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Concrete start towards national reconciliation

Political leaders express optimism as Bahrain works on end to crisis

Image Credit: EPA
A boy wears a picture of activist Abdul Hadi Al Khawaja during an opposition rally along Budaiya highway north of Manama onFriday. Thousands answered the call by leading opposition groups to take part in the ‘Nation demands democracy’ rally, the firstauthorised march since the authorities banned rallies and gatherings in July.
Gulf News

Manama: A forum of 19 political and human rights societies, lawmakers and government officials has set the stage for a significant national dialogue that will help 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 months that political and human rights groups from various segments of Bahraini society sat together in around 20 months to discuss the worst political and social crisis to hit Bahrain in modern times.

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

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

Chairing the sessions that lasted from 10am until 2.30pm, Mohammad Abdul Gaffar, the King’s adviser for diplomatic affairs and Derasat board of trustees chairman, said that the forum should mark a fresh start that would enable all parties to transcend self-interest and work for national goals.

Hassan Al A’ali, secretary-general of the Democratic National Rally, described the forum as “honest and transparent”.

“It was a constructive dialogue held within a positive setting and a spirit of open minds,” he said. “The arguments were objective despite the divergent points of view. The participants stressed the role of the media and how it should assume greater responsibilities in promoting national unity,” he said.

The implementation of the recommendations presented by an international probe panel, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), at the end of a four-month field investigation, was also debated by the participants, Al A’ali said.

The government accepted the recommendations soon after they were published late in 2011 and set up an ad-hoc commission to oversee their implementation and hired experts from the US and the UK to provide assistance.

The opposition claims that the implementation has been slow and wants the government to step up the pace.

However, the government insists that it has implemented most of the recommendations and that the pending ones would also be put into practice, but needed more time.

“I suggested the formation of a new committee where the opposition would be represented to oversee the implementation,” Al A’ali said.

Abdul Nabi Salman, secretary-general of the Progressive Democratic Tribune, a leftist movement, said that his political formation “wanted the forum to succeed”.

“We wanted to contribute to the dialogue for the sake of the nation as part of our national and moral duties. There was a general agreement that the dialogue should succeed to ease the situation in the country. We are pleased that the conditions were satisfactory and that there was genuine keen interest in diagnosing and analysing the situation rationally in order to do away with the problems and find the right solutions,” he said.

Everybody was able to table their concerns, worries and aspirations freely, he said.

Abdullah Al Huwaihi, the head of the politburo of the National Unity Rally, praised the gathering as an opportunity to exchange views.

“It was a positive step forward and participants spoke openly and freely. There were divergences as expected, but participants agreed on the significance of a national reconciliation,” he said.

The presence of the political formations around the same table was 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 December 7, 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 Bahraini society.

“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,” Crown 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 Crown 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, Crown 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.