Wednesday, February 18, 2015

ISIS - A Statement

The Holy Koran states that in the last days the ‘mufsidin fi al-ard,’ (those who corrupt the earth), will appear.
Some of the learned ‘Ulama equate ISIS with the ‘mufsidin fi al-ard’ -- “those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive upon earth [to cause] corruption” as recorded in Chapter 5, verse 33 of the Holy Quran.
We are appalled at the savage atrocity committed in the act of execution of the Jordanian pilot Ra’id Moath al-Kassasbeh and, indeed, by the brutal beheadings of so many innocent aid workers and journalists, as well as by the martyrdom of the Coptic Christians (young men from the same village who died with the name of the Messiah on their lips as any who have watched the horrific video will be aware).
Some claim the kind of violence being exercised by ISIS is part of the past, of the ‘jahiliyah,’ the pre-Islamic era.
Some Muslim scholars go further and argue that, members of ISIS and their supporters are behaving in a way that is thoroughly un-Islamic. Some of these scholars suggest that they resemble the “false Muslims” referred to in Surah al-Munafiqun, the 33rd chapter of the Holy Koran and should be treated as such. Their approach of dividing the world into ‘Dar al-Islam’ (the House of Islam) and ‘Dar al-Harb’ (the House of War) is not valid. 
To quote Aristotle, “Anyone can be angry, but to be angry at the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose and in the right way is to be commended.”
Having said which, we caution against the use of indiscriminate force to destroy ISIS. There has been too much civilian collateral damage in the liberation of Kobani and in the bombing of Durna, and we must move with careful deliberation in acting against ISIS lest we increase sympathy for this renegade terrorist group.
The Religious Affairs Advisory Council
The Next Century Foundation

London SW1

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

NCF Board Member Arrested

Dr Saad al-Ajmi

The NEXT CENTURY FOUNDATION wishes to express its grave concern at the arrest of NCF Board Member HE Dr Saad al-Ajmi in Kuwait. We are profoundly saddened by the implication for press freedom in Kuwait, a country that hitherto has had one of the best reputations for freedom of the press in the Arab World. We hope that justice will prevail in the forthcoming appeal court hearing and Dr Saad al-Ajmi will be vindicated.
  • Dr Saad bin Tefla al-Ajmi was arrested Saturday, 10th January 2015, after being found guilty in absentia of insulting Finance Minister Anas al-Saleh in a 2012 article published by the pro-opposition Al-Aan electronic newsletter about alleged government corruption.
  • Dr Saad bin Tefla al-Ajmi was released Monday, 12th January, ahead of an appeals hearing scheduled for 2 February. Hundreds of protesters have gathered at his house since his arrest.
  • The appeal hearing on the 2nd February is to clear Dr Saad al-Ajmi of defamation charges brought up by the Minister of Finance. Although the article was written by the editor-in-chief of the online newsletter, Mr. Zayed Alzaid, and not by Dr Saad al-Ajmi, both were indicted and sentenced to a week imprisonment.
About Dr Saad al-Ajmi
  • HE Dr Saad bin Tefla al-Ajmi (also known as Saad Bin Tiflah or Saad Al Ajmi) is a board member of the Next Century Foundation, and is a Kuwaiti businessman and politician.
  • Saad bin Teflah al-Ajmi is a former Minister of Information and Culture in Kuwait, a professor at University of Kuwait and a journalist. For a number of years, he worked in the Kuwaiti press as a columnist, translator and free-lance reporter. He regularly contributes to the Gulf News, to Asharq al-Awasat, the London based Arabic newspaper, as well as other Gulf publications. He was the director of the Kuwait Information Centre in London and headed Kuwait's Tashkeel Media Group in which he is now just a shareholder. He was also a member of the Kuwaiti National Assembly and became Minister of Information and Culture in 1999-2000. Saad bin Tefla al-Ajmi is currently a professor at Kuwait University.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Talking Paris, Charlie and the Salafists

There is much to be said about the horrifying events of the past few days. The Next Century Foundation of which I am Secretary General has already issued a strong statement. First I would like to say something of another cartoonists who has touched my world who has been assassinated, then of how the security services and others deal with extremism, and then of the evolution of Muslim fanaticism now that ISIS is centre stage.

Naji al Ali, Charlie Hebdo and the rest

My late father was a close friend of the Palestinian cartoonist Naji al Ali who was assassinated by Mossad in London back in 1987. The killing devastated my father. Ironically, I gave framed prints of his cartoons to each of my three children this Christmas. This is a typical Naji al Ali cartoon; it is one that suggests even Christ would be angered by the plight of the Palestinians:

And back then he was killed because he was hated by some. And now we have all these cartoonists amongst those who have just been killed in Paris:

Cabu (Jean Cabut), 76;
Charb (Stéphane Charbonnier), 47, the Editor and a strong campaigner against racism;
Philippe Honoré, 74;
Tignous (Bernard Verlhac), 57;
Georges Wolinski, 80, a distinguished French Jewish cartoonist and a recipient of the Legion of Honour.

For what? What did they do that was so offensive? This was what merited all that killing:

"100 lashes if you don't die of laughter"

This was a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed, as were others published at the time. Certainly it may be offensive to some and may arguably be satire in poor taste. But does it merit murder?

