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Returning to Political Parties?

The Islamic Movement and Its Chances of Developing into a Party: the Case of al-Wefâq National Islamic Society in Bahrain

Abbas Mirza al-Mershed

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1Al-Wefâq National Islamic Society (Jam‘iyya al-Wefâq al-watanî al-islâmiyya) is a relatively new organization in Bahrain and was established as a logical response to the spirit of political openness resulting from the National Action Charter of 2001. Al-Wefâq Society and other political opposition associations deemed that the security détente and the initiation of national reconciliation were part of the political outcome of calls for reform heralded by Islamic and national movements since August 1975. This interpretation allowed al-Wefâq Society to define itself as an essential participant in this national reconciliation process and was responsible to some extent for preserving and exploiting this reconciliation in order to serve the Society’s political ambitions. It thus seeks to emerge as an essential component of the political power structure by being represented in the cabinet, and the National Assembly’s Chamber of Deputies and Shûra Council. In so doing, the Society abides by a peaceful policy that rejects violence so as to display moderateness, to commit to acting in good faith, and to contribute to the realization of its reform platform within the framework of a political regime based on a mixture of tribal patriarchal patterns and manifestations of political modernization.

2Since Bahrain gained its independence in 1971, the ruling regime sought to offer democratic concessions, calling for electing a constituent assembly in order to draft the country’s constitution in 1973, which was followed by National Assembly elections in 1974. However, this experience was short-lived, as the government dissolved the National Assembly and suspended the implementation of some articles of the 1973 constitution. It thus refused to abide by the State Security Law until this law was abrogated under the National Action Charter, which stipulated the resumption of parliamentary life, albeit without providing clear guarantees regarding the hierarchy and prerogatives of the legislative power. Political forces had to make do with other guarantees, mainly a statement by the then-Justice minister asserting that the Chamber of Deputies was the holder of legislative power and confining the appointed Shûra Council to consultative functions. Constitutional amendments passed in February 2002 were disappointing for the opposition and democratic forces, as these amendments gave the elected parliament equal prerogatives to the appointed Shûra Council, and, in an unexpected move, extended the king’s direct prerogatives.

3Even though al-Wefâq Society achieved a sweeping victory in the local and parliamentary elections by winning the majority of seats, it was only reluctantly acknowledged as an official political party by the government, which still refuses to admit the existence of any opposition to it, or by other pro-government parties, according to whom the Society was bargaining for more than it deserved. The limitations imposed on the formation of executive power and the failure of political alliances within the Chamber of Deputies eventually led to the endurance of the government’s impunity and the slackening of the democratic process. As a result, there are confused opinions within al-Wefâq Society manifested in the statements of the Society’s secretary general, which, at times, consider withdrawal from the Chamber of Deputies, and, at others, examine the possibility of the bloc members’ resignation, or even threaten to take to the streets as a means of applying political pressure.

4This study seeks to examine the experience of the Islamic Shiite movement on the level of partisan organizations in Bahrain and the role of this experience in the development of the democratic process by studying the case of al-Wefâq. The study also aims to look into al-Wefâq’s policies and options in the Bahraini political landscape, and the resulting problematic issues pertaining to the political system and its status within the framework of the democratic process, not to mention those problematic issues related to the religious referential authority and the extent of its influence within the Islamic movement and local society. It also compares the dynamics within al-Wefâq’s organizational structure in light of those that prevailed prior to the Society’s establishment, or what is traditionally referred to as the Islamic movement. Based on these results, the effects of the partisan experience as organized by the 2005 law for political associations on the internal structure of al-Wefâq were evaluated, as the Islamic movement’s rhetoric targeted the State in lieu of the Islamic state. Islamic political elites interacted with the idea of the constitution as an essential component of political rhetoric, and all this was exploited in exercising the most important of democratic prerogatives: political representation within al-Wefâq or on the level of parliamentary and municipal elections. In this respect, the performance of al-Wefâq bloc in the Chamber of Deputies is examined, along with the results of this experience on the organizational and popular levels.

5The study also tackles the methods used by al-Wefâq Society to recruit new members and choose its leadership and political executives on the one hand, and, on the other, their repercussions on the Society’s electoral and popular empowerment.

Structure and Dynamics

The establishment of al-Wefâq Society

  • 1   Exclusive interview with a top executive, June 2nd, 2008.

6The idea of establishingal-Wefâq Society arose from the conflict with the government based on the Society’s Islamic identity and in light of the confrontation with the government’s totalitarian policy. The Society’s establishment rhetoric also relied heavily on the slogan of putting things in order within the Shiite community. The Islamic movement in its current shape began to spread toward the end of the 1980s, and particularly after 1990, at a time when a series of variables aided the popular expansion of the Islamic phenomenon, knowing that it had earlier spread as youths and groups were affected by the Islamic awakening. These Islamic cells had their own strategy for expanding the Islamic awakening into villages and cities by exploiting some religious rites and ceremonies, especially those of ‘Ashura, when, in addition to centralized guidance, centralized convoys were set up in the capital to act as media and mobilization platforms. These cells were tasked with distributing religious classes over all Bahraini regions to train new executives who would serve the cause of the Islamic movement1. As a result of these measures, supporters of the Islamic movement grew in number. However, while its popularity seemed to increase, the movement lacked structure or institutionalization due to the undercover aspect of its actions and to the prevalence of a spirit of leadership over internal and peer-to-peer relations.

7Within less than five years, the Islamic movement had managed to provide itself with new executives to lead its social and political actions in addition to the old generation of executives coming from the Islamic Call Society, which was established by Baqer al-Sadr in Iraq in 1957 based on jurisprudential foundations and on the Guardianship of the Jurist (wilâyat al-faqîh). This generation of executives remained faithful to the methodology of the Islamic Call Society even after the party’s internal resolution to dissolve itself in 1983. While its popularity was on the rise, this broad-ranging movement obviously lacked sociopolitical integration structures. Yet this did not prevent the multiplication of functions and of means of religious education and mobilization, nor did it hamper its capacity to sponsor common causes. This gave the Islamic movement a counter-power guaranteeing communication with some channels of participation, integration and expression that was independent from the authorities.

8Drawing a comparison between the two stages characterizing the Islamic movement may shed light on some of the dynamics within these movements. In the 1980s, the Islamic movement was actually subjected to very harsh censure, which hindered its expansion. We are not talking here about religious commitment, which was – by and large – spreading following the successful Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979; rather, what we mean is linking this religious sentiment to local or international political objectives.

9The absence of a minimum amount of democracy and the atmosphere of oppression were an essential hindrance to the spread of the Islamic movement and its capacity to establish sociopolitical support networks. The same reason explained the movement’s extremist rhetoric, which was almost hostile to the ruling regime. Nevertheless, the situation evolved in the early 1990s, as the regime eased its oppressiveness, allowing some aspects of tolerance within the social and political fabric and acting on the suggestions of some international parties to introduce political modernization into the political system. These measures allowed many Islamic movement executives to return to Bahrain from exile, whereas those who had been imprisoned resumed action, albeit with a less edgy political spirit that moved them farther away from their former extremism. Hence, the Islamic movement adopted a local rhetoric tackling domestic issues, such as unemployment, poverty and political problems, especially political participation and the reorganization of the political system. In contrast, it retained its own mobilization rhetoric, taking advantage of the wave of democracy that prevailed in the early 1990s. During this period, societal and Islamic call rhetoric rose once again to prominence after it had been overshadowed by the Islamic state.

10The evolution of totalitarian dynamics (clashes, turning to the past) into local ones (alliance, planning) takes into account the developments that occurred. While this evolution guaranteed the Islamic movement’s popular expansion and consolidated its ties with religious leaders, it still failed to produce different internal dynamics from those underlying the establishment of the movement’s cells. Indeed, religious influence and eminence is acquired through obedience, attachment, execution of orders and recommendations (al-taslîm, acceptance), as well as through seeking the company of and remaining close to religious leaders (al-hazwa, privilege). This pattern is still in force, in addition to subjecting peer-to-peer relations to personal points of view as a criterion of preference and subsequent hierarchical ascent within the movement or organization (al-shakhsana, personalization). A mere disagreement was enough to cause estrangement, exclusion, secession and unilateral action.

11Prior to the deterioration of the security and political situation at the end of 1994, the Islamic movement lacked political structure; rather, there were higher circles of clerics leading multiple and scattered groups of youths who carried out their commandments and sociopolitical orders. One such example is the protest staged by the unemployed in front of the Ministry of Labor in August 1994 based on Sheikh Ali Salman’s sermon in which he called on them to come out and reveal their true number so as to pressure the government into creating job opportunities. However, it was originally a test of the scope of the clerics’ influence and how it could be used in more substantial political plans, such as signing a popular petition in November of that year. The circle of clerics managed, in cooperation with youth groups, to gather more than 25,000 signatures.

12Many observers and analysts of the deterioration of the security situation in 1994 fail to notice this link and the intense mobilization that prevailed throughout the previous period. The tension burst when Sheikh Ali Salman was arrested. At first, acts of contestation were meant to express opposition to this violation of the national movement’s identity; the clerics thought they could release Sheikh Ali as they had done months before following the protest of the unemployed, when he was arrested and subsequently released under the political pressure they had sponsored. As a result of the confusion between the circle of clerics and the Popular Petition Committee, which was characterized by its national aspect, the committee’s demands were adopted by the protesters. Promoting the constitution and meeting the demands of the popular petition were added to that of releasing Sheikh Ali Salman, who nonetheless remained in custody until he was deported in January 1995.

13Against a backdrop of continuing security incidents and the prevalence of official violence, political parties were sorted differently from in previous periods. The Islamic Shiite movement, thus, became an integral part of the opposition, taking the lead on the political, media and organizational levels based on the tacit approval of the remaining political organizations.

14One of the results of these security incidents, which went on for five years, was their consolidation of the mechanisms that produce religious and political leaders and their promotion of internal dynamics (acceptance, privilege, personalization) that gained in importance compared to the previous period. Imprisonment and torture greatly aided this process. The activities of a political leader who proved his worth exposed him to imprisonment or exile, thus investing him with a new experience and authority, and cementing his status within the community and on the political landscape. Imprisonment is, therefore, one of the most important sources of capital and privilege for a political leader (al-Zahi, 2003, p. 252).

