BAHRAIN Bahrain: Political Development in a Modernizing Society, by Emile Nakhleh. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2011. 191 pages. $27.95.
Reviewed by Kristin Smith Diwan
The huge protests which occupied the Pearl Roundabout at the heart of the Bahraini capital in February 2011 brought the spirit of the Arab Spring to the oil monarchies of the Gulf. But unlike the uprisings that preceded them in Tunisia and Egypt, the Bahraini protests failed to bring down the monarchy, or even to provoke its reform. Readers wanting a deeper historical context to better understand this revolt and its denouement in repression and sectarian strife will find few books on Bahrain to inform them. The re-issuing of Emile Nakhleh's Bahrain: Political Development in a Modernizing Society, initially published in 1976, thus comes as a welcome addition.
In his preface to the new edition, Nakhleh states that the goal of the reprint is to "highlight the constitutional process that unfolded in 1972-73 and the hopes it raised among the Bahraini people" (p. xiii). The volume paints a picture of Bahrain at a particular point in history: shortly after its independence, to compose a constitutional assembly. The book's recounting of Bahrain's aborted foray into parliamentary representation offers some fascinating parallels with Bahrain's current political tribulations.
In line with the modernization theory of the time, Chapters 2-5 examine education, social clubs and the press, labor, and foreign policy as inputs into Bahrain's political socialization and development. The deficient political development of Bahrain's modernized tribal system is demonstrated through the absence of political parties (hence the political importance of social clubs), the restrictions on the press, the politicization of labor (due to its suppression), and the constraints imposed by the conservative regional political climate. More descriptive than analytic, much of this material is simply too dated to hold the interest of the contemporary reader. Occasionally, though, the presentation enlightens. The delayed integration of the Shi'a villages into the education sector speaks to the persistent inequality in their treatment. And Nakhleh's deftreading of Bahrain's foreign policy concerns and commitments remains fresh and applicable today.
The final three chapters focus on the political dynamics unleashed by the constitutional elections. Decades of labor unrest had ushered in a harsh security law authorizing arbitrary arrest and the threat of expulsion. …