Bahrain: a promising future


Let us start with a summary of the news from Reuters: 1st October, 2000 Jewish council member royal only to Bahrain; 3rd October, Bahrain’s emir promises new political era; 13th October, the WTO (World Trade Organisation) says Bahrain needs fast reform to boost growth; 1st November, Annan leaves next week for Geneva, Bahrain and Qatar; 5th November,  Bahrain projects $833m deficit for 2001-2002; 6th November, Bahraini emir says he won’t attend Organisation of  Islamic  Conference Summit  in Qatar; 7th November, Bahrain arrests university lecturer; 11th November UN Secretary General arrives   in Bahrain for talks; 14th November, Bahrain puts 1999 budget deficit at $168m; 15th November, Bahrain allocates 106 million more for 1999 – 2000 budget (a bit of elaboration on that – it is normally to cover development projects and so on including public sector wage increases; 23rd November Bahrain plans national charter as part of reforms; 14th December, Bahrain body proposes two parliament chamber (The item says a newly appointed Bahraini committee has recommended the setting up of two parliamentary chambers, including an elected one in the Gulf Arab state; 20th December, Bahrain allocates  $80m more for 1999-2000 budget; (and here again it is about a one month salary grant to government employees); 24th December, Bahrain plans to put national charter to referendum; 26th December, Bahrain commutes death penalty for three Bahrainis (these are Bahrainis who had been sentenced to death for an attack on a restaurant that killed several people; 23rd January, Bahrain sets referendum date on national charter; (the date was going to be 14th & 15th February); 24th January, Bahrain eases restrictions on opposition leader (a reference to Mansour’s father); 4th February, Bahrain conference urges yes vote for charter; 5th February, Bahraini emir pardons security detainees and exiles (this is the amnesty);8th February, Amnesty welcomes Bahraini pardon of detainees; 15th February, Bahraini women cast their votes for the first time; 18 February, Bahrain drops emergency laws; (the start of reforms, the state security laws and the state security court); 19th February, Bahrain opposition backs landmark reforms; 20th February, Bahrain to give citizenship to over 1,000 people; 22nd February, Bahrain says about 15,000 people seek citizenship; 28th February, exiles return to heroes welcome in Bahrain (a reference to the return of Abdallah bin Akri and Abdel Rahman Mahri after several decades in exile). And finally 8th March, World Court to  rule on Bahrain-Qatar row (and the deadline has been set for Friday a week tomorrow).

     This has been a whirl wind tour of the news headlines about Bahrain in a matter of five months. These have been a momentous five months by any measure. I selected these headlines because they are in my view related.

   There are three ingredients: the  political reforms, the conflict with Qatar and the economic challenges. In my view they are related. By way of background as you all know, the suspension of the constitution, the abolition of the National Assembly and all the other measures that took place  in the early 70s had forced many Bahrainis to stand in opposition to their government. And because of the legal and political system such opposition had to be outside the legal-constitutional  framework, theoretically.

     Over the years and decades many people, organisations and individuals have expressed solidarity with the people of Bahrain and sympathy for their cause. The OEA (?) its various guises and bodies have supported the Bahraini peoples demands for the respect of human rights and civil liberties, Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have added their voice and campaigned along with many brave and selfless individuals .

     So it has been a very long struggle. But I would characterise it as being a level-headed, enlightened and reasonable one. The demands were not outrageous and even the government was hard put to argue against them. After all we were demanding the restoration of a constitution which the government itself had adopted for a short period of time.

     So ours were not revolutionary demands  yet it has taken two and a half decades or more. Now what has changed? Why this dramatic turn of events? One can only speculate and the historians and analysts among you will be looking back on this period and trying to piece together the different bits of evidence to try to work out goals and reflect. It will be a very hard task because many of the events were taking place behind the scenes and were not necessarily revealed in chronological order.

     Let me add my own tappence worth. Let me bring in the dispute with Qatar. I will put it to you that it had come bearing on the turn of events. Qatar took the dispute to the International Court of Justice. This irritated Bahrain and also upset the neighbours simply because it was not the way  things have always been done.

