Glances from the councils history
Bahrain flourishes with a civilization that has deep roots in history long before Christ and Arabian pre-Islamic ages, as well as during the Islamic era. These civilization characteristics are renowned among the Gulf States, and they have not come to a halt but have continued up until the present time, despite the dominance of the traditional tribal system, that have been derived from the predominant system in the Arabian Peninsula.
Over the ages, contacts with other civilized nations in the region and elsewhere granted Bahrain an openness on the world that was derived from the nature of its location, as a societal trading island, and the readiness of its people and rulers to interact and adapt to new incoming cultures. This is clearly displayed in all aspects of its urban, cultural and intellectual activities in modern history. Although this strategic trading location provided Bahrain with an advantage in its cultural developments, it carried with it continuous dangers resulting from the conflicts amongst competing countries wanting to control Bahrain which lead, subsequently, to the British colonization of the country and its annexation under British protection.
Historically, the international rivalry over Bahrain was demonstrated by a chain of consecutive occupations of the country by powerful nations at different times in history. Bahrain was subjected to Portuguese rule from 1507 until 1622. It then surrendered to the rule of Arab clans through sporadic periods of Persian protection which took place between 1622 and 1783. The Autoub arrived in Bahrain in 1783, the year that witnessed the beginning of Bahrain's modern political history and the start of the reign of the Al Khalifa family.
They inhabited the Zubarrah Peninsula which is off the coast of Qatar. This is where they formed their first political society. After establishing their rule, they began to widen their interest towards the island of Bahrain. Shaikh Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Khalifa, (known as Ahmed Al-Fatih) following many attempts, had the opportunity on July 18, 1783 to expel the Persians from the island. From that date, the Al Khalifa family effectively became the rulers of Bahrain, thereby ending the Persian predominance of the Islands.
The Al Khalifa's immediately assumed their rule over Bahrain and maintained the protection of their governance against various covetous powers. This was until Britain maintained what was termed then as the "current-state-of-affairs" in the Gulf region, which remained until the period of independence, during which time Britain entered into friendly and protective treaties with Bahrain.
The British protection of Bahrain was officially maintained throughout the period of 1880 to 1971. During this time, there were also other treaties and commitments concluded between the rulers of Bahrain and representatives of the British government in the Gulf. This took place between 1820 and 1968. The Islamic principle of the Shura system was practically adopted throughout different previous periods of rules in the country but that system was simple and unsophisticated. Circumstances, during those reigns, promoted the need for consultations on matters of interest to society and the country in order to treat and resolve. The ruling councils of Bahrain were open to meeting individual in an attempt to contribute and solve their problems or consult with them on matters of importance relating to the country. This tradition has been maintained and is still presently taking place.
The founder of Bahrain, Shaikh Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Khalifa (Ahmed Al-Fateh), adhered to the order of God on consulting with people. There was no important order implemented by him without first consulting with clerics and ministers. He adopted the Shura as a principle in the governance of the country. The rulers who succeeded him in Bahrain followed his course and policy, which he selected for himself and his followers.
The period of 1880 to 1971 was considered to be a crucial time in history for Bahrain; and its fingerprints and positive effects were tangible on this history. Despite the negative aspects of the British presence in Bahrain, it carried with it positive signs of modernization resulting in the establishment of organized administrative institutions which contributed to the administration of the country's affairs in cooperation with the rulers. In addition, it employed the most modern practices and procedures, which assisted in developing an awareness and disciplines of the people before independence, and it paved the way for Bahrain to benefit from these elements after independence.
The beginning of modernization started during the reign of Shaikh Isa bin Ali Al Khalifa (1869 to 1932). Through the introduction of administrative systems and the establishment of Municipal Councils (1919 to1920), Bahrain was entrusted with many administrative affairs and duties. The Municipal Council consisted of eight members who were appointed by the government. This number subsequently increased to 24 members who were partially elected by citizens. The main event that could be regarded as a historical shift in the reign of Shaikh Isa bin Ali was the demands in 1919 of prominent members of the Bahraini society for establishing a council of heads of departments to provide the necessary measures for maintaining their rights. Shaikh Isa agreed to their demands and pledged, in writing, to adopt the Shura system in accordance with the Islamic Law.
Shaikh Isa obtained their commitments to hear, obey and adhere to his orders as long as he observed his consultations with the council. That notion was not received well by the British political Attache to Bahrain who aborted that notion immediately upon the establishment of the council, which lead to an outrage among Bahraini statesmen who convened a national conference in 1920.
The main decisions of that conference were as follows:
All rulings were to be based on Islamic legislations and on consensual laws that conform to the Islamic Law.
Electing a Consultative Council (Shura) from the entire population of the nation to look into the interests of the country.
Forming a tribunal for pearl-diving litigations.
