Gulf parliaments have come to provide some semblance of democratic representation, but all are struggling against dominant regimes and must organize politically and carve out a distinctive role to better represent the people.
Bahrain's government has cracked down on opposition groups and human rights activists, raising concerns over the intensification of the volatile situation as election day draws nearer.
Ahead of parliamentary elections in the fall, more independents and businesspeople are joining the political fray in Bahrain.
This case study from Bahrain shows how workers and unions are responding to the global economic crisis.
Opposition Shi'i deputies in parliament have had unusual success lately in getting agreement from pro-government Sunni deputies on amending the constitution to increase the powers of the elected lower house. But even with such cooperation the legislative process will be nearly impossible to navigate.
Since the October 2002 elections that reinstated Bahrain's parliament after a 27-year suspension, its deputies have been trying to carve out a meaningful role for themselves. Their recent unsuccessful attempt to supervise the actions of the executive branch illustrates the difficulty of their quest.
Since taking power in 1999, the King of Bahrain, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, has engaged in a vast program of reforms aimed at transforming his country from an emirate into a constitutional monarchy in which the Al Khalifa family's supremacy would be balanced by an elected parliament.
Bahrain is either moving toward democracy or going nowhere, depending on to whom one listens. Pro-government quarters depict the Bahraini situation as an advanced model for democracy in the region.
A survey of women's political status in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states shows that in some countries women have recently made considerable progress toward formal equality of political rights, but in others they have not. The governing elite in the GCC countries generally supports women's political rights, but strong social sentiment against women's participation in politics persists.
In a country where political parties are not permitted, al-Wefaq National Islamic Society has been the backbone of the Bahraini Shi'i opposition since its leaders returned from exile after King Hamad succeeded his father in 1999. Al-Wefaq initially supported Hamad's National Action Charter, which appeared to promise significant reforms.
A political showdown is looming in Bahrain this year. Intensifying domestic and regional pressures—including frustration over Bahrain's disappointing experiment in political reform, escalating social problems, and aggravated sectarian tensions—grip the country. The moment of truth will come in October 2006, when elections to the national parliament are scheduled to be held.
It is almost one year since al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, Bahrain’s largest legal opposition group, ended its boycott of parliament and won seventeen of forty seats in November 2006 elections. Compared to the repressive era of the 1990s, it is a remarkable achievement--for the group and for King Hamad’s program of gradual political liberalization.
Shiite and Sunni Islamist candidates dominated Bahrain’s late November parliamentary elections—winning a combined total of 29 out of 40 seats—leading some observers to warn of a polarized parliament where civility and legislative action fall victim to sectarian mudslinging.