Matar Matar: Chance to Review Past Two Decades

2019-03-11 - 9:42 م

*Matar Matar

On the anniversary of the two decades of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa's reign, I don't find myself more qualified than [the Shiite cleric] Sayed Abdullah Al-Ghuraifi to give good advice to the King. I don't even find that I have the courage or eloquence to dispraise the King more than my fellow Bahrainis outside the kingdom do; if even this dispraise is what we lack to reach our aims of attaining security, dignity and justice. I also don't even find myself to be the kind to preach Bahrainis living in the country while I live abroad.

However, this is a chance for me to review the past two decades and I hope it would be beneficial. I remember the good atmosphere that spread when King Hamad assumed power. I had  never witnessed such a sense of security in Bahrain like that I witnessed at the time- the joy and celebrations of Bahrainis when the political prisoners were released and dissidents returned from their exile. Negotiations then started on setting the National Action Charter. I was residing in Kuwait when the charter was announced in my final year of study. Doubt triggered me to search for traps and warn against them. The 1990s was full of grievances and crimes against those who demanded change and those grievances increased my suspicions regarding the charter. After the opposition forces announced their will to vote "Yes", I was among those encouraging and calling for voting in favor for the charter, yet when I reached the ballot box my hands couldn't vote "Yes"

When the King, individually, announced the new constitution, I directly started thinking about the importance of mobilizing to boycott any elections held based on this Constitution. Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim quickly took a stand at that time. 24 hours after the Constitution was announced, in one of his Friday sermons, Sheikh Isa said that the role that can be played by the elected Parliament has become narrow, and despite this fact, the Muslim community has to be loyal to their religion in every electoral process, through active and effective presence on the media and voting levels.

The call for participation wasn't widely met at the time and I still don't know the reasons behind that. I remember standing in the street to poll pedestrians on participation in any upcoming elections. I don't remember the poll's result now, but I remember that a high percentage of pedestrians were annoyed and surprised by the question. Many of them said that "this matter is decided by clerics", while others considered that merely the question is an introduction to division and sedition.

I wasn't analyzing the data this way back then. I was eager to avoid what I considered the "sin of participation". I prepared a list of the most important points that justify boycotting based on the articles of the 2002 Constitution and placed it at the entrance of Imam Al-Sadiq Mosque. I used to see the reactions of people reading the paper. All of them had the same impression that protesting against the Constitution and calling to boycott was an attempt to embarrass the religious authorities and political leaders.

I personally didn't intend to undermine the religious authorities or overcross the societies. However, certainly some of those who called for opposition saw the religious authorities and political leaders as an obstacle in the face of the political reform. What's unfortunate is that Sheikh Qassim's sermon included many concerns that were neglected at the time, and it seems to me that they are still neglected as of today. Nonetheless, the bright side is that the opposition parties demonstrated the finest displays of democratic practices when they settled the participation and boycott issue through free dialogues in which the man of Hawza (highest religious institution) was treated equally to an academic, thanks to Sheikh Ali Salman [the secretary general of the dissolved Al-Wefaq Society].

The boycott decision certainly did not have the horizon to bring us closer to meeting our aspirations in achieving a modern state, but the assumption that the solution was in participation was only hypothetical. There is no evidence that our situation would have been better along the line if we committed to participating.

After all these years, I find that we understood the opposition as identifying grievances and insulting and dispraising oppressors. We also understood reform as a group of legal frameworks. In 1990s, the slogan was the "Parliament is the solution" and in the beginning of the third millennium, it became "Contractual Constitution is the solution", then in 2010 it turned into "constitutional monarchy is the solution". However, when considering the challenge Qatar faces, for instance, due to the Saudi, Emirati siege imposed on it, I personally wonder: How can Bahrain achieve constitutional reform? What is the value of any constitutional document if the UAE is the one that controls the national airport, the US controls the fifth fleet, while Saudi Arabia supplies Bahrain with oil for refining and controls the arrival of more than 80% of Bahrain's visitors through the causeway? Saudi Arabia also controls Abu Safa oil field and grants scholarships. I was looking forward to seeing Bahrain as the key for the reform of the Gulf labor market, as it demonstrates a small experience which Saudi Arabia could have benefitted from and applied on a larger scale.

These are my dreams, yet Bahrain has become a financial burden and source of concerns for the Gulf. At the end of the day, Bahrain is a part of the Arabian Peninsula, so any good that comes to it, will affect us all [in the Gulf], and any ills that affect it will definitely reach us all. Given all of that, it seems clear to me that beyond the importance of constitutional regimes is the balance of powers that protects any reconciliation.

*Former Bahraini MP residing in the United States


التعليقات المنشورة لا تعبر بالضرورة عن رأي الموقع

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