Bahrain Justice and Development Movement Statement on dialogue in Bahrain
Over the past year and a half, Bahrain Justice and Development Movement (BJDM) have supported the Bahraini opposition societies in their calls for a dialogue as a peaceful solution to the ongoing political crisis in the country.
In September 2011, at the United Nations General Assembly, President Obama said, “we will continue to call on the government and the main opposition bloc, Al Wefaq, to pursue a meaningful dialogue that brings peaceful change that is responsive to the people.”
Almost 18 months later we have joined with the opposition societies in welcoming the renewed call for dialogue, from a Royal Directive of the King. Both the statement from the authorities and the response from the opposition were positive and suggested a way to move the country forwards peacefully.
There has been much talk of this being a “golden opportunity” for Bahrain, with the efforts being lauded by much of the international community. There is little doubt that this could indeed signal the beginning of a new era; but only if the Government puts people before propaganda and acts for the good of the country rather than the good of themselves.
More than two weeks since the original announcement and with the dialogue declared as being due to start on 10th February a host of questions remain unanswered and it is far from clear how serious the Government really is.
With this in mind we caution against any aspect of Bahraini society walking blindly into something that is not yet guaranteed to be beneficial in ending the current crisis. Dialogue cannot afford to fail this time and therefore all groups must enter with full confidence and assurances or there is the risk that talks will break down, as they did in July 2011.
Dialogue comes after a 2 years that has been one of the most tumultuous periods in Bahrain’s political history. Many have lost their lives, their livelihoods, and a great deal of hatred and anger has built up on all sides. This further necessitates confidence to be built and trust to be restored and this simply will not happen without efforts being made from all sides. The issuance of a non-violence treaty by the opposition parties in November 2012 marked one such positive measure for building confidence, whilst the Government has responded by continuing to stop peaceful expression and assembly, as well as upholding sentences against opposition figures.
Therefore BJDM sympathizes with the opposition societies who seek clarifications from the Government about this dialogue, both in terms of process and participants. Last week they penned a letter to the Minister of Justice raising a number of issues that included timeframe, agenda, parties involved and legitimization of the process.
This week the Minister of Justice met with the societies, yet it seems did little to answer the points that had been raised in the letter.
The key area that holds the answer as to how serious the Government are is whether they will be directly involved or act as mediators, as suggested thus far.
BJDM feel this is simply not good enough. The Government is part of the problem in Bahrain and therefore needs to be part of the solution. The suggestion that discussions should be between communities is an attempt to make the issue sectarian rather than political, a tactic regularly used by the Government since the beginning of 14th February 2011.
The calls for dialogue that have come from the international community have nearly all called for a dialogue between the Government and the opposition, therefore the notion that they will take a step back and play mediator will come as a surprise to many globally.
The danger is that this dialogue will become a blunt a tool as was the Bahraini Parliament, when the opposition took part between 2006 and 2011. Even with almost 50% of MP’s little could be achieved because the Government was seen as being above the discussions; there to implement only what it chose to.
At the same time little could be decided in Parliament with loyalist MP’s joining forces to oppose opposition policy. This did little to benefit Bahrain and a similar set up with this dialogue will achieve the same conclusion of no positive outcome.
And this strikes at the heart of one of the central demands from the opposition. They call for an elected Government, one that represents the will of the people and not an outside body that stands above politics. The Government playing the role of mediator only reinforces this idea that they are a never-changing, all powerful body that reigns supreme. In modern democratic societies the Government is part of the debate, not separate to it.
We feel the Government of Bahrain need to shed this attitude and understand the need for them to be directly involved in addressing the genuine democratic concerns of the people of Bahrain.
Dialogue needs to work as the alternatives are in the interests of nobody in Bahrain. But in order for this to happen the time has come for the Government to prove that they are serious, to admit their mistakes and stop delaying a solution.
This is what will separate this dialogue from being a propaganda effort to silence the international condemnation to being a serious and meaningful process that can lead Bahrain to a bright and stable democratic future.