Bahrain: Family Law Top Priority Say MPs
MPS have made a proposed Family Law for Shi'ites their top priority when they resume their sessions in October.
By Mohammed Al A'Ali
Bahrain Bloc members - parliament's second largest bloc - will submit the bill, which was drawn up by anonymous clergymen, to parliament chairman Khalifa Al Dhahrani.
They expect the National Assembly - parliament and Shura Council - to turn the proposal into law by the end of the year.
The new bill would standardise procedures and would end decades of suffering by Shi'ite women, who have been reportedly subjected to biased judgements in alimony, custody and divorce cases.
The Family Law for Sunnis was introduced in 2009, but the government withdrew the version for Shi'ites after it was vetoed by Al Wefaq National Islamic Society - during its term in parliament - who claimed only senior religious clerics should have the power to draw up such laws.
In Bahrain, domestic disputes are resolved in Sharia Courts with separate systems for both sects.
However, women's rights activists have long campaigned for the implementation of a Shi'ite Family Law, saying the existing system fosters discrimination against women.
Bahrain Bloc president MP Ahmed Al Sa'ati said the new bill would be pushed as parliament's top priority when it convenes in early October.
"The law will be discussed in two months and passed after we complete official meetings with all those concerned - clergymen, lawyers, women rights activists and senior government officials," said Mr Al Sa'ati, who is also parliament's legislative and legal affairs committee vice-chairman.
"We have already presented the bill unofficially to members of the Shura Council as we aim to have it pushed in a record time and without any delays.
"Her Royal Highness Princess Sabeeka bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa, wife of His Majesty King Hamad, a few days back directed to have the law passed, which is an encouragement and will certainly help us to have it pass all obstacles."
Mr Al Sa'ati stressed the law was not drawn up by bloc members, but Shi'ite clergymen who want to remain anonymous.
"The clergymen who drew up the law don't want to be named because they would be subjected to the wrath of Al Wefaq and their followers, who have always opposed the introduction of such a law," he explained.
Mr Al Sa'ati urged legislators to finally agree on passing the bill in a bid to prevent judges in the Sharia courts from issuing rulings based on personal judgements.
"Half of the problem was solved in 2009 when the Sunni law was approved, but without the other law, things remain unbalanced," he said.
"Cases in the Jaffari (Shi'ite) courts are still being dealt with according to judges' interpretation rather than proper procedure, which means the rulings differ from case to case.
"In those Jaffari courts a specific woman's win is not a win for another because each individual circumstance is seen in a different way.
"The new law will standardise procedures and ensure that the core is one and then for detailed decisions a specific mechanism will be mentioned to ensure utmost fairness."
Meanwhile, parliament foreign affairs, defence and national security committee chairman and bloc member Sawsan Taqawi said the proposed bill was made a priority because women's suffering in courts should immediately end.
"Senior clergymen, who Shi'ites follow, are welcome to give feedback on the law through their representatives in Bahrain and everyone concerned including lawyers, women's rights activists and government officials should help us come up with something that everyone agrees with," she explained.
"A law can be changed when practised, but it is unrealistic not to have legislation on the grounds that the Jaffari sect doesn't have a standard system.
"The same problem existed when the Sunni law was first proposed and it was resolved as core principles were taken and we believe the same can be done with the Shi'ite Law." email@example.com