Gulf | Bahrain

Bahrain king extends talks invite to opposition

Parliament welcomes move to find a solution to political deadlock

  • By Habib Toumi, Bureau Chief
  • Published: 15:50 January 22, 2013
  • Gulf News

  • Image Credit: AP
  • Bahraini anti-government protesters, unseen, throw a petrol bomb at riot police during clashes in Malkiya village, Bahrain.

Manama: Bahrain’s King Hamad Bin Eisa Al Khalifa has invited opposition parties to restart stalled talks on Monday, issuing a directive authorising the Justice Ministry to invite “representatives of the political societies and independent members of the political community” to resume a national dialogue, the kingdom’s Information Affairs Authority said.

Topics on the agenda would be agreed later but the aim was to “achieve further consensus around the political agenda,” the authority said, without going into further details.

Bahrain’s parliament on Tuesday welcomed the call by King Hamad as an effort to end the political deadlock gripping the nation.

“The dialogue will be beneficial for the present and future of the country and will boost stability and security,” the parliament Speaker Khalifa Al Dhahrani said at the weekly session of the lower chamber.

Bahrain’s justice minister had on Monday evening said that he would invite all political societies and independent political figures to continue the dialogue on various political issues. “The move is a confirmation of the official statements that the doors to a serious and objective national dialogue have not and will not be shut as long as there are interests at stake for the nation and the citizens,” the minister said.

In December, Crown Prince Salman stressed that dialogue between all sides in Bahrain was the only way forward.

“I believe that dialogue is the only way forward,” he said. “Geopolitically, demographically and historically, the differing political views represented in disparate political groups here in Bahrain must be reconciled. They will only be reconciled by sitting together and agreeing a framework where the limit of what is acceptable is the limit of what is unacceptable to the other, with the ultimate goal being to reach an agreement,” Prince Salman said as he opened the Manama Dialogue.

At the time, Prince Salman insisted on the importance of all sides holding a meeting to address divergences. “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,” he said.

“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. It does not even have to be on a very serious subject, 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.”

Prince Salman said that the bitter standoff had to end for the sake of the nation, and refused to absolve any side of its responsibilities, calling for “responsible leadership.”

“The government — I believe — has taken significant steps, but more work needs to be done, specifically reform and capacity-building in the judiciary. I believe fundamentally that only through the genuine application of a just, fair and inclusive legal system will people feel that their own rights and their own futures are protected. We must do more to improve the training and capacity of our own judges. We must do more to change laws which still can lead to, in my opinion, judgements which go against the protections guaranteed in our constitution. We must do more to stop the selective enforcement of law. This is key. This is what will build trust across the whole of the society here in the kingdom of Bahrain. Also, the responsibility does not lie solely with those who are in a position of authority. Political figures who disagree with either the constitutional structure or the performance of the government must condemn violence. Silence is not an option. I call on all of the senior leadership of those who disagree, including the Ayatollahs, to condemn the violence on the streets unequivocally, and more, to prohibit it,” he said.

In mid-December, a forum of 19 political and human rights societies, lawmakers and government officials set the stage for the dialogue that set out the grand objective of helping Bahrain heal deep wounds.

Held under the auspices of the Bahrain Institute for Strategic, International and Energy Studies (Derasat), the ‘Human rights in Bahrain — Achievements and aspirations ... Future Outlook’ forum was the first time in 20 months that political and human rights groups from various segments of the Bahraini society sat together to discuss the crisis.

— With inputs from Reuters

Fact Box

Dialogue has become a central issue in Bahrain after the country experienced its most severe political and social crisis in modern history following the mass unrest that hit the country in February and March 2011.

An initial call by Crown Prince Salman Bin Hamad Al Khalifa to disparate political societies, community leaders, and social organisations to take part in a national dialogue with an open agenda on February 19, 2011, just days into the crisis, saw the opposition holding back.

In July 2011, a national dialogue was launched and around 300 people from various political organisations, labour unions, non-governmental organisations, the media, the government, women’s groups and the parliament were invited to a series of talks for a way out of the crisis.

Al Wefaq society, the largest opposition group, joined the deliberations, but pulled out later saying that it should be allowed to name more delegates to the talks.

The dialogue adopted a series of recommendations that included changes to the constitution and more power to the elected lower chamber, a key demand raised by the opposition when the unrest unfolded in February.

Any progress towards further talks was stalled by hardliners who argued against the significance of dialogue despite efforts by the justice minister to reconcile views. The situation was compounded by regular acts of violence that in the absence of progress on initiatives to hold a meaningful dialogue.

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