Dialogue in tatters?

19 Jul, '11

Al-Wefaq pulled out of the National Dialogue. This is not a disaster. It’s their right. They didn’t believe in its efficacy and I – and everyone else – must respect their evaluation no matter how much we differ from their conclusions. I predict that the three liberal/leftist societies soon might follow suit. Again, that’s up to them. No one should label them as traitors – an oft and liberally used word in what has become a paranoia in this country.

The question that we should ask ourselves is why they opted to abandon the process and what did they base their conclusion on? Are they valid and how should they be addressed? Let me tell you from first hand observation that these societies are not the only ones who chose not to participate, I have witnessed several personalities leaving the dialogue not to return, others did so temporarily because of a disagreement and others didn’t even bother to attend even though their names are still listed in the roster. So please, my friends, let’s leave the hysteria behind us and be pragmatic about the situation.

So what’s the problem? How and what must we learn from this experience?

The first and foremost universal complaint has been that those involved in the Dialogue are do not directly represent the Bahraini public. Yes, that is very true. We did not win our seats by public vote but have been appointed in those positions. Looking at the roster, I recognise that a good cross section of professionals, businessmen, writers, journalists, politicians of every hue and other worthy people are involved. It is quite apparent that those who did the choosing did so with an eye to include as wide a cross-section of society as they could. However; with this selection, the Dialogue could be referred to as a council of experts rather than one formed to be directly representative of society. For that to be true, elections of those in the Dialogue need to take place. This grouping – to me at least – are an acceptable medium.

The second complaint is the adopted mechanism. We are told that this is a code adopted by international arbitrators in dispute resolutions. The organisers; however, failed to explain the parameters of this mechanism in sufficient detail. All the delegates got was a printed “code” which was never fully explained in the sessions. What the organisers should have done is take the time to gather all the delegates and properly and minutely explain what the process is and how agreement or disagreements would be arrived at and adopted. This should have been done right on the very first day. What we got instead are lackluster and uninspired speeches. It was a 30-minute ceremony while those present were ready and willing to stay the full day to enter into a training session to understand what is required, how the discussions will be managed and how resolutions would be adopted.

The third complaint is that no one knows exactly how and when the resolutions are going to be presented to His Majesty the King and what he will do with those resolutions. Do the resolutions constitute a binding agreement between the people (if they are indeed regarded as represented by the delegates) and the regime? How will the resolutions be prioritised? Indeed, how will they be adopted? Will HM authorise a public referendum, or will he simply assign the resolutions to the various organs of government as he sees fit? What will the timeframe of implementation be? I couldn’t get a straight answer from any official at the Dialogue.

There are other issues – just as critical – that contributed to the current state of the Dialogue. The Dialogue is the direct result of the February 14th movement whose bedrock are demands for increased political rights and freedoms. It was never just about jobs, housing and government services. However, from my own personal observations, the topics being discussed and resolved do not adequately touch upon these main aspirations, in fact, what is happening is a surprising attempt by some delegates to reduce the ceiling even lower by calling for further restrictions on freedoms and rights.

Like others in the various sessions, I have complained to the sessions’ moderators that we should ensure that we raise the ceiling of rights in this country. I reminded them that we have been given an opportunity to challenge current laws, directives and even the constitution itself, but what I have witnessed so far is a concerted effort not only to stay within the confines of the already contentious laws, but enact new, even more restrictive ones.

I would have thought that these critical issues should have been addressed right at the start. Having them remain unanswered, I feel, contributed to both Alwefaq and several other personalities abandoning the Dialogue.

Regardless, I fully believe that being part of a dialogue is much better than being outside of it. Through this dialogue, no matter how ineffectual some have determined it to be, I still believe that at the very least it will serve as a first step to a much needed national reconciliation, and through it, aspirations will be vocalised and noted, and steps could be taken in the right direction.

