Government representatives were joined by members of the opposition on Saturday (July 2nd) in the Bahraini capital of Manama for the start of the country's much-anticipated national reconciliation dialogue.
Nearly 300 political and social elites, along with leading economic and legal experts, convened under the banner of 'Bahrain brings us together' to discuss the thorniest issues plaguing the kingdom.
Al-Wefaq, Bahrain's largest opposition party, announced Friday evening in a press conference held by party leader Khalil al-Marzouq that it would join the national dialogue, thus ending the weeks long controversy revolving around the party's possible participation.
Al-Marzouq said that the al-Wefaq delegation includes five members of the party, and stressed al-Wefaq's demand that the prime minister be appointed from among members of the parliamentary majority.
The national dialogue will address four central topics, including political, economic, social and legal matters. Each central topic has 15 sub-topics, comprising each a total of 90 items of discussion for the different work groups.
Opinions on the national dialogue varied, with some participants believing it would strengthen national cohesion and address sensitive issues. Others criticised the steps taken in preparation for the meeting and cast doubt on the dialogue sessions' efficacy in formulating practical recommendations capable of pulling Bahrain out of its ongoing political crisis.
Rabab al-Oraid, member of the Shura Council of Bahrain and a participant in the dialogue, said that the high number of dialogue members is evidence of the government's genuine intent to reach a comprehensive consensus for the majority of outstanding domestic issues.
"[The] general atmosphere of the dialogue was characterised by a spirit of tolerance and brotherhood because all [participants] recognise the importance of this initiative and its potential to generate a positive outcome for the people of Bahrain and ensure a brighter future," said al-Oraid.
She considered the legal session to be the dialogue's most important one, claiming that the sensitive items within it could resolve most other points of contention.
"The legal topic is the basis of all the principles, since it is the basis of the reform process and because of the fact that it overlaps with the other topics," she said.
Opposition leader al-Marzouq told Al-Shorfa that the measures taken in preparation for the talks do not reflect a genuine effort capable of producing results. He criticised the selection method for dialogue participants adding that they simply represent ideas, not members of Bahraini society.
According to al-Marzouq, the dialogue turned into a forum, noting that participants received only five minutes to express his or her views. He described the debates' prospects as "weak".
"There ought to be a serious examination of the issues relating to constitutional provisions, such as the mechanisms of forming the government, its authority, and accountability, as well as a discussion of the mechanism of selecting members of the Shura Council and its powers, [which should be conducted] separate from discussions of housing, education, the economy and other matters of secondary importance at this sensitive stage in the Kingdom's history," al-Marzouq said.
"The national reconciliation dialogue must begin and end with the will of the people," he added. "If we can arrive at a formula that is predominantly reflective of the will of the people, [it] would consummate a successful dialogue that garners the approval of all spectra of the Bahraini people."
Dr. Yusuf al-Mishaal, chairman of the Bahrain Export Development Society and national dialogue participant, remained optimistic. He pointed out that the talks would be a positive complement to the National Charter, and denied the presence of any antagonism during the assembly.
"Everybody presented their views on the keys to success, and we hope that everyone sits at the dialogue table and refrains from fabricating any crisis that would disrupt the timetables of the dialogue committees, particularly in light of the limited time available for the discussion of numerous complex topics that impact the daily life and future of every Bahraini," al-Mishaal said.
He said the economic issue is tied to all other dialogue topics, as it involves the highest number of discussion items. He expects a complex debate on the electoral system and the process in delineating the relationship between the Shura Council and Parliament, making it the most hotly debated issue of the dialogue.
Al-Mishaal said he hoped the dialogue assembly will submit its recommendations later this month, prior to the onset of the holy month of Ramadan.