By Brian Whitaker
"The right of people to get together and organise themselves in pursuit of shared interests is one of the building blocks for a free and open society. It is also something that Arab regimes fear, since active citizenship undermines their authority.
Consequently, many of them have introduced laws creating arbitrary powers to restrict, control and otherwise manipulate the activities of civil society organisations.
Among Arab countries, association laws (as they are usually known) follow a general pattern that seems inspired more by the novels of Franz Kafka than sound principles of governance.
First, they require clubs, societies and other non-government organisations to register with the authorities while making it difficult, and in some cases almost impossible, for them to do so.
Organisations that succeed in registering then face of host of bureaucratic and mostly pointless rules for how they should conduct their affairs. These basically create an obstacle course to trip up the unwary and often also impose restrictions on fundraising.
Finally, the law usually gives the authorities power to close down or take control of an organisation if they disapprove of what it is doing.
One of the worst offenders in this respect is Bahrain. Although the kingdom's official media never tire of telling us about the "atmosphere of freedom and openness" created under the "wise leadership" of His Majesty King Hamad, Bahrain's associations law is probably the most restrictive among the Arab countries.
A recent report from Human Rights Watch looks in detail at the workings of this law, along with others regulating political groups and trade unions.
Bahrain's current law on associations dates back to 1989. Here are some of its key points......"