15The Islamic movement took a sharp turn and entered a new period with the National Action Charter, which marked the emergence of new political events and parameters, such as the role and activities of all-inclusive national institutions, the election of a legislative council and municipal councils, and the emergence of some factors pointing to the end of existing political formations, albeit without their being replaced by new ones. The main political evolution was the focus on the rhetoric of “national dialogue and unity”, and the burgeoning of a general optimistic mood, which encompassed all national forces operating within the country and abroad.

  • 2   Sheikh Abdel Amir Al-Jamri, exclusive interview, Al-Ayam newspaper, May 12, 2001.

16It is against this general backdrop that a group of influential members of the Islamic movement sought to establish a political entity through which the movement would confront prospective challenges and manage the permanent tension between the parties to the Islamic movement and other political forces. Whether before or after the vote on the National Action Charter in February 2001, religious figures repeatedly asserted the Islamic movement’s wish for all-out2 political participation, especially considering that the extensive support it enjoyed allowed it to spread its activities and hegemony to vast areas of the country and various elements of society. Accordingly, the founders of al-Wefâq Society held intensive – and at first secret – meetings in order to develop a new formula organizing the movement’s action. The latest upheaval had given rise to field leaders with rich and dearly paid-for experiences in political struggle, but it failed to foster the emergence of political leaders who were capable of managing the political and demand-oriented conflict (Rahiba, 2007, p. 452).

  • 3   Exclusive interview with Toufic Riachy on May 29, 2008 and Dr. Mohammad Said on June 3, 2008.

17Here, it is worth mentioning several issues that played a major role in the formation of al-Wefâq Society, namely3:

  • The leftist initiative to establish the National Democratic Action Society urged the founding members to hold intensive meetings in order to attach themselves to the leftist movement, and, through the law pertaining to civil associations, allowed the possibility of taking part in political life.

  • The list of objectives submitted by the members to the Ministry of Labor was devoid of any clear political aim, using volunteer work instead to tackle all objectives as the key to political action.

  • The founders of this new organization and its identity were predominantly Shiite, in a clear indication of its spiritual relation with the religious referential authority represented by Sheikh Issa Qassem. This led to several obstacles to which the new formation was confronted. Some, in fact, saw in it the start of sectarian structures, thus resulting in the formation of Sunni political associations in what amounted to a dangerous relinquishment of the principles underlying the National Action Charter and national unity (Bashmi, 2002, p. 213).

  • The list of founding members sought to achieve maximum representation of different components of society and included tradesmen, technocrats (educated people) and partisans. It also strived to represent the various factions of the Islamic Shiite movement. Nevertheless, the mechanism in force for choosing these members was unclear, as several people who had organized the preliminary meetings were left out. This choice was made based primarily on private knowledge of the individual without there being any code of conduct governing political action and its requirements of competence and ability to manage internal and external conflict.

  • 4   For further details on the initiative committee, refer to Rabiha (2007, p. 442).

18The new formula of al-Wefâq Society did not cancel or suspend the previous one, and was only drafted by the Initiative Committee several months following the first elections within the Society. This is best proven by Abdel Wahhab Hussein, one of the Society’s founders and an Initiative Committee leader, who said, “The Initiative Committee is a Shiite opposition movement dedicated to overt action and undertaking to reject any covert actions due to their dangerous nature and to its intimate belief in the importance of overt action under the law4.”

  • 5   The elections were held on time in the Scheherazade Hall in the presence of 106 out of 117 foundi (...)

19The founders managed to secure the Ministry of Labor’s registration consent, and a date was set to elect the Society’s Board of Directors by founding members only. Twenty-five members out of a total of 117 ran for 11 board seats. The Ministry of Labor approved the registration request on November 1, 2001, and three years after having been notified of this consent, al-Wefâq Society decided to elect its 11 board members on November 28, 2001, emphasizing that 25 candidates would be competing and that elections would be limited this time to founders only5. Here, one cannot overlook the fact that these elections were free from prior guidelines that were imposed on voters so as to portray to the public an image highlighting al-Wefâq Society as a political and social representative of all components and sections of society. This is illustrated by the elected members’ official background, as the first Board of Directors encompassed most components and sections of society. This formula was used to consolidate the Society’s influence and extend its power not only on the social level, but also on the level of relations with other political parties. The Board of Directors promoted this exemplary image by forming 16 committees covering all activities and fields, and the Society thus came to resemble a shadow ministry in democratic governments.

20In reality, this proliferation of committees adequately provided for the allotment of functions to the various components of the alliances composing al-Wefâq. Yet it eventually fell short of its purpose, as these committees proved to be deficiently productive due to their limited prerogatives compared to those of the Board of Directors. Moreover, the reform platform lost momentum at quite an early stage of al-Wefâq’s lifetime, and this, in addition to the promulgation of the 2002 constitution, sowed confusion within these committees. All eyes turned then to the constitutional amendments, and all other issues were overlooked, including the political empowerment of women and the training of youths.

21There was an opportunity for the elected Board of Directors to form the nucleus of a party that would be open to further development, especially considering that the board was now endowed with prerogatives equivalent to those of the General Secretariat according to the new rules of procedure. Indeed, it would have been possible to take advantage of the electoral power of the Board of Directors instead of the current appointment system in the General Secretariat, to spread the “one man, one vote” system and to benefit from the board’s particular blend of individuals, who, on the one hand, were opposed to the interference of the religious institution in party decisions, and, on the other, enjoyed an electoral power that was equal to all kinds of traditional power based on internal dynamics (acceptance, privilege, personalization).

Institutionalization within al-Wefâq Society

22The establishment of al-WefâqSociety represented a genuine challenge to the political establishment and to its ability to address the requirements of political modernization and the sociopolitical developments within Bahraini society. Ever since it was established, the Islamic movement was convinced of the need to transform itself into an institutionalized movement where behavioral patterns and values would be defined as constants, a movement guaranteeing the greatest share of social work ethics with equal chances, rights and duties based on a clear and accurate description of responsibility, missions and autonomy. Al-WefâqSociety tested several rules of procedure, introducing amendments to internal measures from time to time in order to develop its institutional structure and democratize itself. The problem was that al-Wefâq merely understood institutionalization in its bureaucratic shape and the function performed by administrative bureaucracy. Hence, it glossed over or failed to explain the concept of bureaucracy, which it aimed to attain through its efforts.

23Al-Wefâq Society is still a young political organization, and is, therefore, exposed to the threat of breakup as pressure intensifies or as potential political changes occur, such as with the State Security Law or the disruption of civil peace, or even when some security services harassed the opposition as it engaged in political action. This explains certain phenomena within the Society, such as calling for replacing leaders with younger or second-generation figures. While it is true that al-Wefâqexecutive officials are mostly over 40, such phenomena are nonetheless considered recent in the history of the Society.

24This gap between the organization’s age and those of its members made it very difficult to abide by institutional logic, for executive officials and leaders often held recourse to their experiences prior to al-Wefâq’s establishment as a basis for measures and policy-making. Many al-Wefâq leaders continued deriving inspiration from their former experiences in order to confront obstacles and challenges, and, according to several examples, experiences should be carefully chosen, especially those that contribute to the consolidation of power and influence within the organization. This behavior primarily aimed to confront challenges and obstacles. Covertly, however, these were defense measures so as to confront institutional requirements, such as the alternation of power within the party or the replacement of party leaders with others from a different generation. In contrast, some – younger – members did not have any historic experience, but rather a modern practical knowledge. These members attempted to implement their knowledge within the organization on the political level while challenging the others’ historic experience. This threw into question al-Wefâq’s capacity to maintain its functions and objectives in light of the growing wish to preserve its organizational structure.

25When the 2005 law for political associations was issued, the Society could become more accurate in defining its objectives. Prior to this law, associations registered under the law for civil associations were banned from clearly proclaiming their political objectives. However, according to the new rules of procedure, they were now able to be explicit about the political representation of Bahraini citizens, their participation in decision-making, and their support of the power alternation principle, thus edging nearer than ever to the functions of a political party.

26Al-Wefâq Society has seemingly achieved none of its objectives. For instance, it has not attained its objective of representing new sections of society; rather, several factions left the organization and chose to quit politics. Still, this does not mean that the Society is walking down the path of intransigence. Indeed, this was merely the start of an organizational experience following a period of discontinuity and a popular experience that went against the organizational trend, not to mention the pressure exerted by the political regime. We would be wholly mistaken to try al-Wefâq Society based on the output of a complete democratic system.

  • 6   According to the rules of procedure, the council is composed of 30 members in the first session, (...)

27Against a backdrop of few chances for adaptation, al-Wefâqstrived to ameliorate the hierarchy of its organizational units. Its internal order thus developed from a simple structure composed of a general assembly electing a board of directors, which in turn formed special committees, into a system based on three organizational levels: First comes an upper level composed of two organisms, the General Secretariat appointed by the secretary general, who in turn is elected by the General Congress; and al-WefâqConsultative Council6, which oversees the activities of the General Secretariat and the actions of the parliamentary and municipal bloc. The second level is made up of the General Congress and the Arbitration Committee, and the third is composed of the committees emanating from the General Secretariat or the Consultative Council, which represent the base along with the members who are not represented in any of these levels.

  • 7   The seminar is held annually in the House of Lords and participation in it is a highly controvers (...)

28The complicated aspect of the rules of procedure and their availability as a written reference that defines the prerogatives of each of the Society’s units gave additional vitality to internal democracy. This was manifested by the fact that any divergence of opinions would be resolved based on the rules of procedure, and conflicts would often be resolved or postponed due to objections raised by the other party in light of the Society’s bylaws, even though it exacerbated sensitivities in some cases. This was the case when Deputy Secretary General Hassan Mshaymeh took the initiative to participate in a seminar on Bahrain held in London in 2006. During this seminar, he expressed views that were not publicly adopted by al-Wefâq, thus triggering a violent wave of criticism against the Society. Secretary General Sheikh Ali Salman then said that the opinion expressed in the seminar was a personal one that did not reflect that of the Society based on its rules of procedure, whereby the secretary general, rather than his deputy, represents the Society7.

  • 8   Mohammad Said, former member of the al-WefâqPolitical Committee, exclusive interview, May 28, 200 (...)

