Who took the initiative in seeking a new round of Dialogue?
On 15 January 2014, in a move which came as a surprise to many, Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad met with a range of significant political figures.
One of these meetings included Sheikh Ali Salman, leader of the main opposition group, Al-Wefaq Islamic Society.
The Crown Prince’s office posted a photo from the session featuring these two figures sitting alongside each other. This was understood by all sides to be a strong message of readiness to reach out for serious negotiations.
This was the first such meeting between senior royals and the opposition in nearly three years.
The key parties also met on 21 January with Royal Court Minister, Sheik Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa. The Royal Court will reportedly hold bilateral meetings with the opposition and other representatives to agree on an agenda. To begin with, both sides have been given two weeks to produce in writing their visions for Dialogue on five priority issues for discussion.
Why might things be different this time around?
There are three main factors which may allow this new round of talks to make greater progress:
- The inclusion of a representative of the King
- Pre-agreement on the principle issues for discussion
- Starting talks with a bilateral, rather than round-table format.
Why does Royal representation matter?
The appointment of a royal delegate was a constant demand from the opposition, so by directly involving the Royal Court in the Dialogue and including powerful figures from the Royal Family, discussions in the new Dialogue are likely to carry more weight and be taken more seriously.
“Having the Royal Court involved means that you are talking to the King directly,” one senior official commented.
Who is expected to represent the Government in the new round of Dialogue?
Deputy Prime Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Abdullah al-Khalifa is to be the Government’s representative in future talks. This was confirmed by Information Affairs Minister, Samira Rajab, who stated that there was “consensus” over the choice of Sheikh Khaled.
What issues can we expect to be the focus of the new rounds of Dialogue?
Both sides have agreed on five main issues as the basis for discussions. The opposition and pro-Government groups are to submit their visions for these five priority issues in writing by early February:
- Parliament approving of governments appointed by the king
- Examining the powers and composition of the upper house of parliament
- Examining the issue of electoral districts
- Enhancing the independence of the judiciary
- Police and security issues
What was the format of the 2013 National Dialogue meetings?
The 2013 Dialogue involved representatives from all sides sitting round a table. Biweekly meetings were chaired by the Justice Minister. This format proved to be unproductive and little progress was made; made worse by periodic boycotts from various groups. This round of the Dialogue included MPs, members of the opposition and other pro-government parties.
What is the expected format for the new round of Dialogue
The new round of National Dialogue will reportedly be in the format of bilateral meetings at the outset, although it is so far unclear whether this format will be maintained throughout.
These bilateral meetings have so far been between representatives from the Royal Court on one side; and either opposition or loyalists representatives from the key political groupings on the other.
How and why did the 2013 round of talks come to an end?
In early January 2014 the Government said it was suspending talks with opposition groups, who had boycotted the process since September.
At the end of 2013 Al-Wefaq Islamic Society’s Secretary-General, Ali Salman was charged with insulting the Interior Ministry and “spreading lies”. This followed a 30 day detention of Salman’s deputy, Khalil Marzouq, during September 2013, which triggered the opposition’s walk-out from the Dialogue process.
How has the opposition reacted to this overture by the Crown Prince?
A joint statement by Al-Wefaq and four other opposition societies described the discussion during their 15 January meeting with the Crown Prince as “especially frank and very transparent”.
“We are not overwhelmed with the shift but we are open for a solution and ready for a partnership,” senior Al-Wefaq official Khalil Marzouq told Reuters. Marzouq commented that the structure of the talks, with the Crown Prince overseeing and the presence of Sheikh Khaled, was “accepted by the opposition as a representation of the king”.
How have pro-Government political groups reacted?
This new initiative for restarting the Dialogue has been controversial within loyalist circles.
Key political groups united under the Al-Fateh Coalition platform issued a statement on 19 January stating the grouping’s objections to returning to the National Dialogue, unless a number of preconditions were met – including rejecting any preconditions from the other parties.
Many pro-Government voices have been active in the social media opposing Dialogue and saying “no to Dialogue with terrorists.
Does the new Dialogue initiative have the support of Government Ministers?
The Cabinet explicitly backed the meeting between Crown Prince Salman and opposition figures and welcomed King Hamad’s directives to end the talks stalemate.
A Cabinet statement urged “serious engagement in the Dialogue, full commitment to transparency and positive participation”, stressing the need to build on what has been achieved so far and calling for an unequivocal renunciation of violence.