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Al Wefaq National Islamic Society (Arabic: جمعية الوفاق الوطني الإسلامية‎; transliterated: Jam'iyat al-Wifaq al-Watany al-Islamiyah) is Bahraini political society.

Al Wefaq's political orientation is Shia Islamist and is led by a cleric, Sheikh Ali Salman. The party is close to a Shia clerical body in Bahrain, the Islamic Scholars Council, which describes Al Wefaq as the 'Bloc of Believers'[2]. The party has 1,500 active members only[3].

In 2006's election it received the backing of the Islamic Scholars Council which helped it win all but one of the eighteen seats it contested.

Contents

Ideology

Some notable actions by Al Wefaq's leaders include pushing for more strict clothing guidelines at the University of Bahrain and other issues that it considers are against the teachings of Islam. Al Wefaq officials have called for a ban on the hanging of underwear on clothes lines and the display of lingerie mannequins. Al Wefaq councillors in Muharraq are also backing changes to the building regulations pushed by salafist party Asalah that would see new apartments fitted with one way windows to prevent outsiders seeing in. Other prominent Al Wefaq leaders include the head of Manama City Council, Murtada Bader, and Muharraq Councillor, Majeed Karimi, who came to prominence leading the party's campaign against lingerie mannequins in shop windows.

The party's policies on race came under scrutiny when its most senior elected leader, Manama Council head, Murthader Bader, called for the introduction of racial segregation in the city with the removal of South Asian nationals to other parts of the country. Racial segregation it was argued would best address tensions between locals and third world expatriates that saw race riots against immigrants in March 2004. In 2006, the call was reiterated by Manama councillor Sadiq Rahma who said that Asian labourers 'make the neighbourhood dirty'. The move has been criticised by Bahraini human rights groups as a 'a violation of basic human rights'.

As with any religious party in the world, Al Wefaq has had to address the relationship between spiritual and secular authority. On the contentious issue of reform of Bahrain’s family laws, Al Wefaq stated [4] in October 2005 that neither elected MPs nor the government has the authority to change the law because these institutions could 'misinterpret the word of God'. Instead, Al Wefaq insisted that the right to legislate on issues relating to women and families is solely that of religious leaders.

There have been some differences among western analysts as to the role played by ideology in Al Wefaq’s agenda: according to Dr Toby Jones of Swarthmore College, “Al Wefaq does not espouse a specific ideological vision”; while Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations has described Al Wefaq’s policies towards women as “outrageous” and has taken a critical view of its backing of plans to prevent residents being able to see out of their homes[5].

In a show of strength against a demonstration by women's rights activists, on 9 November 2005 Al Wefaq jointly organised with clerics a much larger counter demonstration against the Supreme Council for Women's (secular women organization) campaign for the introduction of a personal status law [6] .

MPs from the society (and the main opposition group) walked out of the Bahrain parliament on 8 May 2007 in protest after their request for a corruption investigation of State Minister of Cabinet Affairs Sheikh Ahmad bin Ateyatallah al-Khalifa, a member of the royal family, was denied. The forty- member lower chamber dismissed the motion as only nineteen lawmakers voted in favor of the investigation, two votes short of the majority needed [7].

History

Many of Al Wefaq's leaders returned to Bahrain under the reform process initiated by King Hamad when he inherited the throne and pardoned all the political activists of the 1990s political unrest. Its leadership backed King Hamad's National Charter for political reforms after the King assured the country's leading opposition clerics, through a signed statement, that only the elected chamber of parliament would have legislative power, as stipulated by the 1973 Constitution.

However the Al Wefaq leadership withdrew support when the ruling regime later announced the 2002 Constitution which mandated a chamber, appointed directly by the King, that would share legislative power with the elected chamber. Al Wefaq boycotted the 2002 parliamentary election, with three other political societies: the former Maoist National Democratic Action Society, the pro-Saddam Hussein Baath affiliated Nationalist Democratic Rally Society and Islamic Action Society. However Al-Wefaq did put forward candidates for the municipal elections that same year.

2006 elections

Al Wefaq announced that it would reverse its elections boycott and participate in the 2006 parliamentary election. The party hoped to win 12–14 seats[8] in the poll to take place in November 2006. The party has denied that it will not field any women candidates, dismissing the allegations as "pure speculation".[1] Along with Salafists, such as Ali Mattar, the party objects to the government's ban on candidates using religious sermons to promote their election campaigns. Al Wefaq parliamentary hopeful Jassem Al Khayat has commented: "The ban is senseless because the mosque, as an integral part of people's daily lives, has always been close to the political scene."[9]

Salafist MP Jassim Al Saeedi campaigned to get the party banned from standing in the poll on the grounds that the party did not recognize the 2002 Constitution. When his demands were rejected by the government, Mr Saeedi accused the Minister of Justice, Dr Mohammed Al Sitri, of being the party's 'front man' and acting as their 'lawyer'. Mr Saeedi told Dr Al Sitri during a session of parliament: "It seems they chose you to be there [sic] front man, because you are defending them well." [10]

The parliamentary election campaigns of Al Wefaq members put many of the current hot issues in the political scene to the surface. For example, Al Wefaq extensively used the Bandargate scandal in its campaigns and promised to question and punish those responsible for it. Moreover, Al Wefaq raised serious concerns over the election results and questioned many aspects of the election process. Indeed, accusations of fraud as well as the lack of transparency were raised shortly before the start of elections.

17 out of 18 candidates from Al Wefaq won the 2006 parliamentary elections. 62% of Bahraini voters voted for Al Wefaq and they hold 42.5% of the seats in the elected chamber of the parliament (out of a total of 40 seats) making them the strongest political party in Bahrain in terms of the number of supporters and representatives in the elected chamber of the parliament.

See also

References

  1. ^ [1]

Further reading

External links

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