29This hierarchical development was in conformity with the democratic character of any political party, thus providing the basis for al-Wefâq’s action. Nevertheless, things were not this simple, as this hierarchy was supposed to have an active and present function, which al-Wefâq Society failed to ensure. Many organizational units did not attend the meetings regularly, knowing that the quorum was seldom complete. One of these units, namely the Monitoring Committee, even paid some of its members for projects they did not complete8. Upon closer scrutiny of these internal dynamics, it appears that many organizational levels were not playing their role as they should have, since they were subordinate to the General Secretariat, which was being monopolized by the secretary general, as reported by several members.

  • 9  Exclusive interview with a member of the al-Wefâqon condition of anonymity, May 28, 2008.

30Due to this functional imbalance, the Society did not manage to avert secessions at quite an early stage of its life. This imbalance also translated in the fact that the abovementioned levels lost confidence in and respect for their respective roles. For instance, members of the Parliamentary Bloc did not take kindly to having Shûra Council members monitor their work, justifying this reluctance by invoking the lack of parliamentary experience, which was relatively new for al-Wefâq Society9.

  • 10  This council is composed of the most prominent Shiite scholars in Bahrain. Established in 2004, it (...)
  • 11  The Islamic Scholars’ Council, Statement on Participation in the Parliamentary Elections (in Ara (...)
  • 12  The Islamic Scholars’ Council, Statement on the Results of the Parliamentary and Municipal Electi (...)

31According to many observers, discussing the reasons underlying the functional deterioration of organizational levels against a backdrop of organizational intricacy merely refers to self-rule or autonomy. Self-rule is an indicator of the Society’s independence and its dealings with other social or political organizations. In contrast, its actions may be subordinated (Huntington, 1968, p. 34) to other social forces supporting or overlapping it, especially the Islamic Scholars’ Council10. Despite its religious character, the council plays a major political role based on its conviction that religion and politics are intricately related. It has, for example, issued many political statements, some of which were behind its participation in the 2006 parliamentary and municipal elections. The particular statement issued at the time was: “Despite all crises and tensions on the political and security levels, and despite all obstacles, the Islamic Scholars’ Council believes that participation in the elections is the best option, allowing it to confront this situation with all its complications and to foil strife, exclusion and sequestration schemes.”11 The council issued another statement following the proclamation of election results, calling for national consensus and urging political forces who failed to reach parliament to play their political role from outside parliament.12

32This confusion can be explained as follows: First, both formations are based on the Islamic referential authority and the harmonious vision of mixing religion and politics; second, they enjoy an aura of strength and influence among the popular mass of supporters who also back al-Wefâq; and third, the Shiites, upon examining their situation in Bahrain, consider themselves a community with grievances, which can be addressed only through multiple power sources outside the framework of the State. Hence, many al-Wefâqmembers and supporters hold this overlapping as perfectly normal and find its natural explanation in the close relation between al-Wefâqand the religious authority, emphasizing the latter’s role in the Society’s political decision-making process. In contrast, some do not hide their aversion for such a degree of overlapping, considering that Sheikh Issa Qassem’s opinions and instructions generally transform into decisions adopted within al-WefâqGeneral Secretariat, and, thus become binding for all the associations that are allied with it. This has a negative impact on political and demand-oriented action in Bahrain now and in the future (Rahiba, 2007, p. 456).

Diversity within al-Wefâq?

33The question is: How didal-Wefâq manage its former diversity, and why was diversity frozen in favor of one opinion? Did its institutional dimension contribute to the imitation of democracy within it? A closer look at al-Wefâq’s developmental course is most likely to reveal that the vanishing of some positive signs from the Society’s inner circles and the waning of some democratic dynamics in favor of more traditional ones were due to the receding rate of networks based on individual interests in return for increasing chances for the community, which forms a cohesive social unit, hence the possibility of shaping it into a closed, static formation.

34For further details, one can draw a comparison between two stages of al-Wefâq’s short lifespan, i.e. between the board of directors that had been in force ever since its establishment and the new rules of procedure that were adopted following the Society’s registration under the law for political associations. The board of directors was a strong, elected body that was home to conflicting points of view, each of which sought to exert political pressure that would reflect its strength to the masses. Furthermore, there were no major constraints imposed by the bylaws, which led to relations inter pares that lacked a reasonable dose of internal distribution of roles. Conflicts were settled, therefore, only by speaking in the Society’s name or by opting for secession from it. The first such secession came as a result of demands to grant educated members and clerics (the Scholars’ Council) equal power, knowing that the same reason holds true for the second secession as well. The difference is that the first group had no power or influence whatsoever outside the Board of Directors, and it had a weak support base among members. Al-Wefâq was, thus, little affected by this secession. In contrast, the second one was led by influential and hawkish symbolic figures who played a decisive role in taking steps that went against government decisions.

35The withdrawal of hawkish members from the Society spelled the end of any dissenting or different voices and spoke of dwindling chances of finding any lone internal networks in favor of the so-called theory of accumulation (gradual advancement), whereby individuals are controlled by the other members and subjected to the requirements of their roles. This justifies the quasi-monopoly on power by the secretary general and the scholars based on the principle that different roles and disparities among power levels lead to greater harmony and better production.

36Since the General Secretariat is, under the new rules of procedure, appointed by the secretary general, the latter is endowed with greater power, one that is elected by the General Congress. Given the weakness of other units, such as the Consultative Council and the Arbitration Committee, members can, as some have already done, detach themselves and relinquish any action or follow a fatalist path that does not believe in the power of change and rejectionism.

The Constitution and Elections

37The momentum behind the establishment of al-Wefâq relied entirely on participation in the parliamentary elections and on securing major political gains for the Islamic movement, in addition to its providing an adequate space for the implementation of its Islamic and political agenda. Its acceptance of – or strong belief in – the elections led to the evolution of the concept of control and power from the theory of the Islamic state to that of the Islamic society, as well as to the promotion of the Islamic movement’s constitutional situation. We will endeavor to describe the electoral experience of al-Wefâq and its consequences.

Turning to society

38According to the Islamic interpretation, the relation between the State and society was deteriorating because the State lacked a good political system, i.e. the Islamic model. The victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979 further consolidated this conviction both in terms of knowledge and practice, thus allowing the prevalence of ideas picturing an Islamic state and system as a political alternative. From the end of the 1970s to the mid-1990s, an Islamic state and it virtues were the basis of the Islamic movement’s political rhetoric, whether in religious sermons or in the ongoing process of religious education in most Bahraini regions.

39It is worth mentioning that the Bahraini knowledge-production process did not create any specific cultural product; rather, it still relied on the production of other Islamic movements and on general knowledge about the Islamic state, or the so-called Islamic government. This is due to the Islamic movement’s self-perception compared to similar Islamic groups as a part within a whole, and to its belief that Islamic thinking is unique and applicable everywhere and at all times. In fact, the closer a political movement is to the local reality, the harder it seeks to retain its specificity within the framework of the general picture. This drove the Islamic movement at the time to adapt its theses to the more general ones, as it had developed an interest in public and world issues, albeit with none to address on the local level. Local rhetoric flared up in the early 1990s and eventually triggered a reevaluation of statements and objectives within the Islamic movement. Indeed, regional circumstances were recorded, starting with the end of the Iran-Iraq War in 1988, the debate over democracy following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, and the emergence of elite youths among Islamic action leaders in the shape of clerics returning from the hawza(traditional religious school) of Qom with local and world objectives. All of the above reasons urged Islamic leaders to undertake to this assessment and look for some local position to be used as support for integrating the State.

  • 13  For further details about this committee and its underlying aspects, refer to Rabiha (2007), Marho (...)

40One of the results of this assessment was that Islamic movement leaders joined a national alliance (the Popular Petition Committee)13 aimed at restoring parliament and political participation with others in order to resolve the crisis plaguing the State and society. Yet a minimum of guarantees of democracy and civil peace were enough to stress the Islamic movement’s pivotal slogan of a good society instead of a good State.

  • 14 Al-Wefâq, The General Platform of the al-Wefâq Parliamentary Bloc” (in Arabic), 2006, p. 9-14.

41This transformation was more clearly and strikingly outlined in the general platform, which defined al-Wefâq’s vision of the political system “during Imam Mahdî’s absence as one where the nation’s referential authority chooses its governments based on consultations among its components and on taking advantage of the modern democratic mechanisms that were developed by various human experiences through legal methods and peaceful political tools in order to ensure the alternation of power under the constitutional monarchy.” Al-Wefâqcurrently believes in “building a modern nation and good governance that guarantees the people’s participation in decision-making while upholding the principles of freedom, justice and equality in keeping with the Islamic vision.” The strategic aim underpinning this vision is “a political system based on the constitutional monarchy, the rule of law and separation of powers”, a system where “citizenship – rather than racial, tribal or sectarian distinction – matters most.”14

  • 15   For additional information, refer to Al-Mershed (2002).

42It is still difficult to complete this transformation and relinquish other principles that counter the concept of the nation’s being the master of its own self, especially since such rhetoric seems to be quite condensed and purposeful, such as the declarations made by Sheikh Issa Qassem on several occasions. In truth, speeches tackling the Guardianship of the Jurist (wilâyat al-faqîh) theory, made by some referential religious authorities for whom al-Wefâq is much obliged should not prevent us from realizing the importance of this transition, its positive outcomes and the possibility of developing it at the service of the democratic process and national integration. This transformation is actually necessary, and even inevitable, in the case of the Islamic movement in Bahrain for the following reasons: First, there is no realistic chance of forming an Islamic state in Bahrain; and second, the process of striking political alliances with parties that reject the principle of an Islamic state in the first place compels the Islamic movement to look for common ground.15 One also notes that there are no Sunni or non-Shiite members of al-Wefâq. In light of the divisions plaguing society, which relies on traditional circles for sociopolitical education, any demands in this respect would eventually undermine any kind of citizen education or – in many cases – would transform citizenship into a hybrid product to be violated for the benefit of primary communities.

The constitutional vision

43What is the secret behind the attachment of al-Wefâq to its constitutional demands and to making the decennial constitution one of its strategic objectives?

  • 16  Even though this is not apparent in the political rhetoric, this reason is invoked in several case (...)

44This vision is justified for several reasons, the first of which is that the Islamic movement considers it has been entrusted with overseeing the 1973 Constitution. Furthermore, the religious bloc that took part in the 1972 Constituent Assembly elections left its distinct imprint on the constitution, especially with regard to defining the State’s identity according to Islamic and Arab standards. This dimension acquires a special importance upon examining the positions of political movements vis-à-vis the Constituent Assembly and their call for boycotting the elections in 2002 at a time when the Islamic movement used to represent a political minority on the political landscape. For the Islamic movement and al-Wefâq, the fact that Islamic movements acknowledged the referential status of the 1973 constitution is a victory for their political vision, which has been proven right ever since16.

