The release of Nabeel Rajab marks an important opportunity. At a time when there have recently been renewed tensions, Nabeel Rajab’s release is certainly a constructive and assertive step by the authorities.
Although we would disagree with Rajab’s statement after his release claiming that the situation in Bahrain has worsened; it is encouraging to hear him for the first time unambiguously calling for dialogue between the sides.
We urge Rajab to seize the initiative and use his influence with radicalized young people for taking a firm stance in denouncing violence.
Given the challenging period we are going through; we hope that Nabeel Rajab’s release will be seen by the opposition as a sign of the readiness of the Bahraini authorities to act according to the rule of law and to demonstrate their good-will.
If the opposition responds to Rajab’s release in this positive light – as an opportunity to start talking seriously about a dignified end to three years of unrest – then this could be the first of a series of positive measures which would pave the way for National Dialogue and full participation in Parliamentary Elections later this year.
However, protesters are likely to see the release of their figurehead as a chance to rally the troops and engage in a fresh round of rioting and confrontation.
A lot has changed in Bahrain since Nabeel Rajab’s detention in 2012. On one hand, we rarely now see the mass protests that Rajab had been a key figure in instigating. On the other hand, Bahrain has witnessed a marked growth in radicalization and terrorist acts, primarily targeted against the police.
We all lose if Nabeel Rajab’s release is seen as an opportunity for fresh confrontations. For the opposition such a course would be self-defeating. Not least because this would send a clear message to the authorities that any gestures of goodwill will be used against them and that releasing further opposition agitators would only be a costly mistake.
Nabeel Rajab’s supporters should heed his more-constructive position in calling for “dialogue between the ruling family and the representatives of the people, and their Bahraini opposition”. This is a welcome development, considering the obstructive stance Rajab tended to adopt in the past.