When addressing corruption in Bahrain, the direct link between it and the political situation within the country is outspoken. Before the Bahraini uprising in 2011, corruption was a worrisome but sill minor issue. That year, according to Transparency International, the country was ranked 46 out of 180 countries for handling corruption. Six years later, in 2017, the country was ranked 133. The repression of the anti-government protests and the consequent crackdown on civil society have brought about a significant rise in corruption. The suppression of any form of political opposition, followed by an increasing censorship of critical newspapers, the arbitrary detention of political opponents and activists, peaked with the removal of all the “watch-dog” organizations that would normally keep corruption at stable levels. Since then, corruption rapidly rose throughout both the private and public sectors of society.
What matters the most is that corruption in Bahrain has been a tool in the hands of the elite within the government. Led by Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman AlKhalifa, who is the uncle of Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad AlKhalifa, members of the royal family have been preventing all attempts to implement anti-corruption methods. Furthermore, in an atmosphere of impunity, no officials have ever been brought to court for charges of corruption, while the country continues to oppose itself to independent-outside observers.
Some steps forward have been made in recent years. From 2017 to 2018, the country’s corruption handling rank improved from 133 to 99. This can be attributed to the government’s reform of its penal code on 25 January 2018 in order to increase the penalties for bribery and extend the Bahraini court’s jurisdictions to try offenders engaged in “international projects” abroad. According to the Business Anti-Corruption Portal (BACP), Bahrain presents companies operating or planning to invest in the country with a moderate corruption risk. Businesses face a low corruption risk when dealing with the security apparatus in Bahrain.
It seems that the government intends to tackle the issue of corruption more vigorously. The European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR) acknowledges the progress made by the Bahraini government in the fight against corruption. However, ECDHR strongly condemns the repression of the opposition societies and of media outlets. We call upon the government of Bahrain to reintroduce the dismantled opposition political parties and to hold accountable the corrupt elites.