It is heartening to find that the Bahrain King has appointed parliament chairman Khalifa Al Dhahrani as the authority to lead the national dialogue due to begin on July 1 to bring about reconciliation in Bahrain.
The King had ordered the lifting of the State of National Safety from June 1 and at the same time announced the date of July 1 for a dialogue to begin to bring all sections of society on the table without any preconditions on either side. The dialogue is expected to be comprehensive, based on a national consensus to achieve the demands and aspirations of all Bahrainis, “during which all political, economic, social and service issues will be tabled,” according to Al Dhahrani.
Everyone is expected to take part in the initiative to push for reforms and meet people’s aspirations for peace, justice and stability. The outcome of the dialogue is to be referred to the King for implementation according to constitutional principles. The King had already announced during the dialogue “openness to different points of view, transparency and readiness to reach common understanding and solutions.”
In this context the appointment of Al Dhahrani, a much-respected personality with long experience in playing prominent national roles, is a good sign. A person in the position of the chief interlocutor who does not belong to the Royal family should inspire confidence among all factions looking for objectivity. Perhaps that was the whole idea on the part of the powers-that-be.
But for the dialogue to go forward certain confidence-building measures are essential. For example the government on its part has quickly announced the date for the dialogue to start, appointed its interlocutor, and given back jobs to 571 employees sacked for taking part in unlawful protests. Three opposition groups – the Democratic Nationalist Rally, the Democratic Progressive Tribune and the National Democratic Action Society (Waad) – have also welcomed the dialogue.
However, Al Wefaq National Islamic Society, which spearheaded protests in February and March, while hinting that it approved of the talks, nevertheless held a rally on Saturday which somehow did not fit in with its stance of willingness to enter into talks. And at the rally there were also some muted anti-government voices.
This is rather confusing. If Al Wefaq wants talks these are being offered. If they have demands to make these can be presented during the talks. The government is neither putting any conditions or pressure nor expecting any. Then why are these rallies being held? There are even reports that such rallies might become a weekly affair which is even more confusing if not disconcerting.
Let there be a congenial atmosphere for the dialogue rather than generation of acrimony preparatory to it. Let all the political, economic, social and service issues be tabled at the July 1 meeting rather than aired at rallies. With the lifting of the State of National Safety, rallies are allowed under the law but what is the use of holding them when the purpose for which they are being held has already been fulfilled – a firm promise on the part of the government to hold dialogue? Indeed if, God forbid, one of the rallies goes out of hand things might fall into the old cycle from which the Kingdom has just come out.