Letter: Open government in Bahrain

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The Independent Online
From Mr Hugh Tunnell

Sir: Robert Fisk's series of articles on Bahrain are so unbalanced that the casual reader might suppose the country to be in a state of insurrection. This is far from being the case.

Bahrain, a good friend of the West, has a history of tolerance, education and cosmopolitanism. It is acknowledged to be a regional leader in such areas as women's emancipation, education and care of the disabled. To describe the Bahraini government, as Mr Fisk does, as the most repressive in the Gulf ignores the facts of geography and history.

Any visitor to Bahrain, not to mention the 7,500-strong British community there, will readily testify that this is no police state. And to devote an article ("Qatar's freedoms put Bahrain on the spot", 15 February) to Qatari attitudes to Bahrain, while failing to mention the territorial dispute between the two countries, is disingenuous, to say the least.

Every country has its problems. In Bahrain, these include unemployment, which the government is tackling vigorously, and a shortage of funds to prime employment-producing projects. Oil wealth is not what it was. As to greater popular representation, the government has made it clear that gradual evolution in this direction is on the cards but not in response to the use or threat of force.

Mr Fisk would acknowledge that, for at least some of his interlocutors, the aim is an Islamic state. I submit that such an outcome, however unlikely, would be inimical to the interests of the vast majority of Bahrainis.

The whole question of popular representation in a Gulf Arab society is very complex .Meanwhile, Sheikh Isa is the most accessible of rulers, with an open Majlis for the citizens twice a week.

Yours faithfully,

Hugh Tunnell

London, SW6

The writer was British Ambassador to Bahrain, 1992-1995.