Bahrain: The Left and The Workers Movement By: A.N. Mansour/ The National Democratic Trend Athens 22-24 th. June Bahrain has been witnessing dramatic developments since the new Amir, Shaikh Hamad Al-Khlifah took over on 6th March1999 upon the death of his father who ruled the country since 16/12/1960. The first year of his rule witnessed positive but not conclusive gestures. He issues a limited and conditional amnesty covering 789 political detainees and about 30 exiled families. A margin of freedom of expression was tolerated. Unprecedent Seminars were allowed, where public affairs were raised without penalty and the press was opened for relatively critical commentaries. On the occasion of the National Day, 16th Dec. 1999, the Amir delivered Key statement, where he addressed chronic problems, such the naturalization of (albedun- stateless), unemployment, discrimination among citizens, housing. He urged the intellectuals to criticize the officials who should accept criticism. He emphasized that he is against discrimination and favoritism. Little substance was delivered, few stateless were naturalized. Most of the year 2000 witnessed nothing important. The 21st.Oct. witnessed the beginning of the third term of Al-Shrua (Consultive) Council (appointed), where few pro-opposition were appointed. The turning point was the key address by the Amei to the members of Al-Shura Council. He announced his grand project to " The Renaissance of Bahrain". He revealed that he will appoint a committee to draft "National Charter", which will pave the way torwards "Constitutional Monarchy". The committee was headed by senior al-Khalifah Minister of Justice, Shaik Abdulla bin Khaled, and composed of 47 members of al-Khalifah ministers, and independent personalities. It was peculiar that 6 members represent the opposition and the workers movement. The Amir, needed the popular support to the national Charter to reaffirm his legitimacy thus the support of the opposition was critical in this respect.The opposition was in need for ending the reign of repression, but through a decent compromise. The representatives of the opposition at the Charter committee demanded the following: The refusal of the Charter draft proposed by the government. The text falsifies the heroic struggle of the people and glorifies its oppressors. The emphasis on the supremacy of the elected National Assembly on the appointed Al-Shura Council. The amendments of the constitution should be through the National Assembly. 4-The supermacy of the constitution over the charter Upon the refusal of the committee by small margin, due to the government domination, 4 out of the 6 resigned. These pro-opposition personalities presented and distributed an alternative National Charter, which had strong impact. The leadership of the opposition (both the Islamests and the democrats) coordinated their efforts and demands. The unconditional release of all political prisoners, detainees and the return of the exiled. The Amir gave consecutive orders to implement this in face of obstacles by the Ministry of Interior. Still there are hundreds of political exiles, denaturalized upon deportation, by the intelligence service. The Amir ordered that all those covered by the Amiri Amnesty to be granted passports with their families, to return to their jobs ,to endorse their employment, and to facilitate their housing. While granting passport and freedom of travel was guaranteed for most ,securing jobs and housing is far from being guaranteed. The state has declared grand project for housing and envisaged a national plan for employment. The opposition demanded that the state should declare explicitly that the constitution supercedes the charter and that the elected council is solely responsible for legislation. The Amir ordered the Minister of Justice to give the necessary clarification. The opposition, then, was satisfied and agreed to support the National Charter in the referendum on 14-15th Feb 2001, which secured 98.4% approval of both males and females above 21 years (217 thousand). Upon the popular approval of the National Charter, new epoch has started affecting all aspects of life on both the state and the society, through what is to be called "Transitory Period." A- At the state Level. The Amir envisaged his project, which secured the popular consent but he was faced with inherited state apparatus that was responsible for 25 years of stagnaton and repression since aborting the constitution on 25th Aug 1975. His uncle Shaik Khalifah al- Khalifah, the prime-minister has been steering the state since independece on 14th Aug 1971. The Amir reform project was not appreciated by the ruling Al-Khalifah family, which gave facial consent. The Amir was faced by two choices: either to dismiss his uncle and his cabinet and top security commanders who are responsible for the ugly past. Or to co-exist with the inherited apparatus with grafting some royalist into it and to opt to compromises concerning state restructering. It seemed the balance of power, keeness to preserve the unity of the ruling family, and the influence of neighbors, especially the Saudi Kingdom, did not permit the Amir to resolve the command of power. So, he opted to co-existence with his powerful uncle and the inherited state apparatus, with some modification. The uncle in return ,showed restraint and cooperation, while diminishing the reforms to the minimum. The resultant is as follows: The Amir repealed the State Security Law and the State Security Court, which were the legal means of State repression for 26 years. This has liberated the people from the nightmare, and motivated openess of the political life. The Amir, on advise of the Prime Minister formed "The