Dealing with extremism

What is extraordinary is the degree of networking between these killers. Here our prison system has much to answer for. As a former prison visitor myself I am much concerned by the way we segregate our prisons keeping minority groups together presumably for convenience. Extremists should not be allowed to mix with other prisoners. Our own Abu Hamza from Finsbury Park Mosque taught the terrorist Djamel Beghal who did time in prison with Cherif Kouachi who with his older brother Said did most of the killing. The same Djamel Beghal whom Hyat Boumeddiene went to visit in the south of France for crossbow training. The system failed us here. Hyat Boumeddiene was of course the wife and co-conspirator of Ahmedi Coulibaly, the third terrorist, the one who targeted the Jewish supermarket.
And there's another failing surely: Cherif Kouachi traveled to Yemen in 2011 to meet the Arab-American terrorist leader Anwar al Awlaki (subsequently himself assassinated in a drone strike).
Back in 2010 Awlaki wrote in the terrorist magazine, "Inspire" to say in regard to the Charlie Ebdo cartoons: "It is better to support the Prophet by attacking those that slander him than it is to travel to the land of Jihad."
This is the same Anwar al Awlaki who exchanged 18 e-mails with Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan back in 2009 before he killed 13 and injured 30. E-mails monitored by the security services; but the truth is that the security services are busy garnering so much information that they can never analyse the data they acquire. They need to focus instead of trawling everything.
Anwar Awlaki was dangerous indeed. He was the ideologue that inspired the impressionable underpants bomber Abdulmuttallab also in 2009.
We need to get better systems in place to deal with extremism.

The Evolution of Muslim Fanaticism

Cherif Boumeddiene may have been loyal to the late Anwar al Awlaki, an al-Qa'ida leader (Awlaki was after all his funder) but Ahmedi Coulibaly and his wife Hyat were loyal to Islamic State. Islamic State or ISIS (Daesh in Arabic) represents a new level of fanaticism. ISIS has the motto "Pure Mohammadan Islam". A curiosity in itself this motto because as a rule Muslims resent the word "Mohammadan". ISIS regard al-Qa'ida as ideologically muddled. They follow the extreme puritan teachings of Saudi ideologue, the late Youssef al-Ayyeri. He rejected democracy which he regarded as a decadent infidel ideology. He rejected "modernism" and materialism and the emergence of states based on ethnic identities. Similarly he rejected nationalism which he regarded as divisive, and he rejected both socialism and communism. He also rejected traditional Islamic tolerance for Christians and Jews, the "People of the Book". His view was that they were only tolerated by the Prophet as a matter of convenience and what is now needed is "cleansing" of other religions from the world. These are "heathen ideologies".
ISIS develops Youssef al-Ayyeri's ideas and takes them still further. They reject diluted forms of Islam that call Islam a "religion of peace". They regard the world as divided between Dar al Islam (the house of Islam) and Dar al Harb (the House of War). There can never be peace between Islam and that which is not Islam.
The only form of government acceptable in "pure Mohammedan Islam" is the "Caliphate" and the only law is sharia law.


We have seen two approaches to Western tolerance / intolerance of Islam. One is the Franco-American approach of "integrationalism" and the other is the Anglo-European approach of "multiculturalism". If success is measured in terms of mere numbers recruited to ISIS then integrationalism is more successful. France may be suffering the brunt of this but there are comparatively few French recruits to ISIS - comparatively few per capita when compared to nations like Britain.

But we miss the point. This has all happened before. We have a subculture that feels marginalised. So did those subject to the Tsars and the consequence was communism. So did the Germans post World War One and the consequence was Nazism. The modern Muslim in much of the Sunni Arab World feels marginalised and the consequence is ISIS.

We need to think hard about the policies we adopt in the Middle East. In Libya today we are now backing General Haftar against the alleged Islamists and he is a Gaddafi clone. In Iraq the Shiite led government still imposes the anti-Sunni deBaathification laws that we gave them. And our bombing campaign to contain ISIS all too often targets civilian areas. You think I am talking without personal knowledge? My good friend Ambassador Hambley and myself were attacked by ISIS an hour out of Kirkuk earlier in 2014 and wouldn't have escaped with our lives but for the courageous fight put up by the boys from the Iraq Army who were escorting us. I have two children living and working in Iraq at present. Here is my daughter, Loveday's, take on the liberation of  Jurf al-Sakhar if you would like the viewpoint of a Cornish girl. Read it and weep. We are to defeat ISIS this way? We need wiser heads in charge of Western policies than we have at present - or we may yet pay a terrible price.

But there is a deeper warning in all this. If you ever saw the Bond movie "Skyfall" this was part of M's speech: "Our enemies are no longer known to us. They do not exist on a map, they aren't nations. They are individuals. And look around you - who do you fear? Can you see a face, a uniform, a flag? No, our world is not more transparent now, it's more opaque!"

But the terrible truth is our enemies are visible - and I suspect we are the ones who create them. We ourselves must deal better with our subcultures. We live in a society in which the gulf between rich and poor is increasing and as a consequence, in an era of food banks and spiraling rents, people are being marginalised. And all too often, as in the Middle East so in the West, the marginalised are from the religious and ethnic minorities.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Press freedom in Sudan

Sudan regularly makes headlines for allegations of human rights abuses against various groups: women, Christians, non-Arab ethnic groups and activists – silencing any voice of dissent.  But it seems even reporting on these sensitive cases can land journalists, editors, and printing houses in hot water. The once strong media - particularly newspapers - have been bearing the brunt of this crackdown. 

This is likely because dissemination of information through newspapers has been less easy to control than say television channels that could be turned off air. It is no surprise then that Sudan falls in Freedom House’s 2014 cohort of ‘the worst of the worst scoring a maximum 7 out of 7  for lack of freedom, civil liberties and political rights, characterising it as a whole as ‘Not free’. But even without the criteria of a western centre-right think tank, Sudan has experienced a marked restriction in its media and broadcasting freedom.   These restrictions have become more overt in the past 18 months, months that saw the makings of the first wide-spread, public resistance to President Bashir’s government which has been in power for almost 24 years.

There was, for a short time at least, a period of increased liberty with press freedoms firmly enshrined in the 2005 Interim Constitution.  However, in those post-CPA days there was much international attention on Sudan and a larger non-Muslim, non-‘Arab’ identifying minority. This minority, given something of a voice through the legitimisation of the rebel SPLM by the peace process, allowed for a space to be carved for airing longstanding concerns of the many.

