Toothless Parliament, Powerless Courts, and Omnipotent Incumbents? The Case of Bahrain
Title: Toothless Parliament, Powerless Courts, and Omnipotent Incumbents? The Case of Bahrain
Author: SCHMIDMAYR, Michael
Series/Report no.: EUI RSCAS; 2009/51; Mediterranean Programme Series
Parliaments and courts, while not necessarily deeply rooted in political tradition, have their place in the Arab part of the Mediterranean and adjacent countries. Still, parliamentarianism and increased prominence of concepts such as the rule of law have not turned these countries into democracies at all. Rather, the Arab world has remained largely authoritarian, in spite of increased space for popular participation. The present study endeavours to look into the practice of the law—both in its elaboration and its application—by using the example of Bahrain. After a short but aborted parliamentary experience between 1973 and 1975, Bahrain reintroduced parliamentary practice in 2002. Yet institutional settings still provide the impression of a ‘blocked’ system. In the first place, then, it is rather striking to observe a very active opposition in Bahrain. This study holds that in spite of legal restrictions, there actually is quite some space for opposition activity within the system. This means calling into question the paradigm according to which parliaments and judicial systems in authoritarian regimes remain toothless and totally deprived of any influence. The facts show that the opposition has actually learned to play with the system’s limits. Still, there is reason to believe that the ‘real’ processes might also take place in more informal settings. Therefore, legislative and judiciary assembly rooms actually seem to be mere theatres, concealing privy dealings that are the true manifestation of government–opposition relations. In this sense parliaments and courtrooms can serve as places where pressure is built and the price for subsequent bargaining processes, driven up.
Subject: Authoritarianism; parliament; Bahrain; opposition; political participation
Type of Access: openAccess