The need for political dialogue in Bahrain

By: Tora Systad Tyssen

In June there was a workshop on the future of Bahrain, attended mainly by young Bahrainis, at Chatham House in London where issues such as the political and economic future of the country, key issues of contention and what the principles for future dialogue should be. Since the meeting was held under Chatham rules no information on participants is readily available, but by reading the summary one finds the political views and arguments of a wide varity of the Bahraini political scene represented. What should worry the Bahraini king if he cares to read the summary, is not the paragraphs outlining different views and takes on the political situation in the country, but rather those who summarize all what the participants could agree on, because there lays his real challenge if he wants to create stability in the country.

All the participants were, not suprisingly, frustrated with the current situation in Bahrain. And although they did not necessarily agree on who normally throws the first stone they are all tired of street clashes between police and demonstrators and see the necessity of urgent steps to stall the escalating violence. Even though the problems express themselves as security issues when they lead to clashes in the street, the youths of Bahrain are more than able to see that they underlying problem is political. If the king really wants to end unrest in Bahrain he should see that security measures alone will not mend the political problems that are tearing the country apart.

A good first step according to the participants would be a more substantial political dialogue than the one conducted in the summer months of 2011, so that political disputes can be solved in a peaceful manner. And even though the regime is not comfortable with acknowledging the “opposition” to be more than al-Wifaq a realisation that Bahraini politics can not be reduced to a zero-sum game is absolutely necessary if a political solution is to be viable. Several of the new Sunni Muslim movements that have risen since the February 14th revolt began will not allow being reduced to pro-government forces and will not allow any political dialogue between the traditional opposition and the regime to prevail without them having a seat at the table. This is where it starts getting difficult for the regime, because the Sunni Muslim voice of the streets are not necessarily the Sunni Muslim voice of the government.

Handling a Shia-dominated opposition they are used to, but Sunni-dominated groups making actual political and economic demands there does not seem to be a recipe on how to contain. And even though none of the Sunni-dominated groups are making very radical demands, the fact that they oppose any dialogue without them make their presence a complicating factor for the regime. As long as their best hope of influencing the politics in the country is by insisting on a seat at the negation table, that is what they will continue to do. And as long as the youths of Bahrain feel left out of the political processes in Bahrain, as the workshop participants say that they feel, the king will have a problem selling any political solution and compromise to the Bahrainis.

There is no easy solution to the conflict in Bahrain but for the king listening to the youth´s call for political reform, economic development and social reconsiliation rather than sending more police out into the streets would probably be a good idea.

2 Responses to “The need for political dialogue in Bahrain”

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