Matar Ebrahim Matar, Reagan Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy and former Member of the Bahraini Parliament.
Contrary to optimistic expectations, since the Crown Prince, Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, was promoted to the position of deputy prime minister, Bahrain has entered a new phase of oppression and civil unrest, characterized by mass arrests, harsh prison sentences, revoking of citizenship, the revival of torture and excessive force, and attacking activists under false charges of terrorism (including the arrest of Khalil al-Marzooq, a member of the al-Wefaq opposition party).
The growing manifestations of the rentier economy are harming the productivity and performance of the public sector and the entire Bahraini state. Two years after declaring plans to start gas exploration, no achievement has been announced. All these crimes against the human rights and growing sectarianism are just symptom for the kleptocratic nature of the Bahraini regime. Between 1962 and 1970, only two thirds of the total amount of oil revenue was listed in the state’s financial reports. In 2010, about half a billion dollars was missing from the initial state budget. And the corruption continues in wider scale through moving the ownership of lands in Bahrain to the members of the ruling families and their allies, with the estimated cost equivalent to about five times the Bahraini government’s annual revenues from oil and taxes. All these factors will accelerate the risk of economic collapse earlier than the IMF’s expectation that debt growth will be unsustainable by 2018.
Still, Bahrain’s struggles will be easier to overcome than the challenges facing other countries in the region. Instead of standing by the repressive regime as an old friend and major ally, the United States should co-sponsor a plan with other regional players to see Bahrain through a process of gradual reform with a clear road map. That’s why the approach in the pro-democracy movement in Bahrain is to encourage the United States and Saudi Arabia to look at Bahrain as a country with high potential to be a success story of peaceful transition to justice and political participation. Bahrainis refused to wait neither on regional changes nor for al-Wefaq to start the uprising, and after entering the third year of the uprising, the people of Bahrain are consistently still able to gather in tens of thousands. Rather than thinking that it was too early for them to call for a constitutional monarchy, a large portion of Bahrainis believe that after ten years of participation in a fake process they were late to call for it.
As citizens of a small island state with a long history of multiculturalism, Bahrainis have one of the oldest demands for greater political representation in the region. A major motivator for Bahrainis throughout the uprising has been their deep belief that Bahrain is the most prepared country in the Gulf for such a transition.