Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
Bahraini Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa has called for more talks to ease the country's anti-government protests. AFP Photo / Mohammed Al Shaikh
Bahraini Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa has called for more talks to ease the country's anti-government protests. AFP Photo / Mohammed Al Shaikh

Bahrain's crown prince calls for more dialogue

The crown prince is seen widely as a moderate voice within the Al Khalifa family renewed the call for negotiations and reform with an appeal to Shiite religious leaders.

MANAMA // Bahrain's crown prince, Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, has called for dialogue with the political opposition and institutional reforms to ease the country's anti-government protests.

"Security is not the only guarantor of stability. Without justice there can no freedom, and without freedom there can be no true security," Crown Prince Salman said late Friday at a conference on Middle East security organised by the International Institute for Security Studies.

"Only through the genuine application of a just and fair and inclusive legal system will people feel that their own rights and their own futures are protected," he added.

The crown prince, seen widely as a moderate voice within the Al Khalifa family, balanced his renewed call for negotiations and reform with an appeal to Shiite religious leaders using a term more commonly associated with senior religious figures in Iran, which Bahraini authorities have accused of helping foment the protests, if not orchestrating them - an allegation Tehran denies.

"I call on all those who disagree with the government, including the ayatollahs, to condemn violence on the street unequivocally," the crown prince said. "Responsible leadership is called for and I believe dialogue is the only way forward."

More than 55 people have died since February 2011, when protests by members of the majority Shiite community demanding greater representation in government widened and violence between security forces and demonstrators became escalated. Bahraini authorities declared a state of emergency and received the help of other Gulf governments, including the UAE and Saudi Arabia, to help bring the upheaval under control. The crown prince singled out these countries for thanks in his remarks, a signal that the country will continue its hard line on security here.

In late October, Bahrain's interior ministry banned public gatherings, and just days later, the country revoked the citizenship of 31 opposition activists. Demonstrations and clashes with police continue almost daily in predominantly Shiite villages on the edges of Manama, sending plumes of smoke and the occasional whiff of tear gas drifting across the capital.

Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah, the deputy foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, echoed the tougher side of the crown prince's speech, telling the policymakers and regional experts gathered here that the governments of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) "cannot tolerate instability" that could threaten their leadership.

He added, however, that "solutions could come from dialogue and not through any other ways".

Hours before the speech by Crown Prince Salman on Friday, Bahrain's opposition bloc, led by the Shiite political organisation Al Wefaq, urged a resumption of talks with the government.

"Let's come to a political agreement. We are ready for dialogue without preconditions," Wefaq leader Sheikh Ali Salman told a crowd of hundreds of supporters at a rally. He reiterated the opposition's condemnation of violence - written in a non-violence declaration in November - and bluntly told protesters to abandon calls for the downfall of the monarchy.

"We don't welcome this slogan," he told those attending the rally moments after the chant began to swell.

Deep differences between the government and the opposition did not preclude occasional coordination on a lower level.

Al Wefaq's rally on Friday was initially planned as a march, but the opposition agreed to conduct a lower-profile event after speaking with the Bahraini authorities.

"There was an agreement made to make the event a sit-in," said a source, who asked not to be identified. "This is a sign that the opposition remains pragmatic and open to dialogue."

Low-level exchanges could form the foundation of more serious dialogue, said Bahrain's foreign minister, Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, while not referring specifically to last week's rally.

"Talks don't have to be on big issues. It could start talking about issues such as human rights or the needs of the citizens," he said yesterday. "That can also bring everybody together and break the ice."

But international and local human rights activists argue that changes have come too slowly and security forces continue to respond to the demonstrations with disproportionate force.

"If it's not getting better, it's getting worse," said Amal, a 29-year-old activist. "The government still insists on using force."

The Bahraini government's staging of the conference was seen as a modest sign of progress after unrest forced the cancellation of the annual gathering last year. Sensitivity still runs high, however.

In a listing during his speech of critical allies in the Bahraini government's struggle to contain the unrest, Crown Prince Salman made no reference to the United States. Many of the experts and policymakers gathered here interpreted the omission as a slap against Washington for its criticism of the Bahraini government's crackdown.

The head of the US delegation, Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, credited Bahrain's leadership for some reforms aimed at easing the tensions, including giving more powers to the elected parliament. But he noted "there is much to do" in following through with recommendations by an independent fact-finding committee last year that included calls for investigation into allegations of high-level abuses against protesters.

Others saw the exclusion as a criticism of the assertion that the Obama administration is turning away from the Middle East in favour of Asia. That suggestion was ridiculed by John McCain, a US senator and former Republican Party presidential candidate.

"The idea that the US can pivot away from the Middle East is the height of foolishness."



* With additional reporting by The Associated Press

Back to the top

More articles

Editor's Picks

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greets supporters after his arrival in Zahedan, the regional capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. During Mr Rouhani's two-day visit, he will tour several other cities and hold meetings with local scholars and entrepreneurs. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

On the road with Hassan Rouhani

Iran's president is touring some of Iran's most underdeveloped provinces. Foreign correspondent Yeganeh Salehi is traveling with him.

 The Doha-based Youssef Al Qaradawi speaks to the crowd as he leads Friday prayers in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt in February, 2011. The outspoken pro-Muslim Brotherhood imam has been critical of the UAE’s policies toward Islamist groups, adding to friction between Qatar and other GCC states. Khalil Hamra / AP Photo

Brotherhood imam skips Doha sermon, but more needed for GCC to reconcile

That Youssef Al Qaradawi