Thus that space made way for a proliferation of online blogs, forums and news sites that could – for the first time – contain open discussion of government attitudes and behaviour. The press fared well too, coming out of the shadow of censorship for a while. Since then the 2009 Press and Publication Act has allowed the government-appointed Press Council to prevent publication or broadcast of material it deems unsuitable, authorising it to temporarily shut down newspapers, and impose heavy fines for violations of media regulations.

The secession of the South too has enabled Sudan to fall once more into the world’s shadow, giving less impetus for the Government of Sudan to honour the spirit of that constitution.  In the meantime a lack of consensus on a new permanent constitution has left it in ‘draft’ for a considerable length of time and press freedom in a state of limbo.

Mass censorship, increase in security apparatus presence in press houses and newspaper headquarters as well as editorial censorship by National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) are commonplace. Press staff are being detained, sometimes in solitary confinement as with the case of Amal Habani[1].  Some have been interrogated and in some cases tortured – while confiscation of private effects, laptops and mobile phones is a frequent occurrence. Newspaper offices and printing houses are routinely shut down or suspended and/or fined heavily if they are suspected of contravening the 2009 Act or if cross certain ‘red lines’.  These lines pertain mostly to security issues, news or discussion of the war in Darfur and particularly the conflict in The Two Areas of Blue Nile and South Kordofan.


Unlike its neighbours to the north, Egypt and Libya, Sudan has had two successful revolutions in the past 50 years – in 1964 and 1985.  Last year’s attempt in September however paled in comparison to those abroad, failing to reach a critical mass of demonstrators and to capture the imagination of elite politicians. There have been numerous theories as to why this was and continues to be the young activists fight, but the consequences of a restricted media may play a very large part.

During the protest the sanction on the media intensified with international news channels being blocked, three newspapers ordered to cease publication and the most-widely read newspaper Al-Intibaha closed for a month for refusing to tow the government line. The internet, key for coordinating protests but also for following events and accessing news internationally was jammed or shut down on several occasions during the fortnight of protest. 

Government-endorsed papers and state-controlled television branded the protestors as rioters and criminals - no doubt to discourage others from joining in and to justify what most saw as a disproportionate use of force against mainly young demonstrators. Newspaper staff also seemed to be targeted for arrest, with an on-line journalist of Al-Taghyeer publication arrested at a funeral of a protestor.  He was detained for 8 days. Foreign media organizations were not spared either.  Following accusations that they attempted to whip protestors up into an Arab-Spring style uprising, the Khartoum offices of Sky and Al-Arabiya had their Khartoum offices closed and their licenses momentarily suspended.

On the first anniversary of the September 2013 protest, printing press owner Rashid Shikaldeen Abash, was detained for printing flyers to commemorate those who died in the September 2013 protests. Fearing a resurgence of popular uprising the government also confiscated copies of daily newspaper Al-Jareeda with its editor claiming that members of security apparatus regularly act as ‘chief editors’ deciding which articles were suitable for print.

Long-term repercussions

With the personal toll for journalists so high many have been forced to sensor themselves or leave altogether for fear of harassment and intimidation of their families. This inadvertently serves to reduce the ranks of those who would defy the censors and does not bode well for any fledgling democracy. For some journalists however the discussion on press freedom and censorship goes beyond personal safety and speaks to the professional rigour of their sector. Total censorship of the press also extends to potential sources within government, governing their conduct when dealing with the press.  This makes verifying facts and cultivating sources within the government very difficult and fines resulting from breaching the laws very lucrative.

Activists from within Sudan as well as abroad often criticize those living particularly in Khartoum of wilful ignorance of events within their country.  The rise in press censorship has undoubtedly contributed to this. This is compounded by a high level of illiteracy and low usage of electronic technology preventing many from reading between the lines of censored reports or accessing non government-controlled broadcasts and publications.

This increased mass censorship is symptomatic of the closing-in of the executive branch, both within itself and around its territory.  The state consolidation process, in full swing after the 2011 secession of South Sudan has, predictably, hit several bumps on the road.  With continued conflict in the four corners of Sudan and little information getting through many are now turning to social media for their news.  But the mobile generation seems to be restricted to the urban elite and those in their environs.  Smart phones have seen a marked increase in usage but that has not permeated to the political and geographical peripheries, further alienating the centre from the frontier states, where currently most of the violent conflict is taking place. The government of Sudan has been accused before of using divide and rule tactics to consolidate its power but with next year’s election getting closer, it is unlikely that the media blackout will lift soon.

[1] Amal Habani, a journalist, has been arrested 7 times.  Last year she was arrested at the 2013 protests and detained for 10 days, 3 of which she spent in solitary confinement.  She was released without charge by a presidential pardon but warned against reporting on ‘sensitive’ topics.

Monday, February 10, 2014


The Next Century Foundation wishes to issue a final call for nominations for the 2014 International Media Awards. With shortlisting due to take place by mid-February, nominations sent in after Friday, 14 February will not be considered. This year's awards will be held on May 10, 2014.

The International Media Awards are presented at a ceremony held each year by the International Council for Press and Broadcasting, a subsidiary body of the Next Century Foundation. The awards honour editors, journalists, TV producers and broadcasters in recognition of the vital role that the media can play in fostering understanding, the essential pre-requisite of any peace process.

The Award categories are: Lifetime Achievement, Peace Through Media, Cutting Edge, Breakaway, New Media, Photography and Visual Media, and Outstanding Contribution to Broadcasting and Media

Please send your nominations, and if possible a short biography of the nominees and why you are nominating them, to the International Media Awards via

For further information about the International Media Awards, visit

You may remember that the 2013 winners were:
Peace Through Media Award
  • PAT LANCASTER, editor of Middle East Magazine.
  • IGAL SARNA, columnist for Yediot Ahronot.
  • WAEL DAHDOUH, Al Jazeera correspondent in Gaza.
Photography and Visual Media Award
  • DON MCCULLIN, photojournalist and author. 
Lifetime Achievement
  • BENJAMIN POGRUND, contributor for the Guardian and previous sub-editor on the Independent foreign desk.
The Cutting Edge Award
  • LINA SINJAB, Damascus correspondent for the BBC.
  • RACHEL SHABI, journalist and author of ‘Not the Enemy: Israel’s Jews from Arab Lands’
  • NABILA RAMDANI, columnist and broadcaster for BBC and Al Jazeera.
The New Media Award
  • MAHMOUD AL YOUSIF, blogger. 
The Breakaway Award
  • GEORGE BUTLER, war artist.
Award for Outstanding Achievement
  • RANIA ALATTAR, journalist for BBC Arabic.

