Constitutional Options for Bahrain

by Chibli Mallat & Jason Gelbort ~ Apr 12, 2011

   This Essay proposes a number of available compromises that refrain
from doing away with a monarchy altogether and focuses on the minimal
constitutional arrangements needed for a monarchy to be effectively
“constitutional,” with “constitutional” understood as democratic in the
pattern of countries like the United Kingdom, Sweden, Spain, and recently
Bhutan. In addition to the 2002 Constitution, the 1973 Constitution and
the National Action Charter provide a natural source for specific language
for a transition to a democratic constitutional monarchy. This Essay has
paid particular attention to the deep constitutional tradition of Bahrain as
embodied in these three texts.
   A variety of grievances have galvanized the opposition to the current
state. This Essay focuses on the highest priority issues that have frequently
led to tension between the state and the people of Bahrain. These issues
include the separation of powers between the executive, legislative, and
judiciary branches of government; the distribution of power between the
King and the Prime Minister; and making the government representative
of the people and their democratic aspirations.
   The current constitution claims that Bahrain “is democratic,” with
sovereignty resting “in the hands of the people, the source of all
powers.” The recommendations offered suggest the necessary
adjustments to fully realize that promise and the promise of the National
Action Charter that “Bahrain should join democratic constitutional
monarchies with a view to meeting peoples [sic] aspirations to further
   This Essay presents the possible options available to address these high
priority items, working from the current Constitution. Should the country
turn to a new constitution, this Essay should also be useful for identifying
key areas for reform and language that will build a completely new text. A
selection of proposed amendments to the current Constitution are
discussed below. Though not exhaustive, they provide guidance for
addressing the highest priority reforms.

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