Sectarian Persecution in Bahraini Ruling System

Ghassan Khamis-Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights (GIDHR)


Islam is the main state religion in the Kingdom of Bahrain. There are two major Islamic denominations embraced. The majority of Bahrainis are Shiites. They are estimated by around 70 % of the population and the rest are Sunnis. Due to an influx of immigrants and guest workers from non-Muslim countries, the overall percentage of Muslims in the country has declined since the late 20th century. Bahrain’s 2010 census indicated that 70.2% of the population is Muslim. Bahrain is ruled by a Sunni royal family Al Khalifa.
This is not to say that all the Sunni Bahrainis are rich or that being Shiite is always synonymous with being poor. As many commentators will point out, Bahrain is the home of the economically powerful Shiite families and high-ranking Shiite government officials, but the facts of the matter speak for themselves. Corruption, crony capitalism and the lack of transparency add up to uneven development and a vast disparity in wealth. By and large, Bahrain’s Shiites are losing out in the country’s economic boom.
This reflects, to a large extent, the success of the Bahraini regime’s strategy to deal with challenges of its legitimacy by promoting and reinforcing identity politics within a system of privileges where certain groups and individuals are favoured over others. In one word: discrimination.

So the Shiites represent the majority of pro-reform and anti-government protesters because they are the majority of the population, in addition to the government actively discrimination against them.

In my statement I would like to shed the light over the visage sectarian persecution in Bahraini ruling system.

Bahrain National Charter in Chapter II Article IV sates that the Bahraini people are the source of the executive authorities, legislature and judiciary.

The Executive Authorities
The National Action Charter performance which was inaugurated in 2000 by the current King Sheikh Hamad Al Khalifa failed to achieve the Bahraini aspirations toward political reform.

The Prime Minister, the King’s uncle Sheikh Khalifa Al Khalifa has been heading the government officially for more than four decades.

The main important ministries that undertake an important role in decision-making are occupied by the royal family members.

Shiite Bahrainis’ ambition could not find a place in the reform process to play a main virtual role in the government structure.

Before the Bahraini voted on the National Action Charter King Hamad vowed that all the ministries would be unlocked to allow Bahraini Shiite citizens to be employed at, such as the Ministries of Interior, Defense, Foreign Affairs, and Justice.

The royal promises vanished after the voter turnout reached 97%. The majority are still eradicated from the magnificent ministries and the Sunni minority has full access to apply.

The Legislature

The government aimed to reduce the Shiite representation in the parliament which was reestablished in 2002 after it was dismissed in 1975. The reduced Shiite presentation enables the Bahraini government to minimize the opposition figure, and to avoid the legal accountability.

Intently, polls are not distributed according to population density. More election polls are concentrated in the Sunni areas where the minority of the population resides, while the Shiites majority areas gain less polls.

King Hamad divided the parliament to farm out more loyalty. He determined to join his consultative council with the parliament and grant permission to propose and approve laws. He appoints the consultative council, which is the upper chamber of the parliament, to occupy 40 of the parliament chairs. King Hamad Al Khalifa also appointed the head of the consultative council vice parliament president.

Whole parliament chairs are 80, the government represents 40 chairs and the rest 40 chairs are the outcome of the electoral competition.

Due to the unbalanced distribution of the polls, the Shiite political party cannot win more than 18 chairs.

The Judiciary

The Bahraini judiciary is the court system in the Kingdom of Bahrain. It is divided into two branches, civil law courts and Sharia courts. Civil courts are dealing with all commercial, civil and criminal cases and disputes and personal status of non-Muslims. Sharia courts have authority over all matters relating to personal status of Muslims.
The middle and lower court judges are nominated by the Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs and Endowments, and are appointed by a decree issued by the Prime Minister. The Supreme Judicial Council, headed by the King, who appoints the members of the Constitutional Court.
A lot of the high level judges in Bahrain are either members of the ruling family or non-Bahrainis (foreigners) with a renewable two-year contracts. These judges should take decisions compatible with government’s policy to ensure the renewal of the contracts.
The Court of Cassation was founded in 1989 as the Supreme Court of Appeal. It serves as the final court of appeal for all civil, commercial and criminal cases. Court judges are appointed and removed by royal decrees.
The current president of the Supreme Court of the Kingdom of Bahrain and Chairman of the Court of Cassation is the Khalifa bin Rashid Al Khalifa and he is a relative of the King Hamad.
The National Action Charter performance does not have clear view to develop an independent judiciary. The Shiite opponents call on the government to accept Shiites in the judiciary field and to establish judicial commission recognized by the parliament which should be able to form an independent judiciary without the government interference.