Militancy in Bahrain Part 2: Evolution - 1990-2011

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"We must use all resources to hold accountable those who place themselves above other ordinary human beings who claim they have divine right to rule. These are people who try to govern us, here on earth, and in the hereafter. We are not only fighting terrorists, we are fighting theocrats;” HRH Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Crown Prince

Series introduction

The 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran radicalized militants in Bahrain and across the Arab world, culminating in a Tehran-sponsored failed coup in Bahrain in 1981.

These developments were discussed in the first part of this series:  Militancy in Bahrain: Beginnings – 1950-1990; which can be found via this link.

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Series introduction

Militant groups first began to emerge in Bahrain around the time of independence in 1971. Many were galvanized by the radicalizing effects of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. This first phase of militancy culminated in a Tehran-sponsored failed coup in Bahrain in 1981, which some observers saw as an attempt to abort the new Gulf Cooperation Council that had only been announced a few months before. 

Militants embarked on a period of unrest during the 1990s which only came to a definitive end with the ascendance to the throne of King Hamad in 1999 and his amnesty for releasing political detainees and allowing exiles to return. King Hamad's new Constitution ushered in a system based on Constitutional Monarchy and parliamentary politics.

Between 2001 and 2006, militants and moderates within the opposition achieved a fragile consensus. However, Al-Wefaq Islamic Society’s participation in the 2006 elections caused its most radical elements to secede and sowed the seeds for renewed militancy which would come to fruition after 2011. Later segments of this publication will also look at Sunni militancy and Islamist tendencies, although these currents have less of a coherent and politically-significant history than Shia militancy in Bahrain.

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Once again Bahrain’s Shura Council has been the starting point for progressive and transformative legislation for the betterment of all Bahrainis. The government has been reviewing a proposal from Shura MPs for a unified Family Law which will ensure that both Shia and Sunni women and families have equal rights before the law. This is part of a pattern of forward-looking initiatives from the Shura Council over recent months, such as the legislation for preventing serving clerics from participation in politics which began as a Shura Council proposal; and proposed amendments to the law for protecting victims of rape.

From time to time the question is raised as to why a small country like Bahrain requires a two-chamber Parliament. Ever since Parliament was established through King Hamad’s 2002 National Action Charter, elements of the opposition sought to abolish the second chamber, based on the argument that legislative power should be solely in the hands of elected MPs in the Council of Representatives. However, there are dozens of recent examples which show why the appointed Shura Council is necessary for protecting and consolidating Bahrain’s reformist and tolerant social model. Here are some of the main reasons:

1 - Appointments sanctioned by the King ensures diversity in the legislative process

Elections depend heavily on the public mood and thus often favour a particular party or agenda. The practice of appointing the members of a second chamber, which occurs in a large number of countries, ensures a representative diversity of deputies from all sects and religions, from all social classes, from a range of professions and backgrounds and from the full spectrum of political affiliations. This also ensures that those who are often disfavoured in elections are represented; women, the disabled, minorities, progressives and civil society activists.

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Analysis: Bahraini views on a unified family law 

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The issue of legislation in support of women and families is back in the spotlight following an order by HM the King to form a committee to prepare a unified family law. Bahrain currently has a Family Law for the Sunni sect which was passed in 2009.

In Bahrain we have two courts concerned with family issues based on Shariah law; the Sunni courts and the Jaafari (Shia) courts; reflecting the traditional legal differences in these religious schools of thought.

Bahrain previously succeeded in passing a Sunni Family Law. However, Shia legislators blocked efforts towards either a unified Family Law, or a Jaafari Family Law. Today a proposal for a unified family law that protects the rights of families from both sects is being discussed by legislators.

Citizens for Bahrain spoke to a wide range of Bahrainis to canvass their views on why this matters, and in order to better understand their hopes and fears in regard to this legislation: 

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