<em>The following is an edited transcription of my presentation at the Annual Seminar hosted by Lord Avebury,the Vice-Chairman of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group, at the House of Lords on August 5th, 2010.
The seminar was chaired by Baroness Falkner of Margravine. strong><
Thank you Baroness Falkner for this opportunity to participate in this seminar.
Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to share with you summarize to you some points raised in a paper I presented ten days ago at the World Congress for Middle East Studies held in Barcelona.
Some eleven years ago Sheikh Hamad assumed the reigns of power in Bahrain, and announced his intention to usher in a new era of political reform to establish “a modern constitutional monarchy”. However, an examination of his actions and the changes he introduced in Bahrain reveals that there is little cause for his people to celebrate.
Considerable structural, social, historic and political obstacles stand in the way of genuine political and institutional reform in Bahrain; a long history of authoritarian rule; monopoly of power wielded by the royal family; a weak political organizational structure; and a restricted space for action by civil society and its various components. Other obstacles are related to the king’s own personality and to his failure to curb the powers of his ruling family. The king was simply unwilling to do what is required of an enlightened modern monarch, namely to confront the power centers within the regime.
A series of unilateral decisions, royal decrees, and administrative measures have dissipated the sense of optimism that had swept the country at the time. King Hamad’s failure to live up to his promises has dragged his country back to its tension-filled recent past. Protesters, whether they elected members of parliament or faced covered young rioters in the streets, are mirror images of protesters who effectively crippled the regime of his father.
One of the most heated rallying points of current contention in the country revolves around what is has been known as al tajnees al siyasi, “political naturalization”.
This refers mostly to use of royal makramat to grant Bahraini citizenship to a disputed number of foreigners. Protests against tajnees have been frequent and regular for the past ten years. Spokespersons for the opposition allege that the king continues to use several of the instruments of rule employed by the authoritarian regime of his father. One of these instruments is reliance on naturalization, tajnees to achieve a variety of demographic, political and social objectives.
Critics of tajnees allege that the process as an abuse of the king’s constitutional privileges. Since 1999, the process of tajnees has intensified. An International Crises Groups report notes that
“Consistent with past practice, the government reportedly is pursuing policies to alter the island's demographic balance. These include granting citizenship to non-Bahrainis -- mainly Sunni Arabs from around the region – to mitigate Shiite dominance. Although there are no published figures for the number of "politically naturalized", some suggest that as many as 50,000 to 60,000 have been extended citizenship in this way. Exceptional measures appear to have been taken to grant citizenship to Jordanians, Syrians, and Yemenis recruited by the security services and, demographic impact aside, the heavy presence of foreigners in the military and police has provoked sharp anger from locals who consider them ‘mercenaries’”
The number of Bahraini citizens rose from some 409,619 in 2001 to 529,446 in 2008. Beneficiaries of al tajnees al siyasi include foreign personnel employed by the Bahraini Defence Force, BDF, the Police and other Security agencies. They also include people who are not even resident of the country. Critics of tajnees allege that the process as an abuse of the king’s constitutional privileges. They also note that the process of tajnees lacks transparency and is carried out without proper parliamentary oversight.
To understand the current naturalization contention I need to clarify three interrelated controversies, the demographic, the legal, and the political. I contend that naturalization should be analysed within the context of analysing the different modes of penetrating and re-shaping society. While it is evident the naturalization process has intensified following Hamad bin Isa’s accession to the throne in 1999, its practical political uses as one of several instruments of rule have long been recognized by his predecessors.
Government officials deny the allegations that it is actively manipulating the laws or engaged in activities to change the demographic balance in the country by naturalization of Sunni Muslim foreigners, Arabs and non- Arabs. Official statements underline that most of those who were granted citizenship are have earned it due to their long residence in Bahrain or by virtue of their outstanding services to the development of the country. Officials have accepted a single case of en mass naturalization. A reference to granting citizenship to reportedly 8000 persons belonging to Al-Dawasir tribe and its affiliates who were exiled from Bahrain by the British authorities in the beginning of the last century. Several sources confirm “the claims by members of the al-Dawasir tribe, residents in eastern Saudi Arabia, that they have been recruited to sign up for Bahraini citizenship without having to forego their Saudi citizenship”.
The legal side of the contention
Bahraini citizenship laws are restrictive. According to the 1963 Bahraini Citizenship Act and its amendments (Announcement Issue No. 11 of 1963 and Decree Law No 10 of 1981), persons can acquire citizenship through three modes: descent, birth, and naturalization.
