The interrelationship between politics and religion has been a key theme once again this week, after the Shura Council struck down a proposal by elected MPs which would have forced certain Government departments to use Islamic banking.
Last week’s CEDAW vote also continued to have ramifications, after Islamic and conservative MPs who had opposed this women’s rights bill resigned from the Women’s Committee – for the first time ever leaving a parliamentary committee with zero members.
This weekly report also looks at a new list of terrorist organizations issued by the Cabinet; and reviews dramatic scenes at an annual meeting for the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce following the Chairman’s surprise resignation.
Finally the report analyzes newly-released account statements by political societies, showing a sharp drop in income for societies across the political spectrum.
Obligatory Islamic banking proposal blocked
The appointed Shura Council again found itself at odds with the elected Council of Representatives as these two chambers of the Bahrain Parliament failed to agree on proposed clauses in legislation stipulating the use of Islamic banking.
The disagreement arose over a bill regarding legislation for the Public Authority for Social Security (PASS). The elected house had previously inserted the clause, which is in line with a number of proposals from the Council of Representatives for Islamicizing finance.
Several Shura MPs argued that the additional clause was unnecessary, firstly because PASS wasn’t qualified to make such distinctions about the Islamic nature of its investments, and secondly because there were also several authorities mandated to ensure appropriate investment activity, such as the Financial Audit Bureau.
Second-Deputy Chairwoman of the Shura Council, Jamila Salman said: “We cannot limit the PASS’s investments to Shari’ah-compliant activities because this domain of investment is too restrictive. Limiting it to Islamic banks is unjust for conventional banks. We have a free economy”.
Shura MP Dalal al-Zayed also warned that this could set a problematic precedent to future laws, which would complicate investments. She criticized elected MPs for failing to consult more widely before trying to enforce such a step.
Chairman of the Shura Council, Ali al-Saleh warned that such an amendment could lead to “shutting the conventional banks and destroying everything we have worked towards for decades… According to the Constitution, Islamic Shari’ah is a primary source for legislation. However, there are other sources which can be drawn from”.
The Shura Council will have further annoyed the elected chamber by rejecting their proposal obligating the Government to respond to parliamentary proposals within a set time limit. The Parliament Minister argued during the session that such a law infringed on the right of Government to prioritize its own activity.
The Shura Chairman observed that such a law could force ministers to reject all proposals, because a six month time limit wouldn’t allow time to include these initiatives in the Budget.
Citizens for Bahrain viewpoint:
The conservative middle ground in Parliament has shown itself to be easily influenced by the Islamist fringe; last week rejecting CEDAW (see below) and this week drawing criticism from the Shura Council for Islamicizing legislation. There is nothing wrong with desiring compliance with Islamic teachings, but our MPs give little thought to the consequences.
Forcing the public sector to use Islamic banking would severely undermine Bahrain’s conventional banking sector, which is the rock that much of our private sector depends on for encouraging investment, business and commerce. Our MPs must always first consider what is good for Bahrain.
All change in the Women’s Committee
Just a couple of days after Citizens for Bahrain argued that the only solution for the parliamentary Women’s Committee was for the committee to be dissolved and reformed – all the remaining members of this Committee resigned en masse!
The Committee, which was dominated by Islamist figures, had made a failed attempt to persuade MPs to reject the CEDAW bill (concerning enhanced implementation of the UN’s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women).
The resigning members – who had been preceded by former Chairwomen of the Committee, Rua al-Haiki – complained that the Parliament Chairman Ahmed al-Mulla had undermined the Committee by forcing a vote on CEDAW after numerous delays. Their resignation letter also complained that MP Khaled al-Shaer had accused them of taking bribes from the anti-CEDAW camp.
Also as recommended by Citizens for Bahrain, Jamila al-Sammak is being touted as the most likely replacement as Chairwoman of the Committee. Al-Sammak had headed the Committee for a full year, until she was forced out by Al-Haiki and a number of her Islamist allies.
