Sectarian discrimination in the kingdom of Bahrain: The Unwritten Law A paper Presented to: WANGO ANNUAL CONFERENCE 2003 (Toward an Ethical and Caring Global Community) September 25-28, 2003 Bangkok, Thailand

The Kingdom of Bahrain is situated in the Arabian Gulf, and is made up of small islands with a population of 715,000, of which the Muslim-Shiite forms over 70 percent [1] of the citizens. The Kingdom is hereditary ruled by the Al Khalifa[2] family. The king is head of the Executive, legislative and judicial powers [3]. Citizens do not have the right to change their government or political system. After the absence of democracy and parliament for more than 25 years, and after a period of security unrest [4], which escalated in the 90s, the King's ascension to the throne in 1999 brought about hope for reforms. Optimism escalated especially after the release of all political prisoners, abolition of state security law, return of exiles and re-employment of some of those who lost their jobs. Furthermore, the formation of civic societies was allowed, as well as marginal freedom of expression. However, after a short period of time, people felt they were let down, due to several retractions. The same government remained in power, which has been there for over 30 years with widespread corruption and human rights violations. A decree was issued to grant such people immunity [5]. There has also been retraction in the freedom of expression, restriction on press and further discrimination against segments of society, particularly in government employment. This paper focuses on aspects of discrimination in Bahrain and its adverse effects on all political, economical and security levels. Despite that the constitution defies against discrimination, and guarantees equality and equal job opportunities, the policy of discrimination based on sectarianism and family status has for decades been a common and institutionalized practice.

In spite that the Shiites are a majority exceeding 70%, they occupy less than 18% [6] of total top jobs in government establishments. In several government ministries and corporations no Shiite is appointed in leading jobs [7] . It is worth mentioning; that these percentages would have been even less if remaining establishments were added [8].

