Dialogue and Implementing BICI Recommendations
are the Way-Out of the Crisis

Bahrain is still experiencing a tense political and security situation, especially after the Opposition escalated their political discourse and Sheikh Isa Qasim called for the ‘crushing’ of any security man who assaults a protesting woman.

The President of the fact-finding Committee Dr. Bassiouni was invited by the King to visit Bahrain, in order to evaluate the Government’s achievements in terms of implementing BICI’s recommendations (presented on 23 November 2011). Human rights observers, politicians and those interested in Bahraini affairs, believe that implementing the recommendations is the first step towards tackling the current political crisis, which is the root of most social and security problems.

The current heated debate in Bahrain mainly concerns two main issues: what has been accomplished with regards to Bassiouni’s recommendations, and national reconciliation and political dialogue between the Government and the Opposition. Only by finding permanent solutions to these problems can Bahrain regain its social cohesion, which has been badly affected due to rampant sectarianism.

Implementing the Recommendations

On 7 February 2012, the President of the BHRM, Hasan Moosa Shafaei, stated in an interview with Alsharq Alawsat newspaper that Bassiouni’s report is an opportunity to put an end to the crisis. He added that Bahrain’s friends,observers as well as international human rights organizations, had all welcomed the report. They also hoped that those recommendations related to human rights violations in particular will be implemented quickly, in order to establish a common ground and promote trust between political parties. This in turn would allow us to move on to the political file and reach a consensus on the required reforms that would satisfy all social and political groups.

Shafaei added that the Opposition refused to take part in the National Committee for implementing Bassiouni’s recommendations, and that some parties within the political system are hindering its implementation. In spite of this, his Majesty the King and the Crown Prince remain eager to implement the recommendations swiftly and as far as possible from the bureaucratic complications. This is because they both want to avoid causing new problems as a result of continued protests.

With regards to the Government’s accomplishments in implementing the recommendations, Shafaei said that HM the King is serious about the issue, which is why he had called for the establishment of a fact-finding committee. He also added that implementing a huge number of recommendations requires great efforts and expertise, some of which is simply not available in Bahrain. Also, given the short and unfeasible time period allocated for implementing the recommendations (not more than three months), it is unreasonable to expect that they will all be implemented soon. This is especially true considering that some of the recommendations require new laws to be drafted , which also need Parliament approval. With regards to the short and middle term recommendations, Shafaei explained that the Government apparatus has managed to implement many recommendations, such as reinstating workers, releasing detainees on the grounds of freedom of expression, returning students to their universities, rebuilding religious sites, promting tolerance in state media and compensating victims.

Shafaei was also asked about the reaction of the Opposition towards these achievements. He explained that the disagreement between the Government and the Opposition centres on how many of BICI’s recommendations the Government has managed to implement. It is thus unsurprising to hear criticism of the Government and accusations that it has been avoiding implementing the recommendations. The Opposition is purposely belittling what has been achieved so far due to the mutual lack of trust, as well as being distant from the day to day work of the committees. On the other hand, we find that some Government officials exaggerate these achievements, and even go as far as claiming that the Government has implemented every recommendation.

With regards to Arab and international human rights institutions, human rights sources have said that based on local human rights reports the implementation process is going very slowly. Some organizations such as Amnesty prefer to evaluate the situation after the Committee finishes implementing all the recommendations. However, it is been admitted that full implementation will require a longer time scale, more efforts, expertise and cooperation with international institutions, including the OHCHR.

Political observers are concerned that both Bassiouni’s recommendations and the committees for implementing them have failed to make the necessary progress. This clearly shows the difficulties and challenges that lie ahead, and how the deep problem of mistrust between political parties is. It also reveals the sharp social divisions based on sectarian affiliation in the country, as well as the existence of hard line political groups who refuse to compromise and adopt harsh views.

