Banning music & Halloween
Despite being the first normal sitting after the summer break (last week was taken up with voting on committee chairmanships), this week’s Parliament session appeared relatively light on content. The major order of business was agreeing a number of international agreements between Arab states for repatriating foreign prisoners and combatting cross-border international crime.
A substantive amount of time was taken up by a proposal by Islamist MPs for banning “parties” involving “dancing and singing” organized by the Culture Authority; as well as Halloween parties “out of respect for the crises which the nations of Yemen, Iraq and Syria are going through”.
Salafist MP Abdulhalim Murad said: “Every day as we drive to work we see announcements for parties and dancing while our brothers in Yemen and our kin in Iraq and Syria are suffering… We hope that there will be a directive from our political leadership to stop these parties, so that Bahrain can enjoy the blessing of security and peace of mind.”
Mohammed al-Ammadi declared: “We are angered by announcements for Halloween parties… they used to conduct such corrupt activities in secret, now they announce it. I call on deputies to stand against such corruption… This is a farce. Where are our morals and religion? They have their churches and temples, let them go and celebrate in there.”
Sunni cleric Nabil al-Balooshi said: “These unholy low-lives would have been thrown out of many states, but Bahrain welcomes them… This is an abuse against our country, because when evil comes, it falls upon us all. This corrupts our boys and girls.”
Several MPs also reacted negatively to the Government’s rejection of a proposal to make music classes in schools voluntary. The Government’s response was that musical studies are part of children’s holistic and cultural education.
Mohsin al-Bakri exclaimed that it was if the Government believed that children could not live without studying this subject. Jamal Dawoud said that students’ time would be better spent studying peace and national unity, not playing musical instruments and “dancing ballet”.
Cleric Anas Buhindi said that studying music was “destructive to students” and played no constructive role in their upbringing; “music is one of the matters which angers the great and almighty God. This nation is being deprived of many of its blessings because of such scourges”.
The Culture and Tourism Authority, which had been the main object of MPs’ attacks responded in a statement that MP’s comments were “full of mistakes”. The Authority noted that it has never hosted any Halloween party and the kind of adverts referred to entirely related to private sector events which the Culture Authority had no involvement in.
The Authority noted the obligations enshrined in the Constitution to support the arts and cultural activity, while highlighting the $100 million dollars of sponsorship secured from the private sector in recent years for hosting arts events. The Culture Authority also praised the Government’s response to MPs, pledging to continue teaching music and the arts as a central pillar of children’s education.
It should be noted that the Culture Authority has been the continuing target of attacks by Islamist MPs. Bahrain’s annual Spring of Culture – the Culture Authority’s national showcase – in particular has regularly been opposed and obstructed by conservative parliamentarians with a narrow and restrictive vision of what cultural activities should encompass.
Joint agreement with UK against organized crime
This week Public Prosecutor Dr. Ali Fadhel al-Buainain and British Crown Prosecution Office Director Alison Sanders signed an agreement for information sharing to combat terrorism, organized crime and human trafficking.
Al-Buainain noted that the agreement, as well as addressing corruption, trafficking and organized crime would address the smuggling of “weapons, ammunition and explosives and conspiring with foreign states”.
It was also announced that this agreement would result in an increase in UK-based training programmes on human rights for Bahraini prosecution officials.
This announcement came shortly before the King of Bahrain arrived in Great Britain for meetings with the Prime Minister and other senior figures.
Shura Council committees
It was the Shura Council’s turn this week to vote on chairmanship positions for its five Permanent Committees. In the event, four incumbent chairpeople were unanimously agreed on without taking a vote; with only Khaled al-Musallam replacing Dr. Abdulaziz al-Ajman for the Defence and Foreign Affairs Committee, with Mohammed al-Khazaei appointed as deputy. The media described the process as quiet and good-natured, in marked contrast to the more fraught process in the Council of Representatives.
The continuing heads of committees are as follows:
· Finance Committee: Khaled al-Maskati Chairman; Dr. Abdulaziz Abul Deputy.
· Legal Committee: Dalal al-Zayed Chairwoman; Khamis al-Rumaihi Deputy.
· Services Committee: Jihad al-Fadhel Chairwoman; Nawar al-Mahmoud Deputy.
· Public Utilities Committee: Fuad al-Haji Chairman; Jumaa al-Kaabi Deputy.
The Shura Council also went ahead and voted for chairmanship positions for the smaller committees: Ahmed al-Haddad remained Chairman of the Human Rights Committee, with Darwish al-Mannai as his deputy; Hala Ramzi remains Chairwoman of the Women and Children’s Committee, deputized by Fatima al-Kooheji; Bassam Al Binmohammed is to be Chairman of the Youth Committee, with Sawsan Taqawi as his deputy.
Dropping demand for elected government
In an extensive interview with Al-Wasat newspaper on 23 October, Secretary-General of the left-wing pro-opposition society Waad Radhi al-Mousawi caused a stir by declaring that “an elected government is not suitable for Bahrain at the current time”. He said that the issue of an elected government shouldn’t be seen by Waad as a priority; and rather the organization should concentrate on other issues such as greater powers for the legislative branch of government and demanding proportional representation for the election of MPs.
In the space of 24 hours, this interview had created such a storm among segments of the opposition and Waad’s membership that Al-Mousawi resorted to issuing a further statement to Al-Wasat, declaring that Waad hadn’t formally discussed this issue and that the society’s actual position hadn’t changed. However, he said that it was his belief that at the current time the priority should be establishing “civil peace, social stability, national unity and cooling down the security situation…”
Week in politics
Parliament blocs fail to win posts: 14 – 19 Oct 2016
Clerics barred from politics: 12 – 18 May 2016
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 2016
Lebanon travel restrictions: 19-24 Feb 2016
Constitution celebrations: 11-18 Feb 2016
Russia State visit: 4-10 Feb 2016
Raising the debt ceiling – again: 3 – 9 Dec 2015
Combatting terrorism: 26 Nov – 2 Dec 2015
Clash over debt law: 12 – 18 Nov 2015
Tattoos & sorcery: 5 – 11 Nov 2015
Raising meat payments: 30 Oct – 4 Nov 2015
Anger over subsidies: 22 – 29 Oct 2015
New political alliances: 15 – 21 Oct 2015
A new beginning: 8 – 14 Oct 2015
Links to other Citizens for Bahrain parliamentary publications