4 Bilateral relations with Bahrain |
is Bahrain important?
139. Bahrain is the smallest, least populous
and least oil-rich state in the region. It accounts for only one
sixtieth of the Gulf's GDP,
and the FCO compared its population size of just 1.3 million people
to that of Merseyside.
Yet Bahrain's location in the Gulf between Saudi Arabia and Iran
means that it is of great strategic significance in terms of energy
security, as it is critical to the protection of Gulf shipping
lanes (through which 17 million barrels of oil are shipped per
day) and global energy supplies. In addition, its religious mix,
as well as its West-friendly stance, has given it a strategic
importance to its region, and to the UK, that belies its small
140. Recent events in Bahrain have served to
both highlight and heighten Bahrain's importance to the region.
Bahrain was the only Gulf state to experience significant protests
during the Arab Spring in February and March 2011. The protestors
had pro-democracy messages similar to those of successful uprisings
in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere. However, the protests also ultimately
reflected and magnified existing sectarian tensions in Bahrain
between the Sunni ruling Al Khalifa family and the majority Shia
population. After an attempt by the Government to negotiate with
the opposition broke down, and amid increasing disorder, Bahraini
security forces ended the protests in a violent crackdown that
was responsible for at least 35 deaths and many allegations of
mistreatment and torture.
Despite an independent investigation of the allegations and more
than one attempt to bring about reconciliation through a National
Dialogue, a political resolution has remained elusive, and Bahrain
has now suffered more than two years of continued sporadic confrontations
between security forces and street protests, as well as political
stalemate. The troubles have resulted in an increased polarization
of society, growing sectarian grievances, and fears of radicalized
extremist groups, with bombing attempts in 2012 and 2013.
141. The violent events of 2011 drew the world's
attention to this small Gulf monarchy. It has remained the focus
of substantial international scrutiny ever since. Of the submissions
we received for this inquiry, it was telling that over 60% were
focused entirely on Bahrain, and 74% included Bahrain.
A divided society
142. The submissions we received described very
different experiences of Bahrain. Some spoke of Bahrain's open
and tolerant society relative to its neighbours in the Gulf, pointing
to the high level of women's rights and freedom of religion, the
way mixed communities of Sunni and Shia Muslims lived together,
and its established political opposition and elected Lower House.
Some among these submissions tended to blame Iran and fundamentalist
Shia religious groups for the problems since 2011, and expressed
fear that the goal of the protests in 2011 and the continued unrest
is to create an Iranian-style theocracy in Bahrain.
Others among our submissions drew our attention to a background
of decades of political and economic discrimination by the Bahrain
Sunni authorities against the majority Shia community, and evidence
of very serious human rights abuses by the security services during
the events of 2011 and in the two years since.
These submissions tended to emphasis the democratic goals of the
protestors, and argued that the Bahraini authorities were deliberately
stoking sectarian tensions in order to delegitimise the protestors.
These submissions gave an impression of a deeply divided community,
poleaxed by a profound lack of trust between the ruling elite
and the various opposition groups.
143. As a Committee, it is not our role to attempt
to resolve what Bahrain is going through, or to pronounce upon
the various claims of those that have submitted evidence to us,
but rather to comment on the UK's policy toward Bahrain to promote
its reconciliation and protect British interests.
Close historical ties
144. The UK's relationship with Bahrain is one
of its oldest and closest in the Gulf. Bahrain became a British
protectorate in 1820 and in the 1930s the UK moved its Gulf naval
base to Bahrain, making it the centre of the UK's activity in
the region. Unlike some of its neighbours, Bahrain remained a
British protectorate until it became fully independent in 1971,
following the wider British withdrawal from East of Suez. A UK-
Bahrain1971 Friendship Treaty ensured that strong ties continued,
particularly with regard to defence co-operation, and trade and
investment between the two states.
The UK government describes Bahrain as a close friend and ally
that shares "deep historical ties" with the UK. The
British and Bahraini Royal families have close relations, and
the current Bahraini King, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, was
educated in England at a public school in Cambridge, and went
on to study at Mons Officer Cadet School in Aldershot.
145. Witnesses generally endorsed the Government's
description of its warm relationship with Bahrain: Sir Roger Tomkys
described how, in the 1980s, "the British Ambassador was
quite uniquely privileged in access and was confided in to a remarkable
and considered that though relations had become less exclusive,
they continued to be "exceptionally close and positive, with
benefits to both parties".
However, some submissions painted a more negative picture of the
UK's history in Bahrain. Kristian Coates Ulrichson told us that
UK support for Bahrain's rulers had "time and again"
enabled Bahrain's leaders to withstand domestic protests, and
that the consequences of this prior support was that Bahrain's
rulers now feel betrayed and angry when the UK criticises them,
while its opposition is mistrustful of British intentions.
BRIEF SUMMARY OF RECENT POLITICAL
146. The Al Khalifa royal family has ruled Bahrain
as a monarchy for more than two centuries. Upon Bahrain's independence
in 1971, a constitution was agreed that provided for a legislative
assembly, but this proved to be short-lived and was dissolved
by the monarch in 1975. The last two decades have witnessed sporadic
turbulence and protest: the 1990s saw a spate of anti-government
disturbances, including violent demonstrations and a bombing,
which were attributed to the disaffection of some in the Shia
majority toward their Sunni ruling elite. The government conducted
a strong security response and over 1,000 people were detained.
However, the accession of Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa in 1999
signalled a change in direction: the new King enacted a number
of significant reforms, including the release of political prisoners
and return of exiles, the end of emergency laws and the introduction
of a National Charter.
147. The 2002 constitution affirmed Bahrain as
a constitutional monarchy and established a National Assembly
consisting of an appointed Upper House and an elected Lower House,
but gave the king power over the executive, legislative, and judicial
authorities. Between 2002 and 2006, a limited process of liberalization
took place, the National Assembly sat and, in 2005, the main political
opposition group, Al Wefaq, took part in elections and won the
largest grouping of MPs. Between 2007 and 2010, however, reforms
were thought to have stalled, protests began once more and a violent
security response saw Bahrain's standing in civil and political
rights dropping once more (see table below; higher numbers denotes
Source: Freedom House. Rankings based on monitoring
of changes to civil and political rights (see p.17 for details)
The Arab Spring in Bahrain
148. The Arab Spring triggered protests in Bahrain
in February and March 2011, which culminated in the occupation
of 'Pearl roundabout' in Manama. The protestors had pro-democracy
messages similar to those of protestors in Egypt and elsewhere.
However, the protests also ultimately reflected and magnified
existing sectarian tensions in Bahrain between the Sunni rulingAl
Khalifa family and the majority Shia population. The protests
were ended by Bahraini security forces after Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation
Council (GCC) troops entered Bahrain in March 2011. There was
outrage within and outside Bahrain at allegations of widespread
human rights abuses that took place during the crackdown perpetrated
by Bahraini security officials.
The aftermath: an independent commission of inquiry
149. In an unprecedented move, King Hamad bin
Isa Al Khalifa appointed a panel of human rights experts to a
Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) to examine the
allegations of a brutal crackdown on protesters by Bahraini security
forces. Chaired by Cherif Bassiouni, an Egyptian former war crimes
lawyer for the UN, the Commission published a very critical report
in November 2011, which described how prisoners had been hooded,
whipped, beaten and subjected to electric-shock treatment, and
stated that at least five prisoners had died under torture.
The Economist reported at the time that the report
was "both a humiliation and a triumph", in that it provided
a "devastating and embarrassing indictment" of Bahrain's
security forces behaviour, but it was also a "vindication"
of the King's claim that it would be an independent and genuine
attempt to get at the truth, thereby undermining those who claimed
that it would be a whitewash.
The King accepted the findings of the report and responded by
promising reforms to protect freedom of speech and other basic
rights, and to sack those officials who had abused their power.
He said the report opened a "new page" in Bahrain's
150. In the two years since the BICI report was
published, the political and human rights situation in Bahrain
has remained near the top of the international agenda, and the
domestic political situation remains unresolved. Although it has
accepted many of the criticisms about its response to the protests
in 2011, Bahrain has complained that the international community
has misunderstood the situation in Bahrain. It argues that the
opposition is not pro-democracy but is motivated by a sectarian
agenda, and that the illegal demonstrations are inhibiting - and
sometimes endangering - the lives of the ordinary public.
Some opposition protests have turned violent and there have even
been bombings in Manama, for which the government has blamed Hezbollah.