Britain did not accept this course of action and the experience failed. Nevertheless, the Shura remained to be in practice and councils continued to convene between the ruler and the people as a traditional tribal way of administrating affairs and a mark of the Bahraini society during that period. In addition, the adoption of the Mayor system which is based on the selection of the tribe and a person to act as a link between the people and the government was established so that it could present thier demands and suggestions to the ruler for approval.
In 1919, the Manama Municipal Law was issued which dictated the right of the ruler to appoint the members of the Municipal Council. The first Municipal Council consisted of a Deputy-Chairman and eight Members. This remained until 1924 when amendments were made to this law by increasing the number of members to 20, with 10 being appointed by the government and the other 10 Members being elected by the people in a secret ballot. This was regarded as the first election in Bahrain.
This early beginning of elections in Bahrain assisted in the development of its popular awareness and a reasonable participation of the people in the administration of the country's affairs. It is worth noting that Bahraini women were allowed to participate in these elections by granting their votes freely to nominees of their constituencies. This therefore preceded other Arab women in practicing this right.
Additional Municipal Councils were formed in Muharraq, Hidd, Riffa and other towns. The progress achieved in the municipal system in these towns encouraged the government to extend the system to villages of Bahrain due to what was witnessed then of the readiness and strong desires of villagers to accept this form of government. Eight independent municipalities were established in villages.
When Shaikh Salman bin Hamad assumed the thrown (1942 to1961), he gathered a group around him of elite advisers including his uncles, and senior and trusted members of the royal family with whom he consulted almost on a daily basis. This convened council was a conclusive element in conducting the country's affairs and provided a domain for exchanging information, be it negative or positive.
Shaikh Salman continued to consult with others before indulging into any important steps that affected their affairs. He devoted much of his time to consultations to the extent that he felt, in his final years, that such practices and slow processes of majlis (gathering) discussions were obstacles in development. However, he continued to be punctual to consultative customs and carefully listened to every group and party.
The year 1956 was regarded as the beginning of the administrative reforms in the country. They were led by Shaikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, through the establishment of an Administrative Council which consists of department heads and government officials. The Administrative Council was formed by Declaration No. 19 in the year 1959. The Council was headed by his son, Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, the current Prime Minister. During Shaikh Salman's reign, many councils and institutions were formed (the Administrative Council, Health Council, Education Council, Department of Irrigation and the Advisory Organization for Labour Law). All were entrusted with providing consultations on important public issues.
Shaikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa was succeeded to the thrown by his eldest son Shaikh Isa bin Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa (1961 to1999). In his reign, the burden of protection started to subside, which allowed the government to develop its administrative structures and to enjoy greater powers. This was in contrast to the limited powers of the 1956 Administrative Council, which had a British advisor. A State's Council was established in 1970 with more executive and administrative powers in implementing the general policies of the state based on laws, decrees and regulations. The principles of delegation of authorities practiced by that Council was closer, in aspects, to the democratic system. On August 15, 1971, that Council was replaced by the Council of Ministers and a number of decrees were issued to replace the title from the Ruler of Bahrain to the Amir of Bahrain; the State Council to the Council of Ministers, the Chairman of the Council to Prime Minister, and regarded members of the State Council as Ministers.
The new Council of Ministers assumed all authority and powers that were invested in the former State Council. It is considered as the first Council of Ministers to be established in Bahrain. On December 16, 1971, the Amir, Shaikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa, declared, in a public address on Bahrain's National Day, the willingness of his government to assign the Council of Ministers to draft a modern Constitution for the country. The Amir then formed a Preparatory Committee of four Ministers to prepare the new constitution with the assistance of an advisor of the Kuwaiti National Assembly. The Committee, after a few months of meetings, completed the draft Cconstitution, which was presented to the Council of Ministers for deliverance to the Constituent Assembly.
Following the recommendations of the Committee, H.H. the Amir issued Decree Law No. 12 on June 20, 1972, ordering the establishment of the Constituent Assembly to prepare the State's Constitution, and Decree Law No. 13, also in 1972, on the regulations concerning the election of the Constituent Assembly. The Decree ordered that the general elections were to take place on Friday, December 1, 1972. On December 9, 1972, the Amir issued two Decrees; the first decree appointed eight persons as Members of the Constituent Assembly, in addition to the elected members. The second called upon the Constituent Assembly (consisting of 22 elected members, 8 appointed and 12 Ministers) to convene on December 16, 1972, which was National Day.
The Amir inaugurated the opening session with a royal speech, after which the Assembly convened to deliberate the draft Constitution presented by the Council of Ministers. The Constituent Assembly completed its task within the specified duration of six months and held its final session on June 2, 1973, to ratify the draft Constitution. The Council therefore convened 46 sessions, 9 of which were closed to members, for the purpose of discussing the internal regulation By-laws of the Council.
