Manama: Bahrain’s justice minister on Tuesday assured sceptical members of parliament that they would not be excluded from a much-anticipated national dialogue expected to be launched between the various segments of the Bahraini society.
“There will be no exclusions of lawmakers and there will be no interference from foreign countries in the dialogue,” Shaikh Khalid Bin Ali Al Khalifa said during the parliament session after MPs expressed concerns on both counts.
“Everything will be transparent and in the open and there will not be a dialogue on the table and another one under the table. The dialogue will be Bahraini and there will be no foreign involvement,” he said after several lawmakers expressed reservations about the merit of the expected dialogue “if it was not conducted properly.”
Some lawmakers said that there should be no dialogue until the opposition renounced violence on Bahrain’s streets.
The variance in positions highlighted the extent of divisions that have crept into Bahraini society since the events of February and March last year that marked the worst social and political crisis in the country’s modern history.
Attempts to find a solution to the uneasy situation that has affected social life and negatively impacted commercial activities have failed as hardliners from various sides stalled any move to bring moderate voices to the negotiating table.
However, a ray of hope shone when Crown Prince Salman Bin Hamad Al Khalifa called for dialogue between various segments of society in a recent public speech. “I am not a prince of Sunni Bahrain, I am not a prince of Shiite Bahrain. I am a prince of the kingdom of Bahrain and all mean a great deal to me personally. I soon hope to see a meeting between all sides — and I call for a meeting between all sides — as I believe that only through face-to-face contact will any real progress be made,” Prince Salman said at the Manama Dialogue on Friday.
The dialogue did not even have to be on a very serious subject, Prince Salman suggested. “But meetings must start to take place to prevent us sliding into an abyss that will only threaten all of our national interests as we, here in the kingdom of Bahrain, although small, are large in what we symbolise, what we represent and what we have achieved. His Majesty the King of Bahrain was a pioneer of the reform process here in the Middle East,” he said.
Prince Salman’s call was welcomed by opposition groups, led by Al Wefaq National Islamic Society, who expressed their readiness to take part in the talks.
On Monday, the Shura Council, the appointed chamber of the bicameral parliament, hailed the call for dialogue to end the crisis.
Lawmakers from the lower chamber on Tuesday said that they welcomed the invitation to start the dialogue.
However, several MPs insisted that it had to be “fully Bahraini without foreign involvement” and that it had to be meaningful to “ensure certainty for future generations.”
The appeal for dialogue also drew praise from the US administration.
“I welcome the call for dialogue by His Royal Highness Crown Prince Salman Bin Hamad Al Khalifa, and encourage all political societies and civil society to engage with the government of Bahrain,” Michael Posner, US assistant secretary of state for bureau of democracy, human rights, and labour, said in a statement on Monday. “We also acknowledge the positive response of Al Wefaq and a coalition of other opposition societies to the crown prince’s call for dialogue, and their reaffirmation of the previously-issued Declaration of Non-Violence,” the US official said at the end of a visit to Bahrain where he attended the Manama Dialogue, an international conference.
By Habib Toumi, Bureau Chief