  • 17  For further details on the difference between the 1973 constitution and the 2002 constitution, ref (...)

45Another important reason lies in the fact that the 1973 constitution granted the elected legislative authority broad powers. The practical exercise of this authority resulted in al-Wefâq’s hegemony over legislative power despite the unfair electoral districting, which allowed horizontal and sectarian division. This is added to other elements enabling the opposition, including Islamic forces, to exercise a control function and even hold the prime minister accountable17.

46The third reason, which makes the previous one all the more important, pertains to the Islamic movement’s responsibility for the constitutional upheaval of 1994, which lasted until the proclamation of the National Action Charter in 2001. The upheaval mainly called for the resumption of parliamentary life and the complete implementation of the 1973 constitution.

  • 18  Al-Gharifi is one of Bahrain’s religious figures and is now the second-in-command in the Islamic S (...)
  • 19   Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad, press conference, February 5, 2001.
  • 20  The late Prince Issa bin Salman made a preemptive gesture in 1992 by establishing an appointed Shu (...)

47The Islamic movement’s attachment to the constitution led it to insist on the top leaders of the political regime prior to the announcement of the National Action Charter to make clear, public statements on the need not to harm the powers of the elected legislative authority by enacting others that undermine them. A few religious leaders managed to obtain written guarantees in this respect from the king when he visited the Majlis (salon) of Alawi al-Gharifi18, in addition to having the crown prince19 emphasize this in a press conference followed by the Justice minister’s assertion that legislative power was held exclusively by the elected parliament. The February 2002 coup and the proclamation of the results of the Constitutional Amendment Committee came as a surprise and a shock not only to al-Wefâq, but also to all political forces within the opposition. It was as though things had gone back to square one, for these amendments gave the elected parliament’s legislative powers to the appointed Shûra Council, and deprived the elected parliament of its control and legislation powers while exaggerating those of the king and the executive authority. This was, in practice, tantamount to a return to the 1990s formula, which the opposition rejected20.

  • 21   Secretary General of the al-Wefâq, Ali Salman, special interview, June 4, 2008.

48Hence, al-Wefâq boycotted the 2002 elections and took part in the municipal elections. The decision to boycott was based on the argument that “the 2002 constitution steals the people’s powers, lays once again the foundations of political tyranny and renders popular participation devoid of any meaning21.”This decision, however, was not an easy one to make and was the object of much controversy both within the Society and outside it. Al-Wefâq was compelled to hold an extraordinary congress in the Society of Engineers headquarters in order to come out with a democratic justification of the decision to boycott.

49Paradoxically, this polemic debate over the position on the constitution (constitutionality) undermined and almost unsettled the Society. Indeed, the current secretary general, who chaired the Board of Directors at the time, was in favor of participation in the elections, as was the case with the key iconic figures of the religious establishment. In contrast, other leading figures within al-Wefâq, such as Hassan Mshaymeh, and outside the Society, such as Abdel Wahhab al-Hassan, remained intransigent and decided to boycott. The sole gateway for the Society was to find refuge in democratic principles and to allow conflicting points of view to expose their arguments while steering away from the religious establishment, which endowed political executives with decision-making power and abstained from commenting on the issue. Al-Wefâq was thus able to transcend the ordeal of secession and splitting.

  • 22  This group was composed of Dr. Nizar al-Baharina and attorney Abdel Shaheed Khalaf.
  • 23   Mohammad Said, exclusive interview, May 29, 2008.

50Given that democracy is not deeply rooted in al-Wefâq’s structure and that its internal interactions are subject to various criteria, the Group of the Educated22 seceded from the Society under the pretext that abiding by the boycott until after the 2006 elections would lead to utter political failure. Thus, the constitution upon which al-WefâqSociety was founded and built ultimately caused its dissociation. Far from being influential, this secession was met with outbursts of joy by many groups, and the Society’s deputy chairman, Hassan Mshaymeh, even referred to it as the process of dumping waste out of the body23. Nevertheless, it paved the way for a similar decision taken by Hassan Mshaymeh and other members when the issue of registration under the 2005 law for political associations was raised. The claim was that this law was a blatant violation of the spirit and articles of the constitution, and the group opted for withdrawing from the Society rather than accepting the result of the vote, which came in favor of the registration process.

  • 24   Secretary General of the al-WefâqAli Salman, exclusive interview, June 4, 2008.

51Still, the current political experience has not led al-Wefâq to forsake the constitution or the constitutional vision it calls for. The Society is not opposed to the adoption of constitutional provisions with a liberal or lay spirit, but it has expressed many reservations on laws pertaining to Islamic provisions, such as the personal status code or the law on moral corruption. Al-Wefâq Society took part in the Special Investigation Commission into the moral excesses resulting from plays run as part of the Spring of Culture series in 2007. Even when it was outside parliament and committed to the boycott, it supported the parliamentary decision to ban a Nancy Ajram show in 2005 and joined other Islamic forces (Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood) in signing once again a request to ban singer Haifa Wehbé from entering Bahrain for a concert in 2008. Al-Wefâq leaders do not see this as a violation of the constitution or as conflicting with their calls for implementing this constitution, which organizes personal freedom, since these are “issues that are harmful to the Islamic identity of society, and the Islamic movement is entitled to voice its opinion in this respect, albeit without having recourse to violence in order to impose it24.”

52All this leads to a question about the possibility of wavering commitment to the constitution in the democracy-building process. In fact, the preservation of the constitution was behind the Society’s boycott of the elections as well as its secession and splitting, even if this happened a while after the democratic vote. Also, this same constitution justified al-Wefâq’s support of positions regarded by some as contravening the personal freedoms guaranteed by the constitution and even had it sign statements issued by Islamic blocs, which hamper the constitutional process.

Obtaining the majority

53When hawkish al-Wefâq personalities withdrew from the Society and formed a separate political movement, al-Haqq Movement, the internal balance of power changed, and it became possible to say that the Society edged closer to rallying behind one opinion and acting as a bloc with the same vision regarding issues and conflict management. Therefore, it was quite easy for al-Wefâq Society to opt for participation in the 2006 elections and end its boycott, which hawkish members had been sponsoring until reaching an agreement with the political regime over an adequate constitutional solution. This does not mean that the Society no longer harbors any figures who express reservations on the role of the religious referential authority and its direct meddling in party action. These personalities remained in al-Wefâq, but this did not prevent them from always seeking to derive advantages from this relation. We will see later on how this category would exert a noticeable influence in the formation of electoral lists according to this dynamic.

54Taking into consideration the secretary general’s influential position as a charismatic personality who is close to the religious referential authority, his broad roles on the organizational level and the weakness of other organizational units, al-Wefâq General Assembly held an extraordinary meeting during which it decided to take part in the elections. The Society had already had recourse to the system of electoral lists in the elections of its Consultative Council, which were held prior to the General Assembly meeting, in an attempt to ward off the secession shock. Even though the so-called Faith List, which is close to the religious referential authority, scored a sweeping victory, the presidency of the Consultative Council was granted to one of the winners from the other list after he threatened to withdraw if he was not appointed chairman. Sheikh Issa Qassem intervened, advising to compromise democracy in order to prevent the Society’s unity from falling apart.

  • 25  The National Democratic Action Society, political report submitted to the third congress held in J (...)

55The new Consultative Council played a major role in advocating the decision to participate in the 2006 elections, and the same held true for the General Secretariat, which was appointed by the secretary general. All that remained was to convince the political associations that were in favor of the boycott of the need to adopt a similar decision in order to secure the people’s almost unanimous support for participation in the elections. Some of these associations took similar decisions when the participation of al-Wefâq Society in the elections was confirmed25.

  • 26  The Islamic Scholars’ Council,“Statement on the forthcoming parliamentary elections” (in Arabic), (...)

56Important as they were, these considerations could not, however, urge people to participate without the direct intervention of the religious referential authority. The Scholars’ Council thus issued a statement in which it called for taking part in the elections, arguing this was the best option to confront the prevailing reality with all its complications, and to resist schemes leading to strife, exclusion and expropriation26.

  • 27  Memorandum submitted by the secretary general to the General Assembly of the al-Wefâq Society on J (...)

57In truth, there was no conflict over the issue of participation. The memorandum filed by the Society’s General Secretariat to the General Congress was, actually, the same that had been submitted to the General Assembly in 2002, albeit with the addition of some field applications. The 2002 memorandum had been rejected by the members who were present and who voted against it. The amended memorandum noticeably referred to the option of participation and constitutional demands as goods that no one buys except those boycotting the elections. This second version stressed the fact that the Society was now besieged on the international level since it was not represented in official institutions, whereas other associations, schools of thought and personalities of lesser importance were widely accepted and gained media coverage27.

58An internal crisis erupted over the formation of electoral lists and the criteria for choosing the candidates, and the Society appeared to be unable to find a democratic solution to the ensuing conflict of interests. The crisis unfolded on several levels.

59The first level pertained to the rules of procedure and the conflicting roles of the General Secretariat and the Consultative Council. According to the Society’s bylaws, electoral lists must be approved by the Consultative Council, which submits them to the Secretary General following sufficient consultations with the people and the electoral districts. Candidates also have to submit their candidature requests for approval by the General Secretariat. The crisis originated in the wish of several Consultative Council members to run in the elections and the ensuing conflict on whether they should run in the municipal or parliamentary elections. The question was: How can the Consultative Council ratify an electoral list that includes several of its members? What would happen to the Consultative Council if its members were to ratify their own candidacies? The easy answer was that the secretary general is responsible for forming the lists and is entitled to have them include those he deems worthy of running for the elections. Actually, this solution further undermined the Consultative Council to the benefit of the General Secretariat and provided yet another opportunity for the emergence of a new political unit, namely the Parliamentary Bloc, which would become second in importance within the Society after the General Secretariat.

60The second level pertained to the field process of choosing candidates and its compatibility with the competences needed to become a member of parliament or of a municipal council. While al-Wefâq took part in the 2002 municipal elections, it was not confronted with the same problem due to the limited nature of that experience and to the fact that any decision was then linked to several forces within the Society. The parliamentary elections, in contrast, were a much more important experience in which the diversity of forces was replaced by conflicting interests in the same organism within the Society.

