Tags: Analysis: Opposition May Boycott Talks in Bahrain

Analysis: Opposition May Boycott Talks in Bahrain

Wednesday, 29 Jun 2011 06:59 PM


Bahrain’s king is attempting to calm dissent ahead of reconciliation talks this weekend but the opposition questions the government’s commitment to real reform and may not participate.

King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa announced yesterday that an independent commission will investigate allegations of human rights abuses during the anti-government protests earlier this year. While the king stated that he is committed to reform and respecting human rights, he also blamed protesters for causing chaos with their demonstrations.

Government-sponsored reconciliation talks between the ruling Sunnis and opposition Shiites are scheduled for this weekend, but the largest Shiite block, Al Wefaq, has yet to agree to participate.

Analysis

Although the King and the ruling Sunnis appear willing to negotiate with the opposition, a lack of commitment to concrete reforms are fueling skepticism by the opposition about the government’s sincerity. Moves such as reconciliation talks and human rights investigations are steps in the right direction, but without real change, protests will again erupt.

At the same time that the King announced the commission, a special security tribunal postponed acting until September on an appeal by 21 opposition leaders convicted of plotting against the state. The opposition was hoping for a speedy release of the opponents as a show of good faith by the government, according to AP. Twitter postings are now calling for renewed demonstrations on Thursday.

Al Wefaq is holding meetings around the country with supporters to decide whether or not to participate in talks this weekend. According to AP, the government’s decision to suspend the appeal hearing has moved Al Wefaq closer to boycotting talks this weekend. Al Wefaq already has suggested it will not participate, by questioning the point of reconciliation talks while the government continues to impose strict security measures and tries opposition leaders who participated in reform protests.

Analysis

Failure of Al Wefaq to participate in the reconciliation talks will severely undercut the credibility of talks and any agreements stemming from them. Al Wefaq is a powerful organization and a public dismissal of the talks will re-ignite public distrust of the government. The organization is already cynical about government plans for working with the opposition and probably believes the talks are a public relations ploy to assuage concerns of tourists and investors, and not to bring true change. If talks this weekend do not take place, the country is likely to again face a resumption of major demonstrations and protests.

Even if talks move forward, the government will have to move quickly with real reforms to avoid renewed protests. The opposition does not trust the government and will closely monitor its actions to weigh its sincerity. Any perceived backsliding by the government, including continued prosecution of opposition activists, is likely to re-ignite Shiite ire and lead protesters back to the streets.

[Lisa M. Ruth is a former CIA analyst and officer. She is currently Managing Partner of C2 Research, a boutique research and analysis firm in West Palm Beach, Florida and is vice president at CTC International Group, Inc., a private intelligence firm.]

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Analysis: Opposition May Boycott Talks in Bahrain
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