Over the past four weeks Bahrain has been engaged in an important initiative to re-forge consensus in society. The events at the beginning of the year revealed sharp differences of view among some communities about the way the country should develop.Khalifa Bin Ahmed Al-Dhahrani is the speaker of Bahrain's elected Council of Representatives and chaired the National Dialogue.
The National Dialogue that began on July 5 brought together around 300 groups representing a wide spectrum of Bahraini society, including all political associations that included opposition groups, non-governmental organizations, religious scholars, human-rights activists, journalists, economists and business leaders.
Initiated by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, the dialogue's aim was to generate a consensus on key issues facing Bahrain and submit recommendations for further reforms.
On Thursday, the delegates to the dialogue passed these recommendations to the King in preparation for their enactment into law and implementation. They include radical changes in the level of democratic oversight exercised by parliament over the executive branch. In future, Bahrain's parliament will approve the composition of the government as well as the government's work program. Important proposals for improving the economy also went forward, including measures to increase diversification, strengthen commercial arbitration and amend privatization laws. Delegates also called for a comprehensive study to identify low-income target groups and improve the government's redistribution of funds as part of an effort to raise Bahrain's levels of social inclusion.
Bahrain's long history as a trading hub with a cosmopolitan population means that the principle of tolerance is well founded in our society. This was clear during the national dialogue process.
Of course, there were some issues on which participants did not easily find consensus and some groups were disappointed with the lowest-common-denominator compromises that emerged. Nevertheless, the long and occasionally difficult process of discussing complex and sensitive matters in a responsible way demonstrated to Bahrainis at large that there is a strong desire in society to overcome these differences and set the country on a stable course of development.
We regretted the decision by four opposition groups to leave the talks. Although they represented views and interests that are an important part of our society, we had a duty to ensure that all voices were heard in the dialogue, and not just the loudest.
The King pledged from the outset to ensure the swift implementation of the dialogue's recommendations. This was a powerful incentive for participants to identify common positions.
Bahrain's adoption of the National Action Charter in 2001 marked an important turning point in the country's political reforms and showed that Bahrain is able to drive change in an evolutionary way. The same is true now.
Through the national dialogue, Bahrainis seized the opportunity to address their concerns and resolve them in a civilized manner. Together we have taken a vitally important step forward in the process of healing divisions in our society.
[The WSJ did try to neutralize this "op-ed" with an opposing report. Also see Al Arabiya's update.]