Sunday, July 17, 2011

Better Late Than Never: Al-Wifaq Officially Out of the Dialogue

Ten days ago there was a post here titled, "Al-Wifaq to National Dialogue: We're Out, Baby!" It was prompted by a Bahrain Mirror article suggesting that the group would announce its withdrawal from the National Dialogue later that weekend at a rally in al-Diraz, following heavy criticism of the first week's sessions by 'Isa Qasim, 'Ali Salman, and Khalil al-Marzuq. Obviously, that never happened.

Now, it seems the folks at the Bahrain Mirror were only off by a week or so. As reported everywhere, al-Wifaq today announced its official pull-out of the talks. The AFP quotes Khalil al-Marzuq as saying, "We have tried but without success to make it a serious dialogue." It continues,
In a statement, [al-Wifaq] said the dialogue would "not reach a radical political solution to the crisis in Bahrain but instead complicate the political crisis."

It was "vastly under-represented and marginalised in the dialogue ... whose results have been determined in advance," Al-Wefaq said. It did not want to be linked to a process "whose results could be far removed from the political will."

The full Arabic statement (and not a short one) is posted on the group's news website. The headline reads, "The dialogue team saw that the dialogue will not lead to a political solution to the crisis in Bahrain." And the subtitle: "The al-Wifaq General Secretariat agrees to order the dialogue team to withdrawal."

While the writing has clearly been on the wall since even before the dialogue started--indeed, according to al-Wifaq statements, the only reason they agreed to take part in the first place is because of U.S. pressure--the decision to announce the withdrawal today must have been helped in part by fresh violence over the weekend that left one Sitra woman dead, reportedly from tear gas inhalation when the latter was used to disperse protesters at a so-called "March for Self-Determination." (The Ministry of Interior denies these claims.)

I'm no medical expert, but after seeing the following video from Sitra showing police shooting teargas directly into peoples' homes, it certainly cannot be out of the realm of possibility.

Predictably, further clashes ensued at the funeral procession of the woman, when participants attempted to march again following the burial.

Contemporaneous with the withdrawal of al-Wifaq, the only remaining opposition society in the National Dialogue--the Ibrahim Sharif-less Wa'ad (nobody say al-manbar al-tuqaddami)--has released its own July 17 statement critical of the National Dialogue. Though it falls short of saying it will leave the talks, the statement, posted to opposition forms and probably elsewhere, insists that "the dialogue process is not serious." Of course, since the group was only unbanned days before the dialogue started, and since its leader is serving a 5-year prison term for being a terrorist plotter, it is not exactly in a strong bargaining position vis-a-vis the government. Were it to withdrawal as well, it may find that its newfound status as a legal political society a rather fleeting one.

Finally, we may report some new developments on the anti-U.S., anti-King but still somehow pro-government Sunni front. The first is a second "strongly-worded letter" by Muhammad Khalid to King Hamad (the first is discussed here). According to the Bahrain Mirror, it accuses the king of surrounding himself with "bad advisers." In this "message to the leadership," Khalid insists that, "We are alive. We have a voice, and we won't die"--"we" being, presumably, him and his like-minded fellows at the National Unity Gathering. Further, he called on "our brothers in the intelligence services" to deliver a message to the king that "we have demands, and these are the execution of the law against criminals." The latter is evidently a reference to the recent release of political detainees.

In any case, you get the idea: the letter goes on in this fashion and, once again, its main points are even delivered publicly via Twitter: "What remains of the king's prestige, and that of the country, and of the [Ministry of?] Interior, and of the Law, in the face of the concessions to and [royal] pardons of the traitors... Nothing will work with them [the opposition] save for the fist of the Marshal [BDF Commander-in-Chief Khalifa bin Ahmad], the only one able to overcome them."

Notice, if you will, the first re-Tweeter of Khalid's post. Could it be? Yes! It's our friend Yusuf Al Bin Khalil, which leads us nicely to our final discussion, which is of Al Bin Khalil's newest series in Al-Watan. Having been effectively barred from writing his "Ayatollah Obama" series after a protest from the U.S. Embassy, on July 11 he hit on a new subject matter: the newly-appointed Ambassador to Bahrain, career Foreign Service Officer and former Ambassador to Yemen Thomas Krajeski. These include:

11 July: "Why Don't We Reject the New American Ambassador?"
12 July: "The People Want the Change of the Ambassador," which incidentally is much catchier in Arabic as it rhymes.
13 July: "Duties of the New American Ambassador, Part 1"
14 July: "Duties of the New American Ambassador, Part 2"
15 July: "Duties of the New American Ambassador, Part 3"
16 July: "Duties of the New American Ambassador, Part 4"
17 July: "Duties of the New American Ambassador, Part 5"

All of the latter purport to discuss "the tasks to be handled by the new U.S. ambassador in the case his nomination is accepted by the Government of Bahrain." I see what you did there.

