February 14 marks the day 98.4% of Bahrainis voted for a referendum to the constitution in 2001 giving more freedom to citizens in a major step towards democratizing the country. It also marks the anniversary of the unrest in 2011, hence making it a day that many view as a turning point in the history of Bahrain, both in 2001 and 2011.
Today, Bahrain is moving forward despite the challenges it is facing as a result of political and economic instabilities. Major steps have been taken towards the implementation of reforms in different sectors. Many fail to see the progress made by Bahrain in addressing people’s concerns due to the failure of political dialogue and what many others describe as a crackdown on protests and political movements. However, the country is for the most part remarkably peaceful and stable; and moving in the right direction.
During the past year, the country faced many challenges on the political scene. The closing down of Al-Wefaq Islamic Society following accusations of sectarian incitement, has transformed the political atmosphere. Al-Wefaq’s failure to engage in dialogue and to participate in the 2014 parliamentary elections, led to it becoming an irrelevant institution that has repeatedly lost opportunities to be a major player in Bahraini politics.
Al Wefaq lost its support base with many of its constituents blaming it for its rejectionist behaviour and others being radicalized by extremist groups. The liberal wing of the opposition which does not enjoy strong support represented by the National Democratic Action Society is today taking the lead in in the opposition coalition due the dissolution of Al-Wefaq. The current situation has led the opposition into a complete failure of engagement with the public and the government, while increasing sectarian divisions.
Another major issue on the political scene was revoking the citizenship of Shia cleric and godfather of Al Wefaq Islamic Society Ayatollah Isa Qassim who is charged with illegally handling funds. While many within the opposition camp viewed this as an irresponsible step by the government that has doomed any possibility for dialogue others see it as a step in the right direction as no one should be untouchable or above the law.
On 22nd May 2016, Bahrain’s parliament approved a law which prevents serving clerics from being members of political societies and from having any kind of involvement in political activities. This is considered a great step towards separating religion from politics and further promoting democracy in the country. Mixing religion with politics has been a main barrier to attaining any form of democracy in the region. In the case of Bahrain, the involvement of religion with Al-Wefaq Islamic society taking the lead in the protest movement, the unrest took a sectarian turn and hence failed to be viewed as a legitimate movement towards reform by a huge segment of the society. On the other hand the political activities of Sunni clerics were also starting to be a threat to coexistence and democracy in Bahrain.
The overall atmosphere in Bahrain ahead of Feb 14, does seems tense due to recent terrorist activities that include the shooting of a policeman, fugitives attacking a policeman escaping from prison and being captured at sea on their way to Iran and the execution of three terrorists.
However, Bahrain is heading towards a period of more concentration on economic stability for its people as citizens are looking forward towards enhancing their lives now more than ever in line with the regional challenges. Bahrainis seem to care less about what goes on between the government and opposition while focusing more on the betterment of their lives and their society.