     The dispute kept bubbling on and tensions surfaced every now and then. Then  there were very important, but perhaps neglected, developments in Qatar itself. In early 1999 there were municipal elections in which men and women voted and stood for elections. Women were given equal rights and men were given their rights for the first time. We are talking about Qatar a country with a much smaller population than Bahrain with a more recent record of  primary education yet alone higher education than Bahrain and for many many years Bahrain used to look down on Qatar and the Qataris as being backward and uneducated.

   But the municipal elections were a very important event. Then the emir set up the constituent assembly in July of 1999 to draft the constitution and to report within three years. The committee was given maximum latitude: it was asked to think the unthinkable and propose radical challenges. The committee of the constituent assembly is supposed to report by July next year and already the emir has publicaly declared just a few days ago (earlier this week or perhaps at the end of last week) that the country would have a constitution by July of next year and that there will be an elected parliament and that he will cede some of his powers to that parliament. These are very important developments which were not achieved by agitation, demonstrations, torture or violence. They came from an enlightened, young leader, who used to be described as brash and arrogant and so on. But that was a different matter.

     Let us not forget the role of the media, the internet and Al Jazzeria. What a thorn it has been in the side of the enemies of democracy and human rights.

   Now while all this was happening in Qatar what was happening in Bahrain? More of  the same old  repression and denial of rights, stagnation on all fronts, political and economic.

    As you know elements are there to steer the country on a daily basis. Every budget, every year has to tinker with the tax law, with this, that and the other. Every legislative session of any parliament has to review laws, change this, change that. Bahrain was in a very long slumber.

     Let me move on to the economic factors. Let us look at the economic developments in Bahrain in very broad strokes. Look at the budget. I would characterise it as non comprehensive and non transparent. And this is putting it charitably. Non comprehensive because there are a lot of extra budgetary transactions, revenues and expenditures and the government knows this and does not deny it.

Bahrain’s production  of crude oil consists of two distinct sources. About 40,000 bpd come out of the Dohan field, a aging on-shore field. The bulk ie 140,000 bpd come from the Abu  Safa  field which is offshore and straddles the maritime border between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. In 1995 or 1996 Saudi Arabia ceded to Bahrain the entire output. In the past they used to share it half and half and then the ratio changed more in favour of Bahrain. But in 1995 –6 Saudi Arabia saw reason to be pitiful and charitable and ceded the entire production to Bahrain. But that amount is not in the budget. It goes in extra budgetary funds from which extra budgetary expenditures are financed.

 This needs to change. Bahrain needs to have a proper budgeting system that is comprehensive, and transparent. Transparency implies accountability and that hopefully leads to good  governance. These are catch phrases these days. In any dialogue, in any development forum you would hear these phrases.  Representatives of governments glibly throw these terms at each other. We need to see implementation.

 Transparency, accountability and good governance cannot take place in the absence of an elected and empowered assembly. Now this is a two-edged sword. You can have accountability, transparency and good governance and parliaments that quiz ministers and bring them to account and get good results. Or you can get log jams and paralysis. Witness what is going on in Kuwait.  Nevertheless despite the obstacles that Kuwait is going through at the moment, in the long run it is better for Kuwait, better for its  constitution, better for its people.  And what they need is a constitutional amendment.

 Now since Bahrain’s elected national assembly was largely modeled on the Kuwaiti mode., very similar to it expect to see the same confrontation. After all this was the reason, ostensibly, for abolishing it in 1975. But hopefully, when we have an elected assembly we will also have some constitutional amendments that would improve the relationship between the elected assembly and the government and to avoid the pitfalls that Kuwait is going through at the moment.

 That is not an argument for not having an elected assembly. Democracy might be a terrible thing, it might be the worse form of government but it is probably the least of all the evils when you consider what else you can have.

 Apart from the budgetary issues Bahrain suffers from deep-rooted structural problems. It is not unique in having them but it  has not been addressing them for two and a half decades. Most importantly among them are labour market segregation and impediments.