61The electoral list was formed based on these dynamics and was composed of candidates from a variety of vocational backgrounds, including academics, clerics and civil servants, not to mention their varied ethnic composition (native Bahrainis and others of Iranian descent) and referential tradition (local references and others linked to Najaf and Qom). The methods of choosing candidates and their personal capacities prevented this diversity from playing any conflict-raising role. Most candidates were loyal either to the secretary general or to Sheikh Issa Qassem, or even to both of them, and several competent personalities were left off of the list because of their independent behavior free from personal loyalty. This was the case of Saleh al-Qatari, whose candidacy was rejected and replaced by that of Khalil Marzouq. This also held true in the region of Al-Janousan, where the Candidature Committee overturned the regional decision to back the candidacy of Ali Mirza (Abu Nabil), and allowed that of three other candidates, one of whom was cleric and current MP Makki al-Wadaai, who is close to Ayatollah Sheikh Hussein Najati.

62The news spread rapidly within al-Wefâq’s inner popular circles, and the crisis grew worse. The Society thus needed a stronger unifying factor than its organizational structure or loyalty to the institution, as the Consultative Council rejected the secretary general’s list.

63Surprisingly, the list was subsequently approved with a greater majority in the Consultative Council than in the General Secretariat in order to please the religious referential authority, which intervened to rectify the secretary general’s decision and put forth the so-called Faith Bloc composed of 17 members who won in all districts but one.

  • 28  The National Democratic Action Society was established in 2001 and is considered an extension to s (...)

64Al-WefâqSociety soon found itself in a second crisis regarding coordination with allied associations, especially the National Democratic Action Society (Wa’ad)28. Closed electoral districts were formed as some societies started calling for secure seats in them. But al-WefâqSociety settled the issue with clear political pragmatism, preferring to retain its districts in order to achieve a consensus majority that could be used politically at the expense of a unified national list. A proposal was made for al-Wefâqto relinquish some seats in secure districts in favor of candidates from the four-party alliance, which included associations that boycotted the 2002 parliamentary elections, i.e. al-WefâqSociety, the Islamic Action Society, the National Democratic Action Society and the National Democratic Gathering. The situation remained unchanged following several contacts and discussions regarding the electoral alliance. At the same time, there were attempts to give a positive image of the alliance when the secretary general attended the inauguration of the electoral seats of the Democratic Action Society and the Islamic Action society candidates, and when Sheikh Ali Salman dedicated his speech during the inauguration ceremony to the Democratic Action Society candidate, Munira Fakhro. The exact opposite happened in Al-Nuaim and Madinat Issa, where al-Wefâqcandidates ran along with others from the Democratic Action Society and where Islamic Action Society candidate Zahra Mouradi ran against Abdel Rahman al-Nouaimi, who was representing the Democratic Action Society.

65Though aware of their limited chances to achieve victory, some political associations insisted on knowing the number of supporters they had in these districts and on proving their geographical expansion and their competitiveness. This was the case with Zahra Mouradi, who won a high proportion of votes in the Arad district, or Ibrahim Kamaleddine, a Democratic Action Society candidate running against al-Wefâq’s Sheikh Jassem al-Moumen.

  • 29  These candidates are Abdel Rahman al-Nuaimi, Ibrahim Sharif and Munira Fakhro. Their victory in th (...)

66In a last attempt to put right its image of electoral supremacy, al-Wefâq Society fully backed the independent candidate, Dr. Aziz Abl, and gave him precedence over a candidate affiliated with the Islamic Action Society so that al-Wefâq MPs aimed for a projected equation of 17+1 with only a slight hope in the victory of three candidates representing the Democratic Action Society29. al-Wefâq’s electoral campaign team was involved in the second electoral round with great efficiency, especially in Abdel Rahman al-Nouaimi’s campaign. This, however, did not prevent al-Wefâq’s allies from holding it responsible for the failure to elect a national list instead of its predominantly-Shiite one.

The results of the 2006 elections

  • 30  Refer to the report of the High Committee for Monitoring the 2006 elections.

67The election results did not come as a surprise for al-Wefâq Society, which won the majority of seats with more than 80,000 votes out of approximately 210,000 eligible voters30. All of its candidates achieved victory, save one in a mixed electoral district. These results proved that it was capable of channeling Shiite votes from various backgrounds and levels in its favor, and that it was the primary choice of Shiite voters. Yet, at the same time, the results proved its inability to win votes from outside the Shiite community for several reasons, including the electoral districting law and its responsibility for the categorization of closed districts. Besides, al-Wefâq’s political platform included other issues of no interest to the Sunni community, which perceives them less as national causes than as attempts to promote the welfare of the Shiite community. The media campaign led by pro-government blocs and the government succeeded in discrediting many neutral issues, such as the calls for the restoration of the 1973 constitution’s principles, the electoral districting law, politically-motivated naturalizations or sectarian discrimination. Indeed, merely raising these issues would predictably exacerbate sectarian tensions so dangerous as to undermine social cohesion.

68The parliamentary elections experience was beneficial to al-Wefâq Society in order to consolidate its organization and mobilization capacities, and to promote its status within the political system. The Society thus put up a good performance despite significant political and popular pressure. Still, the same experience revealed the Society’s failures and shortcomings, particularly with regard to its conflict-resolution capacity and its total reliance on solutions provided by the religious establishment and its reference, Sheikh Issa Qassem. In reality, it rather needed to promote internal democratic mechanisms and create means of pluralistic partisan education that would counter the negative effects of the phenomenon of isolation, secession or even withdrawal.

69This experience shed light on al-Wefâq’s attachment to its political status as a lone player that could elaborate independent national strategies even without referring to historic allies or other parties to the opposition. It eventually became prey to the illusion of the powerless majority as opposed to the active minority. al-Wefâq had won the majority of parliamentary seats (16 members of parliament), hence its right to obtain several advantages in absolute democratic terms, or at least the position of parliament speaker. Yet this did not occur, and al-Wefâq Society, despite having gained the majority, represented the opposition and was still excluded from important parliament departments, such as the position of parliament speaker, the General Secretariat Office and all main parliamentary commissions.

70Membership in parliament nonetheless forced al-Wefâq Society to reorganize its political situation and come to terms with its reality as a newly-established political party with no experience in parliamentary action. This drove al-Wefâq bloc to look for political parliamentary alliances and disregard its previous ones, which had been exposed to several blows during the period of electoral campaigning and which collapsed once the results of the elections came out. The government actually controlled the parliamentary majority and was capable of foiling any draft backed by al-Wefâq without having recourse to the second chamber of the National Assembly since the current parliament was divided along sectarian lines, not to mention that the existence of a parliamentary bloc was dependent on the government’s political and financial support. The concomitance of failure and sectarian division was likely to label the parliament as weak and to question its capacity to provide citizens with adequate output, knowing that the generalization of this image leads to the people’s disengagement from the legislative institution, replacing it with reliance on the government and acceptance of its performance, even if it is unsatisfactory.

71Though controlling the largest parliamentary bloc, al-Wefâq Society did not manage to attain any of the objectives set in its political platform, because it rapidly fell into the trap of sectarian polarization upon which parliament is based due to electoral districting or to pro-government parties and the nature of their political action. The bloc merely submitted a few questions and draft laws without any response from the government or other blocs. Parliament thus rejected the draft law on the criminalization of sectarian discrimination and turned down the Society’s petition to question Minister of State Ahmad Atiatullah in connection with the so-called al-Bandar report. It also repelled a draft law on amending some articles of the constitution as well as the bylaws. In addition, the bloc was unable to discuss the law on electoral districting, the law for political associations and the anti-terrorism law. Parliament forced al-Wefâq bloc, in return, into compliance with a series of unpopular laws, such as the law on the 1% deduction to the benefit of the Unemployment Fund and the law on the criminalization of Molotov cocktails.

72On the internal level, the parliamentary experience was extremely influential and wearing following the formation of the Parliamentary Bloc, which became the primary organism within al-Wefâq Society and the most privileged one in terms of its activities and political output. The bloc holds a weekly press conference and is responsible for the development of the Society’s internal and external relations as well as for the definition of a political opinion regarding current issues. The expansion of the bloc’s role made it impossible for the Consultative Council to exercise its control function since several of its members were, at the same time, members of the bloc. Another reason lies in the fact that the remaining Consultative Council members had little political experience and knowledge, and but modest experience in the management of alliances and crises. Knowing that the Consultative Council and the General Secretariat had formed a committee for the supervision of parliamentary action, the bloc’s role had expanded so much that this denomination was rejected and replaced by a mere reference to a follow-up committee. Hence, al-Wefâq Parliamentary Bloc undercut the Society’s role and hijacked its activities.

Political Recruitment and Mobilization

73The relation between the State and society was characterized by confrontation and mutual questioning, and most political movements were born in an oppressive political environment, which explains the extreme antagonism in the relation between the State and these forces. The Islamic movement succeeded in filling in the void left by the State by tending to the psychological needs of large swathes of the population, which deemed that the Islamic movement was able to provide for their political needs, especially in terms of national loyalty. In turn, the Islamic movement exploited this loyalty in order to develop its aspirations and objectives, a trend that became more pronounced once it developed into political associations.

74Political institutionalization meant looking for channels to use for political recruitment and for the multiplication of political figures and platforms in order to maximize representativeness, thus allowing the Society to reach decision-making positions and important political functions, and to take advantage of these positions in order to gain votes and hands working almost free of charge.

  • 31   Article 6 of the rules of procedure of the al-Wefâq stipulates that objectives include “promoting (...)

75All political associations have their own vision on youths, women and the media, all of which are dealt with as factors aiding the success of political action. Even though the objective heralded by al-Wefâq Society emphasized the role of youths and women31, there was no positive practical implementation of this vision, and the relevant strategies in force should be reviewed in order to promote interest in them as well as their role and functions.

Mobilization channels

  • 32   The Directorate of Jaafari Endowments, Our Mosques (in Arabic), May 2008, p. 2-4.
  • 33  For further details on memorial gatherings, refer to Khoury (1983). See Niethammer ( 2006).

