May 29, 2008 3:38 PM   Subscribe

Houda Nonoo heads up Bahrain's Human Rights Watch and now she's been appointed Bahrain's (and anywhere else in the Arab world) first Jewish ambassador.
posted by gman (7 comments total)
I wonder how many female ambassadors they have, too.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:15 PM on May 29, 2008

Bahrain is a very interesting place.

Bahraini liberals have responded to the growing power of religious parties by organizing themselves to campaign through civil society in order to defend basic personal freedoms from being legislated away. In November 2005, al Muntada, a grouping of liberal academics, launched "We Have A Right", a campaign to explain to the public why personal freedoms matter and why they need to be defended.

Women's political rights in Bahrain saw an important step forward when women were granted the right to vote and stand in national elections for the first time in the 2002 election. However, no women were elected to office in that year’s polls and instead Shī'a and Sunnī Islamists dominated the election, collectively winning a majority of seats. In response to the failure of women candidates, six were appointed to the Shura Council, which also includes representatives of the Kingdom’s indigenous Jewish and Christian communities. The country's first female cabinet minister was appointed in 2004 when Dr. Nada Haffadh became Minister of Health, while the quasi-governmental women's group, the Supreme Council for Women, trained female candidates to take part in the 2006 general election. When Bahrain was elected to head the United Nations General Assembly in 2006 it appointed lawyer and women's rights activist Haya bint Rashid Al Khalifa as the President of the United Nations General Assembly [50], only the third woman in history to head the world body[51].

It is too early to say whether political liberalisation under King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa has augmented or undermined Bahrain's traditional pluralism. The new political space for Shia and Sunni Islamists has meant that they are now in a much stronger position to pursue programmes that often seek to directly confront this pluralism, yet at the same time political reforms have encouraged an opposite trend for society to become more self critical with a greater willingness in general to examine previous social taboos. It is now common to find public seminars on once unheard of subjects such as marital problems and sex[72] and child abuse[73]. Another facet of the new openness is Bahrain's status as the most prolific book publisher in the Arab world, with 132 books published in 2005 for a population of 700,000. In comparison, the average for the entire Arab world is seven books published per one million people in 2005, according to the United Nations Development Programme. [74]

Considering what they have to work with in terms of the proportion of religious nutbars in their population, they seem to be doing very well. The king seems, on a cursory examination, to be that rare kind of dictator who takes pride in his people's intellectual and social achievements, rather than just their achievements in enriching himself, entrenching his power, and acquiring armaments. According to the Wikipedia biography he was educated in the UK and attended military colleges in the UK and USA, which would probably explain a lot of how he operates.

Although I'm not much of a student of Middle Eastern history and hadn't heard of the guy before today, he immediately reminds me of the Shah of Iran, and apparently the same sort of people tried for a coup in Bahrain and failed. Let's hope the king can continue to weaken the Islamists.

According to the CIA's factbook, Bahrain currently has a problem with slavery . Further info. One thing that immediately struck me from that link was the mention of three separate human rights officials: Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR) president Mohammed Al Maskati, Migrant Workers Protection Society (MWPS) action committee head Marietta Dias, and Social Development Minister Dr Fatima Al Balooshi, all of whom appear (at least by the Google index) to be busy, busy people. On the negative side they have just recently expelled all Bangladeshis.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:57 PM on May 29, 2008

Say what you will, it is a clever political move.Does That cute rich country recognize Israel's right to exist?
posted by Postroad at 5:00 PM on May 29, 2008

Does That cute rich country recognize Israel's right to exist?

they do not. remember this?
posted by gman at 5:05 PM on May 29, 2008

The king seems, on a cursory examination, to be that rare kind of dictator

Well, he's a king, not a dictator. It's a constitutional monarchy with a parliament that has an elected lower house. Compared with Saudi Arabia, that's almost a liberal democracy. Freedom House deems the country "Partly Free" with a score of 5 on both political rights and civil liberties scales (1 is best, 7 worst).

Let's hope the king can continue to weaken the Islamists.

There is a strain of Islamism (sharia law as the law of the land) in Bahrain, but that is common in heavily Sunni states. There has been minimal terrorism. The difficulty is that more open political societies grant greater voice to Islamist factions. Liberalization, then, goes hand in hand with strengthening the position of inherently illiberal ideas.

Postroad, according to Haaretz,

Bahrain has no diplomatic relations with Israel. In 1969, an official Israeli delegation visited Bahrain but protesters burned the Israeli flag in a large street demonstration at the time. In 2006, after Bahrain signed the Free Trade Agreement with the U.S., Manama closed down a government office that endorsed a boycott of Israeli goods.

Media reports have speculated that with appointments such as Nono's, Bahrain may be seeking to pave the way to forming ties with Israel

Bahrain, of course, is a key US ally in the Gulf and host to the US Navy's Fifth Fleet.
posted by dhartung at 5:21 PM on May 29, 2008

This is kind of cool.
posted by caddis at 8:57 PM on May 29, 2008

The King is interesting. On Dec. 25, 2001 (not too long after 9/11) he went to a Christian church in Bahrain and signed the guest book. Pictures of this were in all the papers--and it's hard to believe they would have been there if he didn't want them there. Struck me as a thoughtful way to send a message.
posted by ambient2 at 12:26 AM on May 30, 2008

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