News / Middle East

Finance Minister Disputes Criticism of Bahrain Regime

Thousands chant anti-government slogans as they march during a funeral procession for Sayed Hameed Mahfoodh, 61, whom relatives allege was killed by police, in the western Shi'ite Muslim village of Saar, Bahrain, April 6, 2011
Thousands chant anti-government slogans as they march during a funeral procession for Sayed Hameed Mahfoodh, 61, whom relatives allege was killed by police, in the western Shi'ite Muslim village of Saar, Bahrain, April 6, 2011

Multimedia

As uprisings continue in the Arab world, one Persian Gulf country - Bahrain - has seen protests demanding greater political freedoms. Bahraini authorities have used deadly force, and have reportedly rounded up and detained a number of opposition activists.  Recently, Bahrain's finance minister came to Washington, where he presented his views on the situation. 

Thousands of Bahrainis took to the streets beginning in mid-February, demanding reforms to make the kingdom's government and economy more inclusive for all citizens.

Then, on March 14, the Gulf Cooperation Council, led by Saudi Arabia, rolled a military force into Manama at the invitation of the al-Khalifas, Bahrain's ruling family.



On April 19, Bahrain's finance minister, Sheikh Ahmed al-Khalifa, spoke in Washington about the actions of his government.  His perceptions of the situation are markedly different from those that emerge from news coverage, human rights groups, and third-party analysis.

Bahrain is overwhelmingly Shi'ite, but the al-Khalifa family is Sunni, as is some 30 percent of Bahrain's population.  Yet the Sunni control Bahrain’s political and economic power.  

To Sheikh Ahmed, though, that disparity between the two groups does not exist. "I don't see huge differences between Sunnis and Shi'as.  The rights are there for every citizen of Bahrain. They have always been," he said.

Human Rights Watch official Joe Stork says his observations in Bahrain are very different. "The discrimination that Shi'a perceive - in terms of access to jobs, access to a share of the country's wealth, and so forth.  When you overlay that with the basic, you know, the complete absence of any kind of power sharing [between Sunni and Shi'a], that's really what this [the protests] is all about," he said.

Bahrain's Shi'ites have been accused by the al-Khalifas, and by other Sunni Persian Gulf royal families, of being under the influence of Iran.  

Sheikh Ahmed says the recent protests are an attempt by Tehran to destabilize Bahrain's government. "In terms of Iran, you have seen their announcements [statements]. We feel that what happens in Bahrain is for the Bahraini people to reach consensus on, and to resolve.  And, Iran is our neighbor, but we think that what has happened has to be resolved within Bahrain," he said.

Foreign Policy Magazine writer and Georgetown University professor Jean Francois Seznec, however, says the Iran accusations are inflated.

"The public relations offices of the al-Khalifas, right now in Washington, as we speak, are distributing all manners of information saying that Iran was behind all of this [the turmoil in Bahrain].  And, that this a conspiracy that has been going on for 20 - 30 years. The fact is, my own experience, anyway, tells me that the Shi'a feel Bahraini.  They don't feel Iranian.  They don't really like Iran," he said.

Sheikh Ahmed said the government told the opposition it would engage in talks, as long as people came to the table without preconditions.  The protesters refused. The Bahraini minister says the opposition is unwilling to work for a constructive solution. "This path was not used.  What was used was an attempt to hijack this political process by forcing one way of thinking, which we believe was not the right way for Bahrain," he said.

But an independent organization, the International Crisis Group, recently issued a report on Bahrain's turmoil.  ICG's Joost Hilterman says the opposition's preconditions for talks were demands for safety and justice. "The opposition wanted the security forces to allow peaceful protests in Manama and other areas of Bahrain. And, they wanted those who fired on demonstrators in the past to be held accountable," he said.

Along with firing on protesters, causing deaths and many injuries, Bahrain's security forces have also jailed a number of people. Sheikh Ahmed sees them as criminals. "The people who have been detained are people who have committed crimes. Not the people who have stated an opinion.  A very critical point," he said.

Rights organizations dispute Sheikh Ahmed's "criminal" contention.  They say arrests and jailings are being done to intimidate.

Joe Stork, of Human Rights Watch, said "Since April 2nd, we have had four people who were taken into custody five, six, seven days earlier. No contact with their families, no contact with lawyers. Next thing the family hears, they get a call from the Ministry of Interior saying 'come pick up the body.'"

Bahrain’s protesters have called for the creation of a constitutional monarchy, such as the British system, as a way of limiting the powers of the al-Khalifa family.  But analysts say the al-Khalifas are strongly against any such change.

Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

Jeffrey Young

Jeffrey Young came to the “Corruption” beat after years of doing news analysis, primarily on global strategic issues such as nuclear proliferation.  During most of 2013, he was on special assignment in Baghdad and elsewhere with the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR).  Previous VOA activities include VOA-TV, where he created the “How America Works” and “How America Elects” series, and the “Focus” news analysis unit.

You May Like

Turkey's Erdogan: Women Not Equal to Men

Speaking at conference in Istanbul, President Erdogan says Islam has defined a position for women: motherhood More

Ahead of SAARC Summit, Subdued Expectations

Some regional analysts say distrust between Pakistani, Indian officials has slowed SAARC's progress over the year More

Philippines Leery of Development on Reef Reclamation in S. China Sea

Chinese land reclamation projects in area have been ongoing for years, but new satellite imagery reportedly shows China’s massive construction project More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Changei
X
November 24, 2014 10:09 PM
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid