BAHRAIN'S business community has slammed a proposal to ban alcohol on Gulf Air flights. They say the issue is not about alcohol, but about personal freedom, adding that the decision would further harm the financial status of the airline.MPs at a January 13 parliament session unanimously voted for the bill, saying the sale, distribution and drinking of alcohol was banned by Islam.
They also claimed many of the airline's Bahraini and Muslim staff had complained that Islam bans them from serving alcohol, but they were forced to do so to keep their jobs.
The proposal, spearheaded by Al Menbar MP Shaikh Mohammed Khalid, has gone to the Cabinet for consideration.
But it has been widely condemned by the leading Bahraini business figures, who accused MPs of trying to restrict people's personal freedom.
Among those to hit out at the proposed law was Bahrain Businesswomen Society president Mona Almoayyed, who described those behind the idea as "ignorant".
"It is not a matter of alcohol," she told the GDN. "It is a matter of personal freedom and MPs dictating their views."
"It will start with this and it will end up with restrictions on women.
"This is not what Bahrain is well-known for. We are known to be open-minded towards other religions."
Ms Almoayyed, who is also the president of the Migrant Workers Protection Society (MWPS), said MPs' time would be better spent trying to find solutions to issues such as corruption and the economic downturn.
She also fears the policy could lead to the death of Gulf Air and harm Bahrain's tourism industry.
"On the economic side banning alcohol will make Gulf Air lose more money," she said. "Most of the people who travel are not Muslims, but Christians.
"Nobody is forcing anyone to drink alcohol. It is the personal freedom of people.
"We are not a rich country, Bahrain needs tourism and to be open to the outside world."
Ms Almoayyed said if the proposal becomes law, it could encourage MPs to pursue more extremist policies such as banning music in hotels and forcing all Muslim women to wear the hijab.
"Everyone I speak to in the business community says they are against this," she said.
"We do not encourage people to drink alcohol but we want them to be free to do what they want to. Each Muslim has to decide for himself."
Arab Shipbuilding and Repair Yard (ASRY) general manager of finance, accounts and resources Abdul Wahed said the proposal was a worrying sign of radical laws being introduced aimed at restricting
"I hope the government will turn it down because this is not the culture of this country," he said.
"Muslims have rights like other religions. It does not mean I like to drink or not, it is part of our struggle for our personal freedom.
"I do not want to see it and I will resist it and use all legal and available tools to protest against it."
Mr Wahed said a similar policy enforced on Kuwait Airlines in the mid 1960s had crippled its success. "Our national carrier is used by hundreds of thousands of non-Muslims, so how will they serve them? Definitely they will opt for another
airline," he said.
Mr Wahed said the proposal seemed to be part of a worrying trend of radical laws aimed at restricting freedoms.
"I think hotels and restaurants will be the next target for them. We have to be careful," he said.
Al Muntada (The Forum) Society secretary-general Ebrahim Ali believes the proposal violates Bahrain's constitution and National Action Charter. "I think the government should reject this proposal and refuse to discuss it," he said.
"This is against basic individual freedom and is absolutely wrong.
"If this succeeds, the same people would bring in more dangerous policies."
The retired banker also said the proposed law would harm Bahrain's economy at a time when it is already suffering as a result of the credit crunch.
"It will damage our reputation as the financial centre of the Middle East," said Mr Ali.
"It will frighten away investors from coming to Bahrain."
Despite the criticism, Shaikh Mohammed stood by the proposed ban. "Bahrain is a Muslim country, so why would we serve alcohol to customers?" he said. "The money spent on alcohol should be put to better use. Most of the Muslim staff feel ashamed to serve alcohol."
Gulf Air officials earlier said they would not comment on the proposal until it became law.