political process, so as to enable the country to move forward.
King Hamad visits Russia
The media reported that among the many agreements and issues covered during the royal visit, Bahrain’s sovereign wealth fund Mumtalakat has pumped $250 million into Russia’s fund for direct investments, while highlighting agreements for bilateral cooperation in the field of liquefied natural gas.
Meanwhile, the Bahrain Foreign Minister during a joint press conference noted the positive role which Russia could play in restoring peace and stability in Syria. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said that the sides had agreed on the right of Syrians to determine their own destiny.
Shura Council condemns EU & reviews travel bans
During the Shura Council’s weekly meeting, it issued a statement condemning the recent European Parliament statement which called for the pardoning of a defendant facing the death sentence for the killing of a policeman. Shura Council Secretary General Abduljalil al-Tarif said in a statement: “We fully reject the statement by the European Parliament which disregards all efforts by Bahrain to implement constitutional, political, financial and social reform.”
The Council also gave its approval to a Royal Decree, allowing people to travel abroad despite financial cases lodged against them. However the Shura Council has plans to submit its own amendments, including provisions to ensure that those who served prison sentences weren’t exempt from leaving the country without paying their debts.
MPs exchange threats and insults
The pressure of public expectations is beginning to tell on MPs, when twice during the 9 February session deputies nearly came to blows as arguments arose out of trivial issues.
Salafist MP Anas Buhindi at the beginning of the session took exception to the presence of Council of Representatives Secretary-General Abdullah al-Dossary, who Buhindi has separately accused of insulting him. This triggered a fierce exchange between Buhindi and MP Khalid al-Shaer, the latter speaking out in favour of the Secretary-General. The exchange ended with Buhindi screaming “Shut your mouth” at Al-Shaer, before storming out of the hall.
There were also strong exchanges during the session as MPs discussed stiffening punishments for the planting of fake explosives. Shia clerics Majid al-Asfour and Majid al-Majid opposed the proposals, with Al-Asfour pointing out that a youth shouldn’t be criminalized for photographing himself with a fake bomb “to impress his girlfriend”. Meanwhile Sunni MPs Abdulhalim Murad and Mohammed al-Jowder rebuked them, noting that this was an issue of terrorism and national security.
Towards the end of the session, MP Abbas al-Madhi took exception at the failure of a proposed bill for limiting public sector contracts for non-Bahrainis. He made to leave the hall, but was called back to maintain the requisite number of MPs in the sitting. As he returned to his seat, he took exception to whispered comments between Ahmed Qaratah and Mohammed al-Ammadi, which ended with Qaratah threatening to “smash” Al-Madhi’s teeth, before other MPs stepped in to break up the scuffle.
Tensions were already high after a recorded telephone conversation by MP Khaled al-Shaer was leaked on Twitter, with him stating his opposition to the proposed interrogation of two ministers, which had been defeated in a vote last week, and making disparaging remarks about other political societies. Despite the comments not containing anything exceptional, the issue still caused a social media storm and elicited an angry response from the MP himself.
Calls for opposition to rejoin political process
On the eve of the anniversary of the 14 February 2011 unrest, pro-opposition newspaper Al-Wasat publicized a call by prominent opposition activist Mohammed Hassan al-Aradi, for the opposition to rejoin the political process and participate in the next round of elections; in order to “promote national capabilities for undertaking their role in rebuilding, while distancing themselves from narrow partisan interests. He said that the “so-called revolution in Bahrain during 2011 had failed to achieve any positive results. Matters have gone from bad to worse and we are in need of repositioning ourselves after all the traumas we have been through…”
The Energy Ministry formally announced its new programme for electricity and water bills. This will result in a BD2 increase in monthly bills. This is accompanied with increased unit costs for electricity for non-Bahrainis, commercial usage and Bahrainis with more than one account. The Ministry said that this would help bring Bahrain into line with GCC pricing, while returning an additional BD135m to the 2016-17 Budget.
Energy Minister Abdulhussain Mirza recently confirmed that subsidy cuts for electricity and water prices would be implemented gradually over four years: “The Government envisages gradual implementation of the new prices to avert negative effects on consumers and the national economy.”
Interview with US ambassador
During an extensive interview with Al-Ayam this week, the US Ambassador William Roebuck made the following comments:
“His Majesty King Hamad deserves the strongest praise for leading efforts at reform in Bahrain; not just in recent years following the crisis, but during the 15 years following the 2002 National Action Charter…”
“The US has a strong, long-standing and continuing partnership with the Government of Bahrain in a range of fields. If we display any bias – although I have reservations about the word ‘bias’ – it is in favour of this strong bilateral partnership…”
“We have a very strong military partnership with Bahrain and there is close cooperation with the Government of Bahrain through the programmes of our forces overseas. We are pleased that the temporary halt in some aspects of this programme recommenced six months ago. We continue to confirm that Bahrain will obtain everything it needs in terms of American materials and training to guarantee the ability of Bahrain to protect itself…”
Week in politics
Continued reform efforts:5 – 11 May 2016
Social media attacks: 20-27 April 2016
Shura Council rejects “Islamicization”: 7-13 April 2016
CEDAW victory: 31 March – 6 April 2016
MPs reject budget statement: 24 – 30 March 2016
Pensions dispute: 17 – 23 March 2016
Committees of inquiry: 10 – 16 March 2016
Protection for Shia families: 3 – 9 March 2016
Political societies in decline: 25 Feb – 2 Mar
Lebanon travel restrictions: 19-24 Feb
Constitution celebrations: 11-18 Feb
Russia State visit: 4-10 Feb