Bahrain’s bid to ban alcohol fails
Manama , May 5, 2010
The bid by Bahrain’s parliament’s to ban alcohol in Bahrain collapsed, with MPs rejecting amendments agreed by the Shura Council which would have banned only Muslims from buying and consuming alcohol.
The Shura bill stipulated that non-Muslims would still be able to buy and consume alcohol in 'designated areas'.
MPs had proposed a total ban and last night stuck to their guns, which means that the bill must go back to Shura for reconsideration.
But it is likely to run out of time since yesterday's session was the last of the current parliament's four-year term and next week will be the final meeting for the current Shura Council.
Each will be dissolved until a new parliament is elected and the new Shura Council is appointed, later in the year.
Parliament's foreign affairs, defence and national security committee deemed Shura's amendments a loophole that would allow the continuation of alcohol buying and consumption for Muslims.
It said that this was in view of the Constitution banning differentiating between people according to their faith, religion or belief.
Committee chairman Shaikh Adel Al Ma'awda said that the Supreme Islamic Council was clear in its letter to the Shura Council, which he claimed said that non-Muslims could consume alcohol within their own confines.
'This is clear and it means homes, considering that any outlets, even if private, are open to the public and don't differentiate between Muslims and non-Muslims,' he said.
'Allowing the government to determine places would mean that it would allow unlimited outlets to open based on the fact that it had the authority to say that it is for non-Muslims.'
Parliament voted in favour of a complete alcohol ban in March, but the bill had been changed by the Shura Council, who said it breached the rights of non-Muslims.
Shura's amended version stated that non-Muslims would only be allowed to consume alcohol in designated places approved by the government and in their homes.
Penalties for Muslims caught flouting the alcohol ban, after non-Muslims were excluded, include jail sentences of up to three years and fines of up to BD500, but punishments would be doubled for repeat offenders.
Shaikh Al Ma'awda said that many from all around the world were happy with Bahrain's proposed ban.
'People in forums, Facebook and Twitter were happy with Shura's courageous stand, but when we looked at it, we found that we were being cheated with a way out for the continuation of the sale and consumption of alcohol,' he said.
'It is very regretful to have a difference with Shura and I want MPs to insist on their decision for a complete ban.'
Parliament legislative and legal affairs committee chairman Khalil Al Marzooq said that the Shura Council was presented with a petition signed by thousands of people demanding a ban on alcohol.
'We were shocked the next day with Shura's decision, which is a breach of the Supreme Islamic Council letter in response to their question. It is clear that non-Muslims can't consume alcohol in public even in private outlets,' he said.
'Whether we have a Constitution or not, Islam should be the source of legislation and that's something that Shura seems to have missed out.'
Chamber backs move to protect economy
MPs had hoped for a complete alcohol ban, but the Shura Council amended their original bill so that non-Muslims would still be able to drink in designated places and in their homes.
Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) chairman Dr Essam Fakhro yesterday announced the organisation's backing for the council proposal.
'Despite all the reasons and excuses that surfaced during negotiations on the bill in parliament and Shura Council, the amendment stating non-Muslims be excluded from the ban is a good step forward,' he said in a statement.
'The chamber and private sector completely support the move because it clearly shows Bahrain's openness to other cultures and values,' he said.
Dr Fakhro also said the council's amendments to the bill were objective and took into consideration Bahrain's diverse culture.
'The amendments are objective and balanced because they take into consideration Bahrain's deep-rooted cultural identity,' he said.
'This adds to the requirements of openness in Bahrain and its impact on the country's economic and competitive status.'
Fakhro also dismissed earlier accusations that the chamber was against Bahrain's Islamic culture, saying its earlier opposition to a complete alcohol ban was based on the impact it would have on business.
Dr Fakhro also maintained that a blanket ban on alcohol would do serious damage to the economy.
'We have been following the ban since it was first proposed and we don't want the chamber's initial stance to be misunderstood.
'We are not against Islamic and Bahraini traditions, but our initial approach on the matter was based on businesses and investment climate.
'If that bill had gone through (completely banning alcohol) it would have harmed the economy.
'Bahrain has been for a long time, and still is, a symbol of openness and tolerance, while still upholding Islamic values.' – TradeArabia News Service