10 recommendations for the midway route meeting in Bahrain
On the eve of the 14th of February that coincides with the seventh anniversary of the start of the protests in Bahrain, Sheikh Hussein Al-Dayhi, the Assistant Secretary General of the (dissolved) Islamic National Accord Society announced a “new national political project.” For weeks prior to the announcement, there has been a wide debate, triggered by letters of rapprochement with the governing establishment by the second highest cleric within the Shi’a sect, Al-sayyed Abdullah al-Ghuraifi, which was considered as a mediation aimed at urging the king to use his constitutional powers to suspend the death sentences.
In awaiting all the major opposition groups to unveil their new political project, it seems unlikely that the state will respond to this project. Local and regional conditions and past experience with the governing establishment confirm that the latter – and no one else – has the ability and legitimacy to present a new political project in the country. Therefore, the institution of governance will not accept interaction with a project offered by any of the opposition institutions. Those who did not do so during the tougher times would be better off not doing so in their time of strength.
The assessment of a clear and transparent position that analyses the results and explores the options will inevitably reach a final firm outcome. The opposition, prior to the15th March, 2011, were the ones that; set the priorities, set the conditions and demanded guarantees. The opposition of today must now deal and draw its options based on an equivalent result based on: it is the state that sets the priorities, conditions and demands guarantees. But this does not necessarily mean that the state – regardless of the extent that they would go to delude us – is immune to internal and external pressures that will force it to respond positively and interact with the dramatic change that is carried out by the opposition forces at home.
The positive aspect up until now is that an internal dialogue has begun within the opposition institutions towards a re-understanding of what has happened in the country, in the hope that the planned project will include the right combination of elements that are capable of resolving and overcoming this crisis. Although the number of files that would end the crisis are maintained by the institution of governance alone, but the way that the crisis is presented as firmly closed (the regime – the opposition) which seriously poisons the crisis in a dangerous manner and deliberately distorts its reality and representations on the ground. This is also a continuation of the policy that elevates the crisis level and details and processes of daily life in the country – in any case – this elevation is hasty and inaccurate and presents the crisis in a very different light which is far from reality.
The biggest worry in these developments remains to be the ability to determine the point of contact between the opposition and the state; and the scenario that may lead to a breakthrough. The following 10 recommendations may contribute to an agreement between the governing institution and the opposition to a meeting at a midway point:
From “bragging and abundance” to “realism”
It is essential that the proposed opposition’s project goes beyond the trap of “delusional abundance”, a term used in crisis management. The term summarises the total psychological methods used to cover crises and its related factors. In the same context, the situation of “guardianship” and the supposed assumption of the opposition’s mood, attributing a collection of slogans and options to them which can’t be fully verified that they have actually adopted such things for certain.
Overcoming the crisis, cooling the arena, abolishing the death sentences or releasing the detainees and allowing the (shi’a) sect to practice its citizenship again which is not only a popular desire, but an urgent one too. However, the choice of “realism” that we offer as an alternative to rhetoric speech and abundance does not have to be on the ground a discourse of defeat or collapse, but rather a new tactical approach with political options adopted in crisis management and its daily management and future of interaction.
The crisis is multilateral
The rhetoric of the bipartisan opposition (the opposition – the state) has always been marginalising the rest of the country’s social components. As for regional and international players, the opposition regards them as being at times influential players and other times players that command and control events.
It must be acknowledged that events over the past seven years have shown that various players at home (what the opposition literature calls pro-government groups) and abroad (the Gulf states, Britain and the United States) influence the political situation; they influence and are influenced too. Therefore, the project that Al-Wefaq intends to present should not be merely an initiative in which the governing institution is asked to meet a set of demands and conditions that the latter must accept and implement. Such a project the institution of governance will not accept in its form, before refusing to discuss or deal with its content.
The opposition needs to realise that the highest priority today is its return as a player at the heart of the political process in the country. And that the way to such a return is unlikely to be achieved through a written agreement, dialogue, or a political settlement. Some grassroots opposition may regard this return as a concession or an explicit declaration of defeat. In my opinion the real defeat is in the inauguration of the opposition’s project, as it was launched by the Manama document, based on a rule (accepted or rejected by the governing institution). Then, the opposition will not find a response more than “disregard”.
Politics does not end
A similar scenario to the 2001 reform plan of the country’s monarch is unlikely. Between a limited number of solutions and the need to proceed with the least harmful, this crisis does not provide a real opportunity for decision-makers in the opposition to practice the “luxury” of postponement and procrastination in the inevitable acceptance of surgical interventions.
One of the main negative aspects of the opposition forces is its insistence at the beginning of the crisis that there is no horizon or acceptance of any concessions in this crisis, which the opposition issued a slogan in a timely manner that said “remain, but it will be final”.
In fact, politics does not end, and there is no final crisis in any political experience in any country. In any case regardless of the various forms and patterns of governance, the opposition mentality must go beyond such a slogan and accept that politics does not end. And that political life is a mobile state, going through stages of ups and downs, gains and losses, a change that would create greater spaces for manoeuvring and movement.
Deflating the crisis
The literature of scientific crisis management proposes a “crisis deflation” technique to deal with extreme and dangerous crises. This technique proposes to study all aspects of the crisis to identify the forces involved in the crisis’s alliances, define the framework of conflicting interests and potential benefits, and then provide new (temporary) leaderships and create new alliances that are incompatible with the continuation of the conflicting alliances. Which is useful in turning these major crises into “small broken crises”; easy to deal with and solve.
