Wrong governmental reactions to a just cause
Jasim Husain and Aabdulnabi Alekry
Social Watch Bahrain
The main goal of the mainstream opposition in Bahrain is to transform the country into a constitutional monarchy, much like those in Europe. Other goals include an elected government; a free press and active civil society; a more equitable distribution of wealth and an end to discrimination against religions other than the Sunni minority. Government opponents also seek the elimination of all forms of administrative and financial malpractice.1
However, instead of engaging with those expressing democratic wishes for a better future for all, the authorities reverted to numerous repressive measures, resulting in injuries and fatalities as well as the imprisonment of hundreds of activists including human rights defenders, religious figures and youths and the dismissal of thousands of Shia from their jobs. The state-sponsored Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report, released in November 2011, documented numerous cases of deliberate mistreatment of the majority Shia at the hands of the security apparatus.2
More importantly, during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) held in September 2012, the United Nations Human Rights Council imposed some 176 recommendations on the Bahrain government. Yet, from the onset, human rights defenders and organizations have raised doubts about the willingness of authorities in Bahrain to implement any of the recommendations.3
What can be done? Rightly or wrongly, many political activists in Bahrain look up to the US, the UK and the European Union to help promote democracy in their country.
Certainly, there is only one way forward for Bahrain, namely that of gathering all concerned parties around a series of roundtables designed to develop a fair, equitable and sustained solution. Any solution must take into account the interests of all local stakeholders, including both Shia and Sunni communities whilst not overlooking the concerns of expatriates living and working in the country, who presently constitute half of the population.
Undermining international standings
As suggested above, government reaction to the popular democratic movement caused other damages, undermining the country's image and rankings in international surveys and indices—particularly in comparison with the other countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), namely, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman. In particular, the use of force against political groups proved detrimental to the country's image.
For example, in July 2012, Standard and Poor’s, an international credit rating agency, found Bahrain's ratings constrained by "severe domestic political tensions, high geopolitical risks, stagnating real GDP per capita, and the fiscal dependency on sustained high oil prices."4 Consequently, S&P maintained its negative outlook for Bahrain, with no other GCC member state receiving a similar outlook.
True, the agency reaffirmed its long-term foreign and local currency sovereign credit ratings of (BBB), but this compares unfavourably with other GCC states. Both Saudi Arabia and Qatar enjoy an S&P rating of (AA-), as well as stable outlooks. The S&P International rating is one the variables GCC countries use in competing for business.
In addition, Bahrain saw its ranking drop three places to number 42 in Doing Business 2013, a joint report of the World Bank and International Finance Corporation that offers quantitative comparisons on business regulations and the protection of property rights in 185 economies with regards to small and medium enterprises.5 Increasingly, the SMEs are regarded internationally as the major sources of new employment opportunities.
Reviewed economies are ranked on the basis of their performance in 10 different variables, namely starting a business, dealing with construction permits, getting electricity, registering property, getting credit, protecting investors, paying taxes, trading across borders, enforcing contracts and resolving insolvency.
Unfortunately, the report recorded zero progress on reforms for Bahrain, reflecting across the board lack of reforms relating to socio-economic and socio-political matters. Other GCC countries fared better, namely Saudi Arabia (#22), the UAE (#26) and Qatar (#40).
Continuing the negative trend, the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2012-2013 ranks Bahrain the second least competitive economy within the GCC countries after Kuwait. Happily, Bahrain's ranking improved by two notches to reach number 35 globally, two notches above Kuwait which fell three notches to arrive at number 37, worldwide.6
The Global Competitiveness Index (GCI) ranks economies on the basis of their achievement in three broad categories, namely: basic requirements, efficiency enhancers and innovation and sophistication factors. In turn, the basic requirements category is subdivided into institutions, infrastructure, macroeconomic stability, health and primary education, while the efficiency enhancers category comprises higher education and training, goods and market efficiency, labour market efficiency, financial market sophistication, technological readiness and market size. The innovation and sophistication factors category comprises business sophistication and innovation.