Naturalization requires a royal grant. The law provides for two procedures for gaining citizenship:
1) Direct naturalization, where a person is granted citizenship by order from king
if that person has made Bahrain, his usual place of residence legally for at least twenty-five consecutive years or fifteen years consecutively for Arab nationals. In addition, direct naturalization requires that the applicant shall be of good conduct, conversant in Arabic, and owns a real estate in Bahrain registered in his name at the Land Registry Office of Bahrain.
2) Facilitated naturalization is reserved for any Arab person, not meeting any or all the above requirements, but who has rendered Bahrain great services may be granted citizenship by order of the king.
The legal requisites for direct naturalization restrict the number of foreigner legible to apply. An added difficulty stems from the fact that the king’s approval of the application is not just a formality. However, those requisites may be discarded, if the applicant foreigner is deemed to have “rendered great services to the country”. The law however does not define what is meant by the term ‘great services’. This was interpreted to give the king a discretionary power to define the term.
Formally, the king can do whatever he wishes. According to the Constitution of 2002, the king is “Head of State, its nominal representative, and his person is inviolate. He is the loyal protector of religion, and the homeland, and the symbol of national unity.” He, and he alone, may appoint the prime minister, ministers, ambassadors, governors, judges, members of the Consultative Council, members of the Constitutional Court, the commanders of the armed forces, the security agencies and the National Guard, or dismiss them. The king has the right to propose and amend laws, and to conclude treaties with other countries without requiring the ratification of those agreements by the National Assembly. He also has the final say in any disputes that arise between the three branches of government. Further, constitution gives the king the final word in any legislative conflict.
King Hamad seems to stretch to the maximum the constitutional privileges given to him by the controversial and popularly contested constitution of 2002. By referring to “rendering Bahrain great services” clause in the 1963 Citizenship Act, the royal court is has justified granting Bahraini citizenship en mass to the newly military recruits from Pakistan, Yemen, Jordan or Syria. The problems emanating from abuse of the king’s constitutional powers, as well as from lack of transparency, are compounding and are likely to inflame the situation further. To many critics of the political naturalization, it is not enough to point to the constitution or to royal prerogatives to justify the continuing unpopular naturalization process.
Al Tajnees Al Siyasi as an extension of state capacity
King Hamad continues to rely on several of the instruments of rule employed during the reign of his father. There are however some noticeable difference in style and in resourcefulness. He obviously more regal and rely on disbursing magnanimously his makramat. This won him praise and made many of his critics reluctant to voice their views lest they squander their chances of receiving one. King Hamad has also added naturalization, tajnees as an instrument of rule and to achieve a variety of demographic, political and social objectives.
With one obvious exception, legal procedures for naturalization in Bahrain are clear and straightforward. The king has, according to the law a discretionary power to grant citizenship to persons who do not meet any of specified requirements.
Several sets objectives are cited by critics of the current forms of tajnees in Bahrain. It is too early to speculate whether these objectives could be achieved or not. However a few immediate consequences of tajnees al siyasi stand out.
First, expanding the pool for recruiting personnel to man the Bahrain’s military and security apparatuses in completion with the other monarchies in the Gulf.I will end this summary of my paper with a speculation summed up in the title of this presentation: political naturalization in Bahrain is a ticking bomb. Current forms of tajnees could lead to institutionalizing ’differentiated citizenship’, where rights and entitlements are allocated on the basis of group characteristics backgrounds and loyalty to the king. While differentiated citizenship may be advantageous instrument of authoritarian rule, it is highly risky and could generate problems of its own. In the long term, differentiated citizenship increases constrains against social integration. It also limits incentives to cultivate national cohesion as it links citizenship rights and entitlement to belonging to one or the other of the citizenship categories.
• Second, by creating a pool of loyal subjects would allow the regime to maintain the current ban on members of the Shia community to join military and security services.
• Third, by creating a loyal electoral base through enfranchising categories of residents and non-residents of the country. In addition to various vote rigging techniques, this electoral base of newly naturalized Bahrainis could help adjust undesirable election outcomes.
• Fourth, by creating a third “communal” group, the ruling family could enhance its autonomy vis-a-vis society. It would have an additional bulwark against Shia demands for equality, at the same time that it does not have to cajole the Sunnis or succumb to their pressure.
• Fifth, the new “community”, from the ruling Family’s perspectives, has an added advantage. It is the least cohesive and is not likely to become one in the near future.
Thank you for your attention