Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Assessing al-Wefaq’s Parliamentary Experiment

The following article was written and posted by Carnegie Endowment for international peace. It provides a high level review of Wefaq’s parliamentary experience.
I my self think that before we judge Al Wefaq’s performance we need to give them some more time. It is there first time in the parliament which is dominated by Anti-Wefaq parties. As for Haq, I like their strong position on several issues, but let’s be fair, it’s easy to criticize when you are sitting outside. Going inside and doing the changes is extremely difficult.
My take on Al-Wefaq experience is that they going to give the reforms a chance by participating in it but once the four years are over and no tangible changes are being done. I think they going to announce the reform DEAD!! And back to the streets!!

Bahrain: Assessing al-Wefaq’s Parliamentary Experiment
Jane Kinninmont
It is almost one year since al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, Bahrain’s largest legal opposition group, ended its boycott of parliament and won seventeen of forty seats in November 2006 elections. Compared to the repressive era of the 1990s, it is a remarkable achievement--for the group and for King Hamad’s program of gradual political liberalization-that al-Wefaq’s leader Sheikh Ali Salman, a former political prisoner and longtime exile, is now the head of a recognized parliamentary opposition. As yet, however, al-Wefaq has few clear gains to show from political participation. Differences are reported to be arising within the group, which also faces criticism from al-Haqq, an opposition group that broke with al-Wefaq.Al-Wefaq's MPs have little real legislative power within Bahrain’s current parliamentarysystem, in which the limited powers of the forty elected MPs are largely counterbalanced bythose of forty royally appointed MPs. Al-Wefaq, whose constituents mainly belong to thecountry’s Shi’a majority, has no ministers in the cabinet, where Sunni ruling family membershold most of the key posts. Nevertheless, al-Wefaq can claim to have influenced governmentpolicy in several areas. The government is increasing investment in public-sector housing, apriority for al-Wefaq’s constituents in a country where land and mortgage financing arescarce. The government is also trying to reduce unemployment, disproportionately highamong the Shi’a. It will soon introduce the country’s first ever unemployment benefits, whichwill be funded with an unpopular 1 percent levy on salaries--essentially Bahrain's first incometax. Pressure from al-Wefaq MPs also seems to have contributed to the recent dismissal ofHealth Minister Nada Haffad.
Although it is likely that al-Wefaq has contributed modestly to shifts in government policy,signs of dissatisfaction with its parliamentary experiment are increasing. Sheikh Salmanhinted on October 8 that he is considering resigning, suggesting he might be more influential from the outside. The Bahraini press has since reported widespread disagreement within al-Wefaq about whether to finish out the current parliamentary term (ending in 2010) or towithdraw sooner in order to shore up al-Wefaq’s credibility with the public. (The group denies these differences.)

At the same time, al-Wefaq faces relentless criticism from al-Haqq, a protest movement that disputes any gains from political participation. For example, when Sheikh Salman intervened with the government to procure the release of three non-Wefaq opposition leaders, includingal-Haqq’s leader Hassan Mushaima, in February 2006, al-Haqq dismissed the idea that Salman’s mediation had been effective, ascribing the activists’ release instead to riots and protests by Shi’i villagers on their behalf. In the end, it is quite possible that the government’s moves have been motivated by a combination of al-Wefaq’s polite pressure from inside parliament and the noisier demands of al-Haqq from without, with al-Haqq essentially playing
the bad cop.Among the challenges al-Wefaq faces is how to make the transition from an opposition movement to a parliamentary bloc, as shown in the income tax law episode. Al-Wefaq’s MPs
initially approved the law, badly misjudging the public mood. Many al-Wefaq constituents were angered by the introduction of even a small income tax when the government budget is in surplus and prices for essentials are rising. Moreover, the country’s leading Shi’i cleric,Sheikh Issa Qassim, declared the tax to be un-Islamic, arguing that wealth should be taxed rather than income. Al-Wefaq then belatedly tried to oppose the bill that it had already approved, with a predictable lack of success. The law went forward over al-Wefaq’s
objections, although the government did agree to a 15 percent rise in public sector salaries.
Meanwhile, al-Haqq and other activists press for government concessions through street protests and other forms of direct action. When a local landowner deployed fish traps that prevented Shi’i villagers from fishing the waters off Malkiya village in August, opposition activists removed them by force. Clashes with police ensued, but the King eventually ordered the traps to be removed. Access to the sea is an issue that resonates in the tiny island of Bahrain, where many beaches are privately owned, and supporters of direct action have publicized the Malkiya incident as a victory for their approach.
Al-Wefaq’s participation in politics is still young, and it would be unfair to judge its success purely on legislative grounds. The group's entry into parliament is not just a means to opposition ends; it is also a signal of conciliation to the ruling establishment at a time whenregional tensions are rekindling fears that the country’s Shi’i opposition groups are a potential fifth column for Iran. Meanwhile, al-Wefaq will face the challenges of a ruling establishment that resists significant concessions to the Shi’a, internal arguments about how to proceed, anda rival opposition group that threatens to draw al-Wefaq’s supporters away from electoral politics and into the streets to make their demands heard.

Jane Kinninmont is a Middle East editor and economist at the London-based Economist
Intelligence Unit.

1779 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20036 n Phone 202-483-7600 n Fax 202-483-1840
info@CarnegieEndowment.org n www.CarnegieEndowment.org


Anonymous said...

your take "on Al-Wefaq experience is that they going to give the reforms a chance by participating in it but once the four years are over and no tangible changes are being done. I think they going to announce the reform DEAD!! And back to the streets!!".

Intresting prognosis. Two questions need answers. First what is "tangible changes"? i.e what sorts of changes are we looking for, and how much of these changes is required? Second, who would be charged with pronouncing the death sentence?

SILVER said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SILVER said...

I think Al-Wefaq has already announced their goals. Let me name a few: change the constitution to give more power to the parliament, social development, drastic reduction of corruption and making the government accountable (including Atyatollah). The measure is not easy to define; i guess that would be up to the people who voted for AlWefaq.
For you 2nd queston, i assume there are 3 strong apposition parties, AlWefaq, Waad and Haq. Haq already announced it dead, so it will be up to Wefaq and Waaad.
Thanks for your comment, hope you can give us your take on this.