Committee for Constitutional Amendment", which was faced with popular apprehension, as it was agreed,( the Amir and the opposition) that such an amndements are entrusted to the elected council (to be formed in 2004). The Amir entrusted his pro- reform son, Crown Prince, Shaik Salman Al-Khalifah, to head the Committee for Charter Vitalization, composed of ministers, high ranking officials and independent personalities. In general the majority were pro- reforms, but non represents the national democrats (the secular trend). The committee was entitled to envisage plans and to draft legistlations for the transitory period. The committee enviged plan to the chronic problem of unemployment (15-20%) and project for the chronic problem of housing. This is in parallel to the government plan and project. The committee is to detail the proposed National Auditing Council ,National Administrative Security Council, and the Constitutional Court. The committee is to amend existing laws that contravene with the constitution and to draw new legistlation to activate the constitution. This includes the Electoral Law and Municipal Law. The Crown Prince appointed sub- committees of mostly professionals, each headed by committee member. In fact, there is official government headed by the Amir uncle and shadow cabinet headed by his son. Nobody knows how this conflict is to be resolved, or how far the state would advance in the reforms. There are contradictory directions and statements. The Amir, not awaiting the amendments of the laws or the legistlation of new laws, gave the green light for urgent changes, such as the formation of trade union, and licensing new societies, including those of political nature. It is expected also that new journals will be permitted, representing the political factions. B- At the Society Level: The society has never witnessed such vitality and dynamism. The underground political organizations, Islamests and secular, had come to surface working openly. There is alive dialogue within each trend and among the various trends. The open atmosphere, the sense of security, and the keeness to facilitate the democratic transformation has influenced all towards moderation and central current. The society has suffered of chronic official policy of sectarianism, which reflected itself negatively on the society. The political feuds between the Islamests and the secularists and the conflicts within each current had prevailed for decades, except the truce during the constitutional resistance since 1994. It seems that the competition to gain wider base in preparation for the coming elections is an alarm of ominous political conflict. The left and the Trade Union Movement: The Left is in the process of transformation. The historically established left was composed of the communists (the National Liberation Front- Bahrain) and the Marxist (The Popular Front in Bahrain). Through the past three decades, the left receded in influence. There are many factors such as the repression, the Islamest surge, and the collapse of the socialist group and the Arab national setbacks. The majority of members deserted the two organizations , recruitment of new members halted. And stagnation prevailed .But as the new epoch started , there is renewed interest in political activism. Even before the new epoch, there had been efforts to form the National Democratic Forum (NDF) to gather the two organizations and the individual democrats. By March 2001, a draft program of the NDF was phrased and distributed widely within this trend. Political and organizational difference still obstruct the formation of NDF. In the meantime, national democrats opted to establish a forum " The Society for National Democratic Action: which is to be licensed as political society. It is expected that this society will facilitate the formation of NDF. On the otherhand, the workers movement is witnessing radical transformation. The licensed organization the General Committee of Bahrain Workers (GCBW) is short of workers union and limited to 18 private and mixed companies. At the same time there was clandestine unlicensed " Bahraini Workers Union" with international representation. The GCBW had been striving for transformation to workers union. Amid the new atmosphere, the Amir received the newly elected administration of the GCBW, and gave the green light to its transformation to the Bahraini Workers Union. The GCBW is in process of such dramatic change, which require incorporating thousands of workers and employees at the private and public sectors. The Left has enjoyed substantional influence among the workers and their movement until now. But we are faced with new situation characterized bye the following: The Islamest forces strive for influence within the workers ranks and their trade movement. There is a sense of independence within the ranks of the workers movement. Directions by the political organization ,sideline political deals and political creditenals are not accepted.These cadres to stand for election should depend on their merits. The future relation between the left and the workers trade union depends on many factors of which: The consolidation of the left ranks into well defined forum with clear program. This program should be characterized by its consideration for the workers interest. The GCBW should undertake the responsibility of defending the rights of all workers and employees and thousands of unemployed ..The unmployed formed their own committee which is not related to GCBW, whose members belong to Islamest trend The relation is subject of different possibilities and speculations. Much depends on how the Left manages its internal affairs ,and thus be able to deal with this anfd other tasks.