On Saturday, December 17th, HDI Washington, D.C. with a Congressional Staff Delegation to Manama, Bahrain (see participant list). The trip was the second program under the recently signed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Kingdom of Bahrain and the United States within the Mutual Education and Cultural Exchange Act of 1961.
The official program began on the morning of December 19th when the delegation was briefed on the importance of a continued strong U.S./Bahrain relationship by U.S. Ambassador to Bahrain Thomas Krajeski. Ambassador Krajeski explained the history of U.S. engagement in Bahrain starting with the arrival in 1903 of doctors and missionaries of the American Missionary Hospital. The ambassador discussed the U.S. commitment to human rights and reform and how the embassy was engaging all levels of the Bahrain government and society on these issues. Ambassador Krajeski also stressed the need for all parties in the current disputes, both the government and the opposition, to make efforts to avoid violence and to continue the reform process. The delegation then traveled to the Headquarters of the U.S. Fifth Fleet based in Juffeir, Manama, Bahrain. Deputy Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, Rear Admiral Charles Gaouette detailed the activities of U.S. forces based in Bahrain and the Fleet’s crucial role in protecting U.S. interests and maintaining stability in the Arabian Gulf and the entire Middle East.
After leaving Juffeir, the delegation visited the Bahrain World Trade Center where Diyar Al Muharraq has its offices overlooking the city of Manama. Yousif Althawadi, Diyar’s Chief Operating Officer, gave a presentation on the master plan of Diyar’s enormous project. The project will be located on twelve man-made islands off the coast of Muharraq. This new city will accommodate more than 100,000 people and will have housing accessible to all economic strata. As such, Diyar Al Muharraq is unique in the Gulf. Diyar’s project is a prime example of the rapid economic and social modernization of the kingdom of Bahrain. The delegation’s first day ended with a superb dinner at one of the only restaurants in Manama which serves traditional Bahrani cuisine, Leewan Al Khor Restaurant. Yousif Althwadi joined the group and led a discussion on economic and commercial developments in the Kingdom.
Tuesday, December 20th began with a meeting with the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Human Rights, Mr. Said Alfaihani. The Undersecretary assured the delegation that his Ministry was taking very seriously reports of human rights abuses detailed in the report of the Bahrain Independent Commission Inquiry which was recently released. He assured the delegation that Bahrain’s commitment to human rights is solid. Visiting staffers next met with a delegation of parliamentarians of the Shura Council (http://www.shura.bh/En/Pages/default.aspx) which is the upper house of the National Assembly, the main legislative body in Bahrain. The Bahrani parliamentarians expressed their desire for continued exchanges with the U.S. Congress and its desire for a better understanding in the United States of the current situation in the Kingdom. On the final day of the delegation’s stay in Bahrain, the participants met with both the Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs, H.E. Shaikh Khalid bin Ali Al Khalifa and the Undersecretary for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Abdulla Abdulatif Abdulla. The Minister presented Bahrain’s case as the most religiously tolerant nation in the Middle East where Sunni, Shia, Jews, Christians, and Hindus all have freedom of worship and assembly. This theme was carried through the meeting with Mr. Abdulla who pointed out to the delegation that Bahrain has a Jewish Ambassador in Washington, D.C., a Christian ambassador in London, and a Shia ambassador in Moscow, thus three of its most important ambassadorships are held by non-Sunni Muslims. The remainder of the day was devoted to in-depth meetings with Bahrani opposition leaders. The delegation met with the Shia political opposition, the Wefaq Party, during which party representatives discussed their desire to see reform in the political system and presented their views on the growth of Shia political power in Bahrain. The delegation also met with Dr. Abdullatif al Mahmoud, Chairman of the Gathering Of National Unity (TGONU) who presented his vision of greater political freedom and greater harmony between Sunni and Shia Bahrainis. Just before departing to the airport, the delegation had a final meeting with the leadership of General Federation of Workers Trade Unions. These representatives included both Sunnis and Shias. They asked for the delegations’ help in obtaining reinstatement for employees dismissed during the demonstrations.
Upon departure, many participants in this delegation expressed their view that they now have a better understanding of the actual situation in Bahrain and will be better prepared to help shape U.S. policy towards this key ally.