This Saturday, 200 representatives will vote on the future of The Gathering of National Unity (TGONU) or the more English friendly “National Unity Assembly” (NUA). They will listen to three presentations discussing how the movement will register themselves as a legitimate organisation under Bahraini law. The options on the table are:
- A charity/social society
- Political coalition between five societies (Al-Minbar Al-Islami, Al-Asalah, Al-Adala (Justice), Al-Shura Society and Al-Wasat Al-Arabi Al-Islami)
- New political society
Anatomy of TGONU
Before I go ahead and explain each of the options and my thoughts on them, we have to understand the make up of the current TGONU:
- Members and supporters of the five political societies
- Sunni Islamic social societies/charities
- Religious minorities (Jews, Christians, Buhra)
- Politically unactive Bahrainis (Average Mos and Fatimas) and military personnel
- Loyalist Shias
The most notable groups in TGONU are the religious minorities who traditionally were not politically represented on a social level despite having representation at Shura Council level. The predominately Sunni politically inactive groups are the largest and most vital group within TGONU. In addition to being the largest group, they are also the most colourful and varied group as it consists of military personnel, liberals, conservatives, Islamist hardliners, Al-Khalifa loyalists, moderates and technocrats from all walks of life. This group also represents a relatively young demographic 21-40 year olds.
As for the political societies in TGONU, these are their political stances in a nutshell:
- Al-Minbar Al-Islami: Muslim Brotherhood
- Al-Asala: Salafist party
- Al-Adala: Liberal with ties to Islamist movements
- Al-Shura Society: Islamic society with representations of different Sunni schools of thought
- Al-Wasat Al-Arabi Al-Islami: Arab Nationalist movement with Islamic influences
- Social Society/Charity
- Gathers all elements of TGONU under one umbrella lawfully i.e. military personnel cannot join political societies under Bahraini law.
- TGONU will push for social reforms as pressure group and express their demands to already established political societies represented in parliament.Cons:
- Has no direct political influence and cannot hold any political activities under Bahraini law.
- Possibility to be reduced to mere charity work without any true social influence in the Bahraini society.Supporters: Mainly members of Al-Asala Society (Salafis)
- Political Coalition
- Similar to current layout gaining a shared vision and goal between political societies.
- As these societies are already registered under Bahraini law, there is no need to gain registration to enter the National Dialogue in July.Cons
- Sunni society coalitions have failed in the past most notably Al-Asala and Al-Minbar Al-Islami’s fallout prior the 2010 elections.
- Politically inactive Bahrainis will be without representation as many do not trust Al-Asala and Al-Minbar Al-Islami after their poor showing in parliament from 2002-2010.Supporters: Mainly Al-Minbar Al-Islami and Al-Eslah Charity members.
- Political Society
- TGONU becomes a registered society to represent previously unrepresented groups and brings in the expertise of the other five societies in addition to new younger members and ideas.
- Becomes a truly legitimate force in the Bahraini political sphere as many criticisms from opposition supporters saying that TGONU are an unlawful group and being.
- Despite already receiving legitimacy from Bahrain’s leadership and guaranteed a say in the National Dialogue, registering as a political society shows good faith in Bahrain’s law and order and TGONU belief in lawful and peaceful political activity.Cons
- Dissolvement of several political societies or the weakening of other societies as leadership figures will need to hand in their resignations to officially join the newly established society.
- Losing the military personnel base as they are not allowed to join any political activity (with exception to voting in general elections).
- Being tied down within Bahrain’s Political Societies Law which at this moment of time is quite rigid and constraining.
Supporters: Mainly Al-Adala, Al-Shura and many politically inactive groups.
I personally don’t trust the big two Islamist groups Al-Minbar Al-Islami and Al-Asala as they approach political work with a “charity work” mentality – “Feed the hunger and give shelter to the poor” with a great neglect to Bahrainis’ other rights. Al-Minbar Al-Islami also has carried a pretty sectarian and elitist agenda which I find very damaging and I fear that under a political coalition, they will try to bully their way back in representing the Sunni masses.
The recent crisis has truly opened the eyes of many young Bahrainis and sparked the urge to become more politically active and a hunger to learn and understand their rights and the laws of Bahrain, where once upon a time those things were the worries of the government not the average Mo and Fatima.
I personally will accept whatever the 200 choose (Alayam newspaper believes 70% will choose to turn into a political society) and I hope that they will help balance the new political power triangle of Sunni+others and Shia+”liberal” and “democratic” oppostions with the government and the Al-Khalifa royal family and have a fruitful dialogue in July.