Bahrain Elections: Islamists Win
Now that the second round in the Bahrain elections has been completed, it appears that the Sunni Islamists have a bare majority in the lower house of parliament. They have 22 of the 40 seats. Of the victors in the second round, only three are liberals (one Sunni and a Shiite). Seven are Salafi Sunnis, and seven belong to the Muslim Brotherhood’s National Islamic Forum. Another Sunni cleric won as an independent. Two Shiite Islamists won, though the Shiites (the country’s majority) were woefully underrepresented because they boycotted the elections. The other 20 seats were won by independents, but several of them were backed by the Islamists, so that apparently they contribute to the emergent Sunni fundamentalist majority.
All the women who ran were defeated.
Although some outside observers are touting the elections as a big breakthrough for democracy in the Arab world, I fear it is difficult for me to see it that way. The majority Shiite community boycotted the elections in protest against the fact that the upper chamber of parliament will be appointed, and will be able to over-rule the lower chamber.
So, in the end, we once again have been given a Duma by an Arab ruler. Worse, this ineffectual debating society is wholly unrepresentative. Most Bahrainis are Shiites, and most are more worried about social issues than about some Islamist utopia. Having the lower house dominated by Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood in Bahrain is like having the Southern Baptists dominate the US Congress. (Most Americans are not Baptists, much less Southern Baptists, though it is a significant denomination).
Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood are the spectrum of the Gulf population from which al-Qaeda sympathizers have come, though by no means all Islamists are violent. To have them be voted the majority in a parliament that presides over the Gulf naval base for the US fleet is a little worrisome. Of course, it may not matter much since they can be over-ruled by the appointed upper house.
But then why is all this a good thing, exactly?