His Royal Highness the King has once again shown that he is wiser and more courageous than all of us.
In the hours after the large March 9th demonstration, the majority of us Bahrainis who remain loyal to our political system were nursing a sense of anger and resentment towards the protesters who had once again hijacked our streets and brought our country to a standstill. We had once again endured Molotovs, attacks on the police, burning tires and a dozen other means of violently and aggressively asserting their demands.
However, instead of giving voice to our anger and frustration, the Royal Court issued a statement welcoming Bahrainis exercising their right to freedom expression within the confines of the law, describing this as “a source of pride for Bahrain”.
To many – including members of Citizens for Bahrain – our first reaction to this statement was that we had been let down. What about condemning the violence? What about the chaos and disruption suffered by the rest of us? The Authorities had shown remarkable, perhaps excessive tolerance in giving a license for all these demonstrations, sit-ins and assemblies; but what about the fact that on every occasion protestors had broken away from the route of the march, adopted non-peaceful messages and acted as confrontationally as possible?
What about the fact that a segment of the population, disingenuously representing itself as “the People of Bahrain” is trying to forcibly take the country in a direction that the rest of us don’t want to go in? What about our rights?
Yet the King stands above all of our partisan squabbles and knows that in order for Bahrain to win – for our higher national interests to prevail – neither side can impose itself on the other, liquidate the other or marginalize the other. Therefore, Bahrain’s only hope is through dialogue.
Therefore, the King in his wisdom is reaching out to the opposition, meeting them half way and acknowledging their rights. This is the spirit necessary for dialogue to succeed, but only if there is similar wisdom and courage from the opposition in accepting this call.
Making dialogue work can never be about inflexible and unrealistic demands; it can’t be about scoring points and it mustn’t be in an atmosphere of threats, demands and political blackmail.
Both sides have proved their ability to mobilize large numbers of people; we have seen similarly large gatherings at the Al-Fateh Mosque and elsewhere. However, if the opposition want the political reforms that they claim, democratic reform cannot and should not be tyranny of the majority (whichever constituency of the public claims to be the majority); we must aspire to a state where all enjoy equal rights and opportunities, irrespective of sect or ethnicity.
This is why the logic of the politics of mass mobilization and ‘might is right’ is so dangerous for Bahrain. Every time the loyalists have assembled in large numbers, the political tenor of the debate has become increasingly rigid and increasingly sectarian, to the extent that many Shia loyalists felt repulsed by statements being made by those who should have known better. Similar dynamics are playing out in the opposition camp.
We should withdraw from the streets and enter the debate chamber if we want to have any chance of a unified and cohesive society at the end of this process. The success of the loyalists must not mean marginalizing the Shia, just as the extremist figures within the opposition movement shouldn’t be seeking some form of Shia hegemony over the rest.
Those of us who define ourselves as loyalists should ensure that this loyalty is first and foremost to Bahrain. Therefore we should equate the success and prosperity of Bahrain with the ability of us all to work together and create a shared vision for our country.
So let us put everything into making this dialogue work. All who sit at the table with a spirit of compromise and consensus should be welcomed and embraced; all those who stay away with feeble excuses and maximalist demands should be subject to the opprobrium of all quarters of society.