Friday, February 18, 2011

Too little, too late and too often

Crown Prince Salman has offered a dialogue once calm is restored to Bahrain.  This is a familiar tune, unfortunately.  

Several major questions will determine whether productive dialogue is feasible:

  • Will moderate opposition leaders continue to hold sway in light of the government's response to peaceful demonstrations?  Genuinely peaceful men, such as Sheikh 'Ali Salman who heads Wefaq, have been steadily discredited by their inability to show rewards for moderation and for participating in the system.
  • The demonstrators have included Shi'i and Sunni Muslims, although the majority are Shi'a. This is not simply a sectarian struggle.  For those demonstrating, a key concern is the privileged status of the al-Khalifas and their close tribal allies.  No reform substantial reform is possible unless the special privileges of the al-Khalifa will be addressed.  These privileges include a stranglehold on the limited territory of Bahrain.
  • The notoriously corrupt Prime Minister has been in power for 40 years.  His hands are all over the thuggish response to the demonstrations.  Will he be forced to step down prior to a dialogue?
  • Does the King or the Crown Prince have a free hand to negotiate, or is their flexibility held in check by Saudi Arabia?  Hard-knuckle diplomacy from the U.S. may be necessary to convince Saudi Arabia to back off.
  • What was the level of Saudi involvement in the violence of February 18th?  The Saudis have worked hard to keep the skids on substantive reform in Bahrain, not least because they worry that it will prove contagious among its own Shi'i Muslims.
  • Will the government be able to create more jobs to reduce unemployment?  Presently, most blue-collar labor is being performed expatriate workers, with firms hiring only enough Bahraini workers to comply with Bahrainization requirements. 
  • Will the government take quick steps to improve living conditions in cities such as Sitrah or major villages such as Diraz, where public services and facilities are dreadful?

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