The Blog

Bahrain: Power to the People... But Where Are They?

The calls for 'Tamarrod' in recent months hoped to mimic the immense support the 'Rebellion' movement received in Egypt, consequently reigniting the momentum that was once there in Bahrain. However, its propagators and endorsers naively assumed this movement can be enforced as a blanket-remedy to the regional instability. They neglected the indisputable fact: sovereign nations have grievances independent from one another, requiring a tailored approach to achieve sustainable results. The calls to essentially hold the country and its people at 'Tamarrod-point', required a strong and undeniable unified front. This key ingredient was nowhere to be found, resulting in the anti-climactic turnout.

However, this attempt should not be hastily dismissed. The fact that it did not amount to what was expected served as a big wake-up call, to both the local and international community. The attempted insurgency made it very apparent to local citizens, especially to opposition members, that a unified opposition front ceased to exist. To achieve a truly sustainable movement and solution, it truly requires both to be an accurate reflection of the broad consensus.

We must accept that a diverse society has diverse priorities; one may prioritize a political resolution, while others may prioritize their economic stability, or the safety and security of their families. And there are many different ways to express this protest other than the streets; people voice their grievances in Parliament, or in local media outlets, or even in their homes. It is unfair to neglect the rest of the community that are not so directly obvious.

When one pressures for change that is unrepresentative of the masses, the method is weak and the outcome is temporary. Arguably, Egypt's movement proved to have momentarily quenched their thirst for a democratic model, but their short-term aspirations proved to be unsustainable, and perhaps created an even bigger grievance than they started with.

So, what now?

The 'D' word, the mantra that continues to be chanted over and over again: dialogue. Although the word to some is synonymous with another 'D' word, defeat, dialogue is a one-way bridge that must be crossed to achieve a resolution.

And this bridge is a two-fold initiative. A formal channel has been established through the National dialogue which aims to reach a political outcome that appeases the country's complex fabric. Arguably, it has been slow in tackling core issues as the sessions appear to be stunted whenever there's a disagreement, which is why its crucial participants focus on their common ground primarily. It is important to view these sessions not as a means to an end, but a continuous endeavor to ensure the country continues to adapt to the naturally evolving needs of a developing nation.

Additionally, this initiative must extend beyond the official dialogue table and engage the rest of Bahrain's opinionated community to dissolve the misguided conclusion, 'if they aren't with us, they're against us'. In essence, all dialogue initiatives must be treated as trust building-exercises in order to repair the holes of its social fabric. It is this trust deficit that lead some critics to misconstrue every positive measure of reform or reconciliation, viewing them under a veil of prejudice and pessimism.

Those who call for democratic empowerment must acknowledge that this model is based on discussing conflicting opinions to reach a consensus - not an imposition of ideas, relentless to negotiation. Bravery is not limited to street marches or voicing opinions, but in compromises too.

And within this dialogue, there needs to be shift from case-building to problem-solving. This is not to dismiss any injustices, but the region has become so accustomed to publicizing their grievances as a means to pressure for change, without even attempting to use the formal channels established to address these.

A reforming nation must be observed with an open mind, assessing it in a context that stretches beyond the past two and half years. Let's not forget that Bahrain embarked on its path to a transitional democracy since 2002, with the initiation of a bi-cameral Parliament - before the Arab Spring or any regional pressures began. There is an inherent willingness to continue being the model for the Gulf, and I hope to see new headlines adorn the papers soon: Bahrain gets it right.