The three categories together are used in the formation of the GCI. The index is developed by using publicly available data and World Economic Forum opinion surveys. Hundreds of business leaders are polled for the purpose of gathering data for the report. Sadly, Bahrain suffers from the image problem partly due to improper state practices and lack of initiatives.
In terms of broader development measures, Bahrain fell back three notches to number 42 among the 183 nations in the 2011 Human Development Report. This placed the country behind GCC countries Qatar and the UAE, which ranked at number 37 and number 30, respectively. Unlike Bahrain, both Qatar and the UAE moved up a single notch to arrive at their new positions.
The Human Development Index (HDI), an integral part of the report, is drawn up on the basis of three variables, namely: life expectancy at birth, education and income on a purchasing power parity or PPP basis. Among other things, the HDI listed Qatar as having the highest per capita income in the world, followed by Lichtenstein and the UAE, with Bahrain in a distant place, despite the country’s achievements related to education.7
In addition, Bahrain maintained its adverse performance in matters relating to freedom of expression, judged by the country's ranking Freedom in the World 2013, issued by the Washington-based Freedom House. Regrettably, the report considers Bahrain amongst countries experiencing worst downturn trends in the period 2009 to 2013.
A country is considered not free if it received between 5.5 to a maximum 7.0 points in the categories of political rights and civil liberties, on both of which Bahrain received 6 points, or not free. By comparison Kuwait is regarded as partly free, receiving 5 points in both categories.8
Prospects for achieving the MDGs are dim
It is not wrong to claim that certain activities carried out by the authorities in Bahrain since February 2011 run contrary to and in fact represent an affront to some of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), agreed by UN member states in 2000.9 Although Bahrain does not suffer from diseases such as malaria, and is not known to have troubles with maternal health, its widespread discriminatory practices against the majority Shia population also left it far from the goal of full and productive employment as well as that of promoting gender equality.
Traditionally, most Shia could not find jobs at security establishments, comprising military, guards, interior and intelligence departments, which together represent a key source of employment. In 2012 and in the aftermath of the democratic movement starting in February 2011, officials increased employment discrimination against Shia seeking government jobs, expanding restrictions to include general government departments dealing with information. Certainly, this is not to assert that Shia could not be hired in places like education and health, but undoubtedly with increasing difficulty. There is no simple explanation for the new adverse trend except that of punishing Shia for expressing their democratic wishes.
Thus, whilst many UN members are racing against the clock to achieve the MDGs by 2015, the same may not be true of Bahrain due to the ongoing stifling of dissent and the intensification of racial and anti-religious practices.
1. Geneive Abdo and Jasim Husain Ali, "Misunderstanding Bahrain's Shia protesters," 3 April 2011. Available at: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2011/03/201132982742988712.html.
2. Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), November 2011. Available at: http://www.bici.org.bh/BICIreportEN.pdf.
3. Human Rights First, “Bahrain's Pledge to Implement UPR Recommendations Met with Skepticism,” 19 September 2012. Available at: http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/2012/09/19/bahrain%E2%80%99s-pledge-to-implement-upr-recommendations-met-with-skepticism.
4. Reuters, “S&P affirms ratings on Bahrain at 'BBB'; outlook still negative,” 25 July 2012. Available at: http://in.reuters.com/article/2012/07/20/idINWLA060220120720.
5. The World Bank and International Finance Corporation, Doing Business 2013(10th ed.), Washington, DC 2013. Available at: http://www.doingbusiness.org/data/exploreeconomies/bahrainand at: http://issuu.com/world.bank.publications/docs/9780821396155?mode=embed&layout=http://skin.issuu.com/v/light/layout.xml&showFlipBtn=true.
6. World Economic Forum, Global Competitiveness Report 2012-2013, Geneva, 2012. Available at: http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GlobalCompetitivenessReport_2012-13.pdf.
7. UNDP, Human Development Report 2011, New York, 2011. Available at: http://hdr.undp.org/en/media/HDR_2011_EN_Complete.pdf.
8. Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2013, Washington, DC, January 2013. Available at: http://www.freedomhouse.org/sites/default/files/FIW%202013%20Booklet.pdf.
9. Millennium Development Goals Indicators (official UN site). Available at: http://mdgs.un.org/unsd/mdg/Default.aspx.