In Bahrain, Maintaining Peace Cannot Be a One-Way Street

The public face of the government of Bahrain on one side and of the opposition on the other over the last three months or so throws up a strange scenario.

On one side is the government exhorting the opposition to come to the roundtable for talks without any conditions and has kept the door open for negotiations, has fully implemented the recommendations of an international inquiry to bring justice and peace to the Kingdom, in the process has given back jobs to all those who only the other day were shouting anti-government and anti-monarchy slogans, has persuaded and in a large measure succeeded even the private sector to do the same, has offered compensation for those who were injured, lost a relative or had their property destroyed during the disturbances, has freed people without trials and reduced the jail terms of the handful who were not pardoned due to the seriousness of their actions.

On the other side is the unrepentant and recalcitrant opposition riding on the back of the brain-washed youth which has rejected all these gestures of goodwill to bring back normalcy to this city-state and has consistently spurned talks.

In response to every conciliatory gesture by the government and in reply to every overture to reach out to them the opposition has been seen as organizing ostentatious funerals which inevitably turn into an opportunity for the youth to start riots, hurl Molotov cocktails at security forces trying to maintain order, fling iron rods and throw stones at them and indulge in the latest passion – burning tyres in the middle of a busy street. Some of them even turn out well-prepared and suitable accoutered in gas masks just in case the security men were to choose to lob a gas canister or two in their direction.

It is against the background of this scenario that the latest government attempts to try its best to bring back normalcy in the country, almost snapping under the weight of economic crises and the attendant ills, have to be seen. Indeed it is a measure of the government’s earnestness on this score that it has even decided to appoint an Implementation Minister to follow up on the steps taken related to the National Commission report on a range of issues which was handed to the King on March 20.

“The government will shortly appoint a minister with a support team to follow up and ensure that steps taken so far and those that will be taken meet the words and spirit of recommendations,” officials have said. Among the key recommendations implemented by the National Commission are security sector reforms including a new Code of Conduct for police based on international policing and independent Ombudsman for the Interior Ministry, judicial reforms including dropping of all charges against 334 people related to freedom of speech and a special training programme for prosecutors with the International Institute of Higher Studies in Criminal Sciences and the American Bar Association.

Then there are social policy, education and media reforms, accounting for past actions, a provision under which 48 officials were charged in 121 cases of deaths, torture and mistreatment, creation of a National Victim’s Compensation Fund to admit requests for those affected by deaths, torture, mistreatment and other issues, and the creation of a special investigatory unit within the Prosecution to determine accountability of those in government, who committed unlawful and negligent acts.

In tandem with these measures, social reconciliation initiatives have also been launched such as One Unity campaign aimed to engage Bahrainis in society, reconstruction of places of worship and readmission of all students not convicted of violence. The Cabinet would also follow up the progress made by different sectors of the government.

It is clear from these moves that the government has no hidden agenda and the King is reaching out to the opposition in earnest with all the goodwill at the government’s command. If the opposition really does not have a hidden agenda of its own then there is no reason for it to shy away from the government’s overtures to make it join the mainstream of society once more.

The biggest challenge ahead for the government and citizens is national reconciliation and commission members say they have tried to benefit from South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Hopefully, once the culture of tolerance and reconciliation sets in, it will be a matter of time before things are back to normal.

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.