The opposition in this context understands the need to create alternative paths that can contain the crisis and reduce its dangers, which clearly requires a break with the discourse of contradiction, project and alternative project in accordance with the classic double dealing in both political and social crises. It should be noted here that the call / initiative / vision / mediation presented by Mr. Abdullah Al-Gharifi on the death penalty is a practical application of the “crisis resolution” technique.
A new communication system and the neutralisation of “religious references”
There is no doubt that a fundamental change will not succeed without the support of a biased public. Especially since this change – a lie that can not be overlooked – does not meet the expectations and aspirations of the people on the streets.
The launch of a new project by the opposition without its whitewashing through an effective and influential communication mechanism which provides comprehensive explanations through a strong communication system to produce an effective and clear message to answer many questions. The launch of the project without all of the above is not going to succeed or have any sort of influence. This is especially evident in the way that the opposition find it easier to depends and rely on religious figures who have great support and followers in marketing their choices and projects or the option of a tactic that has harmed them as well the religious figures.
The policy of ‘burning papers’ has been accelerating since the year of 2011 and the inclusion of religious figures in the justification and adoption of political options have caused great and grave losses; least of all the implication of religious figures and that are known to be of great worth, such as Ayatollah Sheikh Qassem in the face of the political process both directly and personally, this is a strategic error that Al-Wefaq must understands that it is fully responsible for it.
Compulsive compromises are unavoidable
There must be a realisation that a real change will not occur in the opposition discourse, its choices and tactics, and therefore its reality on the ground, without being it being willing to presenting some sort of contribution that will help in restoring confidence between it and the ruling institution as well as all the activists in the political process in the country. The opposition project should not dismisses the record of heavy losses and to clearly suggest its options and the way opposition forces will return to their effectiveness at home, which may later allow them to control, rule and influence the course of events.
This “willingness” is not meant to back down from any legitimate and democratic demands, just as it is to rearrange the list of priorities in order to bring the entire political process back on track. The path which through it will enable the work on the same slogans and democratic goals without it or it followers bearing the excessive cost that they won’t gain anything from .
The Weaving of cut cords
A clear diplomatic effort must be made to reconnect the ropes between the opposition forces and western capitals after shunning completely the direct and overt message of 2014 which stated back then that: “You must accept the settlement and participate in the elections or get out of these doors without a return.”
Any ttempts to network with Western capitals should not be provocative to the ruling institution, which has been and continues to refuse to internationalise the crisis and the intervention of external parties in it. Taking into consideration this “hyper-sensitivity” it can transform this networking into a catalyst for encouraging and motivating the governing institution and other national components in a positive push for effective and rapid solutions. There is no escape to the fact that the participation of the opposition in the parliamentary elections later this year would restore these relations.
Networking with Western capitals should be reinforced by an end to the historical rupture with the “civil Sheikh” stream, and even attempt to network with it and benefit from its close ties with the governing institution and other social components of the country. As is the case with the rest of the social components – with no exception -is inevitable to extend the thread of communication with them.
Political isolation is one of the most serious consequences of the current crisis, and its danger extends beyond the political participation within the state, but also within the Shi’a-Shi’a sphere.
Consensus is impossible
We recall here the mechanisms of His Highness the Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa’s initiative in the early days of the crisis, which was met with reluctance by the opposition due to their leaders desire to move under a full and comprehensive consensus among the various components of the opposition.
The opposition is wrong if it wants to formulate its new initiative to satisfy the various components of the opposition and its fragmentation. The initiative must clearly reflect the choice of the biased majority to the option of gradual reform and the priority to emerge from the trap that the opposition public has been stuck in for years.
Defying the expectations
The institution of power in the state – any state – has a series of presuppositions and tactics that it adopts to get its opponents to do it. Opponents and civil society institutions should not be subjected to this equation and its factors, as these institutions often seek to violate expectations, take the lead, and set priorities in the political environment in which they operate.
In Bahrain, the state expects that the opposition forces will not encourage “unqualified” delegations from villages and cities to visit the Royal Court to ask the king to use his constitutional powers to halt death sentences and pardon detainees;
The state expects that more pressure will force the opposition forces to boycott the upcoming municipal and parliamentary elections.
The State expects that the opposition will not be concerned with the establishment of new civil institutions after the dissolution of political associations;
Placing expectations and introducing the political process into spaces that have not been created will change this environment, activate it and produce new and unexpected results.
Help in internal preparation
The bill proposed by members of the House of Representatives recently aimed at preventing the members and leaders of dissolved political societies from running and voting for the constitutional entitlement later this year , in line with the plan to end the opposition at home. This comes in parallel with the transfer of a number of leaders of the “dissolved” Al-Wefaq Association to reside in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, led by the Deputy Secretary General of the Assembly Sheikh Hussein al-Daihi.
The opposition should not hesitate to consider municipal and parliamentary elections and participation as an important entry point for their survival at home. Especially since the loss of this municipal and parliamentary representation is hasty and dangerous decision as it gives the State a free helping hand in their project to end the presence of the opposition at home, and turn them into cantons abroad, scattered across Arab and foreign capitals.
Opposition literature tries to play down the importance of participating in the elections in late 2018, and affirms that the parliament is sterile and lacks authority and influence.
Such a statement is no more a fact more than the word “right” means “false”. While the participation is not necessarily a solution to the political crisis, and the powers of the Council are specific and governed, it is also one of the keys to a political solution. The report of the achievements of the parliamentary bloc of conciliation (2006-2010) is a witness and a firm evidence of the usefulness and effectiveness of participation.