Praising human rights in Bahrain

Dr Omar Hassan (right) on a visit to Bahrain. Photo: BNA

The grandly-titled Gulf Centre for Strategic Studies is a small limited company registered in the UK, with two directors: Dr Omar Said al-Hassan and Mrs Siham al-Hassan. It is sometimes described as a think tank.

Despite its small size and comparative obscurity, GCSS is highly regarded by officials in the repressive kingdom of Bahrain.

Last November, Dr Hassan was received in Manama by Bahrain's human rights minister and, according to a report by the government news agency, the minister praised GCSS's role in "responding to fallacies propagated by some foreign newspapers and agencies" which aimed to "defame the kingdom and its reputation in the area of human rights".

Dr Hassan, according to the report, responded by praising the human rights ministry's "effective role locally, in the Arab world and internationally by shedding light on the kingdom's human rights accomplishments".

Dr Hassan also exchanged mutual congratulations with the minister at a similar meeting in 2013, and with the head of Bahrain's Information Affairs Authority in 2012.

A search of Amazon's website reveals that Dr Hassan is the author of some 20 books about Bahrain, though most of them are listed as "unavailable". They include such titles as:

  • Bahrain's Decade of Development: Democracy, Human Rights & Social Change

  • Foreign Media and Human Rights Attacks on the Kingdom of Bahrain

  • Human Rights in Hamad's Era: Historic Achievements

  • The Humanitarian Principles of the Bahraini Leadership

  • Ten Years Under King Hamad: Rights, Freedoms and Development in Bahrain

  • Prince Khalifa Bin Salman Al Khalifa: A Man and a State-builder

  • Human Rights, Human Development and Political Reform in Bahrain

In November 2012, just a few weeks after his meeting with the head of Bahrain's Information Affairs Authority, Dr Hassan submitted written evidence on British-Bahraini relations to the British parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee in which he asserted (among many other things) that "since King Hamad came to power in 1999 Bahrain has undergone a period of profound democratic development".

In the light of GCSS's interest in human rights, it's probably also worth recalling a letter written by Bassam Alloni on behalf of GCSS which appeared in the Independent newspaper back in 1995. Alloni's letter was responding to the paper's criticisms of Saudi Arabia over the large numbers of women being beheaded in the kingdom. Here is the text of the letter:

From Mr Bassam Alloni

Sir: The editorial in today's issue, "The Gulf widens over executions" (9 October), and your reporting of the controversy surrounding Filipino maids ("The maid on death row," 9 October) will do little to change the situation in the Gulf to which they refer. Islamic law and the judgments made under Islamic law cannot be compared with entirely culturally different Western values. By Western standards the executions in Saudi Arabia this year may seem shocking, but it must be realised that Saudi is an Islamic country, and as such cannot radically change its judicial system.

The workings and practices of courts in Islamic countries are so little understood in the West that there is often total incomprehension at the way decisions are reached and cases conducted, and then a complete over- reaction when the judgments of the courts are carried out. Muslims have a deep respect for their judicial system and a desire to live in an Islamic society, whether this meets with approval in the West or not. It is also worth noting that crime levels in Saudi Arabia are far lower than in the West.

It seems to be forgotten in the hysterical publicity surrounding the isolated cases reported that there are well over 1.5 million Filipino migrant workers in the Gulf. They will contribute much of the $6bn sent home annually by the 4.2 million Filipino workers worldwide. The impact of the workers in the Gulf is acknowledged by the Filipino Minister of Labour, who visits the region every year to sign further employment treaties. His government must be satisfied with conditions or it would not encourage so many of its citizens to work in the Gulf.

Of course there are exceptional cases, but they constitute a tiny minority. Such charges, levelled against the Gulf, constituting a sweeping and extremely unfair generalisation, will not help the Filipinos, and will not change Islamic law or the desire of Muslim people to live under their chosen jurisdiction.

Yours faithfully,

Bassam Alloni
Gulf Centre for Strategic Studies
London, EC1  

Posted by Brian Whitaker
Monday, 8 June 2015