One year on, Bahrain is no closer to reform
Bahraini allies like the United States need to make clear to the ruling Al Khalifa family that the status quo is unsustainable.
A SHI’A anti-government protester throws a Molotov Photo: REUTERS
It has been a year since the Kingdom of Bahrain received accolades for
commissioning and then agreeing to implement the findings of a report
investigating the protests and violence that occurred in the country from
February to March, 2011.
However, 12 months later most of the the Bahrain
Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) recommendations remain unimplemented,
and the government has yet to demonstrate that it is interested in real
Recent actions by the government have revealed its
duplicity as it bans public protests, continues to jail citizens for free
expression, and revoked the citizenship of 31 activists and opposition
The government of Bahrain can (and does) publicly boast of its
reform efforts, but its actions at home paint the real picture of a country that
continues to be gripped by turmoil and repression.
If one were to look
only to the government of Bahrain for details on the current situation in the
country one would find a royal family committed to reform, slowly making
progress in the face of difficult odds including an Iranian (and sometimes,
oddly, American) conspiracy against it. The government claims to have
implemented most of the BICI recommendations, and consistently raises the
specter of Iranian involvement to remind the United States and other allies of
their important security role in the region.
Unfortunately, the rosy
picture offered by the Bahraini government is far from the reality on the ground
according to human rights organizations, media and activists.
of the implementation of the BICI report has been difficult due a lack of
transparency. Many human rights organizations, including Freedom House, have
been consistently thwarted in their efforts to enter the country.
attempts to gain access have likewise been rebuffed. To be sure, the complaints
of the Bahraini government that reporting on the situation is based on
incomplete information could certainly be remedied if they would only open up
the process, and the country, to the international
Nevertheless, through reports from international
organizations, media and brave activists on the ground, it is clear that the
government’s stated commitment to reform has not been carried out over the past
year. A new report from the Project on Middle East Democracy found that only
three of the recommendations have been fully implemented, while some of the most
important recommendations, including accountability for torture and abuse,
release of political prisoners, and the end of controls over the media and free
expression, to name just a few, have been ignored or only partially
Indeed, the chief investigator and author of the BICI
report, Cherif Bassiouni, expressed his disappointment with the implementation
of the report one year on, saying “you can’t say that justice has been done when
calling for Bahrain to be a republic gets you a life sentence and the officer
who repeatedly fired on an unarmed man at close range only gets seven
If the government of Bahrain spent even a fraction of the time,
effort and money it currently expends promoting its image abroad on actual
efforts at reform, the crisis might be significantly alleviated. Instead, they
spend millions of dollars on public relations efforts, trying to sell a positive
image to their allies, while making token efforts at home.
this month the Embassy of Bahrain will throw a reception at a ritzy Washington,
DC, hotel to celebrate Bahrain’s National Day, and undoubtedly play gracious
host to a long list of US diplomatic, military and business representatives.
Likely not celebrating this year are the political activists like Nabeel Rajab,
Abdulhadi al- Khawaja and others who remain jailed in Bahrain for voicing their
What can be done at this point to spur the Bahraini government
to action? Bahraini allies like the United States need to make clear to the
ruling Al Khalifa family that the status quo is unsustainable.
current situation is a tinderbox that threatens to further destabilize the
region, and will certainly impact the future of the US-Bahraini military
relationship at some point down the road, regardless of whether either party is
willing to admit it publicly or not.
There is still time for the
government to truly embrace reform, but the longer the current situation
continues the less likely a peaceful political resolution seems. And the
alternatives are not good for the royal family, the Bahraini people, or the
The writer is the manager of congressional affairs at Freedom