Bahrain Needs Inclusive Government to Fight Sectarianism
Washington, D.C. – On the eve of parliamentary elections in Bahrain, Human Rights First highlighted the kingdom’s need for real democratic reforms that support an inclusive government. Saturday’s parliamentary elections are the first since the 2011 mass demonstrations calling for democratic reform. Bahrain’s main opposition groups are boycotting the elections citing an unfair electoral system.
“An election doesn’t make a democracy, especially when peaceful political leaders can’t take part because they’re in prison. Bahrain has a very long way to go before its government can be seen as representing the will of the people,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley. “The real winners of Saturday’s elections will likely be violent extremists who are able to exploit disillusion with this version of democracy.”
This weekend’s election will determine the 40 seats in the lower house of parliament, while the 40 seats in the upper house remain appointed by the king. The king’s uncle will remain the unelected prime minister, a position he has held for more than 40 years, and the ruling family will maintain control of the cabinet and the government.
“Heightened sectarianism and a lack of real democratic reforms in Bahrain threaten the long term interests of the United States. The U.S. Government needs to publicly press for an inclusive, representative government in Bahrain to fight polarization,” added Dooley.
In recent months, the Bahraini government has ramped up its crackdown on human rights defenders and peaceful opposition groups. Prominent human rights defenders Maryam Al Khawaja, Nabeel Rajab, and Zainab Al Khawaja are currently awaiting verdicts on politically-motivated charges. Many peaceful opposition leaders jailed during the 2011 protests remain in prison, and Bahrain continues to jail those peacefully expressing their views including those who criticize the ruling monarchy on Twitter.
On December 5-7, several U.S. Senators will travel to Bahrain to participate in the Manama Dialogue regional security conference. Human Rights First urges the U.S. Delegation to the Manama Dialogue to make clear that successful cooperation on security measures requires Bahrain to move toward a stable and inclusive government.