Opposition groups claim that they are a democratic movement and
street protests are responding to ongoing state-sponsored police
violence and repression. As the situation has developed, more
nuanced differences between groups have emerged, including Islamist
and secular groups, violent and non violent, domestic or connected
to expatriates or other groups abroad. The longer the conflict
continues, the greater the likelihood that groups move to polarised
151. In the first significant step forward since
the talks between the Crown Prince and the opposition broke down
in early 2011, in January 2013 the King invited opposition groups
to a renewed national dialogue. Despite some scepticism among
the opposition about the King's commitment to reform, talks began
on 10 February with discussions between the representatives of
parliament and 'loyalist' political groups, and a coalition of
six opposition groups. The majority of the opposition (including
the largest opposition group, Al Wefaq) wants a more representative
constitutional monarchy, although some more radical elements of
the opposition are calling for the downfall of the royal family.
The dialogue has gone through multiple rounds of negotiation over
the agenda and participants, and is widely seen as stalled. Al
Wefaq has temporarily boycotted the Dialogue since September 2013
to protest at the arrest of one of its senior members.
Human Rights Watch has been very critical of the Dialogue, arguing
that it must be premised on the release of some human rights activists.
UK RESPONSE TO EVENTS IN BAHRAIN:
TESTING TIMES FOR UK-BAHRAIN RELATIONS?
152. The violent events in Bahrain presented
a particular dilemma for the UK. Bahrain is considered a friendly
state and long-standing ally, and the Foreign Secretary had visited
Bahrain and held talks with the King just days before the protests
began in February 2011.
However, at the height of the Arab Spring in early 2011, there
was immense pressure on Western governments to support democratic
movements and the UK had voiced significant support for protestors
elsewhere in the region.
153. The Government responded publicly to the
situation in Bahrain with a mixture of concern about the action
of the security services and support for the Bahraini authorities
by distinguishing Bahrain as a reforming state. Following the
Bahraini security services' first violent clashes with protestors
in February 2011, the Prime Minister spoke by phone to King Hamad
on 20 February and his office put out the following statement:
The Prime Minister stressed the importance of responding
to peaceful protest through reform, not repression. The violence
of previous days had been deeply concerning. As a friend of Bahrain,
the Prime Minister said that we supported the process of national
dialogue which the Bahraini Government had initiated.
At the same time, the Foreign Secretary told the
House that whilst it was important to express the UK's "gravest
concerns", "it is also important to recognise that important
reforms have taken place in Bahrain and that the King of Bahrain
pledged himself in the last week to further such reforms."
After negotiations between the Government and opposition broke
down in March 2011 and the Bahraini authorities began to enact
a further security crackdown, the UK expressed itself in stronger
terms: the Prime Minister spoke by phone to King Hamad on 16 March
2011 and "expressed his serious concern at the deteriorating
situation on the ground and called for restraint on all sides",
and the Foreign Secretary spoke to his Bahraini counterpart, Sheikh
Khalid Bin Ahmed Bin Mohamed Al Khalifa. 
154. Our witnesses told us that the UK's criticism
was poorly received in Bahrain, and we heard anecdotally that
this displeasure had prejudiced the access that the then-British
Ambassador, Jamie Bowden, had to the Bahraini leadership. Dr Eyal
described a feeling of disappointment among the Bahraini ruling
every time in Bahrain I gotand I think our
Embassy got as wella sort of feeling of sorrow from the
local leaders. It was as though they were saying, "We did
not expect it from you. We expected youthe Britsto
support us to the hilt," precisely because of the historic
However, following the end of the main protests in
March 2011, and the launch of the Bahrain Independent Commission
of Inquiry (BICI) and a National Dialogue, relations between the
UK and Bahrain appeared gradually to return to their former level
of cooperation and engagement.
The Foreign Secretary met the Crown Prince of Bahrain in May 2011,
and expressed support for the dialogue process.
Mr Burt returned to visit Bahrain in December 2011.
Throughout 2012, the UK hosted high-level delegations including
the King, the Crown Prince, and the Ministers for Justice, Human
Rights, and the Interior.
155. In November 2012, during a visit to London
by the Bahrain Minister for Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Khalid bin
Ahmed Al Khalifa, the UK and Bahrain agreed to establish a new
ministerial-level dialogue. This Joint Working Group was created
to provide a forum to discuss "key regional issues such as
Syria, Iran, and the impact of the Arab Spring," as well
as providing a forum for the UK to raise concerns and discuss
means of support.
Mr Burt told us that this was part of the wider Gulf Initiative
to establish bilateral ties with each Gulf State, which has seen
it launch similar cooperation initiatives with the UAE, Oman and
Kuwait (see paragraph 13). Its inaugural meeting took place in
Bahrain on 11 March 2013 and was attended by Mr Burt and hosted
by Bahrain's Minister for Foreign Affairs. The joint statement
released after the working group underlined the "close and
open relationship between Bahrain and the UK" and said that
the two sides had discussed co-operation on key trade and investment
opportunities, co-operation and assistance on security and counter-terrorism,
and Bahrain's reform programme, including UK support on the implementation
of the BICI and UPR recommendations.
Commenting on the Agreement, Mr Burt said
It represents a very supportive relationship between
the United Kingdom and Bahrain, which we make no secret of. [...]
Bahrain was looking to formalise the bilateral discussions that
we have right across the board. We have chosen to do it through
the working group and the defence accord.
156. The resumption of contact and support appears
to have been welcomed by Bahrain's rulers. The Foreign Secretary
visited Bahrain for the first time since the protests in December
2012 for the resumption of the annual IISS Manama Dialogue (which
had been suspended in 2011), a forum for governments and non-government
experts to discuss regional security issues in the Middle East.
The UK received conspicuous praise at the same conference in a
speech by Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman:
I would in particular like to thank the diplomats,
the leadership and the government of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth
of the UK. You have stood head and shoulders above others. You
have engaged all stakeholders. You have kept the door open to
all sides in what was a very difficult and sometimes unclear situation.
Your engagement and your help in police reform and judicial reform,
and your direct engagement with the leadership of the Kingdom
of Bahrain and with members of the opposition, has saved lives,
and for that I will be personally eternally grateful. Thank you.
157. On our visit to Manama we observed that
the British Ambassador, Iain Lindsay, and the British embassy
had comfortable access to Bahrain's leadership at its highest
UK's two recent ambassadors to Bahrain have taken different approaches
to their work in response to the situation in Bahrain at the time
of their tenure. We commend the energy that both former Ambassador
Jamie Bowden and current Ambassador Iain Lindsay have brought
to this role in a difficult situation.
CRITICISM OF THE RELATIONSHIP
158. We heard significant criticism of the UK's
response to the violent events in 2011 and its ongoing relationship
with Bahrain, though some of it was contradictory. Several submissions
to our inquiry criticised the UK for not supporting the Bahraini
government enough during this difficult time. One cited the UK's
provision of two chartered flights out of Bahrain for British
citizens wishing to escape the violence as a sign of the UK's
over-reaction and misunderstanding of the nature of the protests
in Bahrain (they returned almost empty).
However, others among our witnesses have considered the UK to
be too supportive, and have unfavourably compared the UK's carefully
calibrated response in Bahrain with the strong position it has
held in relation to Arab Spring protests elsewhere in the region,
particularly in Libya.
Jane Kinninmont was critical of the fact that the UK was close
to Bahrain, commenting that there had been some "self-congratulation
about the fact that the Crown Prince selected the UK for particular
praise in his speech" and adding:
it seems interesting that now Britain is probably
Bahrain's closest non-Arab ally. [
] It is also puzzling
to see how the relationship has re-emerged so strongly when the
relations were tested by the uprising and by the crack-down.
159. Not all witnesses were critical, however.
Some pointed out that a stable Bahrain was an important British
goal and in line with our national interests. Sir Roger Tomkys
our greatest interest there is the continuing stability
and prosperity of Bahrain because, if it fails, there would be
a knock-on effect with the intervention of Saudi Arabia, and consequences
that would be hard to predict, but very unattractive.
The FCO has responded to criticism of its close relationship
with Bahrain by arguing that Bahrain is a close friend and ally,
and that the UK's close relationship had allowed it to support
human rights and reform in Bahrain. The Government's webpage on
Bahrain emphasises the breadth of the UK's relationship, stating
that the UK aims to:
help Bahrain to return to a stable and reformist
state with a good human rights record, while protecting our significant
defence and security interests and enhancing our bilateral relationship.