Friday, January 10, 2014


The Next Century Foundation wishes to remind you that the nominations for the 2014 International Media Awards will remain open to the public until the end of January. This year's awards will be held on May 10.

The International Media Awards are presented at a ceremony held each year by the International Council for Press and Broadcasting, a subsidiary body of the Next Century Foundation. The awards honour editors, journalists, TV producers and broadcasters in recognition of the vital role that the media can play in fostering understanding, the essential pre-requisite of any peace process.

The Award categories are: Lifetime Achievement, Peace Through Media, Cutting Edge, Breakaway, New Media, Photography and Visual Media, and Outstanding Contribution to Broadcasting and Media

Please send your nominations, and if possible a short biography of the nominees and why you are nominating them, to the International Media Awards via

For further information about the International Media Awards, visit

You may remember that the 2013 winners were:
Peace Through Media Award
  • PAT LANCASTER, editor of Middle East Magazine.
  • IGAL SARNA, columnist for Yediot Ahronot.
  • WAEL DAHDOUH, Al Jazeera correspondent in Gaza.
Photography and Visual Media Award
  • DON MCCULLIN, photojournalist and author. 
Lifetime Achievement
  • BENJAMIN POGRUND, contributor for the Guardian and previous sub-editor on the Independent foreign desk.
The Cutting Edge Award
  • LINA SINJAB, Damascus correspondent for the BBC.
  • RACHEL SHABI, journalist and author of ‘Not the Enemy: Israel’s Jews from Arab Lands’
  • NABILA RAMDANI, columnist and broadcaster for BBC and Al Jazeera.
The New Media Award
  • MAHMOUD AL YOUSIF, blogger. 
The Breakaway Award
  • GEORGE BUTLER, war artist.
Award for Outstanding Achievement
RANIA ALATTAR, journalist for BBC Arabic.

Thursday, November 14, 2013


The Next Century Foundation is delighted to announce that the nominations for the International Media Awards 2014 are now open to the public. They will close by the end of this year on 31st December 2013.

The International Media Awards are presented at a ceremony held each year by the International Council for Press and Broadcasting, a subsidiary body of the Next Century Foundation. The awards honour editors, journalists, TV producers and broadcasters in recognition of the vital role that the media can play in fostering understanding, the essential pre-requisite of any peace process.

Please send your nominations, and if possible a short biography of the nominees and why you are nominating them, to the International Media Awards via

For further information about the International Media Awards, visit

Monday, November 11, 2013

Press TV really goes over the top on the Saudis

Can they be serious? Press TV have stooped to the lowest common denominator in disinformation. As if the Israelis would want the Saudis to have the bomb. And as it happens Prince Bandar is out of favour just now. Anyway talk about ridiculous:

Now, Saudi Arabia is prepared to “go nuclear,” to be what they consider the only real Islamic power with nuclear weapons.

This is the plan of “Bandar Bush,” Saudi defense minister, former ambassador to the United States and close Bush family confidant.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Palestine Book Awards

Eid Greetings all. Mona Nashashibi sends us the shortlist for the Palestine Book Awards.
  To view the list click on this link. 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Woolwich Murder

Iman Chairman Ribal-Al Assad condemns Woolwich attack

Chairman of the Iman Foundation, Ribal Al-Assad, today strongly condemned the cold blooded murder of a British soldier yesterday in Woolwich.

He also expressed concern at the reaction to the murder by far right groups and reports of vandalism of mosques in Essex and Kent.

In a statement Ribal said the following:

“It is difficult to express how appalled I am by the actions of these two individuals – this barbaric act exemplifies the problem with extremist ideologies. They have no place in society and I echo the words of the Prime Minister, The. Rt. Hon. David Cameron, when I say that the belief in peace, freedom and democracy will always prevail over hate.

I do however urge people not to tie these attacks to Islam or any particular demographic; this act was committed by extremists on a radical fringe. In no way do these individuals represent Islam or the Muslim community at large who have already condemned these attacks in the strongest possible terms. We must remember to remain tolerant and peaceful in the face of adversity.

My thoughts and prayers are with the victim and his family at this difficult time.”

Related links


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

French journalist held in Iraq jail

Saudi Gazette - 30 January, 2013
Iraqi police arrested a French journalist last week for taking photos without permission in Baghdad, but have held him without charge, a French consular official said on Tuesday.

Nadir Dendoune came to Iraq to compile a series of stories on the upcoming 10th anniversary of the US-led invasion of the country for French monthly magazine Le Monde Diplomatique, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Dendoune, who also holds Australian and Algerian passports, “did not tell local authorities about his activities, and did not ask for authorization to take photos,” the official said.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Bahrain Report

 Report 57                                                                                                           Report – dated 6 December 2012


The Kingdom of Bahrain is a nation cherished by many for its multicultural heritage and abundance of warm, hospitable people. The general perception is that the concept of democracy is a quintessential aspiration in a Middle East where democracy is the exception rather than the rule. However in the few instances in which democracy is given its head (e.g. the experiments in Algeria and Palestine) the results often seem unpalatable and are then undermined by an intolerant West. We would be the last to insist on the concept that Bahrain becomes truly democratic. Nevertheless, if we are to preserve the Bahrain we know and have come to love, changes must be made to accommodate the aspirations of its people. Therefore this report will focus on those reforms that would transform Bahrain, making it more sustainable as a Kingdom and reduce levels of social turmoil which Bahrain has been subjected to for years. 

