The November parliamentary elections are almost upon us. It is only a matter of days before all the major political grouping have to decide how – and indeed if – they will contest the vote.
The consequences of the major opposition groupings boycotting these elections are dangerous for Bahrain. We have lived through nearly four years of unrest and nobody in their right mind wants to live through another four; particularly at a time when the political conditions in the wider region are so unsettled and uncertain.
What will another four years of boycotting the parliamentary process achieve? The opposition is no closer in 2014 to achieving its “demands” that it was in 2011 and there is little to suggest that its bargaining position will not get weaker.
The fact is that 95% of those living in Bahrain have learned to work around the opposition’s disturbances. We drive a different route to work to avoid possible roadblocks and burning tyres; we don’t visit certain areas at night, or on a Friday afternoon.
The tiny protest hotspots where opposition militants hold sway have only succeeded in marginalizing themselves from the rest of Bahrain, forgotten by everyone except the police who have to risk their lives facing the rioters each week.
The leaders of Al-Wefaq like Shaikh Ali Salman were out burning tyres and throwing rocks back in the 1990s. If they choose to stay out of Parliament and continue trying to influence the agenda by throwing rocks and Molotovs, the chances are that in four years’ time most of the rest of Bahrain will have forgotten about them.
The tragedy is that those who try to run businesses in these villages will continue to face bankruptcy and financial ruin; and another generation of children will be radicalized and brainwashed.
Furthermore, as long as the unrest continues there can never be genuine social reconciliation and sectarian tensions will continue to grow. Those of us who love our country cannot quietly accept four more years of disunity and divisions.
If Al-Wefaq wants to be a genuinely “national” society it has to reach out to and acknowledge the segments of society outside its Shia constituencies. Many Bahrainis now equate Al-Wefaq with terrorism and disloyalty. Many people oppose Dialogue with Al-Wefaq because they don’t believe that Al-Wefaq wants peace.
In short, Al-Wefaq and the remainder of the opposition has a mountain to climb to convince the majority of people in Bahrain that they are a national society that cares about the welfare of all Bahrainis and puts national interests ahead of partisan ones.
Clearly there have been intense talks behind the scenes over recent weeks. We hope that the opposition are being more flexible in private than their inflexible public statements suggest.
By their repeated statements of “we will continue the struggle until all our demands are accepted” the opposition do themselves great damage. We live in a society of many different communities and so a single political grouping cannot impose its vision on everybody else.
Now is the time to renounce the path of street agitation and terrorism. The choice for Al-Wefaq and other opposition societies is: Re-enter Parliament, capitalize on the new reforms and seek to achieve change by legitimate means within the political system – or continue the boycott and make increasingly weak attempts to destroy Bahrain’s political system from outside, while consigning yourselves to political irrelevance.