There are legitimate questions emerging from various sources, asking what genuine progress has been made in the 100 days since the Crown Prince’s important initiative at the behest of King Hamad, to re-ignite the National Dialogue process.
It is being said that there have been various bilateral contacts behind the scenes, but we have been told nothing coherent from any of the engaged parties about what has been agreed and what the way forward is.
On one hand, the last three months have been highly unconducive to creating the right atmosphere for constructive talks: Four policemen have been killed as part of a wave of bombings by opposition militants; and opposition groups have encouraged several waves of street agitation that raised tensions around the 14 February unrest anniversary.
However, these attempts by militants to spread fear and instability make it all the more important for all sides to redouble their efforts to find a negotiated political solution to the crisis. The Parliamentary Elections are nearly upon us and nobody in Bahrain benefits from several more years of rioting and violence.
Clearly several public bodies have been holding discussions concerning the parameters for re-launching the Dialogue; but there should be more efforts from all sides for creating a public consensus in support of the Dialogue and helping all Bahrainis better understand what is at stake.
After 100 days none of us are any the wiser about what form the coming Dialogue might take and how the sides will have to interact in order to achieve success.
However, the opposition societies have also been highly negligent towards the Dialogue process. They are wrong to sit back and expect the Government to do all the running. They are wrong to sound so dismissive about the Dialogue in their public statements.
On both the loyalist and opposition sides there will have to be major outreach efforts to sell any future deal to the general public and supporters of the key parties. These efforts must start now in order to build consensus around the difficult decisions that may have to be taken.
Loyalists are right that Al-Wefaq Islamic Society have not done enough to distance themselves from terrorists and murderous attacks upon police; but engaging with the relatively moderate elements within key opposition societies is the only credible path to take.
Better we seek some kind of common ground with these figures; than we surrender the streets to the radicals and terrorists who believe that they can bomb their way to victory. It is difficult to admit, but prolonged stalemate only makes these militant elements stronger.
Likewise; the opposition coalition societies have to stop believing their own rhetoric and acknowledge that the Bahraini authorities who they have spent so long demonizing are the only partner in town who they can
If Al-Wefaq want to be a genuinely Bahraini political party; rather than a party that represents one strand of political beliefs within a single sect – then they have to reach out to other communities and try to prove that they are not an Iranian fifth column; that they are not apologists for terrorism; and that they are not seeking to forcibly destroy Bahrain’s developing Constitutional Monarchy.
The same logic applies to loyalist groups: If we want to have a constructive political dialogue in Bahrain; then it can’t happen in a climate where loud voices are calling the entire opposition “Hezbollah terrorists”.
A lot of work needs to be done to restore credibility for the Dialogue process. This will require key figures from all sides to show genuine leadership and to take tough decisions that aren’t always wholly in line with the hardline demands of their most vocal supporters.
We still believe that National Dialogue is the only way forward; but it will take a little more effort from all parties to make this initiative a success.