As our political leaders seek to re-engage the political sides in talks, there is one question we should be asking: Is it now even worth talking to Al-Wefaq Islamic Society?
Once upon a time Al-Wefaq was capable of organizing protest rallies of a significant size. It was their ability to mobilize their followers that seemed to be the main challenge to be addressed: In order to restore order and calm – the logic went – we must have Dialogue with Al-Wefaq and give consideration to their demands.
In 2014 there are three principle risks to the safety and security of Bahraini citizens:
First there are the bomb attacks that are getting more frequent and deadly and which have already killed six policemen over the past year. As militants gain more experience this may become more of a threat and take the lives of increasing numbers of police and civilians.
Then there are the continual incidents of rioting, vandalism, tyre-burning and petrol-bomb attacks on police. When Al-Wefaq claim that there have been 680 “sporadic protests” during March 2014; they obviously don’t mean peaceful, organized and licensed rallies; they are counting up all these incidents of violence and criminality. We would say that it was physically impossible for there to have been this many incidents in a single month and that Al-Wefaq’s data is massively inflated. However, this still reflects a high incidence of rioting and violent incidents.
Thirdly there is the continuing threat from Iran. The shipments of weapons that were impounded at the beginning of the year prove the reality of this threat and the US State Department, numerous states and major think tanks have acknowledged this. This is in addition to incitement to violence through Iranian media channels and other forms of Iranian political meddling.
Therefore, we should be asking ourselves: Will a successful National Dialogue with Al-Wefaq address these threats?
Al-Wefaq claims that the protests it organizes are peaceful, that it has no involvement in terrorist activity and has no control over the youths out burning and destroying each evening. It also denies that the Iranians have any involvement in terrorism and unrest in Bahrain.
So if we take Al-Wefaq at their word; we could pursue a completely successful Dialogue process; all shake hands and come to an agreement – but the violence and terrorism may continue as before; as the youths of the February 14 Coalition distance themselves from what has been agreed.
The other alternative is that Al-Wefaq does not have the clean hands that it pretends to. Many experts say that there has always been seamless coordination between Al-Wefaq and the foot-soldiers out on the streets; that every “peaceful” Al-Wefaq protest eventually dissolves into riots and violence; and in fact the clerics and Ayatollahs of Al-Wefaq are fully under the thumb of Iran. Some would say that Al-Wefaq will only cooperate in future talks if Iran sees this as being in its geopolitical interests.
So we are faced with two alternatives:
Either Al-Wefaq is irrelevant and talking to them will serve no purpose.
Or Al-Wefaq is fully complicit in the unrest and violence and can wield significant influence over those engaged in terrorist acts.
In reality, this is only a dilemma for Al-Wefaq themselves: They can continue with their public position that terrorism is bad, but it’s nothing to do with them and it’s all the Government’s fault for not accepting their demands in the first place.
Or they can acknowledge that they are the principle political party representing constituencies where rioting has been ongoing; that their Ayatollahs are the ultimate source of influence for militants who see their actions as divinely-inspired Jihad; and that different militant groupings are all part of the same opposition entity that shares similar goals but pursues them through different means.
So if Al-Wefaq wants to prove its relevance, it must also admit its accountability: A generation of young people have been radicalized by the sermons and gatherings of Al-Wefaq’s clerics and Ayatollahs, so Al-Wefaq will have to play its part in de-escalating the situation and accepting its responsibility for providing leadership and guidance to these misled youths.
There can be no Dialogue with terrorists or those who advocate terrorist means to achieving political aims. Al-Wefaq must show that it is ready for National Dialogue and ready to re-enter the Parliamentary process as a peaceful and non-partisan player.
However, for this to happen Al-Wefaq must go further than it has previously in renouncing terrorism and acknowledging its own responsibility for guiding its followers on a more peaceful path towards dialogue.