Bahrain’s National Dialogue on Trial

The long awaited dialogue has begun after the King called upon all parties, the opposition, the loyalists and the Government to discuss the scope of a political solution for the current crisis.

The first dialogue sessions witnessed disagreements over the number of participants and the nature of the executive authority’s participation and how far it is representing the Government. There were also disagreements regarding the guarantees for the implementation of the results of the dialogue.

The important thing to note this time is that the coverage of the dialogue by the State’s TV and the media was transparent and balanced. The dialogue took place amidst a great amount of articles, statements and heated debates on tweeter between the opposition and Government officials. The crisis on the streets has also been escalating and this has been interpreted as an objection to having dialogue in the first place between the opposition and the authority or as an attempt to influence the dialogue.

Dialogue is facing many challenges and this article attempts to find answers to some crucial questions regarding its nature.

Why Dialogue Now?

This question has been raised because some loyalists and opposition figures think that they have already won or about to win and hence national dialogue is not needed as matters on the ground have already been determined. For if there was a need for dialogue, why did the citizens have to wait for two years?

In fact local, regional and international circumstances have become more suitable for conducting dialogue. The experiences of the past two years have exposed the failure of all political parties in imposing their concept of a solution to the problem. In other words, the security solution has failed and the opposition has also reached a dead-end. For more than a year, Bahrain has been suffering from political stagnation and a lack of initiatives and dialogue. It is obvious now that the majority of individuals in both the opposition and the Government have become convinced that if the situation remains the way it is, it will cost the people, the State and the future of Bahrain greatly; and therefore a compromise solution is neede?.

With regards to the regional situation, countries with influence in Bahrain have also become convinced that political dialogue is the only way out of the crisis. Reaching a compromise solution is better than adopting a radical stances that can only lead to dire consequences as has been illustrated by events in some of the Arab Spring countries .

Moreover, it is feared that the protests, confrontations, violence and casualties on the street will continue and could spread a feeling of disappointment and despair as to the possibility of reaching a peaceful solution; and this could escalate the situation even more. It is also notable that violence has increased during the past months and this will have a negative impact on Bahrain’s stability.

On the international level, dialogue has been encouraged and the sweeping political changes taking place in the Middle East have forced Washington and other Western countries to reassess their positions. These countries stress that political reforms are the best option. The international community strongly calls for a political dialogue that is consensual, serious and potentially fruitful in Bahrain. This was reflected by the fact that the dialogue initiated by the King of Bahrain was welcomed by many of the world’s most powerful countries.

Is this Dialogue Serious Enough?

This dialogue is indeed serious. In the past, all parties claimed that they are ready for dialogue but in fact they lacked the political will. The King’s call for dialogue this time is genuine and this was apparent in the statements of the Crown Prince during his meeting with Ban Ki-Moon in Kuwait in January 2013. However, there are some who still have doubts regarding the Government’s intentions especially as there is a lack of trust between the various political parties.

Are Local Circumstances Suitable for Dialogue?

Yes the circumstances are suitable because all political parties including the Shias, Sunnis and the royal family have reached the conclusion that dialogue is the only solution and the way out of the crisis.

Due to the sectarian polarizations, social division and incitement, Bahraini society has become tired of the long standing political conflict and sectarian division and would like to see a solution. This does not mean that there are no extreme elements , within both the loyalists and the opposition , who oppose dialogue.

Moreover, the procedures that were taken by the Government with regards to implementing Bassiouni’s recommendations have contributed to reducing the tension so that the political process can progress.

Will the Dialogue Succeed?

This depends on the requirements of the dialogue and how its objectives, including national consensus , are achieved. The BHRM believes that dialogue should achieve the following:

First: it should lead to a permanent political solution so that Bahrain will not constantly face political unrest every ten or twenty years. The country needs a long term solution.

Second: long term solutions require that the principles of justice and partnership are met. Compromise is necessary so that dialogue does not result in a temporary solution. Justice should be achieved for all Bahrainis and for all social segments in order to guarantee a long term political solution.

Third: in order for dialogue to succeed, all parties should make painful compromises. It is not possible for dialogue to succeed if each party sticks to its own demands and refuses to compromise. Finding a middle ground and reaching a consensual solution between the royal family, Sunnis and Shias requires a mutual compromise which addresses the problem and achieves the optimum level of justice and balance.

Obstacles Facing Dialogue

The presence of extreme elements that do not believe in dialogue or middle grounds. Those who call for radical solutions would like to see the dialogue fail and would even resort to sectarian incitement and the use of violence.

There is a lack of awareness among some political parties who believe that dialogue will benefit one party only. In fact all the Bahraini people will benefit from the dialogue and should believe that making mutual compromises will benefit everyone.

The success of the dialogue will determine the success of national reconciliation. All parties should realise that we are in the process of political dialogue and political and social reconciliation and that they should strive to protect the interests and the stability of the country, and to restore life back into the social fabric which has been torn by sectarianism.

Steps Needed to Make the Dialogue Succeed

First- calming the street, preparing it to accept the outcome of the dialogue and giving it hope for stability, freedom and democracy. This does not mean that the public should be given false hops as this could lead to great disappointments and further escalation.

Second: putting into place initiatives aiming at reducing tension; such as releasing prisoners.

Third: Easing tension especially in the media belonging to political parties.

What if the Dialogue Fails?

This will constitute a great obstacle to holding any future dialogues.

The country could enter a new phase of escalation that could increase the options of violence and radicalism.

It could lead to the strengthening of the extreme factions within the political process at the expense of the moderate forces .

It is most likely that social and sectarian divisions will widen .

It could also lead to further foreign interference in the Bahraini affairs by other countries and international organizations.

What will Dialogue Achieve?

  • Bahrain will regain its position regionally and internationally and will try to rebuild its social and national unity.
  • The economy will recover and this will benefit the welfare and prosperity of the people.
  • Trust in the political leadership , the political process and the future will increase .
  • Bahrain will regain the reputation it lost due to the crisis.
  • Human rights will develop greatly because of the strong tie between political and human rights reforms.
  • The positive development in Bahrain will reflect on all GCC countries and will encourage dialogue and political reform.