Gulf | Bahrain

Manama inches towards much-anticipated dialogue

Rights seminar brings together political formations for first time in months

  • By Habib Toumi Bureau Chief
  • Published: 13:27 December 13, 2012
  • Gulf News

Manama: Bahrain’s first concrete steps towards a dialogue to end the social and political crisis that has hit the nation for 20 months are set to be made at a seminar on human rights.

All political formations in the country have been invited to take part in the meeting to be held behind closed doors.

Bahrain Centre for Strategic, International, and Energy Studies (Derasat) said it was holding a seminar on human rights in Bahrain on Thursday and that “participants will represent the diverse segments of the political and human rights community in Bahrain.”

Dr Mohammad Abdul Gaffar, advisor to the king for diplomatic affairs and chairman of Derasat board of trustees, said the seminar, “Human Rights in Bahrain — Achievements and Aspirations: A Look into the Reality and the Future”, would address “issues related to human rights in the Kingdom of Bahrain, and the mechanisms to strengthen them through a review of Bahrain’s considerable experience.

“In taking the initiative to organise this event, Derasat hopes to contribute significantly to the human rights’ agenda.”

Sources said that all the societies have accepted the invitation to the seminar and that they would be represented by leading figures.

The presence of the political formations around the same table would be considered a major breakthrough in the quest for a dialogue that has been elusive for months.

Radicals on all sides have stalled efforts to bridge the gap following protests that hit the country in February and March.

On Friday, Crown Prince Salman Bin Hamad Al Khalifa said dialogue was the only way forward and that he looked forward to a meeting between all components of the Bahraini society.

“I am not a prince of Sunni Bahrain; I am not a prince of Shia Bahrain. I am a prince of the Kingdom of Bahrain and all mean a great deal to me personally,” Prince Salman said at the Manama talks. “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 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,” he said.

For Prince Salman, 43, the silent majority in Bahrain deserved a better social, economic and political deal.

“Unleashing people power means that we must respect the opinions of people,” he said. “There is a silent majority here in the Kingdom of Bahrain who feel their voices are unheard. They are the ones who go to sleep at night with no security on their gates. They are the ones who live in mixed communities, representing different sects, ethnicities and political beliefs. They are the ones who have to live, day to day, with the spectre of a sectarian conflict erupting that may damage themselves or their own interests, their future or their children at any time. That cannot be allowed to happen. Responsible leadership is called for. That is because the majority of the people of Bahrain want a solution that puts the events of last year firmly in the past, and I believe that dialogue is the only way forward,” he said.

The differing political views represented in disparate political groups here in Bahrain must be reconciled, Prince Salman said.

“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,” he said.

The remarks by Prince Salman have been warmly welcomed locally, despite attempts by some lawmakers and columnists to tie the possibility of a national dialogue to a public denunciation of violence.

The call to start a dialogue was also hailed internationally with the US and France expressing their support.

In his speech, Prince Salman had called upon the international community to assume its responsibilities towards improving the situation in Bahrain.

“We have our work cut out for us, but the international community must play its part,” he said. “Wishing for peace never works, but peace making does. I call on our friends in the West to engage like the United Kingdom has done — engage all stakeholders, train all groups, work with us to make our environment and our capacity greater and stronger. Stop exclusively scrutinising government actions alone. There is a moral responsibility on all sides to work to bring the Bahraini body politic together. We must heal these wounds. We must stop the violence. We must reduce the fear and we must stop the bigotry. I call on you unequivocally to condemn violence if ever it occurs. We will continue to do our part, but you will help us all if you do yours,” he said.

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