Impact of Political Reform on Religious Freedom in Bahrain

The session was chaired by Congressman Frank Wolf who is chair of the Congressional Human Rights Commission at the United States House of representative. Congressman Wolf is a champion of Human Rights causes and long time advocate for Human Rights around the world. Congressman Wolf opened the session with strong and powerful remarks about the political situation in the country. The Congressman refer that reforms in Bahrain were nothing but a campaign of deceptions and disappointment especially the new imposed constitution that put all the powers in the hand of the King.

In addition, United States has a strong relationship with Bahrain and Congressman Wolf stated that such relationship should be used to influence issues of Religious Freedom and Human Rights. In addition, he personally is very disturbed by numerous reports that comes of credible organizations about the Religious Freedom situation in Bahrain and how the Al-Khalifa led government marginalize and systematically discriminate against the Shia in the country although they are the majority of the populations. Finally Congressman Wolf stated that when Congress returns in November the issues of Human Rights and Religious Freedom will be on the top of his agenda and he will be closely following the situation in Bahrain. Furthermore, this briefing will be the first of many others that are coming in the near future as issues of Bahrain going to be on the top of his agenda. A note that need to be mention that a session that is chaired by Congressman Wolf is something that should not be taken seriously because he only chair issues that are important. Then, the President of Bahrain center for Human Rights, Mr. Nabeel Rajab, talked about the systematic governmental policies of discrimination that is taking place in Bahrain under the Al-Khlifa ruling family. Mr. rajab gave several example of those policies and these are some of the highlights: · Shia only holds 13% of the high official post in the country · Shia citizens are not allowed to work in the Bahraini Army · Shia citizens are not allowed to work in the intelligence agency · Shia citizens are not allowed to work in the in police force · Shia in Bahrain are not allowed to include their religious believes in the school curriculum · Shia attendance in the University of Bahrain is above 70% while the majority of them are unemployed as a specific policy of the government. · The government is made it so difficult for the Shia youth to live in Bahrain where they are forcing them to leave Bahrain to neighboring countries for employment. In Conclusion Mr. Rajab stated that Bahrain is important to the United; thus, a peaceful Bahrain where the rights of the majority are protected and respected is very crucial to the United States. Therefore, he urged the member of Congress to use all the available tools to convince the US administration to put pressure on the Bahraini government and include Human Rights and Religious Freedom within it is Foreign Policy agenda toward Bahrain. After that, Dr. Abdul Jaleel Alsingace took the podium where he discussed different aspects of religious discrimination toward the Shia population in the country. This is in summary what Dr. Singace discussed: · There are 5 ministers out of 25 in the government cabinet. · The Shia mosques are neglected by the Bahraini government and it is almost impossible to get a permit to build a Shia mosque in the country. · Shia citizens cannot buy land or house in 48% of the country because the government refuses to allow Shia citizens to purchase land and houses on those areas; like East and West Riffa. · Shia are not allowed to study Islam according to their sect in the government schools. · Shia Friday sermons are completely neglected by the government media while Sunni sermons are aired live every Friday. · When it comes to religious program on the Television; Shia scholars are rarely invited and the government act if the Shia does not exist in the country. Then, Dr. Singace suggested the following recommendations: · Bahraini Shia should be treated as citizens of equal rights and not discriminated against in any form. · The right to exercise, teach and disseminate their theology should be respected and maintained. · Criminalizing all forms of discrimination. Issue and enforce a law · Establishing the basis of true representation and equality among citizens by involving them fairly in the Government. Re-plot electoral constituencies based on one-man-one vote system. · Shia children should be able to receive formal education to learn Shia jurisprudence and theology. · Pass a resolution in the House same like the one that was introduced in the Senate. · Open direct and clear communication channel with Bahraini government where issues of Human Rights and Religious Freedom are discussed more often. The last speaker was activist, Ms. Maryam AlKhawaja who brought her personal story and what does it mean to be a Shia young lady in Bahrain. She started by saying “I am here today not only for myself, but to speak for my brothers and sisters back in Bahrain who did not have the privilege of being in your company today. I am here to speak for my many friends who are easily classified as Shiite because of how they speak, their names, or how they look. I am here today, ladies and gentlemen, to speak for those who could not be here to speak for themselves.” Maryam was very effective in connecting to the audience as her speech was full of examples of a daily life of a young Shia Bahraini. At her conclusion