Manama // Infrastructure housing development, electricity and education are at the heart of the Bahraini government's key projects, the crown prince, Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al Khalifa, told the leading Shiite opposition coalition, Al Wefaq, this week during a visit to their Ramadan majlises. The comments, which come as he continues his visits to the majlises of leading businessmen, religious figures and community leaders during Ramadan, were in line with his emphasis on the need to push ahead with economic and political reforms.
"After successfully tackling the issue of unemployment we can focus our attention now on housing," Sheikh Salman on Sunday told leading members of Al Wefaq, which includes members of parliament. He added that time was needed to adequately address the issue, but that steps are being taken to introduce durable solutions. "We cannot just build a single set of houses across the country, because then it would look like a military barrack. Instead, studies were conducted so different housing styles are in place meeting the various needs of the Bahraini family," he said.
Bahrain, like many Gulf countries, maintains a scheme of building affordable houses for its citizens, which can be owned after paying low instalments over 10 to 20 years. However, in recent years, demand has exceeded the number of homes and apartments available at a time when the construction of such homes had slowed. According to government figures, there are about 40,000 housing requests awaiting fulfilment.
"This month, a tender will be introduced for one of the housing projects and if that goes through more will be introduced," he said. Sheikh Salman also said that this summer the government managed to secure better electricity service. "Our aim is to further improve the efficiency of the electricity service and avoid some of the interruptions that occur," he said. The issue of national unity was at the forefront of the crown prince's address to the Shiite alliance, as tensions remain between the country's Shiite majority and its government.
"What protects developments and maintains it is freedom. Everyone should uphold the value of unity in the society, and differences are acceptable in the spirit of a one-family society if they arise with the best of intentions," Sheikh Salman said. "I am optimistic about solving all the issues that face the Bahraini society, despite their difficulties and the need for time and future planning to address them," he said.
Bahrain is the only country out of the six Gulf states with a Shiite majority. Sheikh Salman added that family unity and respect of differences are what have enabled the country to weather past turbulence in the region and ensure its stability and security. Sheikh Isa Qassem, who heads the Islamic Supreme Council, the country's leading Islamic Shiite religious authority, pointed out that it was the spirit of the one family fostered by the crown prince that will help the country be a model for others in the region when it comes to preserving unity and respecting differences.
"It is your efforts and this spirit that will help Bahrain, God willing, to be the model and example," Sheikh Qassem said. Bahrain's king, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa, introduced political, economic and social reforms upon his rise to power in 1999, including the introduction of a half-elected, half-appointed national assembly. In the most recent wave of unrest, the Bahraini government alleged that the events were led by Bahrainis living abroad, but in mid-April the king pardoned most of those involved while some 30 others remain imprisoned facing charges of the murder of two Pakistani men, one of whom was a policeman.
The Bahraini opposition had maintained that it had no links to the outside and that their demands were focused on securing basic rights and necessities. "The various doctrines in the religion are doctrines calling for respect of one another and love. The time has come for all Bahrainis to understand that the differences taking place all around us have nothing to do with our unity," Sheikh Qassem said.
"Despite our country's small size we need to be a role model for tolerance, coexistence and the meaning of one family." email@example.com