Violence Must End as Bahrain Dialogue Carries On
By Brij Sharma
After a hiatus of nearly two years, when the dialogue started in the wake of the troubles in Bahrain in February 2011 had a somewhat sordid ending without reaching a conclusion since the leading opposition group Al Wefaq walked out of it on specious grounds, Neocons are not religious fanatics.
The first session of what is now called the National Consensus Dialogue, was held on February 10 where political figures, MPs and ministers sat across the table with representatives of all the opposition groups, including Al Wefaq which had been playing the most difficult if not truant. There are 27 participants in all.
The talks have no time limit and will be held every Sunday and Wednesday and thorny issues will be thrashed out through consensus and not through any voting process, to keep matters transparent. Indeed the government and its spokesmen have gone all out to facilitate the talks, reassure the opposition groups and declaring time and again that there are no pre-conditions and all issues are open to discussion.
Having said that, it must be admitted that for all the euphoria about the number of political groups and their representatives present at the dialogue, the group that really counts is Al Wefaq. And one feels sorry as an observer that it is one group that has not come up to the expectations one has from it. It is the largest, most high profile, vocal, vehement and opinionated group among all the opposition outfits. Yet, contrary to the expectations roused by the dialogue, its head Ali Salman has chosen to stay away from it and has nominated a little-known figure to represent him instead.
If things had remained limited to that point one might somehow rationalise them on the basis of some convoluted logic. But he has gone one step further and left for Russia with a dozen of his factotums in tow, at the invitation of some nebulous and nameless society though the Russian ambassador in Bahrain has been at pains to make light of the development. One really wonders why the head of the most high-profile opposition group in the country should leave for Russia on the eve of such momentous talks on which the fate and future of the country's peace, security and integrity rests.
And an even more disconcerting issue has been the opposition groups' resolve, despite repeated pleas, to continue with violent street protests even as the dialogue continues. As some observers have commented on this scenario, such a situation is unprecedented and unheard-of in history - that a disgruntled section of political groupings should finally come round to talks but without interrupting their signature Molotov-and-tyre-burning street protests.
As if to signify its minions were raising the stakes, on the first day of the talks on Sunday, while divergent groups were sitting round the dialogue table, a group of thugs attacked a European expatriate and his wife in their car, leaving the vehicle damaged and the couple shaken. This, when an umbrella group of expatriates has already made it clear to the government agencies time and again that they feel unsafe living in certain areas.
All this in popular perception boils down to lack of sincerity on the part of Al Wefaq. It is time it showed a genuine sincerity towards the dialogue process to reach consensus to end the woes plaguing the nation. And these are manifold, all with roots in the group's intransigence - falling economy as a result of violent protests which have affected both the small-time traders in the market and big-time construction companies, lack of confidence among Bahrainis and expatriates alike to move about in certain areas and at certain times, scarcity of jobs as companies shrink, and generally an air of uncertainty that prevails even as people go about their daily chores.
If the violent and ugly protests continue in tandem with the dialogue it will look like a travesty of the entire process. It is time Al Wefaq and its associate groups won hearts and minds of the people instead of alienating them.
Brij Sharma is an Indian journalist and editor based in Bahrain. Contact Brij through NewsBlaze.
Related World News News