In sum, then, I think we can agree that the entire process of the National Dialogue has succeeded only in further dividing two sides in Bahrain that were already quite far apart. Al-Wifaq is now out of the dialogue, which (assuming it continues) will not end until Ramadan, after which the country will see 40 days or so (including 'Eid) of a political lull. By the time the holiday is over, Bahrain is scheduled to hold almost immediately September by-elections to vote in new parliamentarians to replace those from al-Wifaq, which has already announced its boycott.

Moreover, for its part, the pro-government crowd is not only as staunchly or more staunchly opposed to political concessions to al-Wifaq as it was in February in March, but it is now also pushing hard against the king himself, perceived as too lenient and too beholden to his "bad [American] advisers," as Muhammad Khalid would say.

If there is an easy resolution to this now-multiparty struggle, I am not seeing it.

Update: according to the Gulf Daily News, al-Wifaq's pull-out has "evoked widespread condemnation." Who are these condemning voices, you ask? The article continues:
Bahrain University associate professor in psychology department Dr Nu'man Al Mossawi described the decision to quit as "not wise."
"Not wise" according to an associate professor of psychology at the state university? Booya! In your face, al-Wifaq!

Update 2: Jane Kinninmont analyzes al-Wifaq's exit for Foreign Policy's Mideast Channel. And for The Atlantic Hussein Ibish.

Meanwhile, a parliamentary spokesman is blaming the decision on--who else?--'Ali Khamene'i: "Wefaq has a different agenda," he said. "They want an Islamic state under Wilayet al-Faqih and they received a green light from Tehran to withdraw from the negotiations." Right, right.

Update 3: The National Dialogue (I didn't realize an abstract political process could make its own statements) has somehow released "its" own response to al-Wifaq via the BNA.

Update 4: Wa'ad may be next to call it quits. The GDN story has a hilarious series of quotes from Munira Fakhru, including: "We really have no clue what is next in this process unless a top official explains to us where we are heading." And: "[Y]ou have more than 70 people in each session who are given about three minutes each to share their views."


  1. It's interesting. Since Bahrain is too much of a strategically sensitive region for the US and now that Al-wefaq are out of the dialogue, surely the US’s only possible yet desperate option is to place pressure on the regime itself to properly solve the unrest? Why do I sense key changes up.

    Oh this video shows more clearly a proud security force officer heroically throwing a tear gas grenade into someones house:

    The art of Bahrain's riot control. Classic.

  2. Guess whoever came up with the policy to polarize the country didn't foresee it being the biggest hurdle in the way of resolving the country's problems this time around.

    Personally I think Al-Wefaq's move was a good one, at least I see it as the lesser evil between boycotting the dialogue completely and leaning forwards...

  3. "Guess whoever came up with the policy to polarize the country ..." -- you mean the U.S. Embassy, right??

  4. The translation of Mohammed Khalid's quote is a bit off. He means: "... Nothing will work with them [opposition] other than the Marshal's fist [Marscha Khalifa Bin Ahmed], the only one that was able to overcome them."

  5. Thanks. Quite a bit off, eh? I mis-read for al-mushir. I guess I should have known given the source. Khalid's (and I guess Al Mahmud's) letters have been difficult to decipher as they're usually written in informal language and dialect. Anyway, I've changed it.

  6. @Justin...

    Are you saying the U.S embassy came up with the idea to polarize the country to ensure the royal family stays in power? I'm not saying they aren't capable but to be honest i dont think the royal family needs advice from the U.S embassy when employing one of the oldest tricks in the book. Divide and conquer.

  7. Hah -- I was being sarcastic.. taking a line from Al Bin Khalil.

    In any case, I think we shouldn't mix up cause and effect. The current crisis is a RESULT of polarization, not a cause of it.

  8. when the US talked modestly about abuses in Bahrain it had a dual effect , the regime was obviously scared the support of its precious ally was waning (evidented by the statements made the next day)and it angered the radical supporters of the regime (embarrassing it in the process), this could be called the only win-win situation( for the opposition) since the start of the uprising.

    To sum this all up :The Americans should start talking again.


    Hugh Tomlinson of The Times says sources in Washington and the gulf confirm the US is considering moving the 5th fleet! I just can't believe the regime would let that happen, whoever's running the show- all those years of costing up wasted?! Losing out again to our glamorous rich neighbours?

  10. Interesting, interesting..

    Any background on the newspaper or reporter?

  11. He writes for The Times, one of Britain's heavyweight broadsheets and has been on the ground in Bahrain on and off during the upheaval - posted this link as it's free to access in the Australian rather than the times who'd probably charge you to look at adverts published in their paper. He had an interesting few articles back in march on the royal family split and the sidelining of the CP too.


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