While King Hamad Al Khalifa deserves credit for his decision to establish the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), and for his prompt endorsement of its recommendations, it should be noted that some of the recommendations have not been fully implemented. It is also important to note that while the BICI report was a comprehensive investigation, it only covers a small period within a situation that continues week on week.

We believe that the full and speedy implementation of the recommendations published in the BICI report would go a long way towards easing the tension in Bahrain and restoring the trust desperately needed to push forward the processes of reconciliation and reform.
The NCF also believes that it would also be helpful to look at the situation in Bahrain under the heading of 'human security'. 

The notion of ‘human security’ rather than ‘national security’ is one that is too often ignored. President Roosevelt’s four freedoms: Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Expression, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear, serve as the basis of this concept of human security, and it is these four freedoms that this report focuses on in regard to Bahrain.   

Our understandings of these freedoms, in relation to Bahrain, are as follow:
  • Freedom of Speech and Expression: This goes beyond the freedom to talk and express oneself. It includes any act of seeking, receiving and conveying information, regardless of the medium used, which obviously includes the freedom of the press.

  • Freedom of Religion: The freedom of every person to worship in his own way in equality with other religions and without persecution.

  • Freedom from Want: Freedom from hunger and economic desperation, as individual freedom cannot truly exist without economic security. 

  • Freedom from Fear: Freedom to be able to live in an environment where you neither expect arrest without trial, nor to be the object of violent protest, nor of violent suppression of protest. An environment where you are free from the fear of persecution for your beliefs or views. 
Between 2008 and 2010, Bahrain improved its ranking in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index by eight places.  However, by 2011 it had slipped 22, ranking at 144 out of the 167 countries in the Index. 
With general elections scheduled to be held in 2014, the government of the Kingdom of Bahrain should redouble efforts to reverse this decline through ongoing reforms in an attempt to make those elections a time for celebration rather than conflict. 

The Next Century Foundation recommends that the 2014 elections be a target date for the government of Bahrain to address its internal issues. The expedient implementation of the findings of the BICI report would go a long way to ensuring this happens.


Article 22 of the Bahrain Constitution and legislative framework provides for the freedom of an individual to profess one’s faith. However, in practice limits have been placed on this freedom. Of a total population of 1,234,571, there are 866,888 Muslims and the rest are a mix of Christians, Hindus, Jews and Bahais.[1] These groups live and worship side-by-side, practising their religion without interference from the government or other religious groups.  However, the Shi’a community claim to be victims of systematic discrimination on religious grounds.

Bahrain does not publish statistics on the sectarian breakdown of its citizens and Shi’ite population estimates vary greatly. Tensions between these two groups (Shi’a and Sunni) have resulted in socio-economic problems and limits being placed on the extent to which the Shi’a may participate in government.[2] These tensions came to the fore and, combined with other political, social and economic factors that cut across ethnic and sectarian lines, contributed to the uprisings on 14th February 2011.

The NCF proposes four initiatives to begin to tackle the continuing tensions:

1.     Avoid defining the conflict along sectarian lines.  

Most of those who participated in the uprisings over the past year have been from the Shi’a community. This has led many to the view that the conflict is sectarian. However, the conflict is not and has not been wholly sectarian.  The protests cut across both religious and class divides; many problems exist outside the Shi’a-Sunni framework. 

Government officials and Bahrain state television have repeatedly blamed Iran for inciting the popular unrest (Iran’s agenda being to strengthen Shi’a influence) but this is seen by the opposition as side-stepping and belittling the real issues. They view it is an indication that the government does not take their problems seriously.   Although Bahrain may legitimately feel threatened by Iran and its aspirations to establish ascendency in the region, it is dangerous for the Bahrain government, through state television, to point the finger elsewhere rather than address the issues within its own borders and amongst its own people. [3]

The government has made attempts to refrain from using the sectarian nationalist narrative that is frequently employed by opposition groups. However, instances have occurred. It is crucial that all media outlets, particularly those owned or controlled by the state, should abide by a strict code of conduct that would safeguard against involvement in spreading hatred or inciting violence. The Bahrain Journalists Association has adopted a new Code of Ethics as of 20 Jan 2012. It is important that this code is adhered to as it will encourage the promotion of the values of justice, equality, tolerance and peaceful coexistence. Moreover, it is the duty of the Government in any society to ensure the impartiality of state controlled media outlets and their accessibility to the opposition and to all sectors of the community. The Information Affairs Authority has received advice on how to achieve structural reform to enhance neutrality, pluralism, credibility, rule of law and national cohesion. It should act on that advice.

The main opposition bloc and the leading opposition party, al Wefaq, have often tried to avoid sectarian divisions, calling for Sunnis and Shiites alike to ‘wave the flag of democracy’.  Even though al Wefaq is regarded as the moderate opposition, it must be recognised that there are extremist threads in the complicated and ever-shifting warp and weft of Bahrain’s political fabric.  As the conflict has continued, more idealistic, hard-line voices have emerged who have taken advantage of increasing anger on the streets.  This serves to emphasise the need for a quick political resolution of the issues that divide the people of Bahrain.  

Another opposition faction that has attempted to avoid defining the conflict along sectarian lines is Wa'ad, a secular leftist party whose secretary-general Ebrahim Sharif has been in jail since April 2011. Wa'ad are not particularly popular - all the popular forces today are Islamists, as elsewhere - but they represent an important trend among intellectuals and business people. They have a strong track record of campaigning against sectarianism. Many Wa'ad politicians have married across the sectarian divide (including Ebrahim Sharif, whose wife is a secular Shi’a).

Ebrahim Sharif has always called for reform under a constitutional monarchy (as for that matter has Al Wefaq), and has been resolutely against violence. A growing section of the opposition has been calling for a republican option, as support for groups such as Al Wefaq declines. Large swathes of those protesting are best described as the “silent opposition”. These are individuals who are out on the street but are not affiliated with a political party and go under the “February 14” banner. Most opposition groups have to listen to these protestors or risk losing legitimacy.