I fought for the reduction in the amount of restrictive laws in this country and the enactment of mechanisms which ensure that we get ready for the challenges of the future by completely reforming education – making critical thinking, innovation and creativity central to curricula; supporting SMEs by removing restrictive laws and procedures; engendering social responsibility; supporting businesses against foreign competition; allowing local businesses a variance of up to 10% difference in bids against foreign firms as long as part of that bid’s budget goes directly to societal needs; protecting the environment by penalising polluters and ensuring new and old projects adhere to stringent environmental requirements; untethering electronic media, removal of all Internet filters and ensuring that judicial orders be gained should a site blocking be required. I’m satisfied that I managed to get almost all of those points recognised and adopted. However, the demands for the more intrinsic issues of political rights and freedoms remain divergent and contentious between delegates in the Political, Rights and Social streams.

From my understanding after discussions with those who participated in the Political, Rights and Social streams, the direction there seem to run counter to the main aspirations of the people, let alone that some of the resolutions actually run against those adopted in other sessions. Other very important and quite critical resolutions have not been adopted as no consensus was arrived at either; an example of those issues include the formation of political parties (rather than societies), a less restrictive law on the rights of assembly, more freedoms of speech and the press, more equitable distribution of electoral districts, one-man-one-vote principle, holding the cabinet accountable to the elected parliament, restricting legislation to the elected parliament amongst others.

Is there any rays of hope emanating from this dialogue? Yes, I think there are. The results of the Dialogue won’t be as Earth moving as some might have wanted it to be, but having some things adopted for the better is an improvement on the current situation. I believe that this dialogue is a right step in the evolution of this country and its people and is very much worthy of consideration. I would have loved it if real political change is gained through them, but I don’t think this will happen immediately. I can tell you with some measure of confidence; however, that the presidency of the Parliament will now be with the elected Speaker of the House, rather than the appointed chairman of the Shura council. This must be recognised as a good step forward and one that has been demanded by many.

I personally would also like to see the EDB taking a much bigger role in the running of the country in as much as continuing to be the incubator of successful projects, as well as be the main over-sight entity over the government. If that comes to being, I think we can record this Dialogue as a successful one. Not one that answered all the aspirations of the people, but at least one that provided a glimmer of hope taking Bahrain into the future.

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Comments (12)

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  1. Achut Bhandarkar says:

    Thanks MA for the exhaustive insight. It was a very interesting and informative read. I read today’s GDN with regret where Asala called the action by Al Wefaq as inspired by Iran. It is time for Bahrainis to stop pointing finger at each other. While I personally think Al Wefaq were hasty in their decision and should have participated nonetheless even thought they had reservations, their decision must me respected and nto challenged if we call ourselves democratic and free to choose. Still considering their actions right from the begining, they have always called themselves the opposition and have always opposed everything that did not fit within their view quite vocally and socially. When the new electioneering started they voiced their opposition and kept away. They they got into parliment and grumbled that it was not what they wanted and they resigned during the protests. When they got invited to dialogue, they refused until their demands were met. Even now they first refused, then joined then resigned again. Do you see the pattern of opposition to everything. I know they have some valid demands but they are not achieveable at present and will take time and for a fragile economy like Bahrain, their tactics will not work. They can start the process of reforming society by educating the youth to be responsible, to train them to accept all types of jobs, be open to various types of careers and thinking outside the religious box. That would be the first step towards social reform.

    • mahmood says:

      Legitimate demands are not diluted by time or circumstance. They did what they felt is right.

      To set the record straight:

      1. They resigned from parliament in protest against the fatal violence used by the security forces against the protestors; governments in the real world topple for a lot less.

      2. They voiced their valid opposition to the Dialogue, their views were not taken into account yet they did participate to see if they can work from the inside, they determined that they couldn’t; hence, they abandoned the Dialogue. I can see their point of view and even though I don’t personally agree with them, I can understand that what they aspire to for a National Dialogue is a much bigger one than the one we currently have. They want direct talks with decision makers, they want binding resolutions, they want resolutions to intrinsic and major problems in this country which pour into the political (new binding constitution and rights) rather than government services or the economy, all of which are subservient and will naturally be re-aligned once a binding constitution is in place.

      3. I do not agree that their demands are not achievable at present in Bahrain. What we currently have (parliament, dialogue, etc) are direct results of Bahrainis struggles through decades. Wefaq represents a majority of those who have struggled and continue to do so, they should be accorded proper respect not just for them as an elected entity but for whom they represent.

      4. Social reform requires a lot more than what you suggest, but it starts with not blaming a single entity (government, opposition, people, etc) for all of our ills. Bahrainis do do any kind of jobs, didn’t you witness girls washing cars in the height of summer? Go to the Regency car parks.