 The labour market in Bahrain consists of a large number of immigrants as well as nationals. They are not treated equally, there is an awful lot of abuse going on and Bahrain is not unique in this. It might not even be the worse. Foreign workers need their rights, they need to be protected, abuse must not be allowed to continue. But abuse and the denial of labour rights is not confined to the immigrant workers. Bahraini workers are also denied that right. Yes, there is a Joint Council of  Workers and Employers but it is not enough. Labour laws need to change. Trade unions need to be allowed to be established. Job centers need to be set up to improve the functioning of the labour market. All forms of discrimination need to be made illegal and punishable. Discrimination according to creed, sect, gender. Until then the labour market problems will persist. Until Bahrain addresses the problem of important labour in concert with its fellow members in the GCC not much progress can be expected. This is after all a Gulf problem and one member of the GCC will be waiting for the others to take action. This is a classic case of  a co-ordination problem. If the GCC can do anything to help its member states than it would be this, to have sensible labour  and immigration laws and sensible working conditions so that Bahrain cannot make the argument or the excuse that  tightening labour laws would export jobs to Dubai or elsewhere. Everyone has been arguing the same thing. This is a race to the bottom. So I would like to see a  lot of progress on this front.

 Bahrain, like the other  Gulf states has a fast-growing population and the labour market is not coping. Unemployment is rising. But the unemployment is not just about numbers. It is about the mismatch of skills. The skills required in the job market are not being produced by Bahrain’s schools, university or training institutions. The government needs to tackle this forthwith.

 The education system needs a shake-up  from the roots from primary school onwards. Large class sizes need to come down. I am talking about Bahrain, not the UK, even though the debate is the same. Teachers must be renumerated better. Moving up the education ladder the university needs to be run strictly on meritocratic lines:  no favouratism, no discrimination, no political interference. The best and the brightest are leaving in droves, students as well as faculty members. The arrest of one of the lecturers was an indictment of the way the government used to treat students and lecturers alike. So that is something else for the government to tackle.

They need to beef up their training programmes. We need to catch up with the modern age. Information technology. It is not that these skills are not needed in Bahrain, they are needed in Bahrain and some of the brightest Bahrainis are working abroad in fields as complex as animation, computers. They could be working in Bahrain if the market was conducive.

 Bahrain has growing development needs. The infrastructure needs to be updated. For many years the development agenda has been totally squed. Not enough attention has been given to the basic fabric of the infrastructure around the country with some areas favoured above others. We need to end censorship and to embrace the internet. Fear of the internet was one of the reasons, in my judgment that Bahrain has been lagging. Just look at  Dubai. They have set up an internet city. The internet hs played an enormous role in bringing about changes.Think of the impact of the internet in  China. It is the same in Bahrain. You can no longer block the flow of information and ideas. Now that the internal Berlin wall has come down in Bahrain we need to embrace the internet fully.

 Bahrain was also late in tackling monopolies. The economy was, and largely is, shackled by restrictive and anti-competitive practices. The external instrument for change in this area is the World Trade Organisation (WTO) of which Bahrain is a member. But implementation of the various agreements to liberalise investment and commerce and has been largely backloaded. More needs to be done and soon.

 All of the above has meant that for the last two and half decades Bahrain has lost competitiveness to Dubai and to other places. It is no longer the darling it used to be in the mid 70s. Add to  all this the cost of political instability as a result of the political agitation. Banks were closing down their branches and were moving down the Gulf. So we have a serious economic agenda and what I would like to see is a serious statement of intent from the ministers responsible to grab the bull by the horns.

 The impasse has been broken at last. We have a new emir who came in early 1999, we have a new crown prince. In other words, new blood. However the leadership of the country is largely the same as it has been since the January 1, 1970. The prime minister, the foreign minister and the interior minister are the same and so on.

