Al Wefaq, Bahrain's main Shiite political party, is close to
pulling out of the national dialogue to discuss reform, arguing it's
only a fig leaf for continued autocracy.
The largest opposition group in Bahrain is likely to soon pull
out of a national dialogue set up by the government to address a
political crisis that has been simmering since the government
crushed a pro-democracy uprising in the spring.
The talks are structured to dilute the voice of the opposition
and give the illusion that the government is addressing political
problems when it is actually ignoring them, charges Khalil Al
Marzooq, a spokesman for Al Wefaq, the strongest Shiite opposition
party. He and three other party delegates have recommended to the
leadership that Al Wefaq leave the talks so as not to be part of a
government charade. A decision will likely be made soon.
"We entered the dialogue to help the country, to try to reform it
from inside," he said by phone from Manama. "But now we believe that
we have enough evidence for the international community that the
authorities are not serious in reform. ... Nobody is responding to
us. We cannot continue this, fooling ourselves and fooling the
people and fooling the international community that this is a
The national dialogue comes after the government brutally crushed
an uprising that began in February in the tiny island ruled by a
Sunni monarchy. Protesters, who were mostly from the majority-
Shiite population, called for democratic reforms, including a new
constitution, an elected government, and an empowered parliament.
Analysts say the government-sponsored talks aren't getting to
these root causes of the uprising, and they see little sign the
government is willing to implement real political reform that would
address those issues. Without change, protesters and the political
opposition are unlikely to give up their fight, which means no
solution for unrest is in sight for the tiny US ally that hosts the
US Navy's Fifth Fleet.
"I think the national dialogue is designed to fail to solve the
real serious political issues and it's designed to shore up the
regime's position," says Toby Jones, a historian of the Gulf at
Rutgers University. With the talks, as well as a commission
appointed by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa to investigate the
crackdown, "there's an underlying case being made by the government
that the crisis started in February," he says, instead of
acknowledging the long-running problems that led to the uprising.
Coming on the heels of a visit by Bahrain's crown prince to the
US and Europe, both moves also appear meant to placate international
allies like the US, which has pressured Bahrain to find a political,
rather than a security, solution to the crisis.
To the opposition, the biggest problem with the talks is their
structure. Out of 320 participants, just 25 are members of the
political opposition, according to Marzooq. That includes four Al
Wefaq members - a fifth who would have participated is currently
detained on charges of passing false information to the media.
Representatives of the monarchy are not present. Members are
divided into four groups focused on politics, rights, economics, and
social issues, and are each given five minutes to speak in a
session. Consensus is reached by majority opinion, says Marzooq.
Because the government filled the invitee list with pro-government
delegates, the voices of the opposition are drowned out. …