Discrimination in Bahrain: The Unwritten Law
A report by the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, September 2003
Introduction and summary of the report
The Kingdom of Bahrain is an archipelago made up of 33 islands, with Bahrain Island being the biggest and mostly populated. Bahrain is located on the eastern shore of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in the Gulf. As of mid 2003, the population was estimated 670,000, of which foreign nationals comprised 38% of the total. Foreign nationals made up around 60% of the total workforce. The utmost majority of Bahrain citizens are Muslims.
King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa rules Bahrain. He ascended to the throne in March 1999 following the death of his father, Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa. The Al Khalifa family arrived in Bahrain in 1783. Since that period, the country has been governed through hereditary. Shaikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa is the Crown Prince by virtue of being the eldest son of the King.
In 1971, Bahrain gained its independence from Britain, and witnessed a year democratic experience between 1973 and 1975. Bahrain became a constitutional monarchy in February 2002. According to a new constitution, the King appoints members of the government, senior employees in the executive power, members of the Supreme Council for Judiciary, members of the Constitutional Court and members of the Shura Council, who make up half the members of the National Assembly. The King shares with the National Assembly the authority of issuing legislation. The Al Khalifa family belongs to a Sunni tribe, while the majority of citizens are of urban origins (non-tribal), either Sunni or Shiite, and some are of Persian descendants. The Shiites comprise around 70% of total citizens.
Despite the clear outnumbering of Shiites in society, the percentage of Shiites occupying top government jobs is either low or non-existent, reflecting blatant discrimination in public jobs. Followers of the Shiite sect occupy merely 18% of the total of high-ranking posts covered by the report. Critical jobs such as ministers of foreign affairs and interior are off limits for the Shiite. In fact, the real percentage of high-ranking posts occupied by the Shiite is most likely less than what this report has concluded; so is the case because some establishments not covered in the report do not employ Shiite.
Women are no luckier than Shiite in holding senior jobs in the country. Women held 26% of total manpower in 2001. Women occupy around 8% of the leading jobs covered by the report. There are 16 ministries and government bureaus that have no women in key posts. There are seven ministries and government bureaus where women are holding top key jobs and these are primarily Sunni. Women from the Royal family hold the mentioned significant posts, including undersecretary of ministry, president of university and ambassador. Members of the Royal Family (Al Khalifa) enjoy privileges regarding leading posts. Although the percentage of people belonging to this family is less than 2% of total number of citizens, they hold more than 17% of key posts. The percentage increases more with the level of the job, reaching 51% in the post of minister and rank of minister. Among such posts are the Prime Minister and main ministries notably Defence, Interior, Security and Judiciary. Members of this Family also hold significant posts such as governor of governorates, head of courts, president of university and Chairperson of Supreme Council for Women. Additionally, Al Khalifa members have control over major companies, in which the government has a dominant share, as well as establishments such as sports federations.
Aside from information and tables included in this study concerning discrimination in employment in high-ranking posts, the report also comprises statistics that reveal the practice of discrimination in employment in all levels in three essential establishments, which were created after the recent changes. These establishments are the General Prosecution Office and Shura and Representatives Councils. The report also tackles aspects of discrimination practiced towards the religious practices, as privileges are extended to followers of Sunni Islam.
We hope that this report contributes in disclosing circumstances and practices of discrimination in the Kingdom of Bahrain. The report aims at highlighting wrongdoing practices and more importantly urging the authorities to treat shortcomings in the country for the benefits of ensuring the prevalence of justice and respect for human rights in Bahrain.
For further details and recommendations related to the reality of discrimination in Bahrain, please find the following annex:
- Sectarian discrimination in the kingdom of Bahrain: The Unwritten Law (English): Nabeel Rajab: Vice president of Bahrain Center for Human Rights.
- Prerogative and Discrimination (Arabic): Abdulhadi Al Khawaja, Executive Director of Bahrain Center for Human Rights.
- Discrimination: Legal view (Arabic): Lawyer Jalila Al Sayed.
Nabeel Rajab Documenting Committee of related to Discrimination. Bahrain Centre for Human Rights October 16, 2003