‘Parallel Dialogue’

GDN Parallel Dialogue

Originally Published in the Gulf Daily News – December 22nd 2013

SLOW progress of talks aimed at ending Bahrain’s nearly three-year political crisis has prompted other societies to launch their own public dialogue.

They feel the National Dialogue is at a standstill and its participants are not tackling real issues facing the country.

Political groups, including the National Liberal Thought Society, newly-formed Al Fateh Youth Coalition (FYC) and National Justice Movement (Al Adala), say the negotiations are failing because of lack of diversity among participants.

The new “parallel dialogue” will feature women activists, businessmen, non-government organisations, legislators and members from all political societies in the country.

National Liberal Thought Society secretary-general Layla Rajab, who is spearheading the initiative, said the first session will be held on January 25.

“The current national consensus dialogue is not moving forward and its progress is slow, so we wanted to create a popular platform for decision makers and key people in Bahrain to speak their minds,” she told the GDN.

“We have 35 people from diverse backgrounds – from businessmen to activists who are backing our parallel dialogue initiative.

“This is an open platform to solve problems that our country faces and we welcome people with open mind, respect for others and who know what they are speaking about rather than just talking.”

Ms Rajab said all political societies, including opposition groups, were welcome to take part in the talks, which will be conducted every three months.

She explained that issues and proposals passed during the talks will be submitted to a high government official, but did not elaborate.

“We are setting up a table outside the government process to include those left out to ensure there is some progress,” she added.

Ms Rajab said the initiative will give an opportunity to political societies that were excluded from the National Dialogue such as “Al Adala, Al Wasat Arab Islamic Democratic Society and the FYC”.

FYC spokesman Yacoub Al Slaise said the National Dialogue was at a dead end because there were divisions on the negotiating table.

“We need a fresh approach to make this dialogue successful in a time-bound manner and what’s more important is to end the division on the table first,” he said.

“Even before the political societies joined the talks there were camps of opposition and pro-government, which creates a division of thoughts.”

“Some political groups were left out from this process and we need to make the process inclusive.

“The opposition groups have failed to control the street violence and are demanding representatives from United Nations or GCC to be present at the talks, which we reject.”

Al Adala president Mohideen Khan said they pulled out from the second round of talks in February, because they rejected the process.

“There was no vision for the National Dialogue and everything we said then about its failure happened,” he said.

“No way now there can be any solution reached after three years of negotiation.”

He claimed some political groups taking part were only following orders from a foreign power, “rather than being decision makers”.

“Everybody on the table has fixed demands which they do not want to dilute,” he said.

“I demand the authorities to air the dialogue sessions live every week so that the public knows what goes on and who is responsible for slowing this process.”

The National Dialogue will continue on Wednesday at the Isa Cultural Centre in Juffair.

Remaining participants – the government, legislative authority and the national coalition of political societies (Sunni contingent) – earlier accepted the opposition’s withdrawal, stating they would soon start debating political issues.

However, the door for their return remains open.

The five opposition groups, led by Al Wefaq National Islamic Society, walked out of the talks in September over the detention of former MP and key opposition figure Khalil Al Marzooq.

They earlier released a set of conditions, which they described as a “roadmap” to dialogue, including a demand for United Nations and GCC representatives to oversee the talks.

Mr Al Marzooq was arrested after allegedly being caught on camera raising the flag of the Coalition of February 14 during an opposition rally in Saar.

It is the same group credited with training teenagers in firearms and bomb-making, blowing up ATMs, orchestrating arson attacks on car showrooms and detonating a series of explosive devices in Manama that killed two Asians.

Mr Al Marzooq was released from custody on October 24 on guarantee of his place of residence. However, his trial will continue at the High Criminal Court on January 27. sandy@gdn.com.bh

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