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Blog Roundup: MIB Forum

Categories: East Asia, Brunei, Citizen Media, Freedom of Speech, Human Rights, Media & Journalism, Politics, Religion, Women & Gender

The Forum was held in Chancellor's Hall, University Brunei Darussalam only a few nights ago, Wednesday night, to be exact. Now, it is already Sunday, yet the noise it made still reverberates all throughout the usually very quiet nation and the even more quiet blogging scene.

The Forum was a star studded event, attended by a number of major figures, ministers, deputy ministers, and most notably His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah, the Sultan of Brunei, and his brother, His Majesty Prince Sufri Bolkiah, His Majesty Prince Al-Muhtadee Billah, the Crown Prince and a special guest of the Sultan, Raja Nazrin, the Crown Prince of Perak, who was there to act as the keynote speaker.

For those new to the concept of MIB [1], it stands for the three fundamental elements in Bruneian governance and way of life. M: Melayu, which stands for the majority of the Bruneian population, the Bruneian Malay, and all cultural connotations that comes with the word, I: Islam, which stands for the official religion of Brunei, a religion that affects every single working of the Bruneian governance in all kinds of ways, and B:Beraja, which stands for the power of the Sultan. Together Melayu Islam Beraja [2], brings the loose translation of “Malay Islamic Monarchy”.

Thus the event was a normal forum, which outlined and rexamined the well known philosophy of Melayu Islam Beraja that Brunei employs in the daily running of the country, and how it can be taken further to advance Bruneian governance. I wrote on my blog, Turquoise and Roses [3], as a person watching the live feed on the national television station, RTB, thought it should be called the MIB Talk,. rather than a forum due to its one-way exchange.

However, of course my own trivial comments are nought compared to the reaction Raja Nazrin's keynote speech (available here [4] – in Malay) received from the Bruneian public. Obviously he had struck a chord with most Bruneians, for example Brunei Resources [5], who actually used the word “fantastic”, and that it “outclassed” all the other speakers,

The other papers admittedly were run of the mill and very straight to the point as they have been said in the past. They were actually interesting but after more than an hour of listening to the fantastic keynote address by Raja Nazrin, they were really outclassed.

Another speaker who had done exceedingly well is, someone most Bruneian women hold in high regard, Brunei's very own first woman judge, Judge Norhayati, a wonderful modern feminist by right. She, in an MIB Forum, full of sexist and most probably unimpressed males, created an uproar among the ladies present when in an emotional call, clearly stated that it is high time to include women in the presently only male dominated Legislative Council.

Brunei Resources [5] recalled the event clearly,

Judge Hayati gave the normal run of the Constitution and how the royalty was part of that Constitution. However, she was able to attract everyone's attention when she talked, or rather she called out (loudly and clearly), that the time is right for women to be included in the Legislative Council and not just the present 29 all-men LegCo. All the ladies present and men too clapped very loudly.

Emma Good Egg [6] added in her own blog,

I think to not have a woman on the Legislative Council is tantamount to disregarding the views of close to half the population of Brunei Darussalam.

That is obviously a good point as currently, the population of Brunei is, as Emma Good Egg has also mentioned as the following,

…women represent 46.6% of the work force [7] and hold important positions in both government and private sectors. You see more women involved in NGOs and entering the business arena. We have HRH Princess Masna, who is Ambassador-at-Large for the country. Plus, the life expectancy of women is 77.59 years [8], outliving men (at 72.57 years) by about 5 years.

However, only a few days after her speech, negative backlash has been detected. An annonymous comment on Brunei Resources's blog [9] has said the following:

Its always been a struggle for women to be included in the Boys Only Club. I dont know why. Why do they want to join the Boys Only Club? Men dont want to join Women Only Club as far as I know. Whats her intention?
I remember last time our Mufti said something about women in the judging business should adhere to Islamic Values including to wear a hijab. Anyone remember about that? I wish she turn a corner and wear a hijab all the time and not only during official function.

Naturally, anti-feminist sentiments, however personal, will always be present in times like these, as shown above. The donning of a hijab, (or not donning of the hijab, in this case) is seen as an indicator of an ulterior motive.
Other negative feedbacks from the public appear also in comment form rather than blog form, such as the following, made by Phantom on my blog, Turquoise and Roses [10]. He/she claimed the MIB Forum is a “propaganda session” and implied that it is a waste of time as there are “hundred better channels to watch”.

Personally, I am amazed by the commotion brought about by the MIB Forum. However, very important issues were brought forward especially by Judge Norhayati and I applaud her for taking the bold stand and speaking up when no one else would.