Voters in Saturday's parliamentary by-elections in Bahrain were sent texts by religious clerics, warning they would go to hell if they voted for a woman member of parliament.
Bahrainis voted in the second round of parliamentary by-elections yesterday. The elections were held to fill the 18 empty parliamentary seats left by Shiite lawmakers of the Al Wefaq party, as they protested the governments handling of the protests earlier this year. Protesters calling for more democratic freedoms in the tiny Gulf state were suppressed by the authorities with the aid of troops from neighboring Saudi Arabia.
Before the elections began there were calls for voters to boycott the voting booths. Sheik Isa Qassim, Bahrain’s leading Shiite cleric, denounced the elections as “fake democracy” as he addressed worshippers at Friday prayers. According to the Star he said “There is a class of society under repression and there are obstacles at every turn, blocking their voice.” Qassim was objecting to the Sunni ruling family of al-Khalifa ruling the predominately Shiite majority.
Female candidate Seema Ahmed Al Langawi has now revealed to the Gulf Daily News that in addition to the elections themselves being called into question, religious clerics also used them as an opportunity to warn against female candidates. According to Langawi, religious clerics have been sending text messages to voters warning them they will go to hell if they vote a woman into parliament.
Langawi said "Some religious leaders circulated these text messages to people in my area, stating they would go to hell if they elected a woman. But these kind of fatwas cannot stop any strong candidate from winning. They have used excerpt from religious text to back their stance for not electing a woman as MP." Langawi was one of three women to make it through the first round of voting but failed in the yesterday’s second set of voting to secure a parliamentary seat. It is not known if she lost the seat to her rival because of the influence of the clerics’ words.
Two other female candidates were successful in their bids to join parliament. Ebtisam Hijris and Somaya Al Jowder were both voted in yesterday, and according to Gulf News became “the first two women to carry their constituencies through the ballot box.”
Bahrain’s parliament is largely symbolic as the country is under the direct control of the ruling monarch, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, who enjoys the strong support of King Abdullah of Saudi. He is also a valued ally of the U.S. which bases its Fifth Fleet in the country. Since protests began in Bahrain in Feb. the authorities have stamped down heavily on any signs of dissent.