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Bahrain: a sham vote

Bahrain
Bahraini activist Ali Mushaima has described upcoming elections in Bahrain as a ‘big joke’. Photo: Penelope Barritt/Alamy
Bahraini activist Ali Mushaima has described upcoming elections as a ‘big joke’. Photo: Penelope Barritt/Alamy

The Gulf kingdom of Bahrain is going to the polls on 24 November – but don’t expect much to change. King Hamad has banned the main opposition parties since the Arab Spring pro-democracy uprising in 2011 and shut down the country’s only independent newspaper last year.

Whatever happens, the King’s uncle will remain prime minister – a post he has held since 1971 – making him the longest serving PM anywhere in the world. The election only extends to the powerless lower house of Bahrain’s parliament; membership of the upper house is decided by the King.

Hassan certainly won’t be allowed to run in this election, which his son Ali describes as a ‘big joke’ and a ‘fake’.

Bahrain’s largest leftwing party, the Wa’ad (formerly the Popular Front for the Liberation of Bahrain), was dissolved in 2017, a few years after its headquarters were torched. Al-Wefaq, a popular party among the Shi’a Muslim majority, was disbanded and some of its MPs tortured.

A sham democracy

Protest at this sham democracy has spilled onto the streets of London, where exiled activist Ali Mushaima launched a hunger strike outside the Bahraini Embassy on 1 August. His father, Hassan, is the secretary general of the Haq Movement for Liberty and Democracy – a non-sectarian party that tries to unite Bahrain’s Shi’a, Sunni and secular communities.

Hassan was sentenced to life in prison for playing a leading, nonviolent role in the Arab Spring. The now 70-year-old is recovering from cancer and has struggled to access healthcare in jail.

His son went without food for a remarkable 46 days, shedding 16 kilos – a fifth of his body weight. His commitment rattled the Bahraini authorities, who began to treat Ali’s father for some of his ailments – albeit temporarily. Hassan certainly won’t be allowed to run in this election, which his son Ali describes as a ‘big joke’ and a ‘fake’.

New Internationalist issue 516 magazine cover This article is from the October 2018 issue of New Internationalist.
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