160. The aggressive manner in
the way that the Bahraini security forces handled events in 2011
has deeply damaged Bahrain's international reputation, and complicated
its relationships with Western governments, including the UK.
Bahrain's failure quickly to implement the important and practical
recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry
has created further difficulties in its relationship with the
UK, and has squandered the good faith and goodwill that the BICI
could have helped to restore.
161. The BICI report made 26 recommendations
relating to independent institutions to address past problems
and accountability, and to improve court procedures, as well as
relating to the use of force, arrest, treatment of persons
in custody, detention and prosecution in connection with the freedom
of expression, assembly and association; the reinstatement
of students and fired employees for taking part in protests; media
issues. In our view the Bahrain
Independent Commission of Inquiry made sensible recommendations
and the Bahrain government's failure to implement them fully is
inexplicable. If it had done so, if would have been easier for
the international community as a whole to engage with the Bahraini
162. The Government was correct
to take a firm line in 2011 urging an end to the unacceptable
violence and expressing its deep concern to the Bahraini authorities.
The Government's efforts to re-establish close relations since
2011 appear to have been successful, and the UK is now well placed
to help Bahrain as it shapes its future. The Government must,
however, continue to monitor its policies in respect to Bahrain
People to people contact and
163. The historical connection between the UK
and Bahrain has resulted in substantial contact between nationals
and a sense of strong links and deep cultural ties between the
two states. This warm feeling appears to be most immediately evident
in Bahrain, which the UK's ambassador to Bahrain Iain Lindsay
describes as "incredibly anglophile".
However, some elements of Britain's history in Bahrain have left
a more negative view of the UK. Several submissions from NGOs
and individuals in the UK and Bahrain mentioned the British former
security officer Ian Henderson, who took over the running of the
Bahraini security services in 1981.
Rosemary Hollis told us that Mr Henderson "has a reputation
for being particularly nasty in the handling of detainees. Political
dissent was not something that he encouraged the Bahrainis to
The UK is also still seen by many as exerting considerable influence
in Bahrain 'behind the scenes', which is resented by some.
However, the presence of both long-term and more recent opposition
figures in London suggests that the UK is not generally disliked
or feared by the Bahraini opposition, or the broader society in
164. Contact from the British side has been in
part maintained by a substantial British expatriate community
in Bahrain. The UK constitutes the largest western expatriate
community (8,000 nationals in 2012) and a vocal and prominent
presence in society.
British nationals appear to have found Bahrain a pleasant home:
we received several submissions from current and former British
expatriates in Bahrain who spoke positively of their warm reception
in Bahrain, and of the open and tolerant society they found there,
particularly in comparison to other Gulf States.
165. In the aftermath of 2011, public opinion
on both sides appears to have become more negative. In the UK,
Bahrain has received heavy criticism in Parliament, the media,
and by British NGOs for its crackdown on protestors and ongoing
failure to implement reforms. In Bahrain, the UK has been criticised
by both sides of the divide, as either being too critical or not
critical enough: Dr Eyal told us that "the media in Bahrain
is almost constantly hostile to us, [
] We are not seen as
their stalwart supporters."
However, we note that criticism of the UK is not new in Bahrain:
Robin Lamb told us that while he was ambassador he experienced
public criticism and was even censured by the National Assembly.
Nor is the UK alone in this regard: the US ambassador to Bahrain
was publicly criticised by Bahraini Parliamentarians in March
2013 for 'interference' in Bahrain's internal affairs.
ENGAGING WITH THE PUBLIC
166. The British Embassy has a high profile in
Bahrain. On our visit we saw that the ambassador was featured
prominently in the English-language media, and that his public
comments on the political situation in Bahrain were known and
used as a subject of discussion by the people we met at all levels
of the government. As in Saudi Arabia, the British Embassy in
Bahrain also has a website, Facebook page and Twitter feed. The
UK's high profile can mean that the embassy in Bahrain can be
subject to intense scrutiny and criticism. When it published two
articles on its website written by pro-government supporters that
boasted about Bahrain's human rights record for World Press Freedom
Day in May 2013, it attracted international comment and criticism.
The FCO later clarified that the views expressed in the blogs
were "definitely not those of the UK Government."
167. While criticism of the
UK in Bahrain is not new, it is a cause of concern. The UK's high
profile in Bahrain is an asset for the UK that can be used to
influence and support Bahrain's reform, but it also makes British
actions and statements a target for scrutiny and criticism. Given
the detailed attention that statements and actions by the British
Embassy receive, the UK must be extremely careful about the message
it sends to the broader public in Bahrain and internationally
as it positions itself as a "critical friend" to Bahrain.
We conclude that the UK Government is correct to try to use its
high profile and influence to good effect to support evolutionary
reform in Bahrain and to act as a critical friend.
168. The British Council told us that it had
a strong presence and established networks in Bahrain, where it
has been operating since 1959. Proficiency in English "is
seen as crucial to employability". Its teaching centre in
Manama has almost 2,000 students per term and it holds community
events to encourage reading. The British Council also supports
the education and Further and Higher Education sectors in Bahrain
by supporting links between schools, colleges and universities
in the UK and Bahrain. In addition to its language programme,
the Council supports art programmes, including street art and
pioneering art therapy for the disabled "in order to harness
the many creative energies released by recent events in the country".
169. The British Council emphasised that it "includes
every shade of political and religious affiliation" and that
its history and network gives it a special position in Bahrain
in a society that is "increasingly divided along sectarian
Our position in Bahrain as an honest broker allows
us to provide a safe, neutral place for people from differing
political and religious traditions to meet, learn and debate together.
Even when tensions were at the highest our classrooms remained
full and calm and our Kids Read events open and inclusive to all
We visited the British Council in Manama, where it
was located in a predominantly Shia neighbourhood. The Council
was keenly aware of the ethnic and religious make-up of its student
body, and is now taking steps to open a second, centre in an area
where it could reach a more mixed population.
170. The British Council provides
a valuable vehicle for the promotion of British values and the
provision of useful skills in Bahrain. We particularly welcome
its commitment to learning and debate, which is a critical service
in a society that appears to be becoming more divided. We recommend
that in response to this report the Government provide details
on what skills training the British Council is providing in Bahrain
in order to enhance their students' skills to participate more
effectively in the political process of evolutionary reform and
Trade and commercial relations
171. As Bahrain has relatively few oil and gas
reserves, it has developed the most diversified economy of all
the Gulf States, with lower taxes and a more robust regulatory
structure than many of its neighbours, making it an investment
destination and a major trading hub and financial centre in the
Middle East. It is connected by a 25 km causeway to Saudi Arabia's
oil-rich Eastern Province, and Bahrain particularly markets itself
as a 'Gateway' into the Saudi and other Gulf markets. Bahrain
has an established financial services sector with particular expertise
in Islamic finance, and overall financial services account for
25% of GDP. Oil production now comprises only 13% of Bahrain's
GDP, although hydrocarbons still provide the largest share of
172. Bahrain faces some of the same challenges
as other Gulf States, including a very young population (65% of
the population is under 25 years old), and a reliance on migrant
labour: expatriates make up almost half of its population. It
is also a very unequal society with much of its wealth heavily
concentrated at the top.
Bahrain's economy was also affected by the unrest in 2011, with
tourism receipts falling, and a number of businesses closing and/
or relocating to other parts of the Gulf.
Formula 1 returned in 2012 but it is only recently that tourism
has shown a modest increase, with most visitors coming from Saudi
Arabia to take advantage of Bahrain's more liberal laws with regard
to entertainment. Nevertheless, Bahrain saw GDP growth of 3.4%
in 2012, and growth is forecast to continue to grow over the next
five years. In
addition, it is expected to benefit from a $10 billion economic
package pledged by the GCC over the next ten years, which should
maintain economic growth and allow for increased infrastructure
spending by the government.
|International Monetary Fund
Bahrain: Selected Economic Indicators, 2008-12
||2011|| Prel. 2012
| (Percent change, unless otherwise indicated)
|Production and prices
|Real oil GDP1
|Real non-oil GDP||7.2
|Nominal GDP (billions of US$)
|Consumer price index (period average)
| (Percent of GDP, unless otherwise indicated)
|Of which: oil revenue
|Overall fiscal balance
|Change in broad money (percent)
| (Billions of US$, unless otherwise indicated)
|Of which: Oil and refined products
|Current account balance
|Percent of GDP||10.2
|Gross official reserves (end of period)
|Months of imports2
|Months of imports (excluding crude oil imports)2,3
|Real effective exchange rate
|Sources: Bahraini authorities; and IMF staff estimates.
1 Includes crude oil and gas.
2 Imports of goods and non-factor services for the following year.
3 All imported crude oil is exported after refining.
173. Bahrain is one of the UK's smallest but fastest-growing
export markets in the Gulf, with a 39% increase in trade between
2009 and 2012, bringing the current total bilateral trade of goods
and services to £884 million.
The FCO told us that after a "flat" 2011, UK imports
from Bahrain had increased in 2012 to $195 million, and that the
Government continued to look for opportunities to increase trade.
The UKTI has identified Bahrain as holding opportunities in financial
and professional services; education and training; infrastructure;
healthcare; business services; downstream manufacturing; and logistics.
In addition, the FCO said that the GCC's $10 billion development
fund is expected to result in further opportunities for the UK
to support Bahrain's re-development plans and benefit from its
spending on infrastructure. Iain Lindsay, British Ambassador to
Bahrain, told a recent business conference that on the UK's historical
share of major contracts, the Government estimates that the five
biggest projects alone could be worth around £1 billion to
174. Nevertheless, our trade witnesses described
a hesitancy on the part of UK businesses to pursue trade opportunities
with Bahrain due to concerns about stability since 2011. David
Lloyd told us that the Middle East Association had cancelled a
planned trade delegation to Bahrain in December 2012 due to lack
However, Iain Lindsay was more positive about the outlook, noting
in a 2013 UKTI Doing Business in Bahrain brochure that
Bahrain has witnessed a steady increase in commercial and investor
confidence across key sectors, including tourism and retail "both
of which reflect a return in consumer confidence." He added
The Bahraini authorities want to see more British
business in Bahrain. There are good opportunities for British
companies here, with British products and expertise held in high
175. The UK is well placed to
capitalise on its business reputation in Bahrain as it begins
large-scale infrastructure spending.
DEFENCE SALES AND EXPORT LICENCES
176. As a small state with a limited defence
budget, Bahrain is at present not a major market for the British
defence industry. Nevertheless, the UK previously designated Bahrain
as a key market for arms exports
and, prior to 2011, the Government had granted export licences
for equipment including tear gas and crowd control ammunition,
equipment for aircraft cannons, assault rifles, shotguns, sniper
rifles and sub-machine guns.
177. After the outbreak of violence in Bahrain,
the Government reviewed its export licences for military and dual-use
equipment and revoked 23 individual export licences and removed
Bahrain from 18 open licences, explaining:
The licences revoked covered equipment which could
be used for riot control destined for end users including the
Police, Ministry of Interior, the Bahrain National Guard and the
Bahrain Defence Force (BDF). Licences which were not revoked included
goods such as aircraft components for the BDF. 
The Committees on Arms Export Controls (CAEC) recorded
105 extant export licences for Bahrain as of May 2013. Limitations
on export licences continue to be in force, and the Foreign Secretary
told the CAEC in December 2012 that "there have been export
licence applications in relation to Bahrain that we have recently
refused, or are in the process of refusing."
Nonetheless, the Campaign Against Arms Trade has estimated that
the UK granted almost £8 million of export licences for Bahrain
in 2012. In August
2013 during a visit to the UK of Bahrain's King Hamad, BAE announced
that Bahrain had expressed an interest in the Eurofighter Typhoon
aircraft and said that the British Government was leading "very
178. Several of our witnesses considered the
revocation of export licences to be of little significance. Dr
Eyal took the view that the UK's portion of the Bahrain defence
market was so small that it was "not a big issue",
while Rosemary Hollis suggested that the withdrawal was somewhat
for the sake of appearances, telling us that "the Bahrainis
could not survive without the Saudis, so it makes absolutely no
difference whether the British withdraw these licences or not."
However, for some of our witnesses the continued sales sent a
symbolic message of support to the Bahraini government with which
they disagreed. In November 2011, Maryam Alkhawaja, Interim President
of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, particularly criticised
If you're really serious about pushing through these
values, of human rights and democracy and respecting citizens,
you shouldn't be selling arms to a country that uses them against
civilians. And I think that's a message that needs to be sent
very clearly to the UK government along with the others: stop
the arms sales, now.
The UK Government denies that there has been any
evidence of equipment sold by the UK being used in the security
crackdown in Bahrain. However, in her evidence to us, Maryam Alkhawaja
argued that defence sales were nonetheless encouraging the Bahraini
Government to "continue with their crackdown, because they
see this as being business as usual."
CYBER TECHNOLOGY EXPORTS
179. An issue that received particular attention
and criticism in submissions to this inquiry was allegations regarding
the export by British companies of surveillance technology to
Bahrain. Bahrain Watch submitted detailed evidence claiming to
demonstrate that UK-based Gamma International had sold surveillance
technology to Bahraini authorities, who had used it to monitor
Bahraini activists, including one activist based in the UK (Dr
Gamma International denies that it sold this technology to Bahrain,
and has speculated that Bahrain might have procured a pirated
version. The UK
Government has confirmed that such technology would require an
export licence, and that none had been requested or granted.
However, the Government has since declined to make any more information
public about any investigation it has conducted into the allegations,
for which a group of NGOs, including Privacy International, has
secured a Judicial Review.
The hearing is set for early next year.
180. The Government should not
grant any licence that could contribute to internal repression
and should make decisions on other export licences on a case-by-case
basis, ensuring the strict implementation of existing policies.
The Government should provide in response to this report further
evidence that it is adhering in practice to its own strict policies
with regard to British defence equipment sold to Bahrain including
any evidence gathered by end-use monitoring.
181. Both the government and
the opposition in Bahrain view UK defence sales as a signal of
British support for the government. The UK Government should take
this into account when considering high-profile sales, such as
the Eurofighter Typhoon, to Bahrain.
Defence and security relationship
182. Bahrain plays a key role in regional security,
largely by merit of its location in the Arabian Gulf and its openness
to international partners and coalition operations. Bahrain's
position between Saudi Arabia and Iran means that it is of great
strategic significance in terms of energy security, as it is critical
to the protection of Gulf shipping lanes (through which 17 million
barrels of oil are shipped per day) and global energy supplies.
Bahrain also hosts the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, as well as the
Combined Maritime Forces' base in the Gulf, a multi-national naval
partnership focused on defeating terrorism, preventing piracy,
encouraging regional cooperation, and promoting a safe maritime
environment. In 2002, President George W. Bush designated Bahrain
as a major non-NATO ally of the United States, and the US has
provided significant defence support and funding to Bahrain.
183. Bahrain is a regular participant in multilateral
action, contributing to Operation Desert Storm against Iraq in
1991 and various multi-lateral naval operations, as well as providing
approximately 100 personnel in support of NATO forces in International
Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. It also regularly
conducts joint exercises with a number of western powers, including
the US and UK. Bahrain was the first Arab state to lead a Coalition
Task Force patrolling the Gulf and has supported the coalition
counter-piracy mission with a deployment of its flagship.
UK-BAHRAIN MILITARY COOPERATION
184. The UK's defence relationship with Bahrain
stretches back over almost 200 years to when Bahrain first became
a British protectorate and the UK took on responsibility for its
defence and security. When the UK withdrew from Bahrain in 1971,
the defence relationship continued under the new 'Friendship Treaty',
and the Government told us that Bahrain is an important partner
for the UK in the region, where it "plays a key part in our
strategic defence, has given the UK support with basing rights
and helped us in relation to Afghanistan."
As of December 2012, the UK had 20 military personnel (naval)
stationed in Bahrain, working on "Bi-lateral engagement;
wider regional engagement; attaché and defence section
Support; defence sales; Training Naval Support; support to Operations;
185. As well as hosting the US base, Bahrain
is also home to the UK Maritime Component Command (UKMCC). The
Government told us that this gives
the Royal Navy the ability to operate not only in
the Gulf but well beyond to the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and North
West Indian Ocean. Bahrain also provides vital basing for four
UK mine-hunters in Al-Mina port, stationed in the Gulf to keep
the Strait of Hormuz clear.