Also in the frame for inclusion within this committee is Jalal al-Mahfoudh, a moderate Shia MP who voted in favour of CEDAW and has tended to be one of the most effective and pragmatic young voices in Parliament. Finally, Sunni cleric Jamal Buhassan has signaled his intention to join. Despite voting against CEDAW, Buhassan has tended to be a conciliatory presence in the Parliament. Along with Al-Sammak and Al-Mahfoudh, he is also a member of the Participation Bloc. The Participation Bloc is the only grouping with moth Sunni and Shia MPs and has tended to be the most moderate and progressive force in Parliament, so the dominance of this grouping after the resignation of the Salafists is a very good thing.
List of terrorist groupings
Bahrain’s Cabinet this week unveiled a list of 68 terrorist organizations, foremost of which was the previously-designated Hezbollah. However, well known terrorist entities from Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Libya and other parts of the Muslim world are also prominent.
Finally, several opposition terrorist groups, like Al-Ashtar Brigades, the 14 Feb Coalition and the Resistance Brigades are also included.
Chaos in the Chamber of Commerce
The last two weeks have seen a confusing series of events surrounding the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The 7 April annual general meeting dissolved into chaotic scenes as large numbers of attendees loudly called for the Chairman, Khaled al-Moayyed, to withdraw his resignation. The Chairman resigned following a difficult process of reshuffling the board of directors the previous week. The confusion at the annual meeting was contributed to by the failure of Al-Moayyed to attend and clarify his own position.
Former board member Samih Bin-Rajab told the media: “This meeting is illegal and the present board has hijacked the BCCI executive committee… We have documents proving the corruption and irregularities of this board and our chairman is still Mr. Moayyed”.
Support for CEDAW
Efforts over the past six months to get the CEDAW bill through Parliament were distinguished by a lack of supportive voices in the media, in Parliament and across the wider society. However as soon as the motion was passed, numerous voices spoke out this week praising the benefits of this legislation for Bahrain.
The Institute for Political Development responded to queries on the issue saying that the new legislation “does not entail any new obligations on Bahrain. The Justice Minister – who was the main advocate of CEDAW during last Tuesday’s vote – said in a statement that CEDAW enhances compliance with Shari’ah and embeds the tolerant traditions of Islamic culture within Bahraini law.
The Supreme Council for Women in a front page statement in Al-Ayam newspaper said that the CEDAW amendments put Bahrain more closely in line with both the tenets of Islamic law and the aspirations of the Constitution.
A group of lawyers and MPs issued a statement condemning the “unjustified attacks” against CEDAW in the days leading up to the vote. Interestingly, MP Isa Turki was one of these figures. He is the Chairman of the parliamentary National Accord Bloc, all of whom except Turki opposed CEDAW, several of whom were highly outspoken in their opposition.
The CEDAW bill is now to be reviewed by the Shura Council. Several Shura MPs were very quick to come out and signal that they would support CEDAW. In the Shura Council where the Salafist Adel al-Moawdeh is a lone Islamist voice, it is unlikely that CEDAW will face substantive opposition, making the bill’s ultimate ratification a near certainty.
An important lesson we must learn from the CEDAW experience is that during the course of such vital legislation, moderate and progressive voices must be mobilized well in advance, in order to argue the case for the legislation and influence public opinion. Although the Bahrain Women’s Union and Citizens for Bahrain continued to campaign in favour of CEDAW over this period, Islamist voices were easily able to sway public opinion against CEDAW by making dishonest claims about what was at stake.
Parliament activity: WiFi, petrol prices and municipal wages
The 12 April parliamentary session covered a broad range of issues. MPs supported a motion for making WiFi available throughout Bahrain; they also voted in favour of petitioning the Government to increase the wages of municipal councilors. The Energy Minister was questioned about the impact of petrol subsidy cuts. He reported that sales of the lower grade of petrol (jayyid) had increased from 35% – 55% vis-à-vis the higher grade (mumtaz). Majid al-Asfour and other MPs called on the Ministry to do more to support lower income families who were impacted by the sharp price rises.
MPs also approved a proposal for establishing a Ministry of Planning, despite protestations that such a proposal was unconstitutional and only the King had the right to make such a proposal.
