Elections without Representation: Dissent and Resistance to Reform in Bahrain, by Jane Kinninmont

November 21, 2014

For a full text copy of the brief, click here.

Kinninmont Brief

Bahrain’s upcoming elections will do little to change the status quo in the country. The main opposition group recognized in Bahrain, Al Wefaq, is boycotting the elections, along with three other opposition parties, because the government has failed to institute demanded reforms. The groups fear that if they participate in elections before reforms have taken place, they would risk legitimizing the monarchy’s repressive behavior while participating in a largely powerless parliament. The elections will therefore be dominated by a mixture of Sunni Islamists and broadly pro-government independents from both Sunni and Shia communities.

No single grouping is expected to dominate the elected chamber, and most MPs are likely to focus their limited powers on seeking increased public spending for their constituents. Meanwhile, as the government seeks to portray the elections internationally as a sign that Bahrain is a reforming democracy, there are likely to be renewed protests by the opposition, which views the elections as a sham.

Policy Recommendations

1. Promoting urgent political reform in Bahrain should be part of the U.S. government’s strategy to confront the growth of sectarian extremism in the wider Middle East.

2. In accordance with the presidential memorandum on civil society, U.S. officials should foster strong relationships with Bahrain’s civil society activists.

3. The United States should give a comprehensive and honest public assessment of Bahrain’s elections.

4. The United States should ensure it strongly supports its new ambassador to Bahrain and offer a serious response to any attacks on his credibility by Bahraini government officials.

About the Author

Jane Kinninmont is a senior research fellow and deputy head of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Chatham House. Her previous positions include associate director for the Middle East and Africa at the Economist Group, Middle East and North Africa editor and economist at the Economist Intelligence Unit, and managing editor for Middle East and Africa at Business Monitor International. She contributes regularly to the media, including the Economist, the Guardian, and Foreign Policy. Her latest publication for Chatham House is “Bahrain: Civil Society and Political Imagination.”

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