According to RUSI, the UK-Bahrain defence relationship
is "crucial to the UK's pursuit of its national strategic
is also favourable to the UK, as the UK is afforded special treatment
in Bahrain beyond what it receives from others in the region:
Bahrain welcomes British naval vessels into its waters
and port facilities, allows the RAF to use its airfields, and
routinely waives the sorts of protocols Britain would have to
follow before entering the national territory of certain of its
neighbours. Bahrain also supplies the UK with intelligence, in
particular though not exclusively in connection with counter-terrorism.
In a sense, the kingdom is a substitute for an aircraft carrier
permanently stationed in the Gulf.
186. Successive generations of Bahraini officers
have been trained by the British armed forces. The UK routinely
hosts Bahraini-funded students at Sandhurst, Cranwell and Dartmouth
and, according to the FCO, provides in-country UK Officer Training
Programmes "to the same high standards received by UK armed
forces, which helps ensure professionally-trained armed forces
and raises awareness of human rights." 
187. One of our witnesses suggested that this
solid defence relationship was nevertheless susceptible to pressure:
Jane Kinninmont told us that Bahrain had threatened to withdraw
this defence co-operation with the UK in 2011 as a way to "push
back" strongly against the UK's criticism of its handling
of protests. Dr
Murrison, Parliamentary Under Secretary at the Ministry of Defence,
declined to confirm or deny whether Bahraini authorities had made
this threat, however, he commented that:
We would manage; we always do. However, Bahrain is
very important to us. It is a longstanding friend and ally, and
it has been extremely helpful in providing basing and overflight
facilities. Our defence engagement with Bahrain is very strong.
] Bahrain is extremely important to us, but in the event
that it was not there, we would clearly have to seek other alliances
and partnerships. However, Bahrain is one of our closest relationships
in that region, and we are very grateful to the Bahrainis for
their hospitality and accommodation.
188. All our witnesses agreed that Bahrain provided
a valuable partnership in terms of defence, but most also said
that this cooperation was not irreplaceable. RUSI told us that
without Bahrain's cooperation, "the UK's strategic flexibility
would be curtailed". It argued however that, although this
gave Bahrain a degree of leverage, "one must not jump to
the conclusion that British access concerns dominate policy-making.
The relationship is much more robust than that."
Dr Eyal set out the consequences if defence cooperation were to
be withdrawn by either side:
There are other countries in the region that can
fulfil the same job, assuming that the Government wants to have
a British military presence in the region, which the current Government
has indicated it does. However, it would be costly. It would have
to be negotiated, and it would have to be negotiated for the time
when none of the countries of the region want to negotiate basing
agreements if they can avoid it, for political reasons. It is
important in that respect.
Dr Eyal also pointed out that the defence relationship
with the UK was important for the Bahrainis, in particular as
a counterbalance to "the overwhelming influence of Saudi
UK-Bahrain Defence Cooperation Accord
189. In a further development of the UK-Bahrain
defence relationship, in October 2012, the Government agreed a
UK-Bahrain Defence Cooperation Accord (DCA), which was signed
in London during the visit of Bahraini Foreign Minister HE Sheikh
Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa. The Foreign Secretary told the Committees
on Arms Export Controls (CAEC) that the Accord "complements
It provides a framework for current and future defence
activity with Bahrain, including training and capacity-building,
partly in order to enhance the stability of the whole region.
[...] we have defence assets of our own stationed in Bahrain,
our minesweepers in particular, which are responsible in any crisis
for maintaining freedom of navigation in the Gulf, are physically
based in Bahrain. We need regularly to update and amend our defence
cooperation arrangements. 
He added that the Accord "does not change our
approach to export licensing in any way."
190. While the UK Government appeared to give
the Accord the minimum of publicity, the Bahraini authorities
published a news story that quoted the Crown Prince, Salman bin
Hamad Al Khalifa, hailing it as "mirroring deep-rooted historic
relations bonding Bahrain and the UK".
The UK Government has since acknowledged the agreement though
it has declined to publish it, stating that it is not standard
practice to publish such agreements with any country, for reasons
of confidentiality and respect for the other country. When he
appeared before us, Dr Murrison denied that the timing of the
Accord was a signal of support, telling us that it was rather
"part of our routine, ongoing engagement with Bahrain."
However, Dr Eyal commented that for the UK, "When you have
street demonstrations, people being arrested and human rights
violations being reported, it is a bit embarrassing to sign an
agreement with that country, especially on a military subject."
He said that from the Bahraini perspective "it is in their
interest [...] to suggest that their country is not being ostracisedthat
its traditional allies are standing by it. That is part of the
He added that, in private, "they know where we stand."
191. In its earlier written submission to the
Committee's inquiry, the Government rejected outside criticism
of its co-operation with the Bahraini armed forces, stating that
it "firmly believes that continued engagement provides the
opportunity to support reform within the Bahraini military and
Defending the Accord, the Foreign Secretary pointed out that "To
the extent that the relationship includes training and capacity
building, that might have benefits in the human rights area. After
all, it is often argued by those in authority in Bahrain that
what they need is their security forces to know what to do, to
be trained in how to handle civil disorder."
RUSI's written submission provided some support for the Government's
] there is little doubt that training received
from the UK is more likely to promote a measured and discriminating
approach to crowd control - something in line with British policing
standards - than training received from Saudi Arabia or any number
of other providers. Suppressing dissent is not something most
countries have problems with; it is doing so in an acceptable
manner that poses the challenge, and that is where the UK's efforts
in Bahrain can help."
192. Bahrain provides the UK
with an immensely valuable home in the Gulf and the defence co-operation
is mutually beneficial. Ending defence co-operation and naval
basing in Bahrain and seeking a substitute would be an extremely
costly and difficult step.
193. We recommend that UK-supplied
training, delivered in the UK or Bahrain, should always include
human rights elements, and that the Government should set out
in response to this report the elements included in its each of
the training programmes provided to Bahrain that cover rights,
the rule of law and the correct use of force.
194. We are disappointed that
the Government has provided so little detail to Parliament and
this Committee on its most recent defence accord with Bahrain.
It was predictable that Bahrain would consider it a public signal
of support and, if the Government did not mean it to send this
message, it would have been more sensible to have immediately
released information about the Accord and the UK's reasons for
agreeing it at this time. We understand that the Government does
not publish Defence Accord Agreements but in its response to this
report, the Government should consider what, if any, further information
it could release about this Defence Accord and the UK's reasons
for signing it at this time.
The UK's support for human rights
and reform in Bahrain
195. The Bahraini government says it has implemented
a number of reforms in response to the Bahrain Independent Commission
of Inquiry (BICI) and it accepted over 140 of 176 recommendations
during its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the UN's Human Rights
Council in September 2012. However, Amnesty International told
the Committee that while there had been some improvements in the
situation in Bahrain since 2011, there was "a gap between
rhetoric and reality". In particular, Amnesty International
drew attention to the fact that prisoners of conscience were still
in prison in Bahrain, that allegations of torture continued, and
that there was little accountability for the early violations.
 A number
of NGOs cited cases in which the implementation of changes - such
as the installation of CCTV in police stations - had simply led
to the problem being displaced to unofficial torture centres.
Ali Alaswad, a former Al Wefaq MP in Bahrain, called for implementation
"on the ground", rather than "paperwork [and] websites".
He claimed that over 2,000 protestors remained behind bars.
196. A number of members of the BICI panel, including
British expert Sir Nigel Rodley, have criticised the failure fully
to implement its most substantive recommendations. In January,
the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) issued a statement
condemning "the continued harassment and imprisonment of
persons exercising their rights to freedom of opinion and expression
197. In addition to its failure to resolve past
mistakes, opposition groups and NGOs have accused the Bahraini
government of continuing to use violent intimidation, including
the use of tear gas as a weapon, and of being responsible for
the detention, mistreatment and torture of activists and protestors.
Human Rights Watch referred to allegations arising in May 2013
of detainees being subject to electric shock treatment, hung from
ceilings, beaten or waterboarded.
Amnesty noted that allegations of torture and enforced disappearance
are still being made.
Maryam Alkhawaja, of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR),
a particularly critical human rights organisation, said that they
had seen a "continual deterioration of the situation on the
ground." She alleged cases of extrajudicial killings, house
raids during the middle of the night by masked men, torture and
excessive use of force against protestors, concluding that "more
or less everything that was documented in the BICI report continues
to happen today, and in some cases it has gotten worse."
198. The Bahraini Government has also enacted
a number of retrogressive policies, including banning street protests,
arresting citizens for defaming the King on Twitter, and revoking
the nationality of 31 opposition activists, citing them as a threat
to "national security".