Bahrain followed the course of Kuwait in preparing a permanent Constitution for the country. This is attributed to the fact that the government of Bahrain sought the assistance and guidance of the Kuwaiti constitution and its advisors in drafting the Bahraini Constitution, including its attached Explanatory Memorandum. After completing the process of preparing the Constitution, the leadership continued to preserve the principle of public participation in the government, side by side with its leadership despite the difficult circumstances that Bahrain faced during the time that followed independence and the declaration of the State. In accordance with the Constitution and the realization of the political leadership for the necessity of forming a National Council to meet pressing public demands, the Amir, Shaikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa issued a Decree on July 11, 1973, stating the election regulations of the National Council.
The first Article of the Decree stated, "The National Council consists of 30 members, elected by people in a direct secret ballot, and Ministers are members of the Council as dictated by their posts". The election for the first National Council in Bahrain was held on Friday, December 7, 1973, with 114 candidates competing for 30 seats and 27,000 registered voters, as compared to 22,000 registered voters for the Constituent Assembly. This clearly reflected the magnitude of the participation of people in this election.
H.H. the Amir pronounced that December 10, 1973 was the date for the first ordinary session of the first legislative term. In accordance with Article 33 of the Constitution, the Prime Minister presented the Amir with the resignation of his government, and on the same day, December 12, 1973, the Amir issued an Amiri Order by which he ordered Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa to head the new Cabinet.
Sunday, December 16, 1973, was regarded as the first parliamentary experience in Bahrain by convening the National Council's first session. The Amir, Shaikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa, delivered an Amiri Speech inaugurating the National Council, followed by words of thanks delivered by the Prime Minister then the procedural formalities of oath, taken by all Members.
On Sunday December 23, 1973, the Council convened for its first working session, but not long before it was clearly obvious that the Council was facing periods of tension and immaterial discussions. This situation remained until June 30, 1974, which brought an end to the first legislative round. On Wednesday, October 22, 1974, the National Council convened its second round of the first legislative term. The mounting differences continued between the government and Members of the Council, which threatened the political stability and the administration of the country's affairs, and subsequently led the Prime Minister to submit the resignation of his Cabinet to the Amir on August 24, 1975.
The resignation letter submitted by the Prime Minister stated: "The Cabinet assumed the task of accomplishing the necessary legislations of the Independence stage... but it did not find the National Council as a helpful partner on this goal, despite our sincere efforts during the past two years. Our deliberations were faced with thoughts strange to our values and tradition and focused on incitement, agitation, division and hatred. Some Members persisted in placing obstacles and creating problems inside the Council, at a time when the country's government and people were in a desperate need for unity and solidarity. It would have been more appropriate if efforts were exerted in developing the administrative system and stimulating the stagnant economy. The relationship reached a stage where Members of the Council stood on a continuous basis against any government proposals believing that democracy is basically disagreeing with the government."
During this period, Bahrain went through extremely difficult times. The Amir issued, on the day the Cabinet resigned, two simultaneous Orders which endorsed the resignation of the Cabinet and ordered the Prime Minister to form a new Cabinet. H.H. the Amir issued on August 26, 1975, the Amiri Decree No. 13 for 1975 which dissolved the National Council. Obviously, it was a hard decision on all, including the leadership, the government and the people of Bahrain.
Despite the short parliamentary experience, which lasted only for two legislative rounds from the time it was inaugurated on December 16, 1973 until the end of 1975, it should not be regarded as an incidental matter or event in the country's course of building the modern state. Although people felt that there were no barriers between them and their political leadership, the government believed that expanding the public participation in decision-making and freedom of expression, as well as consultations on matters of interest to the country, were important issues in Bahrain's march towards democracy. For this purpose, the Amir on December 20, 1992, issued an Amiri Order No. 9 for the year 1992, establishing the Shura Council (Consultative), that consisted of 30 Members selected on their social standing, expertise and influence. The Council term would be for four years and renewable for further periods.
On December 20, 1992, the Amiri Order No. 10 for the year 1992, was issued on the Internal Regulation By-laws of the Shura Council. Followed by the Amiri Order No. 14 (1992), calling for the Shura Council to convene on January 16, 1993, and to recess on May 31, 1993. The Council effectively started its first session on Saturday, January 16, 1993, with an official inaugural Amiri Speech delivered by H.H. the Amir, Shaikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa.
In a further step to develop the Shura system in Bahrain, the Amir issued Order No. 12 for the year 1996, ordering the expansion of the Council to 40 members instead of 30. This guaranteed a wider representation of society in the Council and provided a higher participation of skilled, qualified and specialized members which is essential in meeting the national development requirements. The Amiri Order No. 12 of 1996 (Articles 2 & 3), granted Members of the Council higher powers than the previous Council.