Middle East

BCHR Statement on the Bahrain National Dialogue

shiitenews_BCHR_Statement_on_the_Bahrain_National_DialogueNabeel Rajab, Pesident of BCHR, has stated that “We will support a proper National Dialogue that represents the ruling family on one side and the opposition on the other side, but not what is going on now.”…

Middle-East Institute Director Dr Michael Hudson said recently that “The Bahraini authorities have a really serious long-term economic problem on their hands. They don’t have a lot of oil so they are more dependent on the financial center and the tourism sector and the  transportation that they have built up over the years, but they have got a lot of repair work to do because the protests and the crackdown has caused a loss of confidence and a distinct loss of legitimacy of the regime.”[1]

The regime wants to be seen to be taking the political crisis seriously, and has made a number of concessions, such as the appointment of a Royal Commission, the release of some of the doctors who were on trial and the moving of the military tribunals to civil courts. The start of a period of National Dialogue (ND) is symptomatic of this policy of superficial concern for the demands of the opposition.

Unfortunately, the constitution of the ND shows the superficial nature of the regime’s concern. Only 35 of the 300 seats at the ND have been allocated to opposition parties[2], and any decision made there can be overturned by the Shura council.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) agrees with Kristin Diwan, Assistant Professor of Comparative and Regional Studies at the American University School of International Service, who wrote on CNN World that “Ultimately, stability in Bahrain will require social reconciliation and political restructuring. The National Dialogue will not deliver this, and it may in fact work to undermine the prospects for national reconciliation and reform.”[3]

This is a sad state of affairs, and one that is designed to allow the government to claim that it is the opposition’s fault that the talks have failed. These talks are on the government’s terms, which dismiss every concession asked for by opposition groups. The government have not stopped firing teachers and other employees, attacking protesters and torturing political prisoners.

Crucially, these talks do not involve those who are at the center of the political divide – the government and the opposition. These talks are between civil society organisations and businesses and academics, with very few politicians present. BCHR would welcome talks between the main disagreeing parties – the government and opposition.

Nabeel Rajab, Pesident of BCHR, has stated that “We will support a proper National Dialogue that represents the ruling family on one side and the opposition on the other side, but not what is going on now.”

None of the important issues is on the table for discussion – the discrimination against Shia workers, the direct election of the Prime Minister and a fair electoral system, the release of political prisoners, and the deaths of more than 30 protesters in February and March. With so few representatives at the talks, the opposition cannot hope to get these issues put on the agenda, and without discussing these problems, the talks are useless.

As Kristin Diwan notes in her article about the talks, the problems go beyond the structure of the talks to the climate of fear and the lack of free expression exemplified by all the opposition leaders who are in jail. As President Obama said in his speech on May 19th, “The only real way forward is for the government and opposition to engage in a dialogue, and you can’t have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail.”[4]

If Al-Wefaq boycotts the talks, which looks increasingly likely, they will be attacked by government media. But they will also remove any legitimacy the talks gained from their involvement, and this seems to be the only way to make the Bahrain government realise that they must mean what they say about dialogue.

This means creating a new body with a fair share of seats for opposition leaders, and a government delegation preferably headed by the Crown Prince, who is a man the opposition feel they can do business with. They must also take Obama’s advice and release unjustly imprisoned leaders who must be central to the success of the talks.

The opposition do not control the people, and the test of whether reform is successful can only be decided by them. It is the people to whom the government must show they are committed to reform, because in the end, even in hereditary monarchies, political authority comes only from their consent.

Bahrain Center for Human Rights


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