Foreign AffairsWritten evidence from Al Wefaq National Islamic Society


Al Wefaq National Islamic Society is Bahrain’s largest opposition party. Al Wefaq is characterized as the moderate opposition force, looking to reform the current system to create a genuine constitutional monarchy and a democratic civil state.

They call for the establishment of moderate democratic principles such as the separation of powers, free and fair elections, an elected Government and respect for human rights and the rule of law. This is in addition to an opposition to discrimination, corruption and tyranny, all of which damage Bahrain and its people.

Al Wefaq participated in parliamentary elections in both 2006 and 2010, but withdrew their MP’s after the crackdown against peaceful demonstrators in February 2011.

Background to 14 February Protest Movement

Calls for democratic reform have existed in Bahrain since at least the 1920’s and have remained constant since. Despite some promises of democratic changes, notably in the 70’s and early 00’s, Bahrain remains an absolute monarchy, ruled by one family.

In line with other movements in the Arab Spring, Bahrainis took to the streets on 14 February 2011 to demand democracy and respect for human rights. These calls were met with a wave of violent repression that is continuing until this day, almost two years later.

Since this movement has begun:

At least 100 people killed:

13 directly from torture.

Dozens as a result of excessive tear gas use.

47 since the BICI (23 November 2011).

Around 1,950 people arrested.

208 sentenced in military courts.

4,300 workers dismissed for involvement in protests.

38 mosques destroyed.

477 students expelled.

The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry clearly highlighted necessary areas of reform, including in the judiciary, policing and on the subject of impunity. But little has changed since the BICI and on the ground security forces are still treating protesters with the same brutality. The Commissioner of the BICI, Cherif Bassiouni, recently described implementation of the BICI as “inadequate”.

Current Situation

A number of recent decisions have reflected a lack of desire for reform in the authorities.

30 October 2012—All opposition protests banned.

6 November 2012—31 opposition figures have their nationalities revoked.

17 December 2012—leading human rights activist Said Yousif Almuhafdah detained (held for four weeks without trial).

7 January 2013—Final appeals for 13 opposition leaders rejected.

15 January—Court sentences Jawad Fairooz, resigned MP, to 15 months in prison.

27 January—eight-year-old boy dies from after tear gas attack on his home.

31 January—eight medics dismissed from work by Ministry of Health.

Al Wefaq remains committed to engaging in a political dialogue with the authorities in order to return to stability and end the current crisis. We are encouraged by a recent royal directive to resume national consensus talks, but as of yet we have not received a direct offer or clarification of what these talks will be discuss.

What we need from the International Community, Especially UK

As a result of historical ties, the people of Bahrain continue to look to UK as a force for good and an ally for reform. At the same time we understand the complex relationships that the UK has in the Gulf in terms of both trade and security.

We are also aware that a large discussion in your inquiry into UK policy will be about what kind of influence the UK can have over Bahrain and whether it will make any difference.

We feel that the current instability in Bahrain proves that dictatorial regimes will not always create stability and ultimately it is in the interests of UK to have stability in Bahrain. At the same time, there is a difference between forcing change upon a country, which cannot work, and encouraging the repression of the will of the people. We call on the UK to be clearer in this regard and to show public disproval of serious violations committed by the authorities.

There is strong evidence to suggest that UK can have a positive impact in promoting democratic reform and we feel that had the authorities been willing to completely ignore the advice of its allies the situation could be a whole lot worse, with the outlawing of all opposition.

Threats made by Bahrain against the UK for public criticism should be resisted and treated as hostile. The authorities are aware that they cannot isolate themselves from international opinion, giving a clear ground for the UK to play a positive role.

Evaluation of UK Foreign Policy Towards Bahrain since 14 February Uprising

For the first few weeks of the movement for reform the response from the UK Government was positive. It clearly condemned human rights violations and laid forward the case for reform.

Since then the condemnation has weakened and diplomatic efforts have failed to halt the abuses of human rights.

Systematic abuses outlined in the BICI, UPR and by countless NGO’s and Governments, have continued.

With regards to the BICI the UK have focused too much on its existence over its implementation. Of course it is very positive that the BICI took place, but Bahrain should ultimately be judged on the implementation.

Efforts to achieve democratic reforms to bring Bahrain in line with modern democratic systems have failed.

Reasons for Limited Success in Influencing Policy in Bahrain

Lack of a clear public stated policy towards Bahrain.

Willingness on UK part to accept cosmetic and slow-paced limited reforms rather than the necessary fundamental changes to the political system.

Britain unwilling to yield hard diplomacy, possibly fearing the threat of backlash from Bahrain.

Soft public condemnations with no push towards acceptance of international democratic standards.

No clear program for dealing with Bahrain, with a lack of timescales for change, roadmaps for reform etc.

What the UK Government could do

In our experience of dealing with UK diplomats, including former Ambassadors, we have discussed how to bring about reforms to the system and subsequently how to bring about long-term stability. Some recommendations to achieve this are as follows:

Ask Bahrain Government to enter into negotiations with the opposition with a timescale exceeding no longer than three months.

If this fails, UK Government can work with others in the international community for change:

Establishment of a special envoy on behalf of either the UK or the United Nations to Bahrain who can mediate with all sides to reach agreement.

Should agreement not be possible, this individual can devise his or her own recommendations for a solution.

From a human rights perspective, should Bahrain continue to fail to implement the BICI:

UK can request a special session of the Human Rights Council on Bahrain.

UK can push for a permanent office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, with full authority, in Bahrain.

UK can push for Bahrain sign the Rome Statute of the ICC.

UK can push for Bahrain to sign additional protocols of the UN, as listed in the UPR recommendations, including on civil and political rights.

UK can apply more pressure on Bahrain to accept UN Special Rapporteurs visits on the following themes:

Freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of opinion and expression.

Freedom of religion or belief.


Benefits of British Involvement in Reforms

We consider that British involvement in specific reform areas (such as the judiciary) can only be useful if seen in the bigger picture of genuine democratic reforms across the system. Only dealing with specific areas, without a general context, will allow the Government of Bahrain to divert away from real reforms. Reform in Bahrain needs to be considered in a holistic manner, that considers long-term stability over short-term gains.

General Recommendations

Clear unequivocal support for democratic reform in Bahrain.

Stronger public statements including official condemnations of violations and abuses of human rights.

Making support of Bahrain in initiatives conditional on the actions of the Government of Bahrain.

Empower the moderate opposition and those in the Government.

Calling for a definite timeframe and key milestones for reform.


In conclusion there is a space for the UK to be more pro-active with regards to reform in Bahrain. We desperately seek the continuation of the strong economic and political as well as social ties between UK and Bahrain. It is our fear that Britain is in danger of losing its reputation as a force for good if it fails to be clear in its foreign policy towards Bahrain.

A fair and democratic constitutional monarchy, with respect for human rights, will be the only outcome to create long-term stability in Bahrain, which benefits all Bahrainis as well as its allies. We call upon the UK Government to seek this outcome through a renewed push for reform.

February 2013

Prepared 19th November 2013