More recently, it has reportedly banned opposition groups from
meeting foreign officials without government permission and without
a member of the government being present,
and on 17 September 2013 Bahrain detained a senior member of Al
Wefaq, the main opposition group, Khalil al-Marzooq. Al Wefaq
argued that the arrest was "a clear targeting of political
action in Bahrain." 
More broadly, there are ongoing concerns about the lack of judicial
independence in Bahrain, and there have been a number of specific
cases of trials with serious concerns about due process and fair
procedure, including the trials of the medics who stood accused
of helping the protestors.
199. Bahrain's government has accepted some criticism,
for example in the UN Human Rights Council, but it has robustly
defended itself against some of the NGOs' criticism, which it
states is one-sided and does not take into account the government's
position. The Bahraini government strongly criticised Human Rights
Watch after it sent a delegation to Bahrain and reported that
Bahrain's rulers had made "no progress on key reform promises"
and had failed to release unjustly imprisoned activists or to
hold high-level officials accountable for torture. Human Rights
Watch concluded that "All the talk of national dialogue and
reform mean nothing so long as the country's most prominent human
rights and political activists remain unjustly imprisoned while
officials responsible for torture and murder remain in their positions".
The Bahraini government responded that the delegation had misrepresented
officials' remarks and ignored the significant reforms that had
taken place. The
British Ambassador to Bahrain, Iain Lindsay, gave an interview
to the Gulf Daily News shortly afterward, in which he also criticised
the Human Rights Watch statement:
I don't think that accurately reflects what happened
here or is happening here and I find their comments about the
political dialogue deeply unhelpful. I think it has taken a lot
of courage and a lot of effort to get people for the first time
in two years to sit around a table to talk about dialogue. That
is no mean feat, that is a significant step, and to essentially
pooh-pooh that and say these people are wasting their time I think
is deeply unhelpful, condescending and patronising. 
200. Bahrain's implementation
of the BICI recommendations has been disappointingly slow and
has further damaged its international reputation. Swift implementation
of the recommendations would have gone a long way toward preventing
the breakdown in trust and fracturing of opposition in Bahrain.
201. We are particularly concerned
by recent reports that the Bahraini authorities have banned political
groups from having unrestricted access to diplomats. In its response
to this report the Government should provide its assessment of
the situation including information on whether it has affected
any of the Embassy's meetings, along with any representations
it has made to the authorities to lift the ban.
engagement on human rights and reform since 2011
202. The UK has responded to events in Bahrain
in 2011 and the aftermath with a mixture of support for the government
and concern about human rights violations that have taken place.
Most submissions and witnesses to this inquiry, whether supportive
of the UK Government's policy or not, have agreed that the UK
was initially strongly critical in early 2011, but has since become
more outwardly supportive of the Bahrain government.
The UK has appeared to try to strike a balance between supporting
its longstanding friend and ally to make necessary reforms, and
maintaining a strong line against human rights violations in Bahrain.
For example, in response to a Written Parliamentary Question in
April 2013 on progress in Bahrain, Alistair Burt stated:
I believe the Government of Bahrain remains committed
to improving its human rights record, including full implementation
of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry and the UN Human
Rights Council Universal Periodic Review. However, as I continue
to voice both in private and in public, more needs to be done.
Our decision to include Bahrain as a case study in 2011 FCO Human
Rights Report, and to do so for the 2012 Report, reflects our
view of the current trend of events and concerns.
203. The UK Government has on occasion been openly
critical of a number of developments in Bahrain, including publicly
expressing concerns about the bans on demonstrations, the court
cases of Bahraini medics, and the need for Bahrain to follow through
on the BICI and to implement its recommendations. However, the
Government has also resisted calls, including from this Committee,
to designate Bahrain a 'country of concern' in its annual human
rights report, though the FCO did feature Bahrain as a case study
and committed to providing quarterly updates on its progress.
The UK Government did not respond to pressure from NGOs to boycott
the 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix.
204. The UK has engaged with Bahrain to provide
a number of training programmes and initiatives to assist in its
implementation of reforms. These include a programme with the
HM Prison Inspectorate and funding through the Arab Partnership
for a project to develop a national monitoring mechanism for human
close to Bahrain?
205. NGOs and witnesses criticised or expressed
concerns about the UK's policies in five main areas:
a) Almost all NGOs and several witnesses expressed
concern that the UK was over-estimating reform in Bahrain, and
under-reporting the serious ongoing problems, which include recent
allegations of torture. David Mepham told us that he was unsure
how the UK had reached its conclusion that the trajectory in Bahrain
was positive, while Ali Alaswad compared the UK's approach to
that of the US, whose statements and recent reports were "much
clearer than the report published by the UK government."
b) Both British and Bahraini NGOs criticised
the UK for failing to assist their work, either by not helping
to ensure access for NGOs and journalists to Bahrain, or by not
meeting Bahraini NGOs when requested. Maryam Alkhawaja claimed
that "as human rights defenders, my colleagues on the ground
have a very difficult time getting meetings with the UK embassy
to discuss the situation. I have colleagues who have been told
flat-out by the ambassador that he will not meet them".
c) Bahrain Watch criticised the lack of transparency
over meetings between the UK and Bahraini ministers and officials,
noting that the main source of information on such meetings was
the Bahraini government press, which provided an unreliable report.
d) Several NGOs criticised the UK for hosting
Bahraini officials and Ministers in the UK, including one with
an allegation of torture against him.
e) Many submissions criticised the presence of
British advisers (such as John Yates, former Assistant Commissioner
in the London Metropolitan Police Service) and British companies
(including PR companies), which were employed by the Government.
206. Overall, there was considerable criticism
of the UK for being too supportive of the Bahraini government,
which some believed had allowed the Bahraini government to become
complacent and fail to carry out reforms. David Mepham of Human
Rights Watch said that engagement had been tried for two years
without much impact. Witnesses compared the UK's support for Bahrain
unfavourably with the position held by the UK in relation to Arab
Spring protests elsewhere in the region, and have warned that
it is damaging the UK's reputation. Maryam Alkhawaja said that
"We have seen a rise in anti-US and UK sentiment among people
on the ground, which has happened quickly over the past two years".
207. Mr Burt was bullish in response to criticism
of the UK's approach:
The United Kingdom has set out its stall. I make
no apology for this and I will be totally up front: we think that
the best chance for stability in Bahrain lies through the successful
national dialogue process by Bahrainis, which will seek their
own political settlement, which is highly likely to encompass
the Al Khalifa leadership and the structure of Bahrain.
The FCO argued that its close relationship with Bahrain
has allowed it to support human rights and reform. Mr Burt highlighted
the benefit of the joint working group in increasing the UK's
support for reform in Bahrain
and argued that it gave the UK the opportunity to discuss where
it could do more:
sitting across the table from those responsible for
implementing BICI, I can say, "How is this going? Why have
some parts stalled more than others? What are you going to do
about such and such? Why aren't we making progress on that?"
The working group gives the opportunity to do that.
RUSI Director Dr Jonathan Eyal appeared to support
this position, stating that, in private, the dialogue post-2011
was "very intensive and shockingly frank.... But we cannot
say [these things] in public. We can only do that because we are
perceived to be friends."
208. Mr Burt strongly refuted our witnesses'
criticism of the UK's approach, arguing that the Embassy had been
"meticulous" in seeing opposition groups, apart from
those that it deems are connected with violence.
He added that he did not "mind facing up to the criticism
for supporting the Bahraini authorities in trying to see through
reform, and I am prepared to criticise them when they do not.
[...] If we take a reputational knock fairly, that's fine, but
sometimes it is a bit unfair."
Mr Burt said that British advisers were independent but he saw
no reputational risk associated with the advisers, who "are
trying to do something of benefit to the people of Bahrain and
the political process [...] I would say that our involvement is
a good thing and seek to persuade others that that was the case."
209. Conversely, the UK has also some received
criticism for its public demonstration of human rights concerns
in Bahrain: George Williams, Editor of the Gulf Daily News, said:
"Britain is always waving the banner of human rights, democracy
and freedom in [Gulf governments'] faces, all of which ARE developing
here. Such a brow-beating and sometimes patronising attitude,
accompanied by endless statements, often resulting from an ignorance
of street realities, creates doubts and damages the reputations
and economies of GCC nations."