Time is of the essence: the longer the resistance continues, the louder the extreme voices will become.  The government of the Kingdom of Bahrain must begin to strengthen the moderate, pragmatic groups among the opposition, and stop defining the conflict along sectarian lines. It must acknowledge the fact that there are some Sunnis in opposition to the government.  If the conflict continues to increase its sectarian nature, moderates in the opposition are likely to be forced to choose sides, and invariably they will choose those the side they see as ‘their own’.  The moderate opposition would then be lost.

 2. Address the issue of citizenship within Bahrain.

The issue of citizenship has long been a contentious one.  Less than half of Bahrain’s population are Bahraini citizens due to the influx of migrants and guest-workers.  There have been accusations that the Bahrain government has practised ethnic discrimination in regards to its policy of granting citizenship i.e. attempting to favour Sunni over Shi’a during the naturalization and citizenship processes.  A Bahrain representative has argued that these were unfounded allegations, and that between 2000-2010, as many as 11,000 Shi’as had gained citizenship[4], yet through calculations of the difference between the actual rate of growth of the number of citizens and the natural population growth rate since 2001 best estimates are that 60,000 foreigners have been granted citizenship during this period. The number of non-Shi’as being granted citizenship is therefore comparatively high.

3. Address the demolition of Shi’ite mosques and places of worship.

A number of Shi’ite places of worship have been demolished by the government since the 14th February protests.  The government of the Kingdom of Bahrain has not denied that these sites have been demolished, though it does dispute the motive behind them. The BICI Report set the number of demolished places at 30 and the government of Bahrain has unconditionally accepted this. The government claims that these buildings were illegal and without the proper permits, but the timing and nature of the demolitions calls this into question. The BICI report acknowledges that only 5 out of 30 places of worship had requisite building permits while also stating, “the Commission notes with some concern the timing of demolition (1 March 2011 to 11 May 2011), which relates it to events of February and March. The Government of Bahrain must have been aware of the construction of these structures and that they lacked proper legal permits and did not conform to building regulations. Nonetheless, the Government of Bahrain had not stopped the construction of these structures nor taken action to remove them for a number of years. The Government should have realised that under the circumstances, in particular the timing, the manner in which demolitions were conducted and the fact that these were primarily Shia religious structures, the demolitions would be perceived as a collective punishment and would therefore inflame the tension between the Government of Bahrain and the Shia population.”[5] Fortunately, the Government suspended its action.  However, the first week of December 2012 witnessed the removal of some Shi’a mosques that were being reconstructed. And during the Shi’a ceremony of Muharram in November 2012, the Interior Ministry jailed two Shia preachers and summoned scores for interrogation on the religious content of their speeches, something that has never happened before in Bahrain.   There is no clear evidence that the Government intended to punish the citizens for their religious practices. However, the timing of such actions clearly helped to inflame the situation.

 In an attempt to address this, on 22 May 2011, the King announced that new Shi’a places of worship would be built. The BICI report also recommended ‘a follow up on the King‘s statement to the effect that the Government of Bahrain will consider rebuilding, at its expense, some of the demolished religious structures in accordance with administrative regulations’. In section 1336, the Commission welcomes the Government of Bahrain addressing this question at the earliest possible time. A report by the Bahrain Centre of Human Rights, published on 26th March 2012, claims that rebuilding has begun on five mosques.  The report also claims that when residents tried to rebuild the mosques themselves, they were prevented from doing so by the authorities, citing the example of the Ameer Mohammed Mosque, which has been rebuilt and demolished twice. The government of Bahrain claims that work has begun on 12 places at a total cost of US$26 million and that actual construction work has begun on five, while land has been fenced for the remaining seven on which construction work is to be phased in.  It should be noted, however, that reconstruction has not necessarily taken place on the sites of the existing mosques. Some of these places of worship were on sites that have had religious significance (e.g. burial sites) for over 200 years and were built because of the religious significance of the site.

Although some of the building may have been without the proper permits and thus been deemed illegal, the demolition of Shi’ite places of worship is perceived by the Shi’a community as persecution and fuels both resentment and violent backlashes.  It also further radicalises the opposition and diminishes their desire for dialogue.   The issue of the sanctity of religious places is supremely sensitive, and by not working more quickly and with more dedication to reverse the damage done, the government will only foster greater division between itself and Bahrain’s Shi’a community.

4. Remove laws and conventions that deliberately prevent Shi’ites from gaining influence.

Although there have been great improvements in the openness of Bahrain’s politics, there are still areas which need improvement. There are several practices in Bahrain’s politics that deliberately prevent or restrict Shi’a participation in the governance of Bahrain, thus leaving them politically disenfranchised.  In the 2010 elections, although Al Wefaq won only 18 out of the 40 of the seats in the Council of Deputies, they garnered a majority of the votes.  Thus, despite gaining more than 50%  of the votes, they only won 45% of the available seats.[6]

The geographic boundaries of constituencies in Bahrain are mapped out along ethnic lines to establish political advantage.  The number of voters in each voting district varies greatly, from 12,000 to 500, which of course is seen as a deliberate attempt to restrict the number of seats Shi’ite political parties are likely to win.  Because Bahrain in any case has a bicameral system with a government appointed by the King rather than by parliament, the manipulation of constituency size to this degree is unnecessary to guarantee the survival of the monarchy. The practice should be abandoned. The districting issue has been put on the negotiation table as part of the National Dialogue.

A further issue is that of election monitoring.  Though observers from Bahrain’s non-governmental organisations, independent political and civil societies groups regularly monitor elections, international observers are barred. This is not to say that Bahrain’s election results should be called into question, but international election monitors should be allowed access to comply with international best practice.  These issues should certainly be addressed before the 2014 elections.

 5. Both the opposition and the government should make stronger commitment to dialogue

Having attained positions in parliament, opposition groups should utilise this key forum, particularly since a parliamentary majority could obtain a legislative veto.

