Support for Shia Family Law: A week in politics
27 Oct – 2 Nov
Seven years after opposition MPs blocked legislative efforts towards a Family Law for the Shia community (in the end only a Sunni law was passed); leading figures are once again prioritizing a revised Shia law.
The Justice Minister has spoken about the importance of these measures for protecting women and families on more than one occasion in recent weeks. At the National Conference for Bahraini Women on 1 November, the Family Law was also a central issue.
The King’s wife and President of the Supreme Council for Women (SCW), Princess Sabeeka in her opening comments at this Conference stressed the necessity of accelerated efforts to issue a law for the protection of Shia families. She also called for stand-alone court buildings to fast-track family law cases.
Head of the Sunni High Court Hamad al-Dossary argued that the Family Law provisions in no way affected the criteria of Shari’ah law. He noted that Shia judges were well-acquainted and impressed by the achievements of the Sunni courts in this field. During the Conference many speakers emphasized the need to avoid politicizing this issue.
A major theme for the Conference was women in the judicial field. SCW Secretary-General Hala al-Ansari noted Bahrain’s achievement in 55% of lawyers being female and 35% of senior posts in the Justice Ministry being held by women.
National debt warning
The Shura Council Finance Committee on 27 October warned that increases in the national debt could put Bahrain’s Vision 2030 economic goals at risk. The Committee demanded greater oversight and stressed the need for a strategic plan to manage spending and borrowing. This came in the Committee’s conclusions regarding the closing budget for the 2014 financial year, which on 30 October was approved by the Shura Council as a whole.
During the Shura Council debate, Dalal al-Zayid said that the statistics in this report demonstrated that demands by the elected chamber for a 20% rise in public sector wages were unrealistic. She called for greater honesty with the public and noted that it was unfortunate that the Shura Council was repeatedly put in the position of rejecting demands by the elected chamber for spending increases.
Finance Committee Chairman Khaled al-Maskati complained that if the Shura Council only received the 2014 closing budget statement from the Council of Representatives in early 2016, how were Shura members expected to be an effective check on current spending?
The Finance Minister told Shura MPs that the Government had succeeded in reducing its dependence on oil from 86% to 78% of its revenues, with the Government looking at initiatives for further diversification of its income.
Confrontations between leading MPs
An unexpected confrontation arose this week between Parliament Chairman Ahmed al-Mulla and Defence Committee Chairman Abdullah Bin-Huwail, culminating in Bin-Huwail being thrown out of one meeting and departing the weekly Parliament session to lodge a formal complaint against Al-Mulla at the nearest police station.
The dispute arose during the weekly Administration Bureau meeting when Bin-Huwail accused Al-Mulla of favouring certain MPs for overseas travel. Al-Mulla denied this and said that MPs travelled according to their specializations according to a system which was fair and transparent. The argument descended into a blazing row in which Bin-Huwail was eventually thrown out of the meeting by Al-Mulla.
Bin-Huwail later told the GDN: “I am outspoken about the issue because there are some MPs who get 20 trips a year while some get two… What he said surpasses diplomacy as a parliamentarian and can only be addressed by the police.”
In a statement reported by Al-Wasat newspaper, Bin-Huwail said that the accusations made against him during the meeting were “lies”; including the claim that Bin-Huwail reportedly used “racist” language, and demanded three additional support staff, first class plane travel and conveyance for his family to and from the airport. Bin-Huwail said that being Parliament Chairman didn’t give Al-Mulla the right to use “abusive” and “defamatory” language against his colleagues.
Al-Mulla during the Bureau session accused Bin-Huwail of failing to regularly attend parliamentary sessions and committee meetings. If we look at the weekly attendance record for 2015-16 there is a degree of truth to this, with Bin-Huwail having by far the highest absence record of any MP: 12 absences, eight of which were unexplained (the next most regular absentees were Isa Turki with 8 absences and Majid al-Majid with 7), although notably none of Bin-Huwail’s absences were for overseas trips.
For the 2015-16 Parliament season Bin-Huwail only tabled one question for ministers and only sponsored eight proposals (both private bills and changes in the law); making him by far one of the least active MPs against this criteria.
A source told Al-Watan newspaper that Bin-Huwail had failed to attend around 70% of Defence Committee meetings “most of these without acceptable reasons”. However, this begs the question as to why the Defence Committee members have elected him as Chairman three times running!
Prior to the November 2014 parliamentary elections, constituency boundary changes initially threw these two incumbent MPs – Al-Mulla and Bin-Huwail – into a head-to-head competition for the same 7th Southern constituency. This was avoided after Ahmed al-Mulla moved his campaign to the 10th Southern constituency (vacated by Bahrain’s first woman MP Latifa al-Gaoud), which he won without facing a serious challenge (834 votes, versus 204 to his rival in this under-populated constituency of only 2,368 registered voters). Bin-Huwail won the 7th Southern constituency in a second round run-off (3,540 votes, versus 2,432).
These two figures however, were immediately thrown into a new competition against each other when they both put their names forward for the Parliament Chairman post in December 2014. Al-Mulla won with 27 votes against 13 votes. Bin-Huwail with apparent ease won the selection to be Chairman of the Defence and Foreign Affairs Committee for three years running since December 2014.
As a result of the senior position of both figures, they occupy seats in the Parliament Administration Bureau which determines the Council of Representatives’ weekly business. Despite this continued close contact, this is the first time that any dispute between the two men has erupted so publically.
Other parliamentary disputes
Furthermore, during the 1 November weekly Parliament session, which was primarily devoted to discussing proposed new fees for property developers, Salafist MP Anas Buhindi caused chaos when he refused to be silenced by Chairman Al-Mulla.
Buhindi has disturbed multiple Parliament sessions demanding that action be taken regarding an alleged insult made against him by Parliament Secretary-General Abdullah al-Dossary back in February. Buhindi continued to scream and shout for several minutes even after his microphone was turned off.
Regarding the property developments law, MPs claimed that 21 of them (out of 40) voted against the measure, voiding the proposed law. However, lawyers argued that only 20 MPs voted against, meaning that the bill was passed. The decree was actually enshrined into law earlier in the year.
Works Minister Essam Khalaf argued that the tariffs were lower than in other regional states and that the fees incurred on undeveloped land had a positive effect on encouraging infrastructure projects to push ahead. The Minister noted a 43% rise in construction sector investments for the first nine months of this year; amounting to 225 new investment projects worth BD 1.4 million.
Week in politics
Islamist MPs call for music ban: 20-26 Oct 2016
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