Neil Partrick was sympathetic, telling us that UK diplomats had
an "almost impossible path to try to tread", and that
it had received both criticism from the opposition and "knock-back"
from the Bahraini government for its efforts.
210. We conclude that the Government
is right to pursue a strategy of engagement with Bahrain and to
demonstrate the benefits of a reforming, moderate approach. However,
British engagement and support should not be unconditional in
the face of continued violations and slow implementation of reforms.
There is a danger to the UK's credibility if it allows itself
to become associated with the problems in Bahrain rather than
211. We recommend that the UK
seek to meet members of the opposition groups whenever possible,
and advocate on behalf of international and British NGOs for access
to Bahrain. In its response to this report, the Government should
set out the meetings held with Bahraini NGOs and opposition figures
in the last 12 months, and the steps it has taken to improve NGO
access to Bahrain.
support for action by NGOs and International Organisations
212. In addition to bilateral dialogue and pressure,
the UK has also supported international action in the United Nations,
for example. In its written submission, Human Rights Watch emphasised
the importance of these mechanisms and recommended that the UK:
Should take a strong and consistent position on rights
abuses in these countries in dedicated forums like the UN Human
Rights Council. It should press all of these countries to allow
regular and unfettered access to UN special mechanisms (rapporteurs,
for example) and international human rights organisations.
The UK participated in Bahrain's Universal Periodic
Review (UPR) at the UN Human Rights Council in 2012 and made recommendations
for further reforms by Bahrain. However, in April 2013 Bahrain
postponed a visit by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. The
visit, which had been postponed once before, was seen as an important
part of the reforms and improvements Bahrain had committed to
make as part of its UPR. The Special Rapporteur, Juan Mendez,
criticised the decision by the Bahraini authorities, stating:
This is the second time that my visit has been postponed,
at very short notice. It is effectively a cancellation as no alternative
dates were proposed nor is there a future road map to discuss.
A spokesperson in the FCO told the BBC that the decision
was "disappointing", and said then FCO minister Alistair
Burt, had raised the issue with the Bahraini government "stressing
the importance we and the international community place on the
213. We recommend that the Government
make securing an invitation to the UN Special Rapporteur on torture
a priority in its next Joint Working Group with the Bahraini authorities.
214. The UK is right to be understanding
of Bahrain's dilemmas. For its region, prior to the protests it
was liberal and reforming, and there is not an easy answer to
its internal political issues. However, many of Bahrain's problems
are of its Government's own making. The UK must press with greater
urgency and force for Bahrain to implement the BICI reforms, engage
seriously in dialogue and welcome UN mechanisms in order to re-establish
good faith in its intentions. If there is no significant progress
by the start of 2014, the Government should designate Bahrain
as a 'country of concern' in its Human Rights Report.
Bahrain's international context
215. Owing to its size and relatively limited
wealth, Bahrain's capacity to act as a foreign policy partner
to the UK is inevitably limited, although it has proven to be
a useful partner in multilateral action (see defence section,
above) as well as by supporting initiatives in the United Nations
and GCC. However, Bahrain's position in the Gulf and its religious
make-up (a majority Shia population ruled by a Sunni leadership)
has made it a source of intense interest to the main regional
rivals of Iran and Saudi Arabia.
216. Although Bahrain regularly blames Iran for
its current crisis, the BICI report found no evidence of Iranian
interference at the time of the outbreak of protests in 2011.
Nevertheless, most of our witnesses agreed that while Iran had
not created the protests, it was now exploiting the situation
and 'stirring up' the discontented Shia population in Bahrain
in order to advance its own agenda. Dr Eyal drew our attention
to "at least five television stations broadcasting in Arabic,
24 hours a day into Bahrain", adding:
The Iranians have perfected a new technique, which
is the invention of news stories. A lot of the tension in Bahrain
is from invented stories. Press TV has buried the Saudi royal
family three times over, simply by announcing that the Saudi King
is dead. They know that people will discover that it was not the
case, but it keeps the tension going. 
RUSI told us that Iran thereby "amplifies Bahrain's
civil strife by vilifying the Government and the security forces,
exaggerating casualty figures, fabricating outrages against Shias
and generally inciting sectarian hatred."
Dr Eyal concluded that "the bombardment of Bahrain by Iranian
propaganda and the raising of the stakes have made it impossible
for a Bahrainian leadership to deal with it rationally."
In response, others have argued that Bahraini state broadcasting
has also been inflammatory and divisive.
Nonetheless, we understand that Iran also includes Bahrain as
part of its territory on it maps and holds seats in its parliament
for representatives from Bahrain.
217. Mr Burt agreed that Iran's TV coverage was
significant and that some of the material "is not designed
to be helpful or conducive to peace." More worryingly, he
added that "We have had evidence more recently of some more
active involvement on the ground. Alas I am not able to share
This reflected earlier comments by Iain Lindsay, British Ambassador
to Bahrain, who had given an interview to local press in Bahrain
just before our arrival in Manama, in which he labelled those
behind a spate of bombings across the country as "terrorists",
and said there was "increasing evidence" that Iran was
"providing support to people here who are bent on violence".
Mr Burt commented that:
I am very conscious that there are some in Bahrain
who would like to see Iran as the source of all the problems,
but I don't think that is fair or correct. [...] My overall impression
remains that Iran can and does exploit the situation, but there
are many issues in Bahrain that can be settled by Bahrainis between
He added that successfully seeing through reform
"is the most likely counterbalance to anything the Iranians
might wish to do."
218. Saudi Arabia is Bahrain's nearest neighbour
and strongest ally. It has a strong interest in ensuring that
Bahrain's society remains stable, given the potential knock-on
effect for its own Eastern province, which has a sizeable Shia
minority. Sir Roger Tomkys told us that "I believe that the
Saudis have made it quite clear that they do not intend to let
radical change take place."
Bahrain is therefore subject to considerable external pressure
in opposing directions, and has the potential to export sectarian
problems to its neighbours in the Gulf if its domestic crisis
is not resolved.
219. We conclude that Bahrain
is subject to intense pressure from other states in the Gulf,
which have strong and opposing interests in what happens in Bahrain.
The UK Government should work to improve the international context
in which Bahrain seeks a national reconciliation. Regional players
must be involved in the reform and reconciliation process if it
is to have any chance to succeed. The sectarian element to Bahrain's
troubles are a complicating factor, but also make Bahrain's reconciliation
even more of a prize: if these communities can find a way to reconcile
and work together then it will be an example in the region.
273 'GDP ranking', World Bank data, accessed July 2013,
: data.worldbank.org/data-catalog/GDP-ranking-table Back
Ev 138 Back
For a detailed narrative of events see: Report of the Bahrain
Independent Commission of Inquiry, 23 November 2011 Back
See, for example,' Five bomb blasts hit Bahrain capital, two killed'
Reuters, 5 November 2012; and ' Bahrain violence on rise
after car bomb', Financial Times, 19 July 2013 Back
Ev w1, Ev 10-11, Ev w43-45, Ev w57-61 Back
Ev w5, Ev w10-12, Ev w16-17, Ev w33-36 Back
Ev w21-22, Ev w39-43, Ev w64-74, Ev w75-77 Back
See, for example Ev 179 Back
See Ev w 23-25 [Sir John Shepherd] Back
Bahrain Ministry of Foreign Affairs, mofa.gov.bh Back
Q 37 Back
Ev 96 Back
Ev w112. Kristian Coates Ulrichsen is Co-Director of the Kuwait
Research Programme on Development, Governance and Globalisation
in the Gulf States, based at the London School of Economics. He
also is an Associate Fellow with the Middle East and North Africa
Programme at Chatham House. Back
Freedom House, Freedom in the World 1998, freedomhouse.org
Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2002, freedomhouse.org Back
For a summary see 'International Crisis Group, 'Popular Protest
in North Africa and the Middle East (VIII): Bahrain's Rocky Road
to Reform', Middle East Report No.111, 28 Jul 2011 Back
Report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry,
23 November 2011, pp 241-246 and p 287 Back
'Bahrain's human-rights report: The king's risky move', The
Economist, 26 November 2011 Back
Speech by His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, 23 November
2011, Manama. Transcript at bna.bh Back
The Bahraini government's criticism is particularly aimed at the
February 14 movement, which is a more radical youth resistance
movement, but extends to members of the more "moderate"
opposition. It has detained and charged two senior members of
Al Wefaq, one under charges of terrorism.See also, 'Interview
with Bahrain's Prime Minster: The Opposition 'Are Terrorizing
the Rest of This Country', Spiegel Online, 27 April 2012 Back
See, for example, 'Bahrain - Four Arrested in Bombings - Officials
Hint at Hezbollah Role', The New York Times, 6 November
Bahraini authorities detained Khalil Marzook, assistant secretary
general of Al Wefaq, on terrorism charges in mid-September 2013.
