Bahrain opposition missed peace chance: report
Manama, November 24, 2011
Bahrain could have already undergone significant constitutional and political reforms had the country's opposition accepted a Crown Prince-led initiative in March, an independent probe report said.
His Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Deputy Supreme Commander, had virtually reached agreement with political societies, business leaders and key community figures during nearly a month of talks, according to the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI).
His Majesty King Hamad yesterday received the report from the chairman of the BICI Professor Mahmoud Sharif Bassiouni.
The talks proposed holding a national dialogue to discuss setting up a parliament with full authority, a government representing the will of the people, naturalisation, fair voting districts, combating corruption, state property and addressing sectarian tension, the report said.
'As an indication of the seriousness of these proposals, HRH the Crown Prince proposed a mechanism that would ensure that the results of the proposed national dialogue were implemented,' said the BICI report.
'This mechanism, which was recorded in a memorandum of understanding dated March 12, envisioned that the national dialogue should aim to amend the constitution and that its results would be submitted to a popular referendum for approval.
'If HRH the Crown Prince's initiative to hold a national dialogue at the time had been accepted, it could have paved the way for significant constitutional and political reform in Bahrain.'
However, the report said the positions adopted by the opposition were revised as the protest movement progressed, particularly those of Al Wefaq, and additional demands introduced.
These included preconditions to entering into a national dialogue, such as the resignation of His Royal Highness Prime Minister Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa and the entire government.
However, the report said the opposition's position was later revised again with the idea of a national dialogue rejected in favour of electing a Constituent Assembly in which all such matters could be discussed.
That was rejected by the government and the negotiations ended.
'The reluctance of the opposition to accept the initiative of HRH the Crown Prince seems to have been due to a number of factors,' said the report.
'Primarily, it seems that some in the opposition parties, particularly Al Wefaq, were unwilling to accept proposals presented by HRH the Crown Prince in light of what seems to have been a belief in their ability to achieve greater political gains given the momentum and strength of the protest movement.
'Second, it has been indicated to the commission by some members of opposition parties, particularly Al Wefaq, that they doubted the willingness of some within the political establishment to accept any substantial alteration of the governance system in Bahrain.
'Third, the reluctance of the opposition to conclude an agreement with HRH the Crown Prince and to enter a national dialogue before certain preconditions were met, such as dismissing the government and without previously agreed principles, parameters and implementation mechanisms is also imputable to the general mistrust that the opposition harboured towards the government.
'The most salient reason for this lack of trust is what has been described to the commission as a sense of betrayal that was felt towards the government in the months and years following the adoption of the National Action Charter in 2001.
'Repeatedly, opposition figures have voiced to the commission their belief that the reform pledges made in the charter were yet to be fulfilled in significant part.'
This 'trust deficit' based on previously unfulfilled government promises was an important factor in the opposition's lack of enthusiasm for engaging in the dialogue and the insistence on electing a Constituent Assembly that would rewrite the whole constitution and examine all other political issues.' -TradeArabia News Service