Manama: As the multi-coloured spotlights swayed across the vast coffee shop and Gulf tunes blared from the small speakers, Ebrahim was quietly smoking his shisha, elated to be among the mixed crowd that reflected the wide variety of the Bahraini society.
“I want to believe there is at least a slight chance for the ongoing national dialogue to help heal the wounds that have scarred our lives, but I see nothing that supports my bold dream,” he said.
Like many of the young men and women at the coffee shop in the posh area of Adliya in the capital Manama, Ebrahim, an officer, did not have much hope about the outcome of the talks launched more than seven months ago to address thorny political issues following months of unrest.
The 27 participants, representing a coalition of opposition societies, another coalition of political societies, the parliament and the government, have held more than 25 meetings that were quiet at times and stormy at others.
Yet, they still have to agree on a platform and an agenda for the talks.
“We were initially wary that nothing would come out of the talks because the wounds were so deep that a real surgery is needed. Then, we had some hope amid statements issued by the different parties about good intentions and a feel-good atmosphere inside the opulent dialogue hall at Al Areen Hotel. However, we were quickly disenchanted. No breakthroughs, no steps forward, but so many quarrels.. That is not the recipe for successful talks. We did not exactly expect a love story, but we did expect to see some light,” he said.
For Mohammad Sultan, an accountant with a private company, the talks, despite their limited success, were an important step to help the nation recover its past health.
“People are fed up with the situation and they want solutions,” he said, as he set aside his phone. Sitting at a coffee shop inside a shopping complex in the outskirts of Manama, he was keeping up with friends over the Whatsapp.
“But they insist on real, time-resistant solutions that will ensure that everybody is feeling at ease in this country. One segment of the society feels that they do not belong while another segment is worried it will be marginalised if it loses ground. We need to reach a common ground. We need compromises, no matter how painful they are, to get there. This dialogue is not the ideal solution, but is a step forward,” he said.
For Jaber Mohammad, a political analyst, the main feature lacking in the dialogue as it was being conducted was trust.
“Practical measures call for confidence-building measures to have trust and do away with the mistrust that has characterised the talks so far,” he said. “It is important to cling to the dialogue because, as experience has taught us, it is one of the major core principles needed. But, there is also a need for trust because it is the motivator of the communication. Once the participants trust one another and engage in a constructive dialogue, then we simply need to ensure there is enough respect by all of them and enough patience to reinforce progress and absorb shocks,” he said.
Khatoon, an office clerk, said that she did not follow the dialogue closely.
“Of course I am aware of it and I know its ultimate purpose,” she said. “But, I cannot pretend that I am following it. I feel that as long as there is no breakthrough, there will be no interest. People do not want to follow the exchange of accusations or self-inflating words about genuine commitments against obstacles from others. We want to see our society reunited the way it was three years ago. That is what the people want. They do not want a tense atmosphere that will inevitably affect the new generations and widen the chasm between the segments of our society. To me, a dialogue means the existence of ideas and readiness to move towards a common ground. Can the ongoing talks do that for the sake of the nation? We are not really optimistic, but we most certainly hope so,” she said.