Political societies declare their finances
Several prominent political societies recently published statements of their accounts this week. This demonstrates a consistent pattern across all societies of sharply falling levels of membership fees and donations. This plunge in revenue and support is clear for both loyalist and opposition societies. For example, Al-Wefaq’s membership fees receipts fell from BD 3,102 in 2014, to just BD 142 in 2015.
Likewise, some loyalist groups reported donations and membership fees falling away to almost nothing, leaving them almost entirely reliant on mandatory payments from the Justice Ministry. Many of these payments were delayed several months over the past year, and in the case of five opposition groups, it was reported this week that they hadn’t received any Justice Ministry payments since 2011. Fourteen active political societies are reported to have benefitted from a total of BD 132,000 of Justice Ministry payments in 2015.
Pro-Muslim Brotherhood Al-Minbar Society, in 2015 received BD 37,656 as a mixture of Justice Ministry payments, parliamentary stipends, donations and just BD 700 in membership fees.
The Islamic Shura Society registered receipts at a very similar level to Al-Minbar at BD 35,942. However, while Al-Minbar spent BD 40,239 on its staff and admin costs; Islamic Shura only spent BD 2,950 throughout the whole year. Islamic Saff also received 33,585, while just spending 5,485. The reason for this may be that until very recently Al-Saff and other societies were complaining that they still hadn’t received their Justice Ministry payments, particularly as Al-Saff only gained a tiny BD 70 in membership fees.
The Salafist Al-Asalah Society relied entirely on the BD 21,625 which it received from the Government. This society seems to have failed to receive any donations or membership fees. The opposition society, Al-Tajammu al-Qawmi, revealed that its bank accounts were BD 5,475 in deficit after only receiving BD 6,676 as net income last year.
Leading Islamist opposition society Al-Wefaq recorded receiving BD 63,823 in donations, while membership fees had plunged to BD 142 in 2015. Its largest asset was recorded as BD 84,000, which is its mandatory funding from the Justice Ministry. However, the following day the Justice Ministry published its own payments to political societies, showing that Al-Wefaq and four other opposition groupings hadn’t actually received any of these payments since 2011.
The National Unity Gathering a couple of months ago also published its accounts. The documents showed a 90% drop in donations between 2014 (BD 463,000) and 2015 (BD 44,610). The organization only recorded BD 2,580 in membership subscription renewals for the period, along with a halving of the Ministry of Justice allowance to BD 10,500.
Bahrain’s political societies
Below is a list of the 19 active and registered political societies in Bahrain. For a detailed report about all of these societies, see the link here.
The six below political societies are part of the Al-Fateh Coalition, made up of a group of loyalist societies which came together in 2011 to make a stand against the activities of the opposition. Al-Asalah left Al-Fateh in 2013 and Al-Wasat in 2014 suspended its membership.
Al-Minbar al-Watani al-Islami (Islamic League)
National Unity Gathering (Tajammu al-Wahdah al-Wataniyah)
National Action Charter Society (Mithaq al-Amal al-Watani)
Islamic Shura Society
National Dialogue Society (Al-Hiwar al-Watani)
National Constitutional Assembly (Al-Tajammu al-Watani al-Dusturi)
Non-Al-Fateh political societies
These eight independent societies have also benefitted from Justice Ministry funding:
Islamic League (Al-Rabitah al-Islamiyah)
Progressive Democratic League (Al-Minbar al-Dimuqrati al-Taqaddumi)
Islamic Saff Society
Free Thought Society (Al-Fikr al-Hurr)
National Justice Movement (Harikat al-Adalah al-Wataniyah)
National Will for Change Society (Al-Iradah wa al-Taghiyr al-Wataniyah)
Opposition political societies
These five groupings have not been receiving Justice Ministry funding since 2011, following their boycott of the political process:
Al-Wefaq Islamic Society
Wa’ad (National Democratic Action Society)
National Democratic Assembly (Al-Tajammu al-Qawmi al-Dimuqrati)
Unitary National Democratic Assembly (Al-Tajammu al-Wahdawi al-Watani al-Dimuqrati)
Brotherhood Society (Al-Ikha)
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