As far as I can tell, never did al-Wifaq say "we will not participate," but, as implied above, its rejection was by omission--that is, by failing to submit an "agenda" by the government's deadline set for Sunday the 26th. The Gulf Daily News story linked here claims that the decision came "despite some members apparently wanting to take part," a fact pro-government folks are being quick to point out.
Assuming the group will indeed boycott, the reasons are obvious enough. In recent days 'Ali Salman has outlined a number of these, in particular (1) the lack of a royal family participant:
"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."And (2) the watering down of al-Wifaq's representation within the dialogue by the inclusion of hundreds of delegates from various groups and societies, most of which are unrelated to politics. He says:
"The opposition groups are clearly a minority on the negotiation table. ...Close to 100, that is, out of 300. And this includes other, nominal "opposition" societies such as an Ibrahim Sharif-less Wa'ad, the Progressive Tribune of Hasan Madan, and some other groups that have won a grand total of 0 seats in parliament since 2002.
"Even if Al Wefaq participates along with other groups, the opposition will represent close to 100 people with the support of other individuals."
The government, of course, is stressing the rate of participation rather than the political reach of those participating. The statistic de jour, for example, is the dialogue's "94% participation rate." Interestingly, however, when we look at the government's more precise breakdown, we find that the lowest participation rate by type of participant is--go figure--political societies. But, when you think about it, as long as 100% of the invited (pro-government) journalists will be there, who cares how many political societies show up to this political dialogue?
As one would expect, this "94% participation rate" gives the army of pro-government propagandists a ready-made slogan to spread via social media. The logic goes something like this: "If 94% of Bahrain is represented at the dialogue, who cares whether al-Wifaq comes or not?!!!1 They can sit home and pick dates LOL !"
As if one really needed to point out the flaw in this argument, let's do the math. According to my 2009 mass survey of Bahrain, an estimated 57.6% of Bahraini citizens are Shi'a. Of the Shi'a interviewed in my survey, 55% of those who say their views are represented by a political society identified al-Wifaq. So, by these 2009 estimates al-Wifaq represents at least 57.6% x 55% = 31.7% of the citizen Bahraini population:
(And, if one assumes that a decent number of former al-Haqq and al-Wafa' supporters have been drawn into its sphere of influence since its mass resignation from parliament and its assumption of the role of main protest organizer, this is likely a low estimate.)
More simply, if one would take the proportion directly from the parliament, al-Wifaq would then represent 18/40 or 45% of the Bahraini population--unless, of course, the government is trying to say that the majlis al-nuwab is not a representative institution. Whatever the case, the National Dialogue can't represent 94% of the Bahraini population if al-Wifaq alone represents some one-third or one-half of it. Unless one is happy with 6% as an approximation of 32% or 45%.
If a new dialogue were setup involving 1,000 members of the Al Khalifa along with, say, 80 representatives of society, and these 80 people decided the initiative wasn't worth their time because they were hopelessly outnumbered, would this dialogue then represent 93% of Bahraini society because 1000/1080 = 93%? If the invitees are not proportional to their representation of the population to begin with, then we can make up whatever such statistics we want. Anyway, I assume I am preaching to the choir here, so I'll stop there.
In lieu of the National Dialogue, al-Wifaq will on July 1 hold the third installment of its parallel dialogue, the "Festival of Sermons/Speeches," in al-Diraz, not incidentally the home village of Sh. 'Isa Qasim. Al-Wifaq seems to be going for wide geographical variation, as the first was in Saar and the second in Sitra.
Another online poster beseeches people to "renew" their "legitimate and rightful national demands on Friday in al-Diraz."
In other news, the King will give a "very important" speech tomorrow (June 29) on "the latest developments in Bahrain" after presiding over a cabinet meeting. Speculation among opposition forum-goers ranges from a release of the sports figures and doctors/nurses on trial; to a pardon of the opposition leaders just recently sentenced; to an appointment of a new leader of the national dialogue. The news of the king's speech is also among the most active threads on the main pro-government forum, where many are dreading an announcement of pardons. Whatever King Hamad says, in all probability it will render irrelevant everything I've written here about the dialogue.
If it is not about the National Dialogue specifically, though, the speech could be about the impending withdrawal of "most of" the Saudi/GCC forces (NYT article here) from Bahrain, an event the government is obviously keen to advertise. (Of course, the official figure of 1,200 has been revealed already to be a considerable understatement of the Saudi force levels in Bahrain: a Wall Street Journal article from April notes that "The Saudis publicly announced that 1,000 troops had entered Bahrain, but privately they concede that the actual number is considerably higher." So the number that remains behind is likely also to be higher than the official figure.)
I guess we'll have to wait (though not too long) to find out.
The funny thing is, the Bahraini government had already at the beginning of June agreed "in principle" to a UN-based mission to do the exact same thing. So presumably a government-appointed "independent" *wink wink* commission is preferable to a UN-appointed ACTUALLY independent commission.
Thus, as the Associated Press notes,
Some [read: all] suspect the king's decree to investigate alleged abuses may just be window dressing to exonerate Bahrain's rulers and allow them to continue the crackdown on opposition supporters despite criticism from rights groups and Western allies.The Arabic text of the address is here. (Update: And the video:)
It would seem that if the government really wanted to ensure that peoples' rights were respected, it could start by not postponing the appeals of the 21 opposition leaders, many of whom were just sentenced to life in prison, to a more politically-convenient time (September). And, of course, there is still the matter of inter-Al Khalifa politics. The King may want a truly independent commission. Others--not least among them the prime minister and the khawalid--may (and likely do) not.
Update 3: a commenter points out that the February 14 people have (as always) their own agenda for tomorrow and Friday, part of their "Week of Popular Rage." Both events are set for Jidhafs near the suq, and come with a cool-looking advertisement:
And, in case you haven't received your instructions yet, please be advised: