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Are things improving in Bahrain?

A Sunday 21 February article by the Guardian newspaper accuses Britain of “waging a behind-the-scenes PR offensive aimed at neutering United Nations criticism of Bahrain”. No doubt, many readers will be shaking their heads in distaste at the British Government’s behavior.

However, to do so misses the obvious question as to whether the criticism was justified in the first place. The article centres on the claim that British diplomats were arguing that things are improving in Bahrain. So, are things improving or not?

In terms of the security situation and the unrest, things have improved massively. Even on the biggest day for the opposition in the year – 14 February, the anniversary of the unrest – only a handful of rioters turned out to throw Molotovs at police. For majority of Bahrainis, the unrest is a dim and distant memory – we have lots of more pressing issues which concern us.

Regarding the human rights situation and the reform process, things are also very different from 2011. The independent Ombudsman is investigating all complaints with regard to the police and the security services; there are numerous new institutions and departments concerned with the human rights issue and over the past couple of years there have been no significant casualties as a result of the unrest.

Although the economy – and particularly the public sector – is somewhat squeezed by the global plunge in oil revenues, life is very much back to normal for Bahrainis and there has been a lot of progress in addressing issues which pose a grievance, such as housing provision, employment and health services.

So by all criteria, the claim that things are getting better in Bahrain in terms of reform, human rights and security is manifestly correct. The UN was right to bear these points in mind when addressing the situation in Bahrain and the reported British position on this issue was fair.

In fact, the British Embassy has been an important interlocutor in encouraging reform in Bahrain, such as providing training for the judicial system and initiatives to improve prison conditions. If the Guardian wanted to be fair-minded in its coverage of Bahrain, then this important work would be recognized and praised.

However, time and time again, initiatives for promoting reform and human rights institutions are either ignored or written off as window dressing.

Reform – not revolution is the only feasible path for Bahrain. The sooner the international media and others around the world recognize this reality and lend their support and solidarity to those entities seeking progress in order to promote and empower them, the better.

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