A letter (July 8, 2001) to the King’s Political Advisor

Dear Dr. Hassan Fakhro
Thanks for receiving me and for your kind words.

As always one gets out from such short meetings realizing that one did not cover some one or more ‘important´’ topics. I have been planning to write to you to take up a couple of such topic in the hope that you find my points worthy of consideration.
One of my worries relate to the non-existence of what I call ‘a common national space’. (I have sketched some arguments on this during my presentation of May 15 in the Alumni Club). I honestly believe that HH the Amir has an historical opportunity to remedy the absence and/or inadequacy of the social, political and economic conditions that prevented the fostering of a genuine sense of a common national space in Bahrain.

The most obvious obstacles to such a national space, is the perceived artificiality of the state itself. While this is an Arab phenomenon, it seems more acute in Bahrain. HH has any number of short and medium term remedies. Some are symbolic while others can be of more substantial nature. During my May 15 presentation I proposed the symbolic gesture of celebrating the 30th anniversary of the country’s independence this August. Allow me to insert a cliché: symbols can be powerful.

I regret that I did not take up this with you when we met.

The second topic is related to the conviction that part of the difficulties the political reform project is facing (probably since its inception) is rooted in the general perception that is it is an Amiri project. I hope I am wrong but I believe that a major weakness in the reform process in Bahrain is not a result of a national pact. It has started as an Amiri initiative through a series of makramas, which are exclusive prerogative of the Amir. In short, the future of the whole process remains subject to Amiri decrees. This must put too much of an historical burden on his shoulders. Only he has the power to chart the future of the reform process, its perimeters, its intensity and its extent. Only he has the power to determine what social groups and what opposition networks are to be included in or excluded from actively participating in the process.

Granted of course that not all see this as a problem. For me it is a problem because the present situation does not allow for institutionalisation of the reform process itself. Such an institutionalisation would, hopefully, provide HH with stronger arguments selling his project to reluctant hardliners within the family or beyond.

In my view the Charter is important element in the institutionalisation process. More is needed from here to 2004. Is it unthinkable that HH calls for a national political conference to discuss the reform process, its achievements and the obstacles on its path? A ‘Camp David’ style conference where attendants (of say, 20-30 members, probably less) including ‘representatives’ of all political tendencies (different religionist groups, leftists, nationalist…etc.) would debate controversial issues related to both ‘achievements’ and ‘obstacles’. I suppose that it is not a problem finding an isolated ‘Camp David’ location in Bahrain. Am I making sense?

The purpose of such a parley is reach agreements, to make a pact, to define the ‘realistic’ perimeters of the reform process for, say, the coming decade. Pacted agreements are more likely to be realistic and are more likely to take into consideration the worries and strategic interests of most participants. What happened in Jidhafs and what is happening elsewhere could be contained, if not eliminated, by consensually drafted reform pact. People like me will not be calling (at this stage) for “abolishing the privileges of members of the ruling family”, a fundamentalist will not be calling (at this stage) for ‘”Islamising the state”, and so on…… Moreover, a pacted reform agreement can provide us with yet another common national space.

I have just read the Arabic translation of Ingace Dalle article ” Mobile King, Static Society: Morocco: waiting for serious change” in Le Mond Diplomatique. It confirmed the scepticism that one harvest from reading another good article on Morocco by Abdeslam Maghraoui, Political Authority in Crisis: Mohammed VI’s Morocco, Middle East Report 218, Spring 2001.

My hope is that all good people, from their different sides, save Bahrain and its political reform process from the same fate. I hope also that when we meet next time we more time to discuss issues of mutual concern.



July 8, 2001