 While many countries had cabinet reshuffles, the Bahraini government  survived without reshuffles until about 1995 – 6. That was the first reshuffle in its modern, post-independence history. Before this ministers used to be replaced after they had died because it was judged that their presence was no longer serving any purpose. So we have a new emir and a new crown prince, cohabiting with an old prime minister. There are old scores to be settled, to be sure. I can imagine a dialogue between the emir and the prime minister shortly after the emir took over and inherited the position in early 1999.  I can imagine him turning to his uncle  saying: ‘Dear uncle, what a mess we are in.’ “And who has been in charge for the last 30 years, who has landed me with this wonderful legacy: a broken economy, a political crisis, a rebellious population – I want a way out of this”. Now without speculating any further, I am leaving it to you to continue this dialogue in your spare time.

Let me move on to another aspect – the interplay between politics and economics. We all know that there is nothing better than an economic crisis to bring forward political change. We have seen it in Morocco, Egypt,  Jordan and Asia where countries were torn asunder by the financial crisis of 1997. In all these countries political change came too late and it came to sweaten the bitter pill of harsh economic adjustment measures. In Jordan, in Morocco, not a coincidence. In  Bahrain, what does that mean?  So while we are now celebrating the newly found or re-gained civil liberties and while we look forward to implementation and to true participation in decision-making let us pause and reflect. Could this be a poisoned chalice.?  Might we regret what we have wished for all along? Maybe not.

 The agenda I have outlined requires tough decision, tough measures. In any change there are always winners and losers and that is the business of government to balance the interests, winners and losers, to keep adjusting the balance, day in, day out. We have had a very long way to go. A dynamic economy and a dynamic political system keep adjusting, every day to the realities to keep in touch with world markets and to remain competitive. To make sure that no one is left behind. Everyone suffers, everyone gains. For three decades what has been happening in Bahrain could be characterized simply as the rich getting richer the poor getting poorer. No balancing act, no adjustment, no attempt at redressing the serious deep-rooted problems.

 So we have an economic problem, to put it mildly. We have a dispute with Qatar, we have an impending court decision. Now as you will recall from my very quick tour of the headlines the first hint of constitutional change came on  October 3rd when the emir opened the first session of the  Consultative Assembly. So three weeks is all it took for the special body set up by the government to draft the charter and I must say it is a remarkable achievement  in three weeks. If you put 40 people in one room for three weeks and you can get a political agenda then you have to take your hat off for that.

 The government’s original plan was not exactly what transpired. If you recall the original plan was for this body to very quickly rubber-stamp the proposals, preferably before December 16th, the national day and then there would be a popular convention consisting of two – three thousand people, invitees, mainly, to show their support for the charter. Do you recall that? Do you still remember this idea of having a  very small convention? Well it has been ditched as we all know. It was de-railed. Why was that? Where did the idea of  a referendum come from? Why didn’t  the government originally announce it if it had been its intention all along? In my view it was a conversion on the road to Damascus and just to let you in on a little secret, the opposition had some say in this about face turn. The opposition raised legitimate questions of legitimacy, how could government push through a coach and four horses of constitutional reforms without proper consultation. Well I am pleased to say that the government listened in the end and held a proper referendum.

 And I distinctly remember a press release which the Bahrain Freedom Movement issued on the 15th or 16th of September on the eve of Bahrain’s national day calling for precisely that, when it was completely fanciful and those who drafted the press release at the time thought they would just try it on. It was not going to be implemented. Who in their right mind would expect the Bahraini government to put the charter to a popular referendum, conducted  according to international standards of probity and transparency.

 Well the rest is history. You will remember from the sequence of events that once the government adopted the idea of a referendum and announced the date it was a mere two weeks – so imagine the preparations that must have gone on. And it immediately went into campaign mode, unprecedented, unheard of for the emir and crown prince to go out campaigning for the charter. It was a scene befitting of local government elections here with MP’s or councilors knocking on doors  or talking to households on their doorsteps. The emir went to assemblies, to houses, made public pledges and his pledges became more and more generous and in line with what people wanted. He was listening and he was responding, he wanted the referendum to succeed. He stood to gain from it, he was getting a promotion. Bahrain as a whole stood to gain from it.