76The process of mobilizing youths and women withinal-Wefâq Society relies primarily on non-governmental institutions, such as memorial gatherings, mosques and civil associations. Shiite funerals and mosques play an undeniable political role through ‘Ashura rites and other religious ceremonies, such as celebrations marking the birth and death of various imams. Moreover, mosques and memorial gatherings provide locations for constant religious sessions and lessons supervised by Islamic cadres. Here, Shiite mosques played a major role through the impact of Friday sermons on political mobilization throughout the past period since, according to tradition, the preacher would earmark a section of the Friday sermon for discussing the political situation on the local and international levels. The number of Shiite mosques is currently estimated at 724, including 339 in the Northern Governorate, which is categorized as Shiite. According to the classification of the Directorate of Jaafari Endowments, 65% of these mosques do not generate any revenues and are able to tend to their needs only thanks to a 3% cut in the resources of wealthy mosques32. As for memorial gatherings, they officially exceed 500 in number all over Bahrain33. Ever since the 1990s, those responsible for these institutions started being elected by the inhabitants of the region compared to earlier times when they were run by some families. This allowed the Islamic movement to tighten its grip on these institutions and exploit them for its own benefit.

77In light of political and religious efficiency at the service of social harmony, these institutions abide by a rhetoric whereby political Islamic action is an act of worship requiring patience, jihad, perseverance and progress, hence numerous political positions voiced by imams and clerics who endured pain and hardships so that justice reigns supreme. Such an education takes political action to the highest levels on the one hand, while dealing with it, on the other, through worship and the religious referential authority. There was a clear differentiation between religious commitment based on worship and rites on the one hand, and, on the other, religious commitment based on ideology and linked to political action. The former was often overlooked since it focused on the individual to the detriment of society and involvement in societal issues. On the spiritual level and with regard to its societal image, political action from an Islamic standpoint refers to correspondence between these individuals and top scholars and referential authorities, such as Imam Khomeini, Mohammad Baqer al-Sadr and other clerics who delved into political action.

  • 34  For further details on the role of memorial gatherings and mosques in the political process, refer (...)

78This quasi-total dependence on this kind of institution for recruitment and mobilization leads to the prevalence of a preferential scale according to which the exercise of political action ranks higher in value than any other kind of action, thus transforming these institutions into “incubators” of cadres and energies. At this stage, it becomes necessary for al-Wefâq Society to supervise and sponsor these institutions. The fact that the Society shared mostly the same sociopolitical vision with them was quite helpful, and the Islamic movement derived extensive benefits from it in its long struggle against the government, using its output in a very organized manner and without any complications, considering that these institutions were widely found in society and were free from official dominances and trends34.

79This dependence resulted, in practice, in the mobilization of great numbers of youths and women and their registration as members of the Society, which – thus – ranked first among political associations in terms of membership. Al-WefâqSociety has nearly 35,000 registered members, the vast majority of whom were registered after the Ministry of Labor banned political associations within the opposition from gathering signatures on a petition calling on the king to recant the 2002 constitution and abide by the 1973 constitution, knowing that the ministry limited the right of associations to gather signatures from their own members only. This drove many people to register as members of political associations in conformity with their political orientations, and it was only normal then for al-Wefâq’s share to be this important since it led a popular campaign calling for registration so as to sign the petition. In order to curb this expansion, the government arrested several activists gathering signatures and registration to join in the Society. al-Wefâqprobably benefited from the important membership volume in order to magnify its popular role and the trust it enjoys within most social sectors. Such a high number of adherents was, actually, of rare occurrence in Bahrain and neighboring countries, but this did not prevent the emergence of similar difficulties, which al-WefâqSociety did not manage to avoid.

80The main difficulty was that most members were not politicized or did not care much about political matters, and many responded to the call of the religious referential authority to sign the petition and protect al-WefâqSociety. Therefore, it became impossible to organize all these members or even to unify their political options and channel them in conformity with those of al-Wefâq. Rather than party members, they were just considered ready masses, not to mention the lack of qualified and active cadres within the Society. Based on these considerations, fewer members are paying their annual subscription fee without which a member loses the right to exercise his rights and duties within the Society. During its third and fourth congresses, al-Wefâqmanaged to convince no more than 1,200 members to pay their annual subscription fees.

81For all these reasons and others as well, one cannot be convinced of al-WefâqSociety’s capacity to lead any mobilization campaign since its mobilization capacity hinges on the orientation of the religious referential authority, the efficiency of non-governmental institutions and their involvement in the Society’s political project. This phenomenon gives rise to many crises on the level of the Society’s organizational structure since the wider popular base is not part of it. This base is, therefore, deprived of any party rights and obligations, and many within it are unable to have the benefit of constant and continuous party culture.

Youth as an inclination to autonomy

82In reality, al-WefâqSociety did not manage until recently to move beyond the effects of this phenomenon, and the Youth and Students Committee, which was formed in the early days of al-Wefâq’s establishment in 2001, did not manage to contain the youth and grant them autonomy until early 2007, when the Youth Center was officially merged into the Society. This manner of dealing with youth is still better than in other political associations where the majority of top executives have a negative opinion of the youth capacity and political orientations.

  • 35  The center was first established under the denomination of the al-WefâqYouth Forum, but a conflict (...)

83In light of the failure of the Youth and Students Committee, a group of young al-Wefâqmembers established their own organism under the denomination of the Bahrain Youth Center35 in a preliminary attempt to lay the foundations of an autonomous entity loyal to al-WefâqSociety, albeit not affiliated to it. It is worth noting that efforts to establish this organism revolved on two axes that were wholly different from those of al-Wefâqand the non-regular institutions loyal to it: First, to minimize the political dimension and avoid politicizing the Youth Center in order to attract the greatest number of young people; and second, to soften the stereotyped image of religious youth.

  • 36  Mohammad Matar, Youth Center member, exclusive interview, May 28, 2008.

84Given the high ambitions of the Youth Center, it realized that the Society was not interested in it due to the existence of the Youth and Students Committee, knowing that two of its members were among the center’s founders. These members called for elaborating a clear strategy that would define the Youth Center as an executive body benefiting from financial sponsorship and support. A proposal was made to establish an honorary consultative council with five members, three of whom would be appointed by al-Wefâq and the remaining two by the center’s board of directors for the purpose of offering advice, providing financial support and opening communication channels from which benefits could be derived36. Nevertheless, this council had but slight performance because members of the Society failed to understand the Youth Center’s function and role.

85The current Youth Center does not meddle in political details, nor is it much aware of the importance of political action; rather, it has taken an interest in college students and working for their cultural development. The center’s philosophy is based on building culture and opening up to other types of thinking. This is manifested in the fact that many guests with orientations different from al-Wefâq’s on the intellectual and political level were invited by the center, and debates were held with them.

86The list formed under the slogan “Students first” is one of the most important achievements of the Youth Center. Established in 2002, this student list is active in the University of Bahrain, and its electoral section often scores victories in the Student Council elections. This promoted the status of the Youth Center within the university and fostered its image of relative autonomy vis-à-vis al-WefâqSociety. Despite the tremendous success achieved by the “Students first” list and its Islamic image, which was promoted thanks to student activities, the center is confronted with the tougher challenge of destroying the stereotype prevailing among some religious referential authorities regarding ethics at the university.

  • 37 For further details on the rise of elites and their political role, refer to Bottomore (1988, p .95 (...)
  • 38  Matar Matar, 2006, “The Youths’ Political Orientations” (in Arabic), an unpublished survey submitt (...)

87Yet the strategy adopted by the youth sector of al-Wefâq Society does not take into consideration the scope of the sociopolitical transformations occurring in Bahrain for the past decade at least. These transformations in the social structure are intrinsically linked to the rise and fall of the elites. Indeed, economic and political developments induce changes in the standing, importance and strength of various social categories, which soon seek to increase their own power in order to control and harness these new conditions37. For instance, the issue of unemployment was behind the emergence of the Force of the Unemployed as a pressure group that managed to act as a lone force and even attempted to compete with al-Wefâq Society. The Force of the Unemployed was able to achieve some of its objectives, the most important of which was the promulgation of the Unemployment Insurance Law. On a similar, albeit slightly different, track in terms of content, one cannot help but notice the rise of a new category of college-educated academics who spread in great numbers, especially as tuition fees at the University of Bahrain underwent a major reduction in parallel to the opening of several training and educational institutes, thus encouraging the rise of youth in touch with technology, especially communications technology. The indicators of the youths’ rise as a new force competing with historical personalities were apparent in the propensity of large numbers of high school students to support al-Haqq Movement38, which was formed by personalities who resigned from al-Wefâq Society in the wake of its registration under the newly-promulgated law for political associations. The resignation of these personalities brought about those of several youth cadres and activists, including Media Committee official Hassan Mshaymeh, some members of the Research and Studies Committee, youth activists and others who had played a key role in al-Wefâq’s activities.

88Al-Haqq Movement’s undeniable success in attracting a large category of school-aged youth is linked to its harsh rhetoric against the government. It actually describes itself as a resistance movement with no intention to bargain. This image was promoted when the government arrested Hassan Mshaymeh, rights activist Abdel Hady Khawaja and a group of activists supporting the movement. These arrests brought to mind the events of the mid-1990s and the launch of the 1994 constitutional upheaval upon the results of which al-Wefâq Society built its own political image.

89These experiences show that youth do not have just one political orientation and are divided in keeping with political division. While this is the case in all political societies, this experience reveals the scope of frustration among youth and their strong ambition to play political roles that mitigate their frustration and compensate for the bleak prospects of the action undertaken by political associations, which have merely become tools to produce political leaders.

Women as a future chance

90Women represent 50% of the Bahraini population, 49% of people aged between 20 and 29, 50% of voters in parliamentary elections, 26% of the labor force and 61% of students in the University of Bahrain. Nevertheless, female membership in political associations does not exceed 16% (Moussawi and Assiri, 2003). According to a survey, more than 60% of women justified their deficient participation in forums and seminars by invoking a lack of time and owing they would rather stay at home with their families once their regular morning chores are done (Feiruz, 2003).

91Regardless of the point of view of political associations on women, they remain absent from these groups, including from al-Wefâq, a situation that goes against the slogans and objectives defined in the rules of procedure or in the political platform. Women seldom reach the upper organizational levels, and in several cases, elections were rigged so that a few women were allowed to win in order to draw a better picture of reality within the Society and strengthen its position regarding women.

