Bahrain’s leading opposition group threatened yesterday to pull out of a national dialogue aimed at reforms after weeks of protests, as it sees little chance of success.
Khalil Al Marzouq, head of the delegates from the Gulf Arab country’s largest Shia opposition party Wefaq, said serious reforms were unlikely to be achieved through the dialogue offered by the government of the Sunni-ruled island kingdom.
“We advise distancing ourselves from something that could portray us as partners in a dialogue which will lead to results distant from, if not contradictory to, the people’s will,” he said in the statement to the party leadership.
Bahrain’s Sunni rulers crushed weeks of pro-democracy protests led mostly by the Shia majority in March. After a crackdown, the government launched a national dialogue on July 2 in an effort to lay the groundwork to heal a growing sectarian divide and address calls for reform.
“Despite our serious efforts to amend measures …, they are ignored and rejected,” Marzouq said. “The dialogue’s administrators control the path of the dialogue, its agenda, its topics and its mechanisms”.
Participants in yesterday’s session said some Sunni delegates called Shia Bahrainis “rawafidh” meaning “rejectionists” — a derogatory term for Shias.
Government officials said the dialogue would continue and called on participants to remain in talks.
“We encourage everyone to remain in the dialogue… we hope the opposition will continue to take part, as we’ve been aiming since day one for an inclusive dialogue,” said government spokesman for the dialogue, Isa Abdulrahman.
“I can confirm that one participant made inappropriate remarks… that person has retracted his remark and chose not to participate in today’s session.”
Moderate opposition groups such as Wefaq have called for a more representative parliamentary system. But hard-liners calling for an abolition of the monarchy have gained popularity since the government crackdown, in which hundreds, mostly Shi’ites, were arrested and some 2,000 workers sacked.
Anti-dialogue protests now erupt daily in Shia villages and tensions are simmering in Bahrain, home port of the US Navy’s strategic Fifth Fleet.