25th May, 2013 –
From the moment when – just two hours before the National Dialogue commenced, Al-Wefaq finally announced its intention to participate – Al-Wefaq Islamic Society have displayed a considerable lack of enthusiasm for the Dialogue process.
In fact, it is incorrect to claim that there has been something called a National Dialogue over the last three months; because Al-Wefaq has continually thrown procedural obstacles in the path of efforts to start the discussion.
First, Al-Wefaq put forward its Nine Demands, without which it said it would refuse to move forward. Then it made a major fuss about the issue of Government participation. When it was clarified that the Government would be a full participant through the role of the Justice Minister – Al-Wefaq moved the goalposts and said that representatives of the King and Crown Prince had to be present.
When participants made multiple attempts to agree an agenda, Al-Wefaq continually vetoed it. Although half the representatives of political societies were from the opposition, Al-Wefaq claimed this was insufficient. When all other participants put their names to a declaration rejecting violence, Al-Wefaq refused.
We could go on in great detail listing the innumerable obstructive measures taken by Al-Wefaq within the National Dialogue to try and kill it off before it even started. However, the most destructive aspects of Al-Wefaq’s behaviour took place outside the Dialogue chamber.
Many of us optimists had hoped that the opposition’s commitment to participation in the Dialogue might mean a reduction of tensions on Bahrain’s streets. This wasn’t to be.
Instead, Al-Wefaq officials made great efforts to get as many as possible of their supporters out on the streets at every opportunity. The Bahraini authorities granted licenses to numerous protests around the time of the Formula One, despite these being used to trigger rioting, violence and vandalism. This has been in addition to countless illegal rallies.
Al-Wefaq seemed to believe that by maximizing confrontations across Bahrain they could strengthen their position at the negotiating table – the equivalent of going to peace talks holding a weapon behind your back.
The rioting instigated by Al-Wefaq at times reached such levels that several loyalist political societies temporarily withdrew from the Dialogue – Had it been Al-Wefaq’s strategy all along to force other sides to abandon the negotiating table and thus be able to claim that the derailment of talks wasn’t their fault?
Now Al-Wefaq has found a pretext to walk out of the National Dialogue – a relatively minor incident in the vicinity of Ayatollah Isa Qassim’s home – when the Ayatollah wasn’t even present.
Suddenly Al-Wefaq officials were appearing on Iranian TV stations, condemning the “attack on Ayatollah Qassim” and describing the incident as “making war against the whole Bahraini nation”. Once again they are inciting their followers to take to the streets and bring Bahrain to a grinding halt.
They are now dressing up their walk-out from the National Dialogue as a major political gesture. In truth this announcement means nothing.
Their continuing obstacles and obstructions means that they have given no opportunity for the Government to show whether it is ready to make concessions – and whether there is the political will to resolve this crisis once and for all.
In sum, Al-Wefaq has acted like a badly behaved child – first refusing to come to the dinner table to eat their food; then refusing to eat anything; then throwing their food all over the place and leaving the table.
When a three-year old child behaves this way it is a simple attention-grabbing exercise. With Al-Wefaq it is no different.
By making such a fuss about whether or not it will attend Dialogue, Al-Wefaq wants to tell everybody how important it is. By continual misbehaviour once at the table Al-Wefaq is telling other parts of Bahraini society that it is only Al-Wefaq’s demands which matter and everyone else can go to hell.
While Bahrain’s authorities were right to give every chance to make Dialogue a success, in reality there was never any prospect of it succeeding in the current climate. When the opposition sides were determined to ruin the Dialogue and not give any opportunity for substantive discussion, while causing chaos on the streets – did anyone believe this was a suitable situation for reaching a negotiated solution?
Successful negotiations require political will on all sides.
We can perhaps take heart in the fact that, even though no immediate prospect of an end to the crisis is in sight; Al-Wefaq’s short-sighted and counter-productive attitude towards a negotiated solution, means that its ability to force its sectarian and intolerant agenda on the rest of us decreases day after day.