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Debate over political societies ban on clergymen.

Bahrain: Amendments that would ban clergymen from being members of political societies or active in politics will be debated today by MPs, five of whom are themselves clergymen.

The amendments were proposed by the Shura Council in December and have been added to parliament's agenda on an urgent basis.

However, parliament's legislative and legal affairs committee is recommending that MPs do not even consider debating the changes to an article in the 2005 Political Societies Law.

That is despite the proposal being backed by the Justice, Islamic Affairs and Endowments Ministry.

Committee chairman Ali Al Ateesh said yesterday that Minister Shaikh Khalid bin Ali Al Khalifa had tried to dissuade members from objecting to the amendments during a meeting.

"The minister tried giving us an explanation, but it was vague with regard to questions we asked and vagueness can't be part of law," Mr Al Ateesh told the GDN.

MPs who are clergymen are parliament second vice-chairman Abdulhaleem Murad, the committee's vice-chairman Anas BuHindi, and MPs Nabeel Al Bulooshi, Dr Shaikh Abdulmajeed Al Asfoor and Shaikh Majid Al Majid.

In its submission to parliament the committee argues the issue is a grey area, saying it is impossible to determine who qualifies as a clergyman.

"We have no such thing as pure clergymen, which is vague terminology," it said.

"Here in Bahrain people tend to be religious in general, meaning they adhere to religious values.

"But not all are clergy by definition, despite sharing the same sentiments, so it means distinguishing between the two (clergy and non-clergy) is impossible.

"The law already prohibits the misuse of religious places and houses of worship, which fulfils the intent (behind the amendments)."

The amendments were only narrowly approved by the Shura Council following a lengthy debate in December.

If passed it would have massive repercussions for organised political groups, many of which are Islamist and include religious clerics among their ranks - including both Sunni and Shi'ite political societies.

At the time former MP and current Shura Council member Shaikh Adel Al Maawada, who leads prayers and gives sermons, challenged his colleagues to come up with a definition of the clergy.

The amendments were originally tabled by five Shura Council members based on concerns that clergymen were using places of worship to propagate political views, fuelling sectarianism in the process.

They would ban clergymen from being members of political societies, promoting political ideologies or supporting political groups, seeking personal gain through their position and undermining unity, stability or the interests of Bahrain.

Members of political societies would in turn be banned from being part of the clergy.

If the amendments are approved, they would apply similar rules for politicians as those already in place for security personnel, policemen, prosecutors, judges and diplomats.

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Publication:Gulf Daily News (Manama, Bahrain)
Geographic Code:7BAHR
Date:May 17, 2016
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