In recent weeks, Citizens for Bahrain has been one of the few Bahraini organizations coming out loudly in support of the Crown Prince’s initiative to restart the National Dialogue. A negotiated vision for Bahrain’s political future is the only way out of the mess we are in.
However, the opposition’s actions over the 14 February weekend effectively leads to further tensions.
Instead of presenting themselves as a peaceful and moderate coalition ready to find common ground with their political opponents, we had three days of violent rioting that left one policeman dead and others critically injured. This brings the tally of policemen murdered by rioters to 10, with over 2,500 police injured during the course of the protests.
Most insulting of all for those Bahrainis who didn’t take to the streets was the opposition’s refusal to even acknowledge their existence. So we have figures like Al-Wefaq’s Khalil Marzouq stating in the media that “the people demand an elected Government”; “the people want the regime to go”; “the people oppose the police and the state”…
The opposition through its actions and words tries to turn all Bahrainis who disagree with them into ‘non-people’. But who do they think they are?
Firstly, Al-Wefaq cannot pretend to represent the entire Shia community. Many Shias have remained loyal throughout to the Monarchy. The opposition also alienated many Shias who have had enough of three years of violence, rioting and tear gas with little to show for it.
Secondly; the opposition pretends that the Sunni half of society does not exist. When they chant, “down with the regime” and “the regime must leave”, there is often the implication that they mean “the Monarchy and all their Sunni supporters should go” The opposition has continually refused to recognize the aspirations or even the existence of that half of Bahraini society.
Thirdly, the opposition also ignores the fact that half of Bahrain’s population is made up of expat residents. It is obvious that the expat community, whether Westerners or South Asians, are not considered part of “the people” either; and few of them would relish the thought of clerics like Ali Salman and Ayatollah Isa Qassim sweeping to power. Particularly, as one of the main strategies of the opposition during 2011 was to single out expat workers for attack, in order to cause the expat population to flee. Four South Asians were murdered in early 2011 and dozens of others were injured in such attacks.
Throughout the past three days we have heard no talk from leaders of the opposition about Dialogue; no sign of flexibility or willingness to compromise in order to enter talks; and no acknowledgement that they are not the only legitimate voice in Bahraini society.
Citizens for Bahrain will continue to support the National Dialogue, knowing that Bahrain’s political leaders are also committed to this path.
If there is no Dialogue then there is no end to the path of worsening sectarian conflict and deepening divisions. Dialogue is the only path for those who want to see a united Bahrain.
However, there should be no surprise about how pessimistic many Bahrainis feel towards Dialogue when the principle opposition bodies do not even recognize the existence of other segments of Bahraini society; do not understand the need for compromise and flexibility; and remain rigidly tied to a dogmatic, sectarian and intolerant vision for Bahrain.
The opposition must wake up to the fact that the Crown Prince’s Dialogue initiative is the best and only game in town; and that they will get nowhere by relying on declining numbers of rioters and supporters on the streets.
If the opposition displays none of the attributes which could make Dialogue succeed; then they should not be surprised if there comes a time when their weakened position forces them back to talks, but other segments of Bahraini society are too fed up with them to listen.