20-27 April 2016
This week, a major theme in the media was regional diplomacy following a visit to Bahrain by the King of Morocco and King Hamad’s own visit to Egypt.
The Shura Council approved the CEDAW bill, after a three hour debate in which most Shura MPs agreed that the legislation was the right decision for the empowerment of Bahraini women.
Throughout the week a major subject of discussion has been formal complaints lodged by Parliament against specific social media accounts which were considered to be abusive and libelous, many of the concerned tweets were attacking MPs for approving the CEDAW legislation.
Legal steps against abusive tweets
Parliament Chairman Ahmed al-Mulla, after the 20 April weekly meeting of the Parliament Bureau, filed a series of legal complaints against social media accounts which had allegedly used offensive language against MPs.
The escalation in social media attacks followed Parliament’s 5 April approval of the bill for modifying implementation of the UN’s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). There had been a frenzied campaign by Islamists against the legislation in the days before the vote; and in the days after it several social media accounts strongly attacked those MPs who had voted in favour of CEDAW.
Salafist MP Abdulhalim Murad, Parliament’s Second Deputy Chairman, missed the Bureau meeting. However, Murad attacked Al-Mulla’s decision to resort to legal measures, claiming that he opposed filing complaints against citizens (despite Murad himself having filed at least one such legal complaint in the past). Other Islamist MPs like Anas Buhindi also criticized the move and called for the complaints to be withdrawn.
First Deputy Chairman Ali al-Aradi said Murad should respect the Parliament Bureau’s decision. Al-Aradi observed that “all the voices which defended [the offensive tweets] came from a single political society and are trying to vindicate those who abused and insulted MPs, using libelous language”. Al-Aradi observed that both MPs and some Government officials had participated in this hostile campaign.
Several other MPs, such as Hamad al-Dossary, head of the National Participation Bloc, also supported Chairman Al-Mulla in taking these measures. The usually media-shy MP Abbas al-Madhi in a statement strongly criticized Murad, saying “there is a vicious and organized electronic campaign against the Council of Representatives from well-known sources”. He said that there must be a unified response to attempts to “hijack the reform process for factional objectives”.
MP Mohammed al-Jowder said that “freedom of expression was not a license for insults and slander”. Adel al-Asoumi complained: “They’ve attacked our families using the most offensive abuse… Those who support this behaviour do not deserve our respect.”
MP Khaled al-Shaer – who is already the subject of several complaints resulting from his own strong language in Parliament sessions (see below) – predictably went further than his colleagues and pointed his finger at the previous Parliament Secretariat-General for appointing 110 Parliament officials “for partisan goals” who “don’t have any work or even a job title”. He added “marginalization and discrimination in Parliament isn’t because of the State… but because of extremist Sunni Islamist societies who dominated Parliament for 12 years”.
Al-Watan newspaper on 24 April published a very extensive report on these social media attacks. It published several tweets (with the account names hidden) which the newspaper claimed were from Government officials, several of which attacked elected MPs. For example, one tweet said: “If the people’s Parliament is against the people; then its abolition is in the people’s interest”.
This led to a statement after the weekly Cabinet meeting on 25 April which stressed that tweets from Government employees did not reflect the views of the Government.
CEDAW passes in the Shura Council
In sharp contradiction to the chaotic and stormy debate on the CEDAW bill in the Council of Representatives two weeks previously, the bill passed very smoothly through the Shura Council on 24 April; with only one MP (Adel al-Moawdeh from the Salafist Al-Asalah Society) voting against.
Most MPs recognized that the legislation was essentially a rewording of previous reservations concerning the CEDAW Convention and that approval would not radically affect the status quo.
MP Jihad al-Fadhel said: “The draft bill represents a qualitative step in the status of Bahraini women. However, regrettably we have seen a lot of confusion in previous weeks… There were those seeking to mislead public opinion. Their rejection is an indication of their lack of awareness… Did those who led these attacks actually know anything about the bill?”
Second Deputy Chairwoman Jamila Salman criticized the failure to raise public awareness about the legislation prior to the bill. She praised the Justice Minister’s defence of CEDAW in a television interview after the Council of Representatives vote, but said that this was too little, too late.
Shaikh Jawad Hussein (who eventually abstained) warned that the bill risked removing the “sovereignty of the husband over his wife and the father over his daughters”. He said that he was astonished that other Shura MPs could claim that the bill did not contradict Islamic law. However the Parliament Minister Ghanem al-Buaynayn responded that existing reservations stipulating the need for compatibility with Islamic law would remain.
Women’s Committee resignations rejected
As previously reported, the Women’s Committee resigned en masse after the CEDAW bill passed despite their strong opposition. These included Chairwoman Rua al-Haiki and Islamist/conservative MPs Anas Buhindi, Jamal Dawoud and Muhsin al-Bakri. They had objected to Parliament Chairman Al-Mulla’s forcing of a vote on the bill, and they lodged further complaints after MP Khaled al-Shaer strongly attacked the Committee and allegedly accused them of being biased and taking bribes from CEDAW opponents.
Former members Fatima al-Asfour and Jamila al-Sammak (former chairwoman) also resigned in the weeks after Rua al-Haiki gained the chairwoman role with the support of Islamist MPs. So acceptance of the latter four resignations would leave the Committee without any MPs.
However, during the 26 April Parliament session MPs voted to reject the resignations. This leaves the Committee in a strange position. If MPs fail to attend their committee sessions, their pay will be docked. However, as Citizens for Bahrain has previously argued; following the CEDAW vote, the Committee and its Chairwoman have lost much of their credibility and the fact that Islamist MPs (some of whom disagree with women’s involvement in politics in principle) are put in the position of legislating on women’s issues creates an unhealthy situation.
It was announced this week that Al-Shaer’s comments would be the subject of an investigation by a special committee commissioned by the Parliament Bureau. Both Al-Shaer and his opponents contested this approach, arguing that such a complaint should be handled by the Legal Committee. However, Al-Mulla pointed out that given that Al-Shaer and at least two of those making complaints against him were members of the Legal Committee, an alternative approach was more appropriate.
Naturalization employment restrictions rejected
On 26 April a majority of elected MPs voted against a proposal preventing recently-naturalized Bahrainis for engaging in public sector work until after ten years from their naturalization.
Ali al-Atish, Chairman of the Legal Committee, supported the proposal, saying that many countries had such stipulations for reasons of national security. MP Adel Bin-Hamid also spoke in support.
However, Education Minister Majid al-Noaimi said the proposal was unconstitutional because it discriminated between citizens. Several other MPs argued the same point.
In reference to naturalized police personnel, Muhsin al-Bakri argued that “those who obtained citizenship sacrificed themselves for the sake of this nation. Their blood has stained the soil of this country. All those martyrs who were killed in Bahrain would have been prohibited from serving by this legislation… this bill is calculated to sow discord”.
On the issue of national loyalty, Abdulhalim Murad angrily banged his hand on his desk saying: Who caused the problems in 2011. Who blocked the doors of Salmaniyah Hospital?”
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