Dialogue and Political Solutions

Alsharq Alawsat asked the President of the BHRM about his view on the way out of this crisis, especially that statements by both the Crown Prince and the Prime Minister have surfaced regarding political dialogue between the Government and the Opposition. He stressed that the crisis in Bahrain is an essentially political one, which has led to other problems such as sectarianism and human rights breaches. He also added that ‘there is no way out besides political dialogue, and frankly there is a concern that violence will escalate again on the street. Political dialogue could have begun after the situation calmed down in the immediate wake of Bassiouni’s recommendations. However, the continuous fall of victims and the concern over more violence on the street should in fact oblige us to immediately go to the dialogue table to find a solution to the country’s political problems. It is only by reaching political consensus between the three main parties: the Royal Family, Shia Opposition and Sunni political groups, can we find a way out of this crisis’.

In August 2011, the Bahraini Government organised a comprehensive national dialogue, during which all political, social and security issues were discussed. Why then is another dialogue needed now? The Opposition withdrew from the first one and will another dialogue result in a genuine solution? Shafaei believes that dialogue is a continuous process which should not stop, and can take the different forms. It is important in Shafaie’s opinion that dialogue takes place, specifically with the ‘Other’, because this is the only way to find a solution to the problem and lay the foundation for permanent political and social stability. This of course does not entail the marginalization of other political parties. He also added that ‘we appreciate the national dialogue that took place last August and respect the views of the participants, but its main weakness was the absence of the Opposition.’

In response to a question on the credibility of the Opposition, which recently escalated its political discourse, spilling over into more violence on the street, Shafaei said ‘in my opinion the escalation of Al-Wefaq aimed to highlit the need for dialogue with the Government and some believe that this was just a message tothe Government’. He also added that Al-Wefaq escalated its discourse in order to contain anger on the streets, especially as recent security procedures have led to the fall of more and more victims.

International Human Rights Institutions

The Bahraini Government and other social groups have complained that human rights institutions are biased. Some point out international interference (by the US, UK and EU) in order to put pressure on the Government, and use human rights reports to impose their agenda on Bahrain. The President of the BHRM explained the West does not want radical change in Bahrain, and it is keen that the regime remains in power. He added that there are reasons for Western enthusiasm: first, the West fears instability in Bahrain, which could develop into violence and extend to other areas. He added that ‘instability in Bahrain allows anti-Western groups to interfere in Bahrain’s affairs’. Second, Western governments were embarrassed by the human rights violations documented in Bassiouni’s report, and have always been accused of adopting double standards in human rights. Third, respecting human rights has become an important factor in international relations, and any violations are unacceptable under any circumstances. Shafaei added that there was great Western enthusiasm regarding the Kingdom of Bahrain’s adoption of a reform project, with all its political, human rights and social aspects a decade ago. Any setback in the reforms is a great loss for Bahrain, its people and its regime, as well as a dash to the hopes of Western countries and human rights organizations. This is because they saw in the reform process a model for the rest of the region. In light of this, the King’s vision is important: ‘whatever the challenges and difficulties, Bahrain should continue with the reform project, find solutions to outstanding problems and present brave initiatives’.

Sectarian Divisions

Shafaei believes that the political crisis has deepened sectarian divisions in Bahrain, and this has become one of the main obstacles in the face of any political solution. He also added that the current crisis was created by politicians who sectarian discourses to protect their positions, and is not due to historical disagreements between Shias and Sunnis. However, these social divisions cannot go on forever because we all feel a great loss on social and political and security levels, which was essentially caused by political selfishness.

As for the way out of the crisis, Shafaei stressed on the importance of political consensus which will hopefully unite the country, although the problem is complicated and the country will need years to recover, especially during a time when the whole region is trapped in a sectarian conflict. He also believes that citizens’ awareness of the danger of sectarianism on their interests and future will decrease the time of recovery. Shafaei said that clergymen, intellectuals and politicians bear the responsibility for the current sectarian division, and called upon them to work towards a unified Bahrain.

Finally, Shafaei stressed the importance of preventing hate discourses abroad from penetrating Bahrain, as in the case of State media, because this plays a crucial role in protecting social unity. He also stressed the importance of adopting a unifying national discourse which includes all parties. Shafaei hopes that wisdom will eventually prevail, and noted that the sectarianism has decreased during the last few months. However, the negative effects of the past still need to be addressed.