Al-Wefaq’s Erratic Bahaviour Leads to Discord in Bahrain

Even as the National Reconciliation Dialogue in Bahrain, which started on July 5, has been in full swing with 300 delegates representing a range of opinions and political groups taking part, the largest opposition group Al-Wefaq has suddenly chosen to pull out of the exercise.

Al-Wefaq has a history of being difficult and recalcitrant. When Bahrain decided to revive the parliamentary system of democracy and preparatory to holding its first elections for the purpose in 2002, it had organized a popular referendum where more than 98% of the Bahraini populace had approved all the measures put forward by the King. Yet, Al-Wefaq decided to boycott the elections. There was no plausible reason for it to do so but it stuck to its resolve and sat out in the sun as positive political changes took shape thanks to a range of measures adopted by the first parliament.

Evidently realising its mistake it came round to contesting elections in 2006, having concluded that if they did not contest again the political space left vacant by them will be taken up by their adversaries. And they were back in the fray for the 2010 elections as well, though by now they had begun to make sundry noises about a variety of issues.

But the party did not seem to have learnt a lesson from its mistake of skipping the 2002 elections. It made the second tactical error when, in the wake of the disturbances engineered by its followers in tandem with some more virulent and extremist elements, the King, the Prime Minister and the Crown Prince of Bahrain made a number of successive calls inviting them to the negotiating table with no issue excluded from the discussion. So much so that just the day before the Saudi forces arrived in Bahrain the Crown Prince’s offer spelling out all the issues at the heart of the troubles was carried by all the local newspapers on their front-pages. And yet Al Wefaq and its cohorts spurned the offer, imposing all manner of impossible conditions before they would show up for any discussion.

When the King lifted the State of National Safety on June 1 and announced the start of a National Reconciliation Dialogue from the beginning of July Al-Wefaq once again decided to be difficult and rejected the offer until just before the deadline to join, as if testing the government’s patience. And once the talks had advanced far towards the resolution of major issues it once more decided to pull out, in a deliberate act to reject and thus sabotage the entire effort when many key positive developments had already taken place.

From Al Wefaq’s erratic behaviour it has been concluded by Al Asala political group that Al Wefaq pulled out on orders from Iran’s Guardian of the Islamic Jurists [Wali Al Faqih] since the withdrawal came two days after an Iranian Guardian Council secretary said during a Friday sermon that the dialogue was useless. It even went so far as to claim that its refusal to hold a dialogue at the peak of the March and April incidents, its decision to take part in the National Dialogue and its sudden withdrawal have all been orchestrated by Iran to confuse, embarrass and blackmail. Al Wefaq stance was further complicated when it announced two days ago that it may yet take part on certain conditions being fulfilled.

People are wondering why Al Wefaq chose to walk out of the dialogue when accord had been reached on no less than 40 issues of significance covering political, human rights, economic and social aspects of Bahrain. After all, the exercise, which is still in progress, does not represent the government or the opposition but aims to represent the views of people from all walks of life, as the dialogue chairman Khalifa Al Dhahrani has said.

Just because Al Wefaq assumes itself to be the wronged party does not mean that it has the right to hijack the broad-ranging dialogue to channel discussions to fulfil its chosen aims. Bahrain constitutes not only Bahraini citizens but expatriates too, who constitute nearly half the country’s population and their interests have to be kept in view. And the issues range from social and political to economy, trade and tourism, construction to banking and finance, employment and social welfare to health and education.

If Bahrain has to make progress the talks must make progress too since they encompass issues which are linked to national progress. And for that to happen everyone has to join in a manner which should lead to harmony not discord.

Brij Sharma
Brij Sharma is an Indian journalist and editor based in Bahrain. Brij tells us the interesting stories we don't usually hear from the middle east country.