Al Wefaq needs to find a credible way to re-engage in the parliamentary political process and the government needs to help facilitate this. To encourage Al Wefaq to re-engage serious concessions should be made by the government. Stepping back into the National Assembly without such concessions could be political suicide. If nothing is done and the situation continues to become more polarised, Al Wefaq may lose its popularity in the street and find itself pushed aside as hard-line opposition voices grow louder.

All opposition parties should also take part in the National Dialogue. If the National Dialogue meetings are to be successful and credible, the full spectrum of Bahrain’s political views should be present. To encourage opposition groups to a take part in such dialogue, bilateral meetings should also be organised to take place alongside the National Dialogue between the opposition (i.e. only the opposition not the pro-government parties) and the government. This would build confidence on the part of opposition groups and guarantee that their legitimate grievances are being heard.  It should however be noted that a number of opposition members are in prison and therefore cannot attend any National Dialogue.

Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights[7] states that "everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice".  Of course, total freedom of expression does not exist absolutely in any country, but freedom of expression remains an essential part of society, especially one as diverse as Bahrain.  Suppression of the ideas and desires of any group in a society inevitably leads to the radicalisation of those who feel stifled. If they are not able to express themselves in words they will do so in actions.
The Government of Bahrain declared a three month state of emergency and banned protests to “maintain security” and safeguard “civil peace” in March 2011. The government claimed that demonstrators had threatened “national security” by calling for the overthrow of the government. Protests have now once again been banned,[8] this time just before the beginning of Muharram, which has effectively created a situation of Marshall Law.

The NCF recommends three initiatives:

1. Enforce constitutional protections guaranteeing freedom of expression and of the press.

Articles 23 and 24 of the constitution of the Kingdom of Bahrain guarantee freedom of expression, both in terms of opinion and the press.  In order for the people of the Kingdom of Bahrain to have confidence in the integrity of the government and its promises, guarantees must be given. Any form of suppression of press freedom is counterproductive and therefore serves no useful purpose. Indeed, greater press freedom might act as a safety valve, actually reducing tension.  

2. Address the treatment of opposition members.

Since February 14th, opposition members and activists have been imprisoned without trial and there have been reports of torture and death in custody. The ICRC has been in country since January 2012, freely visiting police stations, temporary detention facilities, jails and detainees. However restrictions have been placed on human rights organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Though the government has agreed to retry key opposition leaders, many have not been released. Even after dropping charges for 328 people, relating to freedom of speech, some remain incarcerated for their participation in meetings and rallies challenging the monarchy.[9]

Bahrain has extended a crackdown on the opposition by revoking 31 activists nationalities claiming that they damaged national security.[10] Some may perceive these actions as being a policy driven in retaliation for the unrest last year. 

In order for national dialogue to work, the government must convince the opposition of their integrity.  Imprisoning opposition members and activists, often in the absence of due process of law, will only damage the government’s credibility.

3. Do more.

A true culture of freedom of expression will require that the Government of the Kingdom of Bahrain sets a better example. Perhaps the best start that could be made would be the reform of State TV. 


The Human Development Index, as included in the 2011 UNDP Human Development Report, ranked Bahrain 42nd out of 187 countries with comparable data.  This would suggest a high level of well-being, especially when compared to other Arab countries in the region. However, disparities in wealth are patent.  The poorest neighbourhoods of Manama and the most underdeveloped villages of the island are, for the most part, inhabited by the Shi’a community.   In 2010 unemployment figures were reported as just 3.7%, which shows an increase in employment through a global recession. However, a particular worry is that Shi’a citizens are underrepresented in the higher tiers of many public sector jobs.   This leads to accusations that the government favours non-Shi’a. 

After the protests of 14th February, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) reported 1,624 complaints from people alleging they had been fired or suspended from their jobs over the protests.  Many of these were from the Shi’a community. However, claims have been made that all 1,624 have been given the opportunity to be reinstated.[11]

Socio-economic inequality is an issue that can ferment resentment in any society. Creating a more defined ‘us versus them’ framework will only boost fundamentalist and hard-line voices within the opposition. The government of the Kingdom of Bahrain must address the socio-economic inequalities that exist within Bahrain’s borders in order to tackle any further frustration and unrest.

The government still invests heavily in its public relations in Washington and London, so evidently cares greatly about its political and economic relations with these key Western capitals. The unrest in Bahrain has strained the country's relations with its traditional friends in the US and UK, who face criticism at home over their ties with Bahrain.

An ongoing uprising in the nation will only put further strain on an already hard-hit economy and strategic relationships in the West. It is in the best interest of the government to stem the island nation’s economic troubles as this will help bring a quick and peaceful resolution to the unrest.

Through the publication of the BICI report the Kingdom of Bahrain have been using international best practice to address the problems that occurred and ways for Bahrain to move forward. The reforms being made are ongoing and are being produced in legislative form. However, without the full implementation of the reforms such legislation only acts as a facade. [12]


In Bahrain, freedom from fear is inextricably linked to freedom of religion and of expression.  Trust in the government is the cornerstone for any successful and legitimate state, and if the government of the Kingdom of Bahrain wishes to see progress in terms of national dialogue and an end to unrest, they must increase the confidence of their citizens in their own security forces in order to pre-empt any tension that might arise in the run up to the 2014 elections. 