      5. Education is not a political society’s mandate. It’s the government’s.

      6. Providing jobs is not a political society’s mandate. It’s the market and the government who do.

      I urge you to remove your prejudices when thinking of Wefaq or Bahrainis. Although I’m not one of their supporters, I recognise the good they are doing for this country.

  2. milter says:

    Thanks for your report, Mahmood.

    Has anybody had the guts to mention the words “income tax” during the talks? No matter how controversial that concept may be there’s no way around it in a modern society.

    • Eman says:

      I firmly agree with the third complaint so far no legit source has assured us that the dialogue’s discussion will be considered for creating a change. I stand with Al-Wefaqs solidarity I believe the dialogue’s discussion will emerge with the determined voices that are arising to help our society. Social reform will only occur with our culture adapting and respecting the changes bound to appear. I sincerely hope that Al-Wefaq will reconsider their standpoint for hope to advance their progression.

    • Da Rebel says:

      No taxation without representation. While it may be a controversial subject, I really can’t see expatriates easily accepting taxation if they are not represented in the running of the country. This would not be something that the Bahrain government would be prepared to do.

      Many expats like to live here because there is no taxation. Bring in taxation then many expats may choose to move. This may not be in Bahrain’s best interests. However, according to the most recent census, there are more expats than Bahrainis, it may be time to change the system. . .

      • mahmood says:

        Income tax was discussed and rejected. Corporate tax was almost adopted, VAT made it even further but was ultimately rejected/shelved. An agreement was reached with regards to lifting subsidies and applying them only to Bahrainis first and those in need from within that subgroup specifically. No implementation method was discussed.

        Moral of the story: some form of taxation IS coming. No idea what or when though, but it’ll be as certain as death pretty soon.

    • mahmood says:

      Raised on the very first session of the Economics stream. Although many agreed and the Minister of Finance suggested that Bahrain is ready for a VAT tax, a smaller number of those present reminded us that the time cannot be right for its imposition. Bahrainis already suffer from low wages (about 80% of the Bahraini workforce receive less than BD400 per month – the official poverty line is BD377 according to the BCSR) What the delegates agreed instead is that government subsidies should benefit Bahrainis first and mostly those who are in real need of it.

      Needless to say, that point has taken some time to discuss.

  3. Eman says:

    AH sorry Militer my comment was not supposed to be a reply for yours ^^ Sorry

  4. Dan says:

    Well…uh…”Keep Talking”:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-XtvR6-ckg

    (And yes that IS Steven Hawking talking.)

  5. hussain says:

    “the presidency of the Parliament will now be with the elected Speaker of the House, rather than the appointed chairman of the Shura council”

    It is no way to be a gain for the price that our nation recently has paid (+35 martyrs).

    Unfortunately stability wont be achieved!

  6. Mohamed says:

    I agree that Wefaq has legitimate demands, but the way they are going about trying to achieve them is disastrous for them and their supporters. Im sorry Mahmood, but I cant defend their recent actions. Their entire policy is seemed to be based on “If you dont give us everything we want, the way we want it, we dont want to talk to you” That is a bit childish way of going about things. Wefaq must understand that there are others who have demands too, some different from theirs, and they need to understand that its a give and take, without compromise, they wont achieve anything.

    I do agree with you though about some of the short comings of the National Dialogue, but like you said, this is the first time Bahrain does something like this, there is bound to be mistakes, and there is needed improvement, but its a very good step in the right direction.

  7. Achut Bhandarkar says:

    Dear Mahmood, Thanks for the rejoinder. I agree with your explanation. I must admit I have only seen men washing cars. While I may be misinformed about all that Al Wefaq, I am not prejudiced against them or Bahrainis. I am third generation of my family in this country, my late grandfather having served the people with love and loyalty. I work with and continue to educate Bahrainis and continue to try to inspire them to better avenues and attitudes. I work with some priviledged Bahraini who enjoy government benefits and still complain. Perhaps my view may have been clouded by their complaints. However I still believe that Al Wefaq can achieve whatever small steps through the National Dialogue, whatever be the shortcomings. As you have said, it is a step forward and we all have to take this together.

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