Bahrain's opposition to boycott dialogue, elections

13:38, June 28, 2011      

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Bahrain's largest Shiite opposition group says it will boycott the national dialogue next month and the September parliament elections in protest against the authorities for "not doing enough."

Al Wefaq National Islamic Society said it was in no mood to give in to the authorities' call for a national dialogue starting July 1st that would attract 300 participants from political societies, human rights groups and civil society organizations.

"There has to be real dialogue that results in political reforms. We believe the dialogue was a step forward for the country but setting conditions before the process is not acceptable," said Al Wefaq leader Shaikh Ali Salman.

He told Xinhua that it was important for the government to first address all issues such as sacking of workers, arrest of medics, lawmakers and other citizens before entering any dialogue.

"This dialogue will be successful if there is a principal person from Royal Family like the Crown Prince present in the process. He understands the demand and the opposition sees him as a leader, who could solve this crisis."

National Dialogue spokesperson, Isa Abdulrahman said in a statement on Monday that refusal of any group to participate in the National Dialogue will "not mean failure of the initiative." "We hope that all those invited would participate to come out with resolutions that represent the needs and aspirations of all people in Bahrain," he said.

Regarding the non-confirmation of Al Wefaq's attendance, Abdulrahman said he hoped all parties would participate in healthy and smooth talks.

However, he assured that refusal of some societies to participate does not mean dialogue failure.

"The success of talks could be determined with fruitful talks, good approach and implementation of its recommendations," he said.

But it is not only the National Dialogue the Shiite opposition is boycotting, Shaikh Ali said their party has no interest to contest in the by-elections on September 24. It would be held in 18 Shiite dominant constituencies. "I don't see us participating in these elections as the demand and issues faced by people is more important and is still ignored, " he said.


In February, 18 Al Wefaq MPs resigned after seven citizens were killed initially during clashes with security forces as they tried to evict protestors and take control of the Pearl Roundabout (now razed and known as Al Farooq junction).

Bahrain's Crown Prince Shaikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa drove to the state-run Bahrain Television and appealed for calm and called for a national dialogue.

As a further gesture of reconciliation, Royal pardon was announced for 308 prisoners including those arrested for running a clandestine terror network. This included hardliner cleric Shaikh Hassan Mushaima from Haq Movement of Liberty and Democracy, the hard-line Shiite opposition party.

Thousands of protestors continued to stage protests and camped at Bahrain's once iconic landmark Pearl Roundabout.

Activists from opposition groups Al Wefaq and National Democratic Action Society stepped in to push their agendas.

Shaikh Ali said during this period they had sent their demands to the Crown Prince. This included elected government, constitutional monarchy, tackling corruptions and naturalization, parliament vested with more power among others calling for social and economic reforms.

"We want this country to progress and believe that if all these issues are solved all parties would gradually move. Any solution accepted by the majority of its citizens will be accepted," he said.


The Bahrain Government announced three months of national emergency with Saudi Arabia-led Gulf Cooperation Council forces arriving in the country to quell popular protests.

Opposition leaders, sportsman, human rights activists, doctors, nurses, teachers were rounded up on different charges from inciting hatred, links with foreign groups to overthrowing regimes, possession of arms, killing policemen and migrant workers.

"We certainly condemn the killing of citizens during the unrest and call for an investigation to punish the culprits. This dialogue has opened an opportunity for all parties to sit at the table and discuss everything. There is nothing hidden," said Shaikh Abdullatif Al Mahmood, chairman of the National Unity Gathering (NUG).

This newly formed political society has strong following among Sunnis and has thousands of supporters and according to political observers, is seen as direct competition to Al Wefaq.

"This National Dialogue that starts next month is important for the country and there should be no foreign interference in this issue," said Al Mahmood, referring to Iran that Bahraini government accused of constantly interfering in the country's affairs since the unrest.


While Al Wefaq is on the back foot over the National Dialogue, the largest pro-government group NUG has set all its eyes for the talks.

"There are some common demands that can be worked out. But participation is the key at this stage," said Al Mahmood.

On the other hand, Shaikh Ali said, "We want real dialogue to discuss our demands rather than loyalists and opposition fighting it out with no solution that will be witnessed in this dialogue. I support the regime, but I also back the demands of the majority of citizens of this country."

Four policemen and 30 people have died in the unrest that started in February, while several citizens are still standing on trial.

The unrest is the worst since 1990s and has resulted in billions of U.S. dollars of loss and attracted criticism from international human rights groups, medical associations, western media and sports bodies that resulted in the cancellation of 2011 Formula 1 race in Bahrain.

Source: Xinhua
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