Unfortunately, employment in government bureaus does not follow a clear and specific standard, it is governed by family and sectarian connections. In light of the absence of mechanisms of monitoring these forms of discrimination, abandon harmony and social security among the people Whilst article 16B, in the constitution says that (citizens are equal in taking up public jobs) we find that in reality, assuming jobs in the army and police are not based on qualification and capability, but on discriminatory appointment policy. Bahrain regretfully depends on foreign manpower for its internal and external security[9], while the Shiite citizens are forbidden from occupying such posts due to their sectarian origins. This led to an increase in the number of unemployed Shiites, who form more than 95% of those unemployed in the kingdom. It must be pointed out that not all Muslim Sunnis can hold high positions in the army, even some of them do experience discrimination. Such jobs are specified for members of the ruling family and other families and tribes that share close relations with it. Discrimination has also penetrated the elections of both the Representatives and the Municipal Councils. The Government divided the country into imbalanced sectarian constituencies. For example, in the southern governorate, which the many newly naturalized persons reside, a block of around 2000 voters hold a seat in parliament, whilst in the central and northern governorates, that are majority Shiite areas, block of around 7800 voters hold one. Until this very day, the government does not admit to the existence of discrimination. It has discredited every person and establishment that tried to relate these issues to discrimination, in order to deter them from attempting to highlight this defect in order to reform it. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights took the initiative to raise the problem by organizing a huge public seminar where many papers were presented by members of parliament, religious figures and political activists. At the seminar the BCHR launched a report that contained shocking facts supported by statistics highlighting discrimination in high rank posts in the public sector. Tribal and sectarian discrimination has exploded, making it a matter of concern due to the existing government policies based on favoritism and superiority. The ruling family, which is made up of several thousand members, enjoys more benefits than the rest of the people, far from the principles of qualification and equality and in contradiction to any other constitutional monarchy which the king has promised. The existing policy also depends on favoring some families and tribes, according to their political loyalty to the ruling family, at the expense of the rest of the people. They are given the remaining important posts and preference in employment and economic facilities, as well as grants and financial rewards, resulting in the stir up of hatred between these families and the rest of the citizens. On the other hand, in order to change the demographic structure of the country, and without taking into consideration the social damages to be caused, the Government secretly and by-passing the normal laws[10], resorted to naturalizing big numbers of tribes and their families, who were brought to the country to work in the army and the security force. The Government has also allowed GCC citizens from tribes, historically loyal to the ruling family, to obtain the Bahraini citizenship, yet maintain their original citizenship, and without having to fulfill the criteria for residence in Bahrain [11]. Another, discriminatory segregation, is the prohibition of Shiites and some Sunnis of Persian origins, from inhabiting one of Bahrain's largest district, that is Riffa which is more than 40% of Bahrain land[12], in which a majority of the members of ruling family reside. It is the only city that requires a permit from the Royal Court, to be allowed to live there; an area almost free of the above mentioned sect. Recommendations: For a Better Future of the Kingdom of Bahrain: First, to abolish the system of prerogative and exemption that distinguishes and favors members of specific families and those loyal to them, over the rest of the people. Family or sectarian preferences and inferiority thinking must be considered as socially wrong and should be condemned. Second, there should be an immediate law, forbidding all forms of discrimination, and should consider discrimination as punishable act. Citizenship must be based on equal rights and duties. In this context, a democratic environment must be founded to achieve justice and equality. Third, unofficial political sectarianism must be abolished and jobs in public establishments must be made available to all citizens, of different sects and origins, such as in the national guards and the police. Ministers and other officials must be held accountable for the discrimination taking place in their ministries. They should also be dismissed from their posts, if proven responsible, and victims of discrimination should be granted justice and compensated. Fourth, the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, which had been signed by the Government of Bahrain, should be activated, as well as the principles of the Bahraini Constitution, which included justice and equal rights. Fifth, Committees, Governmental and NGOs should be created, entrusting them with investigating into the implementation of justice, equal opportunities, opposing discrimination in State bureaus and institutions. Sixth, all forms of discrimination should be put to an end in employment, freedom of movement, housing, education, private[13] and public scholarships, government tenders and services rendered by the state bodies. Mechanisms for Monitoring on the aggravation of all forms of discrimination should be set up. Seventh, political and random naturalization based on tribal and sectarianism should be stopped, naturalization of some segments should be reviewed in the light of consistence with the domestic and international law. Eighth, NGOs, Religious leaders and civil societies should discuss this phenomenon, away from religious sensitivity and in an open and transparent manner, considering the fact that social harmony is threatened by it. Nabeel Rajab Bahrain Center for Human Rights nabeelar@batelco.com.bh Tel 00 973 39633399

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 1-The percentages of Shiite were taken from www. Encyclopedia.com 75% www.Encarta.msn.com 70% www.Bartleby.com 75% www.Infoplease.com 75% 2- Al Khalifa family descends from a Sunni Muslim tribe that came to the island, 200 years ago, coming from the Arabian Peninsula. 3- The King also appoints government officials, senior employees, members of the Supreme Judiciary, members of the Constitutional Court and members of the Shura Council, which is equal in number with the members of the elected council (Council of Representatives). The Shura shares the legislative powers, which in practice are issued only after approval by the Government and the King ( Human Rights Report-State department –USA) 4- Human Rights Watch report of 1997 http://www.hrw.org/reports/1997/bahrain 5- Degree 56 which guarantees impunity to past Human Rights violator. 6- Statistical report was issued by Bahrain Center for Human Rights. As for ministerial seats, the Shiites occupy about 22% . Only 11% appointed as undersecretary, and less than 19% as assistant undersecretary. 7- Information Ministry, General Organization for Youth and Sports, General Organization for Protection of Marine Resources and Environment, Bahrain Centre for Studies and Research, Surveillance Bureau and Estate Registration. 8 - This number did not cover the National Security, the National Guards, the Royal Court, the Crown Prince's Court and the Supreme Council for Women; as it is difficult to obtain data on them. 9 -Any visitor to Bahrain will notice this, through the deployment of foreign policemen outside all ministries and all around the country. 10 - Political naturalization in Bahrain _Legal View. 11 - Political naturalization in Bahrain _Human Rights View 12 -www.bahrain.gov.bh/pdfs/bf2001.pdf 13 - Private scholarship is the one that does not have any clear and transparent criteria