Editor's Note: On September 13, 2011, guest commentator Rabah Ghezali wrote a piece entitled Bahrain at the heart of Middle East tensions on the Global Public Square. A Bahraini government spokesperson, Luma E. Bashmi, who works for the Department of International Media Affairs in the Information Affairs Authority of Bahrain, wrote the following letter in response.
Dear Mr. Ghezali:
We thank you for your very thoughtful article on the Kingdom of Bahrain and the challenges we are facing in light of the overall events of the so-called "Arab Spring". We especially appreciate that you noted the history that has contributed to the perception of events here since February 14th, vis-à-vis our past relations with Iran and concern about any outside interference in Bahrain's political affairs. Our main goal is stability both in Bahrain and throughout the Gulf region, so that we can move forward with the reforms that we began a decade ago.
I would just like to point out a few things that I think should be clarified in your article. While it is true that initial protests were peaceful in nature, a small contingent of extremists escalated the nature of demonstrations in the month between February 14th and the arrival of GCC Peninsula Shield in mid-March. Unfortunately, a number of increasingly violent clashes that took place between protestors and security forces - as well as between groups of citizens - that resulted in chaos and economic instability throughout Bahrain. It is in this context that the entrance of GCC forces into Bahrain must be understood, to help restore security by occupying key strategic installations.
It is also important to note that very early on after the onset of protests the government initiated a sincere call for dialogue, both by His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa and His Royal Highness Sheikh Salman bin Hamad, the Crown Prince. Unfortunately, these honest attempts to move the demands for reform out of the streets and into discussion were rejected by key members of the political opposition – even after the government met requests for pre-conditions to dialogue. Even though some citizens rejected the opportunity to engage in the dialogue aimed at resolving the crises, the process did go forward with more than 300 citizens representing all segments of society participating. The outcomes of that National Dialogue are well on their way to being implemented into legislation.
There is also a critical error in your article that needs to be corrected and that is regarding the unemployment rates. On February 21 (2011), Bloomberg reported that unemployment in Bahrain stood at 3.6%, one of the lowest in the region and much lower than in many nations across the globe. Unemployment remains at 3.7% to date, even in light of the economic impact of the political unrest. Bahrain has a number of state-sponsored training programs, as well as scholarship and financial aid programs for higher education, that are geared towards enabling full employment for all those who seek it.
Thank you again for your thoughtful report on the Kingdom of Bahrain.
Luma E. Bashmi
The views expressed in the letter are solely those of Luma E. Bashmi.