92No women members of al-Wefâq Society made it to the Board of Directors when it was still an elected organism, even though women made up to 13% of the Society, which had at the time 1,850 members. Women achieved representation in the General Secretariat in 2006 when two of them won in al-Wefâq Consultative Council elections, in addition to a third one in complementary elections in 2008. A thorough analysis of the situation reveals that al-Wefâq’s standpoint on women and the limited interaction between women and men play an important part in defining the situation of women on the political and party level. In fact, al-Wefâq Society represents an extensive section of a male-based society where women are supposed to tend to daily life issues and avoid interaction with and involvement in public affairs. As a result, women no longer have time for political and party activities, thus cultivating in women an inclination toward fear of failure and of challenging the religion-dominated societal vision. According to a controversial dynamic, the absence of women’s activity in the Society leads to fewer seats earmarked for women and to their submissiveness to men, and the result is expecting women to fail in parliamentary, municipal and trade union elections.

93Traditional social concepts, whereby women are of a lower status than men, probably play an important role in this respect, but the picture is complete only with a close examination of the effects of the past political experience in the country and the prevalence of suspicions regarding an upheaval of the political system and its recourse to violence. This experience is, thus, as responsible for the situation of women as these concepts are.

94In the minds of a large section of the population, political action is tantamount to a political confrontation of unforeseeable results, at the top of which comes official violence. Here, we are confronted with a broader law including all political associations within the opposition, which have gone through a harsh political experience influenced by imprisonment and torture. In other words, the political society in Bahrain still adheres to a vision of politics as soldiers and armies going to war. This conception is further promoted by the government method of dealing with peaceful political events and the crackdown of security authorities on many peaceful events, regardless of their protestation aspect or lack thereof. This was the case when the 2005 “labayka yâ Hussein” (under your command Hussein) march was intercepted, and participants, including women, children and top clerics, were subjected to violence by security forces.

95The position of al-Wefâq on women’s candidatures in parliamentary elections remains ambiguous. Even though there is no religious vision that bans women from political participation or that calls for such participation, the extremist interpretation of some religious referential authorities regarding virtue and women mingling with men plays an inhibiting role in this respect. Therefore, al-Wefâq Society may back the candidature of women in upcoming elections not out of its conviction in their rights and political and scientific competence, but rather to avoid pressure and being put in a delicate position vis-à-vis several observers.

96To tell the truth, women’s political role cannot be dissociated from the activities of women’s associations loyal to al-Wefâq with regard to the education of women and the definition of their roles and functions. The Women’s Future Association (Jam‘iyya al-mustabâl al-nisâ’iyya) “aims to have women attain decision-making positions through training and awareness-raising, and has encountered no opposition from Sheikh Issa Qassem, who recommends the need for a strong female presence on the field.” In contrast, the Women’s Committee of the Islamic Enlightenment Society (al-Lajna al-nisâ’iyya fî al-jam‘iyya al-taw‘iyya al-islâmiyya), which is affiliated to the Islamic Scholars’ Council (al-Majlis al-‘Ulamâ’î), merely promotes an Islamic education for women and children (Abbas Fadl, 2008, p. 145).

97The gap between the two societies is apparent on several levels in the nature of the targeted women. The Future Association takes tremendous interest in educated and working women, whereas the Women’s Committee seeks an audience among housewives. Furthermore, The Future Association asserts the autonomy of women and aims to develop their competences, whereas the Women’s Committee emphasizes the Islamic aspect and religious commitment.

98The field activity of these societies supports the predominance of a conservative trend over another one calling for women’s participation in the political process. This was confirmed by a field study on the political education of Bahraini women. According to this study, active women abide by the decisions of the religious referential authority, which take precedence over those of the political referential authority, thus minimizing the impact of political education, which is often linked to the vision of the religious referential authority (ibidem, p. 232).

99This divergence with regard to objectives and methods is based on the closeness to the religious referential authority and the relative autonomy of women’s associations. Indeed, while these associations abide by Islam and religious concepts as a reference, they are also able to propose a jurisprudential vision that does not violate the general religious concept. Hence, the empowerment of women within al-Wefâqcan be tackled only under two intersecting headlines: First, restoring the peaceful character of politics and freeing political activity from the specter of war, and second, recommending the development of independent women’s action for the sake of effective political empowerment of women.

Money and media

  • 39   This is the case with the Democratic Action Society (Waad).
  • 40   Al-Ayam, May 23, 2008.

100Media and money are two essential components of any political process. Political projects, especially democratic and development-related ones, often falter due to the lack of financial and media power within political institutions. Bahraini political associations have different means of dealing with these two factors. Indeed, some abide by rigid financial centralization, which no individual or region can overstep39, while others seem to have troubled or hostile relations with some local media, as is the case with the Al-Minbar Islamic Society40.

  • 41   Interview with the deputy treasurer, June 10, 2008.
  • 42   The numbers are taken from the 2007 financial statement, which was included in the financial repo (...)

101On the financial level,al-Wefâqissues every year a final statement signed by the secretary general and al-WefâqConsultative Council and proofed by a legally-recognized audit company in order to avert any fraud or mistakes. In order to perform its mission, the audit company requests evidence to back the amounts and details included in the financial statements, and it has so far approved all financial statements submitted by al-Wefâqsince 2006. The strict centralization of spending in al-Wefâqis regarded as an adequate and requested course of action in order to avoid any miscalculation or abuse of influence. Hence, no amount higher than 100 Dinars can be spent without the signature of the secretary general and the treasurer, knowing that spending is done through checks written on one of the Society’s four accounts in local banks41. According to the 2007 financial statement, al-Wefâq’s income increased from 179,055 Dinars to 363,083 Dinars. This rise is due to the inflow of revenues that had been unavailable prior to December 2006, which is equivalent to an increase in the support provided by the Ministry of Justice from 15,000 Dinars to 51,000 Dinars, in addition to 119,450 Dinars in cuts from MPs and municipal council members. The same statement reveals that the Society’s electoral expenditure in 2006 amounted to 53,326 Dinars. Following the participation of al-Wefâqin the elections and its obtaining 16 parliamentary seats and 17 municipal council seats, its expenses increased drastically, as it decided to rent headquarters for members of parliament and municipal councils in the same electoral district in addition to headquarters outside al-Wefâq’s main building so as to host the meetings of the parliamentary and municipal blocs. Al-Wefâqstarted making successful investments, which generated extremely high inflows estimated at more than 450,000 Dinars resulting from real estate investment within the course of one year42.

  • 43    MPs receive two kinds of presents from the government, namely public ones – such as some financi (...)
  • 44   For further details on these questions, their nature and their popular source, refer to: Intervie (...)

102The Society’s expenditures encompass regular items, such as al-Wefâqbulletin, the Martyr’s Fund, activities, forums and the printing of al-Wefâqliterature. On another level, al-Wefâqbloc members are often confronted with a series of questions on the MPs’ financial quittance before and after the elections. While these questions never revealed any violations or acceptance of covert donations43, concerns also arise regarding the legitimacy or right to benefit from such public donations compared with the prospective services and performance of bloc members in parliament or municipal councils44.

103In any case, the endurance of this financial policy and its preservation of the current inflows are likely to transform al-Wefâqfrom a poor political society to a rich one that can promote the use of financial assets to foster additional political activities and provide itself with a secure financial clout allowing it to launch gigantic electoral campaigns.

  • 45   Interview with Adel Al-‘Ali, deputy editor-in-chief of the al-Wefâqnewspaper, June 5, 2008.

104On the media level, al-Wefâqcurrently spends around 8,000 Dinars a year in order to publish a biannual newspaper that covers the positions of the parliamentary bloc and raises some sociopolitical issues. This newspaper lacks the standards of partisan press since it does not publish the Society’s official positions; however, this experience is quite advanced compared to previous media projects that failed or were not published on a regular basis. The General Secretariat does not subject al-Wefâqnewspaper to any censorship with regard to the level of freedom and expression of opinions, even if the deputy secretary general follows up on each issue prior to its publication45.

105Furthermore, the Society seeks to hold quasi-alliances with local dailies in order to gain adequate press coverage for the bloc’s activities or the Society’s news. A delegation from the General Secretariat visited several local newspapers, such as al-Ayam and al-Waqt, specifically for this purpose. Therefore, the Society does not take much offense when some reporters twist the declarations of its members, nor does it ask newspapers to correct or apologize for these mistakes. For instance, a local newspaper published an adapted version of a declaration made by an al-WefâqMP on the construction of apartment complexes, thus leading to a wave of objections on behalf of the people and al-Wefâqmembers. The altered statement had allegedly supported vertical rather than horizontal building as a means to resolve the worsening housing crisis, knowing that this contravenes al-Wefâqbloc’s general platform and the demands of those who were prejudiced by the housing policy.


106The democratic wave that swirled across the Arab Gulf played a role in the modernization of political regimes and their acceptance of a democratic framework as determinants of political legitimacy to the detriment of other tribal determinants. Starting in the early 1990s, this wave led to a qualitative evolution in Bahrain: A call was issued for holding democratic elections, and political movements were allowed to organize themselves under the law for political associations. This affected the structures and orientations of these movements, which underwent internal restructuring and witnessed the emergence of new agendas that altered their strategies.

107The Islamic movement was the most important beneficiary of this evolution, for the limited security and political détente allowed it to reorganize itself and put its slogans into practice. It also prevented this movement from falling into the trap of self-armament and getting entangled in a violent confrontation with the ruling regime. The various components of the Sunni Islamic movement merged to a great extent the religious referential authority and political action so much that it was almost impossible to dissociate the political and religious dimensions from one another. In contrast, the Shiite Islamic movement maintained the supremacy of the religious referential authority over the political one on two levels at least: First, the Shiite Islamic movement did not have direct relations with the political regime; rather, it was locked in a public confrontation with it over power and influence; and second, the political wing represented by al-Wefâq is subordinated to the religious referential authority. The only means for al-Wefâq to protect its cohesion or gain acceptance within Shiite circles is to maintain a strong relation with the religious referential authority.

108This relation sets the background for several challenges with which the political organization of al-WefâqSociety is confronted, some of which pertain to the understanding and internal implementation of the concept of democracy and to allowing the emergence of opposition currents within the Society without their having recourse to isolation or secession. Other challenges are related to external political performance and to the Society’s capacity to adopt independent political positions that are not necessarily in keeping with the orientations of the religious referential authority. Therefore, al-Wefâqhas been compelled to form an internal religious referential authority in conformity with its religious orientation, or to convince religious referential authorities to join al-WefâqSociety in order to minimize the scope of the danger entailed by these divergences and to mitigate the conflicts of interest between the two parties. In addition, al-WefâqSociety is confronted with the challenge of its evolution into a professional political party in line with the recommendations of the 2005 Second General Congress. The Society is required, for this purpose, to examine its practical roles and functions within the framework of the rules of procedure.

