18th Sep, 2013 –

It has been more than two years now and Bahrain is still witnessing the same level of tension among political groups, the government and different segments of the society due to the unrest. The February 2011 events gave rise to radical elements from both the Sunni and the Shia sect as they seemed to be the most vocal in putting their demands forward and attempting to impose their extremist ideology on the rest of the Bahraini society. Following that period, the Kingdom witnessed a change in the culture of tolerance, all of a sudden people started defaming each other and this led to further division. Today, our future lies in the hands of twenty nine participants in the National Dialogue who are ought to shape the economic, social and political future of our country and what we need most at this phase is to learn from other experiences.

During a recent visit to Northern Ireland as part of a reconciliation programme organized by the Causeway Institute for Reconciliation and Peace Building, the Bahraini group that comprised of a mixture of moderates from different political and social organistions including the opposition came together to learn from this incredibly valuable programme. Starting with the historic background of events in Northern Ireland all the way up to sessions explaining the police reform and meetings with ex-prisoners who were involved in acts of violence and certainly learning all about the historic Good Friday Agreement which aimed at resolving the crisis in Northern Ireland. What we learnt about the agreement is that no one was completely satisfied yet everyone had a certain level of satisfaction with some of their demands being met while acknowledging each other’s mistakes and moving forward to create a better future.

One of the most disturbing scenes one could see in Northern Ireland is the Interfaces or walls that divide the nationalist and unionist communities in some areas across Belfast. Do we want such walls in Bahrain? It certainly does not serve anyone to have walls that divide the nation and hence people should remove the barriers and the ideological walls, which they have been building for decades leading up to the 2011 unrest. Religious figures are highly responsible for the sectarian divide, which has led to a stalemate in the progress of the country. While disregarding the political and economic issues both Sunni and Shia religious scholars are craving for power whether through the parliament or their religious platforms.

We need to learn from Northern Ireland that the protestants and Catholics are working today on bringing people together and solving the aftermath of their long unrest through trauma centres and community work that does not only target a single sect or religion. We need to understand that we can criticize and raise our concerns peacefully since violence and terror did not serve the nationalists in Northern Ireland and will not serve any opposition movement anywhere around the globe. People should come together, extremists should not be empowered, governments should listen and implement changes and no matter what happens violence is never the answer. My gratitude and appreciation goes out to the Causeway Institute for organizing such a programme which brought people from different sides of the political spectrum together for a few days, a programme that helped us in understanding each other, discussing and opposing each other with respect and certainly learning from the great Northern Ireland experience.

 Wishing that a day will come when Bahrain sets an example for reconciliation and people from other countries would visit our beloved country and learn from our experience in conflict resolution and reconciliation.

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