Very much the forgotten child of 2011 Arab uprising, Bahrain’s struggles and pain has fainted in the background of geopolitics, its calls for democratic reforms muffled by unscrupulous powers. Hailed by his peers and feted by his allies, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa continues to stand an unrepentant tyrant by the depth of his pockets alone. With an estimated fortune of over $70 billion-more than the combined wealth of the British royal family, the king of Bahrain has escaped judicial scrutiny and denied all responsibility in the face of increasing evidences of wrong-doings.
Justice it seems is a luxury few can afford since impunity is what the rich have acquired.
King Hamad is set to visit the UK this May, a guest of the British royal family. Needless to say that Bahrainis have raised a few objections … indeed, when the architect of a grand repression campaign is received a foreign dignitary among those parties claiming to support human rights and democracy, one is entitled to cry foul.
Ahead of King Hamad’s visit Bahrain Opposition Block in the UK hosted a lecture at Friends House in London to brief both the press and the public to an aspect of the Revolution few have ever looked into with due diligence: Bahrain’s dilapidated national wealth.
As noted by Dr Jalal Fairouz, a former MP with Al Wefaq, in his opening statement, Bahrain has become Al Khalifa playground. About 80% of Bahrain’s national territory has now fallen to the hands of the royal family, exacerbating Bahrain’s housing crisis and of course severely restricting land access.
“Only a small fraction of Bahrain’s coast is accessible to the public … and Bahrain is an island surrounding by the sea., Bahrainis cannot see the sea because the coast belongs to Al Khalifa,” noted Dr Fairouz.
“Imagine … while the majority of Bahrainis live with less than $5 per day, our national resources are disappeared into the king’s pockets, without any recourse for oversight. How can a country function under such a system? How can we hope for reforms and change when our wealth is being squandered away, our land occupied, and our people treated as disposable commodities?” he added.
A report prepared by Bahrain Opposition Block in the UK handed to the press during the conference read: “Since proclaimed in 2002, the Constitution of Bahrain guarantees the principle of equality before the law. In reality, however, it has been the ruling family who dominates national wealth for the sake of their own personal fortune. The revenues occurred through the export of natural resources and the implementation of national projects, which is supposed to be placed into the state coffers, continue to fall into the hands of the king and his family members.”
And: “The distribution of the national wealth, however, has been a main reason of public grievances as in 2011. As the national budget is not fundamentally funded by taxpayers, the ruling family often bypass the public consultation and approval with regards to its national fiscal management.
In stark contrast to the accumulated wealth and luxurious life of the ruling family discussed in this paper, a living standard of the majority of ordinary Bahrainis lags far behind that of the neighbouring countries. In 2004, Bahrain Centre for Human rights (BCHR) stated that 50% of Bahrainis were suffering from poverty and poor living standards. Its report further declared that there were 20,000 unemployed Bahrainis and estimated this number to be significantly greater.
The poverty and disparity has continued until now. Due to uneven distribution of resources and government budget, there is a significant income gap between the rich and the poor. The richest 20% occupy 41.6% of the total income, while 12.2% of the population live below the US$ 5 per day.”
Bahrain is the 133 least corrupt nation out of 175 countries, according to the 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index reported by Transparency International. Corruption Rank in Bahrain averaged 52 from 2003 until 2017, reaching an all time high of 133 in 2017 and a record low of 27 in 2003.
In February 2018 Marwa Fataftawrote a report detailing Bahrain’s lagging. She writes: “Since the Arab revolutions in 2011, dictatorships in the region have intensified their crackdown on political dissent, free speech, independent media and civil society organisations. Corruption thrives in environments where speaking truth to power is a risky and daunting task.
Bahrain, which experienced the sharpest drop in the index since last year, is one example. Over the past two years, the Bahraini authoritiesescalatedtheir attacks and restrictions on freedom of expression and freedom of association and assembly. In mid-2016, the government dissolved the main political opposition group and imprisoned Bahraini human rights defenders. It also revoked the citizenship of those who criticised the government, and subjugated civil society and anti-corruption activists to arbitrary travel bans and interrogations. This, in conjunction with the absence of a national strategy to fight corruption and an independent corruption agency, resulted in the country sliding swiftly down the index.”
Bahrain’s struggle is much more than a simple case of religious persecution or a race for democratisation, Bahrainis are fighting to see their sovereignty preserve when it is currently being owned.
Under Bahrain’s Constitution, Article 11 clearly stipulates that Bahrain’s wealth belongs to its people. Nowhere does it read that the king or his kin have a right over Bahrain and/or Bahrainis, and yet this is how the text of the Constitution has been misconstrued.
“All natural wealth and resource are State property. The State shall safeguard them and exploit them properly, while observing the requirements of the security of the State and of the national economy.”
Nonetheless, in practice, natural resources of Bahrain, including land and oil, have been occupied by the ruling family, running counter to the fundamental constitutional principle.
*(Prime Minister Theresa May hosted the King of Bahrain, Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa, for bilateral talks at Downing Street, in 2016. Image credit: Tom Evans/ Number 10/ flickr)