What’s next for Bahrain?

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Bahrain, a country known to be one of the most politically and socially progressive in the region, has faced many challenges in its continuous path towards reform. While Bahrain’s 2001 National Action Charter opened up the country to official and legal political activities, this led to the gradual emergence of civil society and greater political representation. However, we also experienced a growth in sectarian societies, which led the country into turmoil.

Bahrain’s Government and Parliament have recently taken a number of steps to separate religion from politics, culminating in the shut-down of Al-Wefaq Islamic Society, a main player of the country’s political opposition. A question that many Bahrainis may ask today is: Where does this leave Bahrain politically? And what is next concerning the current economic challenges?

Here we take a broad look at the priority areas required for progress in Bahrain to take our society forward and address the current challenges:

Non-sectarian political societies

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Opportunity - ABC of civil society

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The benefits of civil society for Bahrain and for you

When extremists try to radicalize young people, they target individuals who have no hopes and dreams for their future, who have no clear ambitions and who lack purpose in their lives. This is why it is important for civil society to inspire hope and help give direction to young people’s lives.

Widening horizons

Organizations which work with young people can play an important part in opening up new opportunities for the youth: Showing them possible career opportunities, encouraging them to pursue further education, and stimulating their interest in becoming involved in activity which can serve society.

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The January-June 2016 Bahrain human rights report by Britain’s Foreign Office has highlighted the British Government’s work to support those civil society organizations in Bahrain which support “responsible freedom of expression and social inclusion - to encourage moderate voices to take a greater role within civil society”.
The report praised the Bahrain Government’s socio-economic reform programmes which it said had the potential to “strengthen community cohesion, human rights and the rule of law”. It also welcomed other recent measures such as the release of opposition activist Zainab al-Khawaja on humanitarian grounds.
Meanwhile, the Foreign Office reiterated its commitment to work closely with the Bahrain Government to consolidate progress on human rights. This includes “building effective and accountable institutions, strengthening the rule of law, and police and justice reform”. 
The report notes that at the beginning of 2016, Bahrain and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights agreed on a joint programme of technical assistance and capacity building to “empower civil society actors, increase independent oversight, and increase compliance with international human rights mechanisms”.
Civil tensions
The report states that "Bahrain continued to face a genuine security threat, and extremist groups continued to target security personnel. In April, a police officer was targeted and killed after a Molotov cocktail attack in Sitra. Low-level civil disturbances also continued on regular basis".
The British Government emphasized the importance for “all sides to engage in constructive and inclusive dialogue to promote social cohesion and inclusivity, including political representation for all Bahrainis”.
The report referred to the suspension Al-Wefaq Islamic Society and the citizenship revocation of Al-Wefaq’s spiritual leader Ayatollah Isa Qassim, without discussing the role of these entities in increasing civil tensions and sectarian discord, or putting these measures in the context of the recent law banning the involvement of clerics in politics.
Human rights institutions
British support continues for “independent human rights and oversight institutions” such as the National Institution of Human Rights, the independent Ombudsman, the Prisoners’ and Detainees’ Rights Commission and the Special Investigations Unit. The report singled out continuing achievements by these human rights and oversight bodies:
Special Investigations Unit
“Following an appeal by the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), the Supreme Appeals Court reinstatedthe sentence of 7 years’ imprisonment (having previously reduced it to 2 years) for both defendants who were found guilty of the manslaughter of Ali Saqer, who died whilst in detention at Dry Dock Detention Centre in 2011.”
Prisoners’ and Detainees’ Rights Commission
“In May 2016, the Prisoners’ and Detainees’ Rights Commission (PDRC) released a report on its independent inspection of Jau Rehabilitation and Reformation Centre in November 2015. PDRC commissioners highlighted a number of key concerns in respect to prison conditions, and the report included testimony from detainees. The UK welcomed the transparent approach taken by the PDRC and the Ministry of Interior’s commitment to implement all the recommendations made in the report.”
Ombudsman’s office
“Following an earlier recommendation from the Ombudsman’s office on youth justice reform, 15 to 18 year-olds and 18 to 21 year-olds in detention continued to be accommodated separately. Work is now needed on rehabilitation, release and reintegration into communities.”
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Welcome message to Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson

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We welcome you to your post and hope that your tenure as Britain’s Foreign Secretary is fruitful and effective. It was interesting to see your recent comments on domestic affairs in Bahrain. We hope that this close interest will continue and for this reason we would like to take a few moments of your valuable time to give you a few further insights about our nation.

Like the United Kingdom, Bahrain is proud to be a monarchy which has decisively chosen the path of political reform and democratization, with a vigourous parliamentary life and healthy public debate about politics.

Bahrain is the state in the region which made most progress in separating religion from politics. Both chambers of Parliament recently voted in support of a bill banning clerics from membership of political societies and involvement in politics. We hope you will agree that this is a positive step in discouraging the exploitation of the pulpit for political gain and a good example to set in a region beset by extremism.

Bahrain’s Constitution furthermore prohibits political activity based on sectarian foundations. We would hope to see the dissolution of all societies which are established on sectarian grounds.

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