On Monday 20 April 2015, the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with the Arab Peninsula (DARP) hosted the third EP-Bahrain interparliamentary meeting.
After the introductory remarks by Ms Aillot-Marie, Chair of the European Parliament’s DARP formation, the three hour long discussion centred around three key issues, namely an exchange of views on EU-Bahrain relations (provided by Mr John O’Rourke, Head of Division of the Arabian Peninsula, Iran and Iraq division of the EEAS), an exchange of views on the latest developments in Bahrain (in the presence of Mr Mahdi Al-Haddad, Chair of the Human Rights Committee of the Consultative Council of the Kingdom of Bahrain, and of Mr Al Aradi, First Deputy speaker of the Council of Representatives of the Kingdom of Bahrain) and finally an exchange of views on the security situation and other challenges in the Middle East (provided by Mr Ali Buhassan, Vice-Chair of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and National Security of the Council of Representatives of the Kingdom of Bahrain, and Mr John O’Rourke).
Overall, the discussions were mainly directed by members of the Bahraini parliament so were clearly praising the reforms conducted by the Bahraini government in the fields of energy, environment, trade, Rule of Law, judicial reform and Human Rights. The need to deepen cooperation and dialogue between the EU, the European Parliament and Bahrain was reiterated several times by all speakers.
Mr O’Rourke, the representative of the EEAS, branded the relations between the EU and Bahrain as “excellent”. Further, he welcomed the openness of Bahrain to establish an informal Human Rights Working Group and mentioned that Mr Lambrinidis, the EU’s special representative for Human Rights, is ready to engage further with Bahrain on the issue. Mr O’Rourke did however acknowledge that the EEAS is worried that there are moves led by Bahraini authorities targeting political activists in Bahrain, namely due to the arrest of Sheik Al Salman and Nabeel Rajab. MEP Angelika Niebler also raised concerns about the arrest of Nabeel Rajab and asked the Bahraini parliamentarians to explain the issue, to which Mr Fakhro (First Vice-President of the Shura Counil) replied that “Bahrain has an open justice system, but if you conduct a crime you should be forced to be punished, if you are innocent you will go home”.
Bahraini parliamentarians also heavily criticised opposition leaders and parties in Bahrain, namely Al-Wefaq, holding that they could not expect an demand legislative change when they had previously boycotted the elections and thereby decided not to be part of the parliamentary process in Bahrain. Also, Bahraini participants claimed that due to the young age of Bahrain’s democratic system, it is normal that it still has flaws in it, and it cannot be compared to western democracies yet. Further, in their opinion, Bahrain is far more advanced in democratic and human rights issues than most of their GCC neighbours.
Again, we see Bahrain praising its own democratic advancements and stating that they are fully engaged with the Rule of Law and the protection of human rights. Bahrain has been continuously making such grand statements since the uprisings of 2011 but adversely, the human rights situation has significantly worsened in the past months.
The negative role Iran plays in the region and the threat it poses to Bahrain and other GCC countries was greatly upheld by the Bahraini panellists, notably during the discussion on the security situation in Bahrain.
Overall, the meeting was heavily led by Bahraini representatives of the Shura Council, attached to the government, with barely any critical issue such as torture or human rights discussed.