The eyes of the world will be fixed on Bahrain and the national dialogue taking place there over the next two weeks. Everybody is waiting to see if national dialogue will bring Bahrain out of the state of sectarian tension that has plagued the streets since the outbreak of protests last February. It is no exaggeration to say that these next two weeks will be decisive in the history of modern Bahrain; the kingdom will either shift towards the next stage of its reform programme, leaving behind the sorrow and wounds of the past, or it will reach a point of no return and the phase of tensions will continue. Before the dialogue was launched, the signs were encouraging to such a degree that we could almost say that it had succeeded before it even started. King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa surprised everybody, even the hard-liners within the “Shia” opposition, [by setting up an] international independent investigation commission. The mandate was very clear: the world must know who caused this crisis, whether it was the government or any other party. The King rose above everybody else, but at an equal distance, when he dealt with both the opposition and the government, thus forming a solid ground upon which dialogue could be launched. However the indications shown by the opposition were not encouraging at all, as it raised doubts about the promises for reform and then threatened to withdraw from the dialogue before it even began, not to mention the possibility that it might still withdraw at any moment!
Sheikh Ali Salman, Secretary General of Wefaq, which is the largest opposition association in Bahrain, insists that dialogue must result in compliance with all of the opposition’s demands. If this is not the case, they will not accept the outcome of the dialogue. This suggests that obstinacy and insistence will only reach a dead end, whatever the consequences of that may be. Let us remind “Wefaq” and others of when Catherine Ashton, the EU’s High Representative of Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said that no democracy anywhere in the world was perfect and that “every national democracy is a journey; it is something that continues to evolve.” Does “Wefaq” realize that it will destroy all of Bahrain’s reformative gains if it insists on its stubborn position?
We must refer here to the fallacy promoted by the Bahraini opposition, which some have picked up on without actually verifying. “Wefaq” accused the Bahraini authorities of “marginalizing the popular will,” and stated that as an association, it is the true representative of the Bahraini majority as it won 60 percent of the people’s votes. This is completely untrue, as the official figures, which have been published on every occasion and are in no way hidden, prove that “Wefaq” achieved 83,000 out of 318,000 votes, the total for the electoral bloc. Therefore it only secured around 26 percent of votes. Perhaps what will help Wefaq increase its vote is that the Sunni opposition is fragmented, and usually nobody pays attention to the silent majority. This applies to the situation in Bahrain precisely.
The ceiling set by the Bahraini kingdom in order for dialogue to succeed is very high. The proposed reforms would represent a major step in the process. The opposition itself was [initially] hoping for a tenth of this proposed ceiling, yet now it will either preserve these gains and build upon them, or continue to dodge, attack and retreat until this golden opportunity has been wasted. This will lead to a return to clashes and protests that will benefit no-one. The ball is now in the opposition’s court; it has no choice but to aim for the goal. But waiting, procrastinating and manoeuvring might force the ball out of the game altogether.