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Al Wefaq ‘hindering Bahrain’s reforms’

Bahrain News
Sun, 28 Feb 2016
By Raji Unnikrishnan

Bahraini opposition groups have been accused of deliberately obstructing the government’s attempts at reform.

The allegation has been made by an academic, during a visit by a five-member delegation from Europe, including four members of the European Parliament (MEPs).

It followed meetings with government representatives who revealed the main opposition group Al Wefaq National Islamic Society was refusing to engage with official bodies set up in the wake of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry.

“During our meeting with the (Interior Ministry) Ombudsman and with Justice, Islamic Affairs and Endowments Minister Shaikh Khalid bin Ali Al Khalifa, we learnt Al Wefaq had not submitted a single complaint to any of the systems introduced as part of the reform process in Bahrain,” said Prague-based Metropolitan University Department of International Relations and European Studies head Dr Mitchell Belfer, who was part of the delegation.

“This includes the National Institution for Human Rights (NIHR) and the Ombudsman, which they (the opposition) say are dysfunctional. 

“They (the opposition) are calling a system which they never tried dysfunctional and I think this sums up Al Wefaq and much of the opposition in a nutshell. 

“They complain about a system that they don’t even give a chance to work and they want to reject it before they want to see it work.

“They are promoting the failure of the system before they are even attempting to gauge its success.” 

He also said there was a perception abroad that Al Wefaq was the only opposition movement in Bahrain.

“The challenge for Bahrain is to convince the world that there is not one opposition called Al Wefaq, but there are others as well,” he said.

“It is deeply troubling that the world fails to realise that Bahrain’s political system is dynamic with many sources of opposition, including socialists and religious groups. 

“People tend to forget that there is much more than Al Wefaq and the government.”

Another member of the delegation, European Fundamental Rights Agency management board member Philippo di Robilant, said Al Wefaq would be better served operating within the system – rather than seeking to “internationalise” Bahraini issues.

“For Al Wefaq, my message would be that being a part of the system always gives a better chance to reconnect dialogue and shape up things,” said Mr Robilant.

“The way forward for them is to go back into the issue instead of internationalising the crisis or using street pressure, which is not helpful or healthy for the country and its people. 

“In politics, at a certain point, you need to compromise.”

He added boycotting national institutions and the political process was only a short-term solution that could not be sustained.

“You can do it for a limited time and use it to put some pressure, but at a certain point you need to get back to the table with an agenda and a proposal to the country, for the people,” he said. 

“It is not possible to say ‘no’ forever and one has to have the courage to accept that politics is a step by step process. 

“Elected representatives, even the opposition, can do much with the institution which is elastic enough. Even a minority can do things. 

“When you say no to everything, there is not much choice. That is when you go international about issues and the element of street pressure comes into play, which can be dodgy. 

“Compromise is not a bad word.

“It can be courageous to be unpopular, face people, make them understand the complexities of institutions. This doesn’t make you a traitor (to your beliefs).” 

He added Bahraini problems must have Bahraini solutions and commended the setting up of the NIHR and the Ombudsman, which handles allegations of police abuse. 

“It is impressive to note that individuals have access to these instruments,” he said. 

The visit took place just over two weeks after the European Parliament adopted a resolution that questioned the death penalty in Bahrain, called for the release of a Bahraini bomber sentenced to death and accused Bahraini security authorities of extracting confessions under duress.

This prompted an angry response from Bahrain’s National Assembly with the Shura Council accusing MEPs of “blatant interference” and undermining Bahrain’s fight against terrorism, while parliament said the resolution was biased and rooted in misinformation.

The other members of the delegation were Italian MP Khalid Chaouki, Hungarian MP Adam Kosa and Rome-based Centre for American Studies member and adviser to the Italian Agriculture Ministry Roberto Arditti.