As indicated by such tweets as these, then, the most notable new development seems to be that the authorities have altogether disregarded al-Wifaq's argument (via Khalil al-Marzuq) that "[t]he dialogue that needs to happen is between the King, the Crown Prince, and the opposition."
Instead, it appears to be taking the exact opposite route, designing the national dialogue to include as many people as humanly possible in order, one assumes, to preclude any chance of agreement on substantive reforms. Sh. Fawaz has already indicated that the dialogue "will include 60 societies." No word whether the BSPCA in Saar has been invited. In fact, I myself am thinking of registering the Justin Gengler Society for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice so that I can finally visit al-Safriyyah Palace. More likely, though, given the lack of enthusiasm on the part of Bahrain's authorities, the national dialogue meetings will be held at Nando's in 'Adliyah.
Al-Wifaq, at least, is not bothering to waste time finding out. As reported today everywhere, another Friday sermon has brought more tough talk from Sh. 'Isa Qasim, who "denounced the Gulf kingdom's rulers for 'damaging the country' and warned Friday that tension-easing dialogue cannot take place until authorities halt crackdowns used to crush protests demanding greater political rights." The Washington Post quotes him as saying,
We demand meaningful and real reforms that guarantee the rights of people. ... There is no reform when our people are in jail, dismissed from jobs, religious ceremonies attacked and media sponsored by the state are spreading lies and misinformation. ...As always, we will post the video of the sermon once it's been posted to YouTube, which shouldn't be long.
We have offered so many sacrifices and cannot back down and end up empty handed.
Al-Wifaq is not, however, just sitting on its hands. Today marks the second week in a row that it has organized a well-attended "dialogue" of its own. Last week was in Saar; today's "festival for the nation" starts at 5:00pm in the village of Kharajiyyah in Sitra. The announcement:
Curiously, this seems to overlap with another, less "official" gathering by the February 14 Revolution folks that had been scheduled for 4:30pm in all the villages of Sitra. Its announcement below tells that "the people of Sitra will keep their promise until the fall of the Al Khalifa regime":
So apparently either al-Wifaq co-opted these more "radical" protests or they are happening simultaneously. I would guess the former. Either way, turn-out seems to have been decent:
(Update: al-Wifaq has now posted a video of the event to its YouTube site:)
The real question, of course, is how far al-Wifaq is willing to go in its boycott of the National Dialogue, and what happens if it eventually relents. Right now considerable pressure remains on the Bahraini government, including from the United States, which just mentioned it in the same breath as Iran and Syria as a human rights violator (see Bahrain's response); but if it seems to the U.S. as though the opposition is not willing to meet the government half way, no doubt al-Wifaq will find itself the U.S.'s next target. (The Coalition for a Republic is already upset that the U.S. has rejected it as a partner in the national dialogue.)
This is all the more so given the concerted media campaign lately designed to highlight American favoritism toward the Bahraini opposition. Indeed, the pro-government Twitter camp is quick these days to report any sightings of U.S. Embassy officials meeting with the opposition. This guy, for example, says: "I always see [former al-Wifaq MP] Jasim Hussein with Americans... everywhere he is meeting with them in coffee shops. Coffee is the biggest ... link between foreigners and al-Wifaq." And another asks provocatively: "I wonder why Munira Fakhro from Wa'ad is meeting with the chargé d'affaires from the American Embassy in Lulu's [coffee shop] a little bit ago?"
So, again: what happens when July 1 comes around and al-Wifaq is not at Nando's with the other 731 societies talking dialogue? And equally interesting is the opposite scenario: what happens if al-Wifaq is somehow convinced to take part? When one visits Bahrain's main opposition forum one is greeted with the following banner, declaring, alternatively, "No Dialogue with Murderers"; "Fall, Hamad! Fall, Hamad!"; and "Self-Defense is a Sacred Right."
Certainly, not everyone in the opposition will agree with such sentiments, and not all of the forum-goers are al-Wifaq supporters to begin with, but, as Toby Jones has observed recently, "Events seem to have gone too far and too fast for some kind of quick fix through talks." Time will tell.
Finally, we may mention a notable event that does not fit neatly in the preceding: the news that King Hamad's son Nasr (of "Bahrain is an island with no escape passage; everybody who interfered in these issues will be punished and everybody who took a stand [supporting the regime] will be awarded" fame) has been promoted to Head of the Royal Guard, a decision he announced himself via Twitter. At the same time that Crown Prince Salman's stock is falling, then, Sh. Nasr's seems to be rising. As if Al Khalifa court politics needs any more complications.
Updates: some highlights of 'Ali Salman's address today in Sitra have already been posted. I'm sure the video is not too far off.
And there are Twitter reports of a march tomorrow on the Prime Minister's Palace.
Update 2: an astute reader points out this al-'Arabiyyah article reporting that non-Bahraini ex-pats will also be invited to the national dialogue! Hell, why not? The chances of the Justin Gengler Society for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice are looking up!
Indeed, it would seem that the only group not welcome to al-Dhaharani's dialogue are, based on remarks he made just last year in May 2010, Bahraini women. Al-Dhaharani said then, "We have to look at our society in a realistic way and I don't believe that it is ready for women in politics." But ex-pats in politics? No problem.
Update 3: The video of Sh. 'Isa Qasim's Friday sermon has finally been posted:
Update 4: 'Isa 'Abd al-Rahman, introduced as an official spokesman for the Bahrain national dialogue, has given an interview with al-'Arabiyyah, available here:
Update 5: The President of al-Wifaq's Local Council for the Northern Governorate, 'Ali al-Jabal, has released a series of questions/concerns regarding the national dialogue, titled "Dialogue of the Deaf." You might guess what his position is.
Meanwhile, in a development the likes of which we've seen a few times before, the leftist political society Wa'ad has been unbanned and will participate in the national dialogue after releasing a statement (full text here) distancing itself from the opposition as well as an impending change in administration. Yet another organizational coup (a la Al-Wasat) for the Bahraini government.