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.