Bahrain’s sectarian divide can only be solved by talking through each problem with all members of the community, says a European political delegation.
Non-participation of groups in National Dialogue will only lead to further divisions, it added.
The statement was made during a meeting held by editor-in-chief of our sister paper Akhbar Al Khaleej, Anwar Abdulrahman, and deputy editor Sayed Zahra with British MP Mike Hancock and Polish MP Professor Tadeusz Iwinski.
The Council of Europe members are part of a delegation which has been meeting politicians, ministers, the youth and expatriates to gauge an understanding of what happened during February and March.
The one-week visit also aims to discuss what can be done to avoid further unrest.
“We are here to listen, learn and tell a story about Bahrain to the outside world which perhaps has not been told before,” said Mr Hancock.
“There is a huge degree of ignorance at how the situation has been portrayed in the international media.
“What happened here started out as an internal issue between the two sects but continued and gathered momentum as external influences played their part.
“The strongest influences were undoubtedly from Iran and the US, and Iran can win a number of wars without firing a shot due to its sheer level of influence within society.
“Now people have to know what will happen to this country if a solution is not reached and the only way of raising this awareness is by talking.”
The delegation assured Mr Zahra and Mr Abdulrahman that the purpose of their visit was not to defend the position of Bahrain, but to present a balanced and non-biased report of the country to their respective parliaments.
“I ask you not to come here to defend us or our position, but leave with a balanced and clear view of Bahrain,” said Mr Zahra.
“This country is suffering from a sectarian division and issues in society.
“However, there is widespread ignorance in Europe, not only within the media but also among officials and what people forget is that Bahrain was a pioneer of democracy in this region.”
The delegation advocated that the Dialogue talks should be extended beyond its allocated month timeframe.
“The bottom line is that this conflict should be resolved in a peaceful manner, and in a Round Table scenario which is continued past July,” said Prof Iwinski.
“We have full of support for you and the Dialogue, but people must be aware of what will happen if all talks stop and no solution is reached.
Mr Hancock added that a divided country was a “meaningless entity and a reckless path to take”.
The Dialogue can also only result in benefits if all parties in society are present and willing to talk, regardless of religious beliefs.
“How can we have a democracy with Al Wefaq when the party does not use the constitution as a reference but uses religion instead,” said Mr Abdulrahman.
“The family law was refused by the opposition because it was based on the constitutional law and not that of the Sharia law.
“You cannot run a democracy when it is being led by a religious belief, and as long as the opposition doesn’t adapt itself to the real form of democracy, then there will be no solution to the division.”
Meanwhile, Mr Hancock said that those who walk out of discussions do a great disservice to the cause.
“You don’t change anything by not being involved,” he said.
“Their voice ceases to be heard and leaving the playing field, so to speak, does not result in anything, therefore those who leave due to different religious agendas will not help the country’s progression,” he said.
Akhbar Al Khaleej columnist Samira Rajab agreed with the delegation that talks should be attended by all groups, but said she was worried that the desire for a solid resolution to the issues was not shared.
“Mutual desire is not the same here and the Dialogue does not mean anything to the opposition; they are participating just to make the outside world aware of their demands,” said Ms Rajab.
Mr Hancock also warned of the loss of foreign workers in Bahrain if talks fail to come to a consensus and a solution between both sides.
“I met a doctor here who showed me horrendous pictures of what happened, including a picture of a bullet with his name on it that was sent to him,” he said.
“He is a British citizen and still insists on working here.
“He came back to Bahrain and when I asked him what he came back for, he said ‘I came back to try and make a difference’.
“If you’re not careful you will lose people like that.”
The European delegation said that improving Bahrain’s image on the international scene and setting the record straight should come through a series of channels, such as the use of expatriates and the media.
“The expatriate community is a vital part of the future of this country and every time they go home, or Bahraini students go abroad for studies, they should be seen as ambassadors of Bahrain and take a positive message,” said Mr Hancock.
“Media reports from local journalists should be seen outside and they have an important role, as much as the politicians, to play inside the country.
“They must be part of a more proactive campaign, not to distort but to tell the truth.
“The Internet is a good platform but it must be written by people who can be trusted, people who are credible sources of information.”
With regard to credible sources, he pointed out how the British Ambassador Jamie Bowden’s outgoing report, as published in the GDN last Friday, should have been brought to light earlier but it was “better late than never”.
The Council of Europe, which was established in 1949, is made up of 47 countries and 318 members who work to uphold the principles of human rights, the rule of law and democracy.
Most recently it has been involved in assisting Tunisia and Morocco in political reforms along these main issues.
‘You cannot run a democracy when it is being led by a religious belief, and as long as the opposition doesn’t adapt itself to the real form of democracy, then there will be no solution to the division’
‘What happened here started out as an internal issue between the two sects but continued and gathered momentum as external influences played their part’
‘However, there is widespread ignorance in Europe, not only within the media but also among officials and what people forget is that Bahrain was a pioneer of democracy in this region’
Gulf Daily News