Bahrain Union Congress Stands up for Democracy

Even as trade union representatives from Tunisia and other trade unionists were barred from entering Bahrain to attend the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBTU) Congress, hundreds of union members participated in open, spirited discussions and held free elections, capped by the secretary-general’s call for continuing the democratic process.

“It is time for the democracy you and I believe in, and are called to implement, to take its course—the democracy that we have made a symbol and principle,” said GFBTU General Secretary Sayed Salman Al-Mahfood.

Mahfood, who stepped down along with three leaders who helped found the federation in 2004, said democracy means “leaving while enjoying the capacity to give.”

Four women are among the 15 newly elected members of GFBTU’s secretariat.

The democratic elections took place in a difficult environment. Just this week, Bahraini human rights activist Zainab Al Khawaja was arrested, along with her 15-month-old son, Abdul-Hadi. The arrest follows the fifth anniversary of pro-democracy uprising in February 2011.

Although Bahrain still lacks democratic practices, GFBTU has presented an alternative with its March 5-7 Congress as an example.

“What I saw was a living example of democratic practices that included thousands of workers in Bahrain,” says Nader Tadros, Solidarity Center Regional Program Director for the Middle East and North Africa.