This is a report from Bahrain of a meeting between a U.S. Congressional delegation and democracy activists in Bahrain.
*Wefaq meeting with the congressional delegation*
On 17/10/11, 5 Wefaqi members, A.Jalil Khalil, Jassim Hussain, Jameel AlJamri, Matar Matar and Amal Habib met with the congressional delegation visiting Bahrain. The delegation included U.S. Congressman Eni Faleomavaega(D-AS), Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), and Congressman Donald Payne (D-NJ). We explained thoroughly the situation in Bahrain and introduced Manama document.
The response of the delegation did not meet our expectation as it did not show enough understanding for the legitimate demands for reform . They started their speech by saying that Bahrain is an important strategic ally to US which is running short of friends in the region, and that the fifth fleet presence in Bahrain is vital to US which might not have any other alternative in the region. Then they were very critical of Wefaq boycotting the elections and being out of the system now, and without asking or listening to the reasons why Wefaq decided to boycott they asked Wefaq to find a way to cooperate with the new MPs who are, as they said, mixed Shia and Sunni and are neutral, to find ways to change within the system.
Instead of talking about reconciliation and dialogue between the opposition and the government which was mentioned by President Obama in his last speech, they showed full support to Bahrain government steps. They stressed on side issues and found it excuses for not supporting democracy in Bahrain.
They criticized Wefaq for not supporting the family law and described it as opposing women rights in Bahrain. If we agree that Wefaq decision was wrong at that time, it cannot be an excuse why Bahrain shouldn’t move to democracy. The current system not only violates women rights, but human rights in large. There are more than 16 women currently in jail for political reasons. Women got tortured in Bahrain prisons, sexually harassed, sacked from their jobs for political reasons. A lot of children saw their mothers being arrested by armed masked men in the middle of the night. In the same night of our meeting, Jalila Alsalman, deputy of teachers association and a mother of 3, re-arrested at 3 am from her home in front of her children. Bahiya Alaradi, is a female that was shot dead while driving her car during the uprising. We see no logic behind any excuse why Bahrain shouldn’t move towards democracy. It is democracy that can protect the human and women rights in Bahrain through the democratic tools.
They concluded their speech by saying that they are impressed by Bahrain’s king personality and find him the nicest king. They are very impressed that he is the first king to assign an independent commission to investigate the violations in his country, and they are waiting to see its results and recommendations. While we find it a very positive step, the alternative was a UN mediated investigation. We are awaiting to see the results as well and to see how its recommendations are going to be followed.
Our message has been consistent and clear. We are not aiming to change the system, we demand reform within the system. The ruling family presence is vital to the stability of the country, and we would like our ties and relations with US to remain strong, we would like the fifth fleet to stay.
We don’t want a religious system, we demand a democratic system which we want to achieve through a genuine dialogue with the government. We would like to work hand in hand with the government to draw the road map and discuss the details of how to achieve this goal.
Although we are quite disappointed by this meeting, we are still hopeful that US take the right side of history and win the hearts of Bahraini people by supporting their legitimate and basic demands. It is an opportunity to US to give an example of success in Bahrain of how progressive and developed their strategic allies can be, and to correct the evolving image of US having double standards in dealing with the Arab spring and supporting dictatorship in the region.
Foreign Affairs Committee