Bahrain Adds Jew, Women to Key Council

ByABC News
September 28, 2000, 6:28 PM

C A I R O, Egypt, Sept. 28 -- Ibrahim Dawood Nonoo says hes made his dead grandfather proud. As a Jew living in a Muslim-dominated Gulf state, hes always been the odd man out; in a few days, he will be the odd man in.

His grandfathers pride may well extend to the few dozen other Jews who live, work and play alongside the more than 600,000 Muslims in the oil-rich state of Bahrain.

A decree issued by Bahrains leader, Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, this week named 19 newcomers Nonoo included to Majlis al-Shoura, Bahrains consultative council.

It Was a Mans World

Nonoo will be joined by four women, who are also making history as the first of their kind to be admitted. They will officially join the council on October 3.

The previously all-male, all-Muslim council reviews laws drafted by the Cabinet before they are sent to the emir for final approval.

Nonoo, a Jewish businessman, whose family is of Iraqi origin, said his nomination to the council did not come as a total surprise to him.

Nonoos family arrived in Bahrain in 1905 and has lived there ever since. He is one of only 35 Jews known to reside in the state. In essence, the Jewish population is a handful of families.

I was born here, said Nonoo, and my religious faith was never a problem. I am a Bahraini before anything.

Free to Pray

Unlike some Muslim nations, Bahrains laws allow for religious freedom.

But even if Nonoo was not surprised, his appointment marked a first and it is surely a sign of changing mentalities said one Western diplomat.

Gulf States, with the exception of Saudia Arabia, have been slowly opening up to Israel. There are a lot of business deals happening already, the diplomat said.

Emirs of Qatar, Bahrain and Oman all met with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak during the U.N. Millennium Summit in New York last month.