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Saturday, February 13, 2016
- Bahraini opposition groups announced on Tuesday their opposition to participating in the dialogue that is supposed to start tomorrow. According to the Bahrain Mirror, the five opposition groups that signed the joint statement included al-Wifaq, Wa’d, al-Minbar, al-Tajammu’, and al-Ikha’.
The statement maintained that during the eight months of the so-called national dialogue, the government exploited the process as a public relations tool and did not show seriousness of purpose, a clear agenda for reconciliation, or a date certain for closure. The government ignored the six points which the opposition presented at the beginning of the second round of the dialogue in late August.
These points called for halting anti-opposition incitement, which the regime feverishly pushed through its media; promoting genuine national reconciliation; releasing political prisoners; and ending violations of peoples’ homes, such as breaking down doors; vigilante justice; and unlawful arrests.
Since the hiatus in the dialogue in the past few weeks, regime arrests and repression continued unabated, violations of human rights proceeded at a faster pace, arrests of protesters, including minors, increased, fired workers have not been allowed to return, and the regime’s actions against the Shia majority became much uglier.
The adoption of the 22 amendments by the pro-government legislature has given the prime minister and the king added “legalistic” leverage to proceed with their policy of sectarianism and discrimination. Sham trials and unreasonable lengthy jail sentences have been meted out to hundreds of protesters.
The international community, including most Western countries, have condemned these practices and called on the Al-Khalifa regime to cease and desist from these policies and begin a process of serious national reconciliation.
Some mainstream opposition activists in the past week came under heavy pressure from their “friends” to participate in the dialogue. Tuesday’s statement shows the opposition did not succumb to the pressure from pro-regime elements to participate in the dialogue. They accuse the government, instead, of focusing on the “process” of the dialogue, not its substance.
The regime continues to deprive some Bahrainis of their citizenship and push others to leave the country, while at the same time giving Bahraini citizenship to Sunni foreign nationals in order to decrease the size of the Shia majority. Some within the opposition have supported participating in the dialogue, arguing it would be better to engage the regime despite its insincerity and continued repression.
Other opposition activists fear that their non-participation would engender more regime violence, cause more deaths and injuries, and increase arrests and sham trials. Many mainstream activists within the opposition have shunned the dialogue because they doubted it would yield tangible results.
The regime has spent much time on the process of “a dialogue about the dialogue” and not on putting the country on a stable peaceful path. It relies on this charade to avoid making serious concessions to the Bahraini people.
The ruling family’s refusal to respond to the people’s demands for power sharing and genuine political and economic reform will continue regardless of whether the dialogue resumes Oct. 30 or not. Al Khalifa’s actions against their people belie their public statements in defence of national reconciliation.
Al Khalifa seem to be playing a dangerous chicken and egg game, which in the long run will deepen sectarianism and violence and will make national reconciliation much more difficult. International human rights organisations, the European Union, and the United Nations have all seen through this game and have condemned these tactics and policies.
The Al Khalifa family, like other Gulf Arab families, believes it is entitled to rule the country as it sees fit because it owns it. The regime hopes that perceived diminishing U.S. influence in the Arab region, especially the rift between Washington and Riyadh, will push the Bahraini crisis to the backburner of regional policy. The regime continues to buy nasty and deadly weapons to fight public demonstrations.
Having failed to silence their people’s calls for justice, equality, and freedom for two and a half years, the king and his prime minister would be foolish to think they could succeed in the coming months and years.
Instead of bogus dialogue, the king should exercise real leadership by having his son and crown prince lead a true national reconciliation dialogue in which all segments of society will participate. The decision of the five opposition groups against participation in the dialogue was correct and legitimate.
The author is former Director of the Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program at CIA, a Research Professor at the University of New Mexico, and author of “A Necessary Engagement: Reinventing America’s Relations with the Muslim World and Bahrain: Political Development in a Modernizing Society”.