28th Aug, 2013 –

Bahrain’s National Dialogue is reconvening after a lengthy break over the summer period and Ramadan. This should be cause for celebration, however, there are good reasons to be pessimistic after news that opposition parties are returning to the negation table with a new series of preconditions for continuing to talk.

Opposition party, Al-Wefaq Islamic Society only reluctantly came to the Dialogue in the first place. Then it attended with an initial list of nine preconditions, and after that wasted several weeks raising reservations about the agenda, the level of official representation, and demanding additional seats for itself. It then promptly withdrew for several weeks, in protest at an alleged affront to the dignity of Ayatollah Issa Qassim.

The result is that nine months after the start of this Dialogue which aims to build a consolidated vision for Bahrain’s political future, precisely nothing has been achieved.

The fault is not entirely Al-Wefaq’s; two loyalist groupings temporarily withdrew, citing the opposition’s continued support for rioting, violence and terrorism; and arguably the Bahraini authorities would do well to helping create greater momentum and greater seriousness among all participants.

Al-Wefaq’s demands for continuing the Dialogue are not all unreasonable; including emphasis on completing implementation of the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry report (although some of the recommendations of the BICI are long term, so the Dialogue shouldn’t be put on hold awaiting these); and a refusal to define Dialogue participation along sectarian lines – which is absolutely right.

However, demands for the media to be present all the way through the Dialogue would arguably make it difficult to debate sensitive issues and would make it likely that some participants would put on a performance for the sake of the TV cameras.

Demands for a halt to police efforts to manage rioting and violence; and for the release of all those involved in criminal and terrorist acts is also highly unrealistic and calculated to block any progress.

The opposition’s recent attempts to bring out hundreds of supporters for mass rallies failed badly; and it is clear that the authorities cannot definitively halt the unrest through mobilization of the security forces.

Therefore, the only way out of this crisis is through urgent pursuit of the National Dialogue. Thus, it is a grave abuse of the trust of the Bahraini people to not take this process seriously; to impose unnecessary preconditions; and to not be doing everything possible to make this important process a success.

The delegates and the societies they represent should feel ashamed that after nine months they have not yet finalized the agenda for talks; they hold the future of the Bahraini people in their hands.

We hope that the latter four months of this year will see a very different attitude to this process and a renewed desire of the different segments of Bahraini society to talk to one another and resolve their differences.

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