 So the sequence of events was one of piecemeal revelation of reforms. Then we heard that the government was going to issue an amnesty. Again the opposition was piling on the pressure, legitimately, speaking in an organized fashion for a repeal of the State Security Law and State Security Court. And that was granted and I myself and all my colleagues and all Bahrainis are very pleased to say the least.

 Now, you could say that was the easy part. Now comes the hard part, now comes the implementation, now comes delivery on promises. The encouraging sign is that the emir set up recently a committee headed by his son the crown prince to see that these promises are implemented. I am glad he chose a young person who seems to be enthusiastic about these reforms and these changes. Clearly we are witnessing an internal coup d’etat  against the old guard who could not be trusted to implement these reforms. After all could you trust the implementation of these reforms to those who blocked them. It would be like entrusting a vampire with a blood bank. Now the agenda is long on all fronts – constitutional points. And that extends to all laws, civil, commercial and the system of justice.  There will need to be administrative reforms to all government departments to make sure that government departments and civil servants  do what their titles suggest they do: serve the people.

 The economic agenda is enormous and we need to build a national consensus on who to proceed. For that we need an elected assembly tomorrow, not 2004. Why wait until 2004? And I am encouraged by a statement that the conference made that elections could be held sooner.

 Now remember what I said earlier about the economic conditions leading to political change? Remember the dictum no taxation without representation. This used to be thrown back at democracy advocates by the government and they would say we don’t tax you, there are no taxes in Bahrain. In fact we provide you with free health and education. This is a trifle disingenuous of a government that controlled the main source of national income that there is no taxation. In fact taxation of oil resources is 100 percent by definition. If you wanted to reverse that you would have to send every man woman a child a cheque in the past every  month. The fact that this did not happen means there was implicit taxation at a very extortionate rate. I might say that sending cheques in the post is not a flight of fantasy it is actually being practiced in Alaska and Alberta, a province of Canada. They all it negative taxation.  Be that as it may that was the old deal.

What is the new deal? I fear that it is going to be representation with taxation. I think it is inescapable, the question is how, how to  make it fair. But before you even contemplate a single tax measure you would have to ask yourselves what happened to the government’s resources for three years? Can we please have a status report and audited accounts for the last three decades? So do not hold your breaths.

 So the new deal will mean, in my view, hard decisions, hard measures, some taxes but the pre-condition would be accountability and strong justifications. I think the people of Bahrain can be persuaded but you would have to work very hard on that. And just in case the government of the time, whenever that might be, turns around and says that these unpopular economic measures are the brainchilds of your elected assembly and that is where the blame should be let me put this on the record and say that is not correct and that is not fair. If  we get an elected assembly any time soon it will have to deal with an inherited problem and not one of its making. So let us be clear about that and I hope that all Bahrainis of all income levels, will feel the urgency of the patriotic duty to support re-distributive measures to make Bahrain a more just, a more humane and a more pleasant society in which all Bahranis can live dignity.


 Chairman: Thank you very much. After listening to you for about an hour I am hopeful but I am also worried. We are preparing ourselves for a future part of it know, part of it is unknown. I open the floor for discussion.

 Paddy Gilford: I do not know how many of you were in Bahrain at the time of the referendum. But I was there and I saw the most wonderful spontaneous celebration, flags flying out of cars, posters coming out of windows  it was so positive. I am surprised by the negativity of your address. It was 45 minutes before we heard a single positive comment. Bahrainis used to look down on Qataris. Did you look down on Qataris?

 Dr  Yousef: I had the privilege of doing so because I was looking down on my cousins – my direct cousins.

 Paddy Guilford: This is the case with many Bahrainis. But it took a long time to hear anything positive.  But what is encouraging is that this is a totally different meeting to one which was held maybe a year ago. The demands that you make  or the requests that you make are more comprehensive and transparent. You want labour laws to change and you want  constitution regarding the relationship between the elected assembly and the government. These are all really domestic issues. I can’t imagine a group of British people meeting in Bahrain to talk about class sizes back home.  In wrapping up I would must like to say I am surprised that you were so negative about these wonderful reforms that have gone on.

