Last weekend the White House “commended” King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa “for his leadership in initiating” Bahrain’s “National Dialogue,” and trumpeted the last minute inclusion of Al Wefaq, the country’s largest political party and main opposition group. Now the largely ceremonial proceedings are crumbling in Washington’s usual silence. After Al Wefaq gradually reduced its presence throughout the week, the White House and State Department have yet to respond to their latest foiled attempt to douse Bahrain’s uprising.
The Obama administration must be too busy plotting its next transparent scheme to oppress Arab revolutionaries.
Contrary to positive statements from Isa Abdulrahman, the “National Dialogue’s” spokesman, last Saturday’s opening pageant started downhill and never recovered. One of Al Wefaq’s five delegates, Jawad Fairoz, remains in a detention center along with an unspecified number of political activists and medical officials, and two nights of controlled meetings further revealed a lack of sincerity on the government’s part. Hadi al-Mosawi, an Al-Wefaq representative, told CNN that only 35 of 300 delegates represented the opposition, and warned the dialogue “has been set so that it is directed towards a pre-determined outcome.”
Jameel Kadhim of Al Wefaq added, "The discussions are overwhelmed by pro-government supporters who obstruct any criticism of the status-quo.”
Substantial topics such as the constitution and security environment are blocked. The government has also pushed back against demands for additional speaking time; delegates are only given three to five minutes to make their points. The government claims that written responses are meant to facilitate discussion, however the opposition believes this system dodges the core driver of Bahrain’s uprising. "All are much below expectations," Kadhim said of the issues currently under debate.
Meanwhile Bahraini security forces continue to suppress anti-government protesters boycotting the “National Dialogue,” escalating pressure on Al Wefaq to pull out altogether. Officials have admitted that the possibility is under consideration. For now the group has decided to reject half of the “workshops” (economic and social) until progress is made in the others (political and security). Khalil Al Marzooq, Al Wefaq’s leading delegate, skipped the “social sessions” due to neglect of the political and rights committees. He’s still awaiting a response to 33 questions he submitted on the “National Dialogue’s” mechanisms.
“The dialogue is intentionally structured in a way that will only lead to more contention," Al Marzooq said. "So our fear is that this type of dialogue and environment and process is not going to help us and it will ignite even more sectarianism in the country. They are not serious. If they were serious, they would not do it this way.”
The lack of progress over the last week has reinforced two truths: Bahrain’s government isn’t serious about political reform and Al Wefaq only joined to corner the regime. One cannot assume the group would have rejected a fairer process, but it entered negotiations under the firm belief that such a process wouldn’t materialize. Marzooq, a former First Deputy Speaker of Bahrain's Parliament, explained, “The International community accuses us of not responding to the Crown Prince's call for a Dialogue although we had met with him. We don't want to have a scenario again where people say that the opposition is resisting in trying to find a political solution.”
Al Wefaq obviously wants to reverse the tables on the government.
Although Washington and Riyadh remain in a position of control in Bahrain, their counter-revolution is far from the raging success that it sometimes appears to be. Both have erred too many times to properly recover on the right side of history, and backing Saudi Arabia’s intervention is proving an irreversible mistake for the Obama administration. No amount of rhetoric can whitewash this illegitimate occupation. During his “Moment of Opportunity,“ President Barack Obama went so far as to justify Saudi troops for supporting Bahrain’s “security,” while accusing Iran of fomenting “disorder.”
He then claimed, “We have insisted both publicly and privately that mass arrests and brute force are at odds with the universal rights of Bahrain’s citizens, and such steps will not make legitimate calls for reform go away. The only way forward is for the government and opposition to engage in a dialogue, and you can’t have a real dialogue, when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail. The government must create the conditions for dialogue, and the opposition must participate to forge a just future for all Bahrainis."
Bahrain’s government hasn’t met any of these conditions. Last Friday Sheik Isa Qassim, a leading Shia cleric, cautiously welcomed the “National Dialogue” and a special committee to investigate human rights abuses. Yesterday Qassim, who has advocated the release of political prisoners, denounced the negotiations as superficial: "The people sacrifice so much for reform, and they (the rulers) talk about the need for gradual change. They want to give reform in small doses while inflicting massive injustice."
King al-Khalifa should consider himself fortunate that the opposition has yet to seek total regime change. Not even reform is being delivered though. More protesters are beginning to chant “Down with Hamad.” They see right through the “Dialogue of Death,” the same futile plot pushed on Egyptians, Syrians and Yemenis. While the Obama administration's response to the latter countries may appear day and night, the White House has stuck to “reform” as its answer to both revolutions. Obama promised to support those regimes that do reform during his “Moment of Opportunity,” but America’s real level of support is on display.
Useful regimes are also rewarded for bad behavior, while brave revolutionaries are treated with deathly silence.