Bahrain is seeing a situation of political standstill because of the sharp political division between the government and the majority of the people. This stems from the eruption of the popular movement for a democratic transition in February 14, 2011.
Three dialogues took place between the government and the opposition, but the government has no genuine desire for change. After 5 years, we have reached a situation of estrangement with the absence of dialogue or even communication between the two sides. Although the opposition had repeatedly called on influential states to support a genuine dialogue to end the political crisis, this has not happened. Instead, the response has been locking up leading dialogue-participants when the government walked even further away from the opposition after the opposition boycotted the sham legislative elections in November 2014.
Today, the most prominent and popular advocate of dialogue and peace in Bahrain is celebrating 300 days behind bars since his arrest on December 28, 2014. His attempts to find a solution for the political crises that festered every ten years, since the 80s.
A neutral and fair observer of Sheikh Ali Salman’s activism since his return from exile and till the day of his arrest can only that his actions have been legal and core to his position as Secretary General of a (registered) political association. He repeatedly declared his absolute rejection to all forms of violence from all sides and always called on the people to maintain a peaceful movement. And one cannot overlook the fact that he was a leading participant in the writing of the opposition’s joint Manama Document which pledges to stick to solely peaceful measures in the pursuit of democratic change.
He has not spared an opportunity to call on the Bahraini regime for real dialogue as a single solution to the political deadlock. Still, Al Wefaq followed the slightest pinch of hope and participated in the National Dialogue although it was very clear from the start that it was not a real one. However, Sheikh Ali kept his vision that the opposition is serious in turning every opportunity to real negotiations despite the regime’s lack of desire.
“Problems that challenge individuals and nations need dialogue on matters of disagreement. Thus, principally speaking, dialogue is vital for Bahrain to reach a consensus that achieves the benefits of all sides without excluding or undermining or discriminating against any of them”.
– Sheikh Ali Salman
The dialogue he is demanding is one that can achieve equality for all citizens by actions and the rule of law together, one that draws a roadmap to democracy and respect of human rights. He is demanding a resolution that will not take the nation back to suppression again, and one that will never put political dissidents in prison again.
If dialogue or negotiation can bring on equality and ensure freedom and a true democratic transition, then it can only be implemented by:
1. The engagement of all sides, including the jailed political figures– who must be immediately and unconditionally released.
2. The consent of the people of Bahrain on the terms of the resolution as a democratic response should anyone opposes it.
Yet, the international community should demonstrate its true desire to support a productive and real dialogue in Bahrain.
This is Sheikh Ali Salman’s vision for political change, I leave you to judge his case.
Author: Alya Radhi, wife of Sheikh Ali Salman
Sheikh Ali Salman is the leader of the political opposition in Bahrain. He was arrested and sentenced to 4 years in prison. He was charged with inciting hate, disrupting civil peace and inciting civil disobedience of the law, insulting official bodies and promoting change of the regime through military force, in addition to other charges.