Dr Yousef:  I am  interested to hear from you in what capacity you were witnessing the referendum in Bahrain. Perhaps you can tell me later. I apologise if I sounded business-like and serious and down to business as opposed to euphoric and jubilant. I think the time for that  has appropriately expired. The jubilation will very soon give way to realism and sobriety. We must look forward without taking anything away from the momentous events of the last few weeks, and they have been momentous and I acknowledge this myself. Let us not forget that the questions on the table now are where do we go from here and how fast can we get there.  I  was not just talking about small class sizes or a cheque in the post. I was talking about  a serious programme for a  future government, for an elected parliament. This is the kind of stuff you would find in any manifesto and that is what you get from me because I am sorry to say I am not in the platitude business.

 Mansour Al  Jamari: I think the opposition has its own agenda which is legitimate and continues to be legitimate. One of  the issues is addressing the wrongs of the past  to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. And the interests of the human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch will continue to be relevant as long as there is a possibility of something that might return. There are still the people who conducted all the hate policies, those who killed, those who tortured. They still exist, they still run their offices, and we would like to see them out of the scene one day. Hopefully soon.

 Roger Hardy: First of all why do you think the emir wants to be a king? At the moment the emir is co-existing with his uncle. (?) Can they continue to do so if the process of reform continues?

 Dr Yousef: I think you are the best person to answer this. You are the political analyst. I can merely speculate about the first point. In this regard I would say it is to strengthen his hand to implement whatever reforms he has in mind. Strengthening his hand, you have to remember, within the family too. On the second point, the prime minister has been in office for 30 years. I think the nearest person to vie for the prize with the prime minister would be another prime minister in Malaysia. There are not many prime ministers who have remained in office for 30 years. Sooner or later they retire. They just have to bide their time.

 Shabir:  Would you think the rapproachment between Saudi and Iran may have had some impact on the changes in Bahrain. Are the  winds of changing sweeping across the region?  The WTO is very keen on nations in the  Gulf. The days of rulers in the  Gulf seem to be numbered?

 Dr Yousef: On the third point ‘yes’. On the second point, it is inevitable. On the first point it helps to have a climate of relaxation in the Gulf.

 Mansour Al  Jamari: Regarding the kingdom there is still a big debate by the emir which I do not want to start here. When Britain left the area it left the sheikhdom type of system and every country that was under Britain was a sheikhdom which was  under the India  Office, except for Saudi Arabia which was directly related to the Foreign  Office. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is different because it had a different relationship with Britain altogether. The India Office organized the Gulf states into sheikhdoms and they wanted first of all to have the Arab tradition anglocised and brought into the modern era. This is what Abdallah  Nafisi called the Anglo-Bedouin model of regime in the Gulf. What we really have is an Anglo-Bedouin regime in the Gulf and  in that there is a consensus  between the ruling family to be followed by consensus with the others. And this was the  old tribal way before  Islam and even when Islam came, the tribes were rallied through consensus, a very long, very paralyzing process  which takes time. So they wanted to anglocise it a little. That process in itself has created a problem in Kuwait where  the two wings of the ruling family must make a consensus between themselves. They have the same problems in Qatar where one wing has been toppling the other since the 1930s. Every wing is toppling the other. That is also why you have a stagnation in the UAE where they also have this anglo-bedouin model of governorship which has collapsed. Basically. The new idea has come from Mohammed Jabbar Al Ansari who has been advocating for a sovereign  who is the source of authority, his word is final and he could be a benevolent dictator. He is advocating a benevolent despot or a hakim mustanir, malik mustanir (philosopher king). He is saying that we need a good sovereign king, give him all the authority and make sure he is a little enlightened. This is the model Mohammed Jabbar Ansari is working on. Probably it will work, I don’t know. But it is the collapse of the anglo-bedouin model of governorship in the Gulf emirates.

