This article is inspired by a reaction from a friend, after I published a blog post commenting on Bahrain’s ranking in the latest World Happiness Report. Here’s what he said:
“While risking being overly pessimistic, I am simply witnessing the opposite. The people I speak to often convey a mixture of despair, bordome, losing hope, etc. And I am not talking politically here, people are experiencing bad economy, less job opportunities, no salary increases, no way to change or upgrade income, yet prices remain high. Add to it the apathy the government seems to treat almost everything with. Family, friends, ex-colleagues, super rich company owners, I hear the same words from all of them. Couple that with recycling rehtoric of despair they hear from thier friends and loved ones and it makes it really hard for me to believe this report.”
This inspired me to look at other reports and indices to see what they say about Bahrain. Below are the summaries:
1) World Happiness Report (2015):
Rank: 49th out of 158.
Citizen happiness to me is perhaps the most important measurement of a country’s success, and as mentioned in a previous blog post, Bahrain has jumped 30 places since the last report. Not bad at all.
2) Happy Planet Index (2012):
Rank: 146 out of 151.
This index shows “the extent to which 151 countries across the globe produce long, happy and sustainable lives for the people that live in them.” Here we are at the bottom of the pile. We just about beat some African countries, and believe it or not Qatar, which ranks 149th. However, I think it’s fair to say that this report is outdated, and I’m very curious to see where Bahrain would rank on a newer version of this report.
3) Freedom House’s Freedom in the World Report (2015):
Rank: 188 out of 199.
Freedom House is an American independent watchdog established in 1941, which is “dedicated to the expansion of freedom around the world.” In their latest report, Bahrain has fallen by 15 places since 2010, and scores 87 out of 100, making the press here “not free.” Incidentally, the least free country is North Korea, with a score of 97/100.
4) The Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy Index (2014):
Rank: 147 out of 167.
This report “provides a snapshot of the state of democracy worldwide for 165 independent states and two territories—this covers almost the entire population of the world and the vast majority of the world’s states (micro states are excluded). The Democracy Index is based on five categories: electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation; and political culture.” Based on their scores each country is then categorised as one of four types of regime: “full democracies”; “flawed democracies”; “hybrid regimes”; and “authoritarian regimes”. Sadly, in this report Bahrain is considered an “authoritarian regime.” The highest ranking country is Norway, and the lowest is North Korea.
5) Heritage Foundation Index of Economic Freedom (2015):
Rank: 18 out of 165.
The Heritage Foundation, established 42 years ago, is a think tank whose mission is “to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defence.” Bahrain is in the “mostly free” category, one point above Finland and one point below The Netherlands.
6) INSEAD Global Innovation Index (2014):
Rank: 62 out of 143.
This index is co-published by Cornell University, INSEAD, and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). The core of the report consists of a ranking of world economies’ innovation capabilities and results. According to the report, in our part of the world, “Bahrain comes behind Turkey (54th), Armenia (65th) and Kuwait (69th) come behind Jordan (64th), and Oman (75th) comes behind Georgia (74th). At the bottom of the regional rankings we find Lebanon (77th), Tunisia (78th), Morocco (84th), Egypt (99th), Azerbaijan (101st), Algeria (133rd), and Yemen (141st).”
7) Economic Freedom of the World (2014):
Rank: 25 (joint with Romania) out of 152.
This report is published by the Canadian Fraser Institute, which “measures and studies the impact of markets and government interventions on the welfare of individuals.” The Highest ranking in this report is Hong Kong, and lowest is Venezuela. Though the report is from 2014, the data in the report is from 2012, so it might be considered slightly out of date.
8) UN E-Government Survey (2014):
Rank: 18 out of 193.
The United Nations E-Government Survey presents “a systematic assessment of the use and potential of information and communication technologies to transform the public sector by enhancing efficiency, effectiveness, transparency, accountability, access to public services and citizen participation in the 193 Member States of the United Nations, and at all levels of development.” Here Bahrain ranks the highest in the GCC, and fifth highest in Asia. We’re also considered a world e-government leader, making it in the top 20 countries of the globe. During the e-government awards this year, I heard Mr. Fredrik Reinfeldt, former PM of Sweden, say how impressed he was with Bahrain’s progress on the e-government front, and how his country had a lot to learn from Bahrain. A great testimonial indeed.
9) UN Human Development Index (2014):
Rank: 44 out of 185.
The HDI was created “to emphasize that people and their capabilities should be the ultimate criteria for assessing the development of a country, not economic growth alone.” In the report Bahrain is in the “very high human development” category.
What about Human Rights?
When compiling the information I also searched for Human Rights indices, but did not find any relevant ones. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch both produce detailed annual reports, but they don’t have any rankings.
The reports don’t have good things to say about Bahrain from a Human Rights perspective, but then this is a contentious and controversial issue, with one well-known pro-government columnist in Bahrain complaining recently that Bahrain gets more negative human rights reports than even Syria does.
Amnesty was even criticised by a National Institute for Human Rights (NIHR) Commissioner for it’s alleged inaccurate reporting about Bahrain. Bear in mind that NIHR has been very vocal in it’s criticism of Ministry of Interior alleged human rights violations, so calling it a government puppet would not be accurate.
Well, it seems Bahrain is doing really well in some areas, and really badly in others, while being average or mediocre in most. This is how one friend described the situation in Bahrain to me “it’s like the slightly overweight, unhealthy middle-aged man who is trying to get healthy and into shape, but things aren’t bad enough for him to fully commit to a proper lifestyle change. He’s yo-yoing back and forth.”
Views on how Bahrain is performing and where it’s going are very fragmented, but I would say reform is definitely taking place. The government is working on strengthening it’s institutions, and gradually giving more power and influence to organisations like the NIHR and the Ombudsman.
The question is not weather reforms are happening – they are – but weather they are deep enough and happening fast enough. I feel we are in a race against time, and we cannot afford to wait for the current polarised youth to reach adulthood. If we want to remain relevant in the world, and want to have happy and productive people in Bahrain, then we should continue with – and perhaps accelerate – our reform process.
Reform is Everyone’s Responsibility
If you’re a Bahraini citizen reading this, make sure you are part of the solution, not the problem; you need to ask yourself “what have I done recently to help my country?” (Complaining and whining does not count.) Whatever you do, sitting around and waiting for things to happen will not help. Do something, anything, no action is too small, and make sure your action comes from a place motivated by love and compassion, not hate. Hate only breeds hate. Reform yourself first, and then try to help reform Bahrain.
Thanks for reading, and talk to you soon.