The five opposition groups of the National Democratic Opposition
Parties announced that they would suspend their participation
in the National Dialogue as a result. Since then, the Secretary
General of Al Wefaq, Sheikh Ali Salman, has also been charged
with insulting authorities following an exhibition that showed
alleged abuses against anti-government protesters. Both have been
released but charges remain outstanding. Back
"Bahrain: No Progress on Reform", Human Rights Watch
press release, 28 February 2013 Back
"Foreign Secretary visits Bahrain", FCO press release,
10 February 2011 Back
"Prime Minister speaks to King of Bahrain", FCO press
release, 20 February 2011 Back
HC Deb, 17 February 2011, col 1135 Back
"Cameron calls for restraint on all sides in Bahrain",
Prime Minister's Office press release, 16 March 2011 Back
"Foreign Secretary expresses concern over ongoing unrest
in Bahrain", FCO press release, 16 March 2011 Back
Q 193 Back
See, for example, Q 1 Back
"Foreign Secretary meets HRH The Crown Prince of Bahrain",
FCO press release, 26 May 2011 Back
"Minister for the Middle East visits Bahrain", FCO press
release, 13 December 2011 Back
"Foreign Secretary holds talks with Bahraini Foreign Minister",
FCO press release, 20 November 2012. Back
"Joint Bahrain-UK Statement on Inaugural Meeting of Joint
Working Group", FCO press release, 11 March 2013. The group
met again in November 2013, see "Joint Statement of the UK-Bahrain
Joint Working Group" , FCO press release, 12 November 2013.
Q 435 Back
Speech by HRH Crown Prince Salman, 7 December 2012, at the Manama
Dialogue 2012, Bahrain. iiss.org Back
See Ev w9 Back
Ev w55 Back
Q 1 Back
Q 39 Back
Bahrain page, FCO website, gov.uk/government/world/, accessed
November 2013 Back
Speech by Ambassador Iain Lindsay, UK-Bahrain Business Forum,
24 April 2013 Back
See, for example: Ev w42, Ev w82, Ev w93, Ev w104, Ev w112 Back
Q 65 Back
For instance, Q 4 and Q 284 Back
For example, British nationals lead the Bahrain Federation of
See, for example, Ev w4, Ev w6, Ev w12, Ev w29, Ev w30 Back
Q 199 Back
Q 58 Back
'Bahraini lawmakers call on U.S. envoy to end "interference"',
Reuters, 6 May 2013 Back
See, for example, 'Britain, undermining press freedom in Bahrain',
The Telegraph, 3 May 2013 Back
Tweet on UK Embassy in Bahrain Twitter feed, 3 May 2013 Back
Ev w123 Back
'Doing Business in Bahrain' UKTI website, 5 September 2012. ukti.gov.uk Back
Q 46. See also Jane Kinninmont: Bahrain: Beyond the Impasse,
Chatham House, June 2012 Back
World Economic Forum, The Travel & Toursim Competitiveness
Report 2013, pp.100-101. weforum.org/docs Back
'Bahrain economic growth accelerates strongly in first quarter'
Reuters, 30 June 2013 Back
Q 436 Back
Ev 138 Back
'Doing Business in Bahrain' UKTI website, 5 September 2012. ukti.gov.uk Back
Speech by Ambassador Iain Lindsay, UK-Bahrain Business Forum,
24 April 2013 Back
Q 137 Back
UKTI publication, Doing Business In Bahrain, 2013 Back
Information provided by letter from UKTI to Campaign Against Arms
Trade, 17 December 2009. caat.org.uk Back
"UK arms sales to Middle East include tear gas and crowd
control ammunition to Bahrain and Libya", Campaign Against
Arms Trade press release, 17 February 2011 Back
Ev 138 Back
Oral evidence taken before the Committees on Arms Export Controls
on19 December 2012, HC 689-ii, Q117 Back
'UK Arms Sales to Bahrain', Campaign Against Arms Trade website
states that the UK issued Single Individual Export Licences (SIELs)
to Bahrain worth £7,968,437 in 2012. caat.org.uk Back
'Bahrain in talks over possible Eurofighter deal: BAE', Reuters,
7 August 2013 Back
Q 195 Back
Q 76 Back
'Bahrain' webpage, Campaign Against Arms Trade, caat.org.uk Back
Q 304 Back
Ev w125-129 Back
'UK firm faces questions over how spyware ended up in Bahrain',
The Guardian, 2 February 2013 Back
Letter from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
to Bhatt Murphy Solicitors, 11 September 2012. Available on: privacyinternational.org Back
"Privacy International files for judicial review of HMRC
refusal to reveal the state of any investigation into Gamma International",
Privacy International press release, 16 April 2013 Back
Q 435 Back
HC Deb, 19 Dec 2012, Col 835W Back
Ev 138 Back
Ev 108 Back
Ev 138 Back
Q 1 Back
Q 364 Back
Ev 108 Back
Q 192 Back
Letter to Rt Hon Sir John Stanley MP, Chairman of the Committees
on Arms Export Controls (CAEC), 6 February 2013 Back
Oral evidence taken before the Committees on Arms Export Controls
on19 December 2012, HC 689-ii, Q117 Back
'Bahrain and UK Sign Defence Cooperation Agreement', Bahrain
News Agency, 11 October 2012. bna.bh/portal/en Back
Q 368 Back
Q 197 Back
Q 199 Back
Ev 138 Back
Oral evidence taken before the Committees on Arms Export Controls
on19 December 2012, HC 689-ii, Q118 Back
Ev 108 Back
Q 272 Back
Q 272 and Q 287 Back
Q 291 Back
Q 275 Back
Q 276 Back
Q 286 Back
'Bahrain revokes citizenship of activists', Financial Times,
7 November 2012 Back
'Bahrain says political groups need permission to meet diplomats,
agencies', Washington Post, 5 September 2013 Back
'Bahrain arrest of opposition politician fuels crackdown fears',
Financial Times, 17 September 2013 Back
See, for example, Human Rights Watch, No Justice in Bahrain:
Unfair Trials in Military and Civilian Courts, February 2012,
"Bahrain: No Progress on Reform", Human Rights Watch
press release, 28 February 2013 Back
"Ministry rejects HRW Press statement as wrong and contradictory",
Bahrain Ministry of Interior press release, 2 March 2013. policemc.gov.bh/en/news
'Human Rights Watch criticised', Gulf Daily News, 25 March
2013. gulf-daily-news.com Back
See, for example, Q 1, Ev w5, Ev w26, Ev w41, Ev w78 Back
HC Deb, 23 April 2013, Col 780W Back
See, for example, 'Bahrain Grand Prix should not go ahead, says
Ed Miliband', BBC News online, 20 April 2012; and "Human
Rights Watch warns Formula 1 over Bahrain Grand Prix", Human
Rights Watch press release, 12 April 2012. hrw.org Back
Q 306 Back
Q 308 Back
Ev w67 [John Horne for Bahrain Watch] Back
Ev 67w and Ev 114 Back
See, for example, Ev w93 [Islamic Human Rights Commission], Ev
w102 [Bahrain Watch], Ev w77 [Index on Censorship] Back
Q 308, see also Q 17 [Jane Kinninmont] and Ev w60 [The Bahrain
Federation of Expatriate Organisations] Back
Q 454 Back
Q 436 Back
Q 437 Back
Q 185 Back
Q 454 Back
Q 442 Back
Ev w9 Back
Q 33 Back
Ev 114 Back
"Bahrain / Human rights: Government effectively cancels UN
Special Rapporteur on torture's visit", Office of the High
Commissioner for Human Rights press release, 24 April 2013 Back
'UN torture investigator 'deeply disappointed' with Bahrain',
BBC News online, 24 April 2013 Back
Q 204 Back
Ev 109 Back
Q 204 Back
'Bahrain accused of crackdown on media', Financial Times, 23
May 2012 Back
Ev w4, Ev w17 Back
Q 456 Back
'UK Ambassador accuses Iran', Gulf Daily News, 25 March
Q 456 Back
Q 46 Back