109In conclusion, the experience of al-Wefâq’s transformation into a political party still calls for additional research in order to define the elements underpinning such an evolution. This includes looking for methods to go beyond the traditional dynamics, which constitute a basis for the Society’s political elite, or looking for means to reach an alliance between al-Wefâqas a political association and the religious referential authority instead of this authority’s current dominance and supremacy.


Abbas Fadl Mona, 2008,Political Education of Bahraini Women: Effect and Vision [in Arabic], Beirut, Arab Society for Studies and Publishing.

Al-Mershed Abbas, 2002, Dakhâma al-turâth wa wâ‘î al-mufâraka. Al-Tayyâr al-islâmîwa al-mujtama‘ al-siyâsî fî al-bahrayn (The Greatness of Heritage and the Awareness of Paradox: The Islamic Movement and Political Society in Bahrain) [in Arabic], Bahrain Cultural Complex.

Al-Zahi Nureddine, 2003, The Zawiya and the Party: Islam and Politics in the Moroccan Society [in Arabic], vol. 2, Ifriqya al-Sharq Publishers, Morocco.

Bashmi Ibrahim, 2002, Bahrain’s Democratic Obsessions [in Arabic], Bahrain, Al-Ayam Publishing.

Bottomore Tom, 1988, The Elite and Society [in Arabic], translated by George Geha, Beirut, Arab Society for Studies and Publishing.

Feiruz Fatima, 2003, ‘Uzûf al-mar’a ‘an al-mushâraka fî al-‘amal al-tataww‘î wa al-mu’asâsî: al-ma ‘uqât wa al-su‘ûbât (Women’s Reluctance to Take Part in Volunteer and Institutional Action: Obstacles and Difficulties) [in Arabic], a study submitted to the first congress of al-Wefâq, 21-23 January.

Huntington Samuel, 1968, Political Order in Changing Societies, New Haven, Yale University Press.

Khoury Fuad Isaac, 1983, al-Qabîla wa al-dawla fî al-bahrayn (The Tribe and the State in Bahrain) [in Arabic], Arab Development Institute, Beirut.

Marhoun Hussein et alii, 2007, “al-‘Aqad al-murr” (The Bitter Decade) [in Arabic], in Crossing Gates, Al-Waqt edition.

Moussawi Mohammad and Assiri Batoul, 2003, Wada‘ al-mar’a fî al-mashhad al-siyâsî fî mamlaka al-bahrayn (The Situation of Women on the Political Landscape in the Kingdom of Bahrain) [in Arabic], a study submitted to the first congress of al-Wefâq, January 21-23.

Niethammer Katja, 2006, “Voices in Parliament, Debates in Majalis, and Banners on the Streets,” Avenues of European University Institute, Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies. Mediterranean Programme. Seventh Mediterranean Social and Political Research Meeting, Florence – Montecatini Terme, 22–26 March.

Rabiha Ali Qassem, 2007, Lajnat al-‘arîda al-sha‘biyya fî masâr al-nidâl al-watanî fî al-Bahrayn (The Popular Petition Committee: On the National Struggle Course in Bahrain) [in Arabic], Beirut, Dâr Al-Kunûz Al-Adabiyya.


1   Exclusive interview with a top executive, June 2nd, 2008.

2   Sheikh Abdel Amir Al-Jamri, exclusive interview, Al-Ayam newspaper, May 12, 2001.

3   Exclusive interview with Toufic Riachy on May 29, 2008 and Dr. Mohammad Said on June 3, 2008.

4   For further details on the initiative committee, refer to Rabiha (2007, p. 442).

5   The elections were held on time in the Scheherazade Hall in the presence of 106 out of 117 founding members and representatives from the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, the local media, and reporters from foreign press agencies. The following 11 members were elected: Sheikh Ali Salman, Hassan Mshaymeh, Dr. Nizar Al-Baharina, architect Jawad Feiruz, attorney Abdel Shaheed Khalaf, Mohsen Moussawi, Sheikh Abdel Nabi Ali Abdel Hassan, Dr. Abed Ali Mohammad Hassan, Sheikh Jassem Al-Khayyat, Dr. Abed Al-Jaleel Al-Sankis and architect Jalal Feiruz.

6   According to the rules of procedure, the council is composed of 30 members in the first session, and the General Congress has the right to examine the possibility of increasing this number in subsequent sessions. The General Congress elects Consultative Council members by secret ballot for four years, except for the first session when the membership of half of the representatives who scored the lowest number of votes is terminated two years into the session.

7   The seminar is held annually in the House of Lords and participation in it is a highly controversial issue in Bahraini circles, thus forcing political associations to issue a clarification statement afterward. Refer to: “Statement of the Democratic Action Society” (in Arabic) dated September 4, 2005. Another seminar held in 2003 also led to major controversy, Gulf News, August 29, 2003.

8   Mohammad Said, former member of the al-WefâqPolitical Committee, exclusive interview, May 28, 2008.

9  Exclusive interview with a member of the al-Wefâqon condition of anonymity, May 28, 2008.

10  This council is composed of the most prominent Shiite scholars in Bahrain. Established in 2004, it defines itself as an Islamic scholars’ committee endowed with the mission of caring for the Society on the individual and social levels in keeping with a comprehensive and integrated Islamic religious vision. In order to gain membership, the cleric is required to have reached advanced levels of erudition, whereas membership of the Central Committee requires the candidate to have spent at least five years in research. The council is composed of five divisions organizing its executive action. For additional details, refer to the council’s official website:

11  The Islamic Scholars’ Council, Statement on Participation in the Parliamentary Elections (in Arabic), October 8, 2008.

12  The Islamic Scholars’ Council, Statement on the Results of the Parliamentary and Municipal Elections (in Arabic), December 5, 2008.

13  For further details about this committee and its underlying aspects, refer to Rabiha (2007), Marhoun [et al] (2007).

14 Al-Wefâq, The General Platform of the al-Wefâq Parliamentary Bloc” (in Arabic), 2006, p. 9-14.

15   For additional information, refer to Al-Mershed (2002).

16  Even though this is not apparent in the political rhetoric, this reason is invoked in several cases when the position of the al-Wefâq Society in the democratic process is questioned.

17  For further details on the difference between the 1973 constitution and the 2002 constitution, refer to: “Documents of the First Constitutional Conference, 2004” (in Arabic).

18  Al-Gharifi is one of Bahrain’s religious figures and is now the second-in-command in the Islamic Scholars’ Council behind Sheikh Issam Qassem.

19   Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad, press conference, February 5, 2001.

20  The late Prince Issa bin Salman made a preemptive gesture in 1992 by establishing an appointed Shura Council in order to avoid meeting with the Popular Petition delegation. This so-called elitist petition, which was signed by more than 300 figures, called on the prince to reinstate the 1973 constitution and was followed by another, popular one signed by more than 25,000 citizens.

21   Secretary General of the al-Wefâq, Ali Salman, special interview, June 4, 2008.

22  This group was composed of Dr. Nizar al-Baharina and attorney Abdel Shaheed Khalaf.

23   Mohammad Said, exclusive interview, May 29, 2008.

24   Secretary General of the al-WefâqAli Salman, exclusive interview, June 4, 2008.

25  The National Democratic Action Society, political report submitted to the third congress held in June 2005.

26  The Islamic Scholars’ Council,“Statement on the forthcoming parliamentary elections” (in Arabic), October 8, 2006.

27  Memorandum submitted by the secretary general to the General Assembly of the al-Wefâq Society on June 25, 2006.

28  The National Democratic Action Society was established in 2001 and is considered an extension to several leftist and nationalist movements in Bahrain.

29  These candidates are Abdel Rahman al-Nuaimi, Ibrahim Sharif and Munira Fakhro. Their victory in the elections was strongly predicted as long as there was no fraud, or public centers were not used to tamper with the results.

30  Refer to the report of the High Committee for Monitoring the 2006 elections.

31   Article 6 of the rules of procedure of the al-Wefâq stipulates that objectives include “promoting the role of women and empowering them to exercise all their political, economic and social rights …” With regard to youths, the same article stipulates the need to “care for the youths, draft policies and strategies for their development and train them so that they take on responsibility for building the nation and foster its progress …”.

32   The Directorate of Jaafari Endowments, Our Mosques (in Arabic), May 2008, p. 2-4.

33  For further details on memorial gatherings, refer to Khoury (1983). See Niethammer ( 2006).

34  For further details on the role of memorial gatherings and mosques in the political process, refer to Khoury (1983).; for additional information on the role of women religious associations, refer to Abbas Fadl (2008).

35  The center was first established under the denomination of the al-WefâqYouth Forum, but a conflict with another youth organism, namely the Bahrain Youth Forum, called for amending the former’s name to avoid any confusion.

36  Mohammad Matar, Youth Center member, exclusive interview, May 28, 2008.

37 For further details on the rise of elites and their political role, refer to Bottomore (1988, p .95).

38  Matar Matar, 2006, “The Youths’ Political Orientations” (in Arabic), an unpublished survey submitted to the General Secretariat of the al-WefâqSociety.

39   This is the case with the Democratic Action Society (Waad).

40   Al-Ayam, May 23, 2008.

41   Interview with the deputy treasurer, June 10, 2008.

42   The numbers are taken from the 2007 financial statement, which was included in the financial report submitted to the Fourth General Congress held in May 2008.

43    MPs receive two kinds of presents from the government, namely public ones – such as some financial donations (presents distributed on the occasion of feasts or occasional financial rewards) – and other overt donations calculated according to each MP’s positions vis-à-vis the laws proposed by the government. The closer a MP is to the government, the greater his chances of obtaining such donations as land, money or even measures to facilitate some trade transactions.

44   For further details on these questions, their nature and their popular source, refer to: Interview with Sheikh Ali Salman, Al-Wasat newspaper, September 27, 2007.

45   Interview with Adel Al-‘Ali, deputy editor-in-chief of the al-Wefâqnewspaper, June 5, 2008.


Abbas Mirza al-Mershed is a Bahraini researcher.

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