she suggested that “It is you, ladies and gentlemen, members of the congress of the most influential country in the world, who are able to assist in bringing about times like these. These times will come when the administration of the United States of America decides to impose demands whenever signing agreements with the government of Bahrain, demands that call for the equality between the different religious sects in Bahrain and making it clear that there will be no collaboration between the two countries until the government in Bahrain instills a system which guarantees this equality. Your failure to act, ladies and gentlemen, will result in your assisting the government of Bahrain in perpetuating the inequality of their system and rule of law. The consequence of neglecting my request today will result in severe loss to US interests tomorrow.” The turnout was great especially this time of the year in Washington DC and the number of people who attended and the quality of discussion was great. Over 60 to 70 people came to the event and so many were standing because they were not enough chairs in the room. So many people asked questions and engaged in serious discussion about the topic. What is interested to mention is that the Bahraini Ambassador, Hoda Nonoo, herself was among the attendance; she set in the back seats and was quite and surprised and shocked by the how well the event turned out. In addition, so many Bahraini-Americans came to the event and showed support to the people of Bahrain and they promised to do everything possible to help their counterpart in Bahrain by pressuring the US government to force Bahrain to adapt real and genuine reforms. So many media groups attended the event and had interviewed with all the participants and recorded the whole briefing. Moreover, Mr Nabeel Rajab will be interviewed by the Alhurra television to talk about the briefing and Religious Discrimination in Bahrain. After the briefing, members of Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain and Bahrain Center for Human Rights held an assembly outside the Bahraini Embassy where so many Bahraini-Americans attended and repeated slogans to support the indigenous movement in Bahrain to establish Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain; while the assembly was taking place many media sources came to interview the people who took place in the assembly and taped the event. At the end of the assembly Mr. Husain Abdulla gave the following speech: My friends let me begin by thanking you for coming to this assembly. Once again we are standing in front of the Embassy of Bahrain; because the Bahraini government is continuing its policies of sectarianism, discrimination, suppression of freedom of speech, dictatorship, and Human Rights violations toward the people of Bahrain. So many innocent Bahrainis who are freedom loving, democracy desiring, reformers are being tortured in the Bahraini prisons as we speak. We demand nothing short of their immediate release with full apology and complete compensation to them and to their families; because that is what an honorable and just government would do toward its citizens. Furthermore, I have to make it clear that we are gathering today to show our unwavering support to the people of Bahrain and their peaceful demands toward justice and democracy. People of Bahrain: keep up your peaceful struggle and do not think for a moment that your voice did not reach the freedom loving people around the world. Your voice, your struggle, and your demands, have reached Washington DC; and because of your resiliency the officials at the United States Congress seen the true and ugly face of the Al-Khalifa ruling tribes. Also, for the first time a Senate Resolution 619 was introduced in the United States Senate to support your effort to establish Democracy and justice for all in Bahrain. That is not all, we are just coming from a fully fledged briefing on Religious Discrimination and Human Rights Violations that was held in the US House of Representative where nothing was discussed but the atrocities that were committed against you by the Al-Khalifa government; and soon we will be carrying this discussion on your behalf into the Oval office in the White House. Now, I want to turn my attention for a minute to the Bahraini Ambassador Mrs. Hoda Nonoo. The Bahraini Jewish Community is outraged because you are representing and serving the same Al-Khalifa ruling family that one day forced the Bahraini Jewish Community to leave their country Bahrain; when they were living side by side of their other fellow Bahrainis. Mrs. Nonoo how dare you to serve an anti semantic Al-Khalifa family which committed many atrocities toward the Jewish community in Bahrain. Your act is unacceptable. Finally, People of Bahrain you control your future and I mean by that your political future. Do not think for a moment that you are weak or a lone; because you are not; and the reason behind that is your demands are just and peaceful. Because your believes and your demands are like the believes of Thomas Jefferson when he said “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.” Change and waves of reforms and democracy are certain and there is no way that these waves are going to miss Bahrain; and the dream is no longer going to be a dream. The reality is very close and within reach. Our salute and respect to our friends in Bahrain in their peaceful struggle toward Democracy and Religious Freedom in their country.

Husain Abdulla Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain October 15, 2008