The NCF recommends two principal proposals:

1. Ensure that the security forces reform their practices.

Incidents of police brutality towards those in custody have significantly reduced but instances still occur. The tactics of security forces should always be open to reform. Social media and networking sites are showing footage of violence on both sides of the conflict, but it is the tactics of the security forces that have attracted the most attention and criticism.  BICI found that the security forces were responsible for thirteen civilian deaths that occurred during the protests, and even goes on to describe the violent causes of these deaths. It should be noted that the BICI report only looks at a three month window during 2011, and that further deaths have occurred since.  The commission also reported deaths due to torture in police custody, and many deaths that occurred after the protests were due to the inhalation of tear gas. Furthermore, the commission found that ‘Bahrain security forces systematically raided houses in order to arrest individuals, and in so doing terrified the occupants. The security forces intentionally broke down doors, forced entry and sometimes ransacked the houses. This practice was often accompanied by sectarian insults and verbal abuse.’ [13]

The excessive force used by the Bahrain security forces must be thoroughly addressed if there is to be any hope of rebuilding the trust so crucially needed between citizen and state.  The government must now abide by its own rule of law and maintain the principle that no one is above the law, even and especially those in all hierarchies of the security forces.  The government of the Kingdom of Bahrain must continue to implement the BICI recommendations that there should be full investigations into any reports of torture, murder and harassment by security forces. The implementation of accountability measures such as the appointment of a Ministry of Interior Ombudsman are steps in the right direction but are by no means of themselves sufficient.
The Bahrain government have recently made restitutions of $6.2 million (BD 2,340,000) to be paid to 39 families over the deaths of 39 relatives.[14] This is a significant confidence building exercise by the state, however financial restitutions will have to be matched with sincere reforms. [15]

Chief author of the BICI report, Cherif Bassiouni, has been critical of the reform process. He stated that progress had been made but the reform process has stagnated. In relation to reforms in the security services he stated: “If you have approximately 200 cases and you refer only nine cases to trial in a period of a year and you have one conviction, it doesn’t seem to be a satisfactory result.”

2.  Consider further clemency for medical professionals and guarantee the provision of adequate               
     healthcare to all.

Since February 2011, 95 medics have been detained by security forces. Although the behaviour of some of the medical professionals was difficult to reconcile with the exercise of their medical responsibilities, some of the allegations against them were unfounded.[16] Furthermore, a report by Physicians for Human Rights accuses the government of politicising and militarising the health system, claiming that the Government of Bahrain has denied a large segment of the population safe access to impartial medical care, resulting in widespread fear among civilians seeking medical treatment.


For the Kingdom of Bahrain, time is of the essence.  The longer the current wave of unrest continues and the more isolated the opposition is from the government, the more radicalised the opposition will become.  And the more radicalised the opposition becomes, the more desperate the government will become.    Syria serves as an awful reminder of how this security dilemma can spiral out of control.  There have been calls for reform but without sincere steps towards negotiated reforms the situation will undoubtedly deteriorate.

If the government do not act fast, they are in danger of marginalising the moderate opposition and strengthening the extremist opposition. Political stagnation means that all parties will refuse to compromise, and without compromise there will be no dialogue, national reconciliation or a consensual political settlement on the horizon. The prospect of Gulf unity could further frighten the opposition as such a union appears to shore up Sunni power on the Gulf. The Bahrain opposition, in despair, might resort to more desperate tactics, possibly even to violence.  The current political stagnation in Bahrain needs to be addressed as it is negatively impacting all political, social and economic aspects of public life. All parties should accept the principle of consensus as a basic element in alleviating the problem.

If resistance goes on and the youth movement become more and more politicised, the opposition’s vision for the future will leave less and less room for negotiation.   The government of the Kingdom of Bahrain must act fast, to ensure that the political situation is resolved in time for the 2014 elections.


[1] Figures from the 2010 Census, Central Informatics Organisation
[2] The Shi’a community is present in certain sectors of the government, especially government ministries such as the Ministries of Health and Industry, where up to 50% of the senior posts are staffed by Shiites.
[3] One such example is the airing of the “Al Rased” television programme on Bahrain television showing images of protesters and describing them as traitors with links to Iran (Report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry p393).
[4] This figure was quoted at a meeting hosted by the Next Century Foundation at the Embassy of the Kingdom of Bahrain in London on the 16th May 2012.
[5] Report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry. P329
[6] Al Wefaq’s claim that it garnered over 50% of the vote is disputed by the government which claims that the party obtained 43% of the vote.
[7] Acceded to by Bahrain in 2006
[8] Restrictions on public demonstrations and other public gatherings were introduced on 30 October 2012. Bahrain said the ban was a temporary step.
[9] Key figures such as Nabeel Rejab, and Zainab and Abdulhadi al-Khawaja attracted international attention at their arrest. Nabeel Rejab is serving a three year sentence and claims to be held in solitary confinement. Abdulhadi al-Khawaja is currently serving a life sentence after being arrested in April 2011 for his activity as a protest organiser. His daughter Zainab al-Khawaja has been repeatedly arrested.
[10] On 7 November2012, Bahrain decided to revoke the nationality of 31 citizens for 'having undermined state security'. The decision violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The men include London-based dissident Saeed al-Shehabi.
[11] In reality these claims are slightly misleading. Some employees have been placed in work other than their original occupation, often in lesser positions, whilst some others remain in the Ministry of Labour’s job placement program and have yet to find gainful employment.
[12] As Cherif Bassiouni himself recently stated: “A number of recommendations on accountability were either not implemented or implemented only half-heartedly.”
[13] Bahrain Commission of Independent Inquiry, article 1172, p.280
[14] These victims include all 35 deaths described in the BICI report as well as 4 deaths – three civilians and one police – that followed the events.
[15] Three compensation mechanisms have been established to make these restitutions however there are now details given on two of the mechanisms and the third has been effectively stopped by Royal Decree.
[16] Twenty medical professionals who were involved in the 2011 protests were sentenced to prison terms (Dr Ali al-Ekry was sentenced to 15 years in prison on more than a dozen charges; the remaining 19 doctors/medical workers received lesser prison sentences). They were accused of crimes against the state which included inciting hatred, occupying Salmaniya Hospital, and attempting to overthrow the Government.   A further 28 medical workers faced misdemeanour charges.  Of the 48 accused, 47 were Shi’a.  Following a recent trial verdict, only two of the defendants now face comparatively long prison terms. They should be treated with clemency. Then on 21 November 2012, 23 medics were sentenced to 3 months imprisonment or to pay a fine of 200 Dinars to have their prison sentences suspended. They all had the right to an appeal.