 Question  inaudible

 Answer: There was a deliberate health warning on the invitation card that you are coming to listen to an economist. So I do apologise if I did bore you by talking about job centers. I say this in a jovial sense. On the question of  past wealth and so on what I am talking about is a system of taxation rather than a system of confiscation of personal properties. I am not advocating a Stalinist policy. This country managed to gently emasculate the nobility through taxation, death duties. It is transparent system. What we need is a system akin to that, a modern system of fiscal policy where people keep their earned income, wherever that might come from and they only hand it over to the exchequer in return for certain policies  of public services or an agreed expenditure programme.

 Karen Dabrowska: If you  believe these reforms are real why have members of the Bahrain  Forum not returned to Bahrain?

Tom Stacey: I was in Bahrain and I saw the news of the referendum before the fold in the regional papers.

 Dr  Yousef: The events in Bahrain have been momentous, that is what we have been wishing for for 30 years. Let us be absolutely clear about that. Are we there yet? No, we still do not have  a clear map. Remember that 98 percent of voters in Bahrain endorsed the charter which is similar to what the previous questioner  said about the  Magna Cartar minus the barons. But that charter is work in progress. It is not a complete and finished document. It is like buying half of a map for a treasure hunt. You have to  figure out where the next half is to get to the treasure. Being serious. The endorsement was on the question of principle, than the details have to be completed. The emir asked the people to vote for the charter on trust. Pure and simple. And he gained people’s trust. And I congratulate him. The role of the opposition at the time was to ask awkward questions as any opposition worth its salt needs to go because that is how progress is achieved, clarifying issues. And at the end of the day we went along with it after  outlining our reservations about the technicalities. Our questions were about precisely how the  constitution would be changed, the relationship between the appointed and the elected chambers and there are other issues. We were engaging the government in a serious debate. We were not trading insults. I am glad we have made that big leap and now we need to sit down, as a nation, and fill in the missing blanks. I am sorry I am not in a position to speculate about what might happen in Saudi   Arabia but we might find that the tail wags the dog.

 Chairman: What about the question about closing down your  shop and returning?

 Dr  Yousef: I am  looking forward to doing that as soon as possible. The work continues from wherever it might be.

Abdul Lutfi: The emir has given everyone in the world the impression that he has done well and now the ball is in the opposition’s court.  Should you not find some lubricants to enable the old guard to move aside peacefully and at the same time the opposition can practise their opposition in a more acceptable way.  The opposition and the intelligensia of Bahrain may find themselves dragged into talking about very minute details. Don’t you think that having an accountable and transparent budget as soon as possible is better than getting rid of the  old guard.

 Dr Sambo: I felt Ian Henderson was speaking in disguise

 Iqbal Asaria (question inaudible)

 Dr  Yousef:  I am sorry if you got that impression. There was no apprehension whatsoever. I was speaking freely. Let me answer a number of questions at the same time. What I have outlined gives a clear message that the opposition is business-like, serious and level-headed. It is not interested in making trouble for its own sake. The reason I  sounded the early warning about the  tough economic decisions is because they are there and they have to be confronted and the leaders of Bahrain need to be a bit more forthcoming and honest about  what the people of Bahrain can expect lest they suddenly wake up after this euphoria and face the enormous bill. On the question of the minor details I take  your point. The political framework is hugely important. On the question of the constitutional (?) arrangement regarding which one comes first. What we have today is an unelected executive council. What we need is an elected body and a clear constitutional  relationship between the two that does not undermine the will of the people. The sooner the better. The same would apply to the fiscal policy and transparency of government finances. The sooner the better.

 Mansour Al Jamari:  Regarding the amnesty. It is comprehensive.  Both I and Dr Saeed were sentenced for 15 years and $15 million dollars. I was raising the $15milion but I can stop now. They also dropped the 15 years so anyway we have to thank the emir that he lifted it after imposing it. From there hopefully we or his  sons will not impose it on their sons in the future.

I would like to thank Dr Alaa, the issues you have  brought with you are going to stay with us for some time.  May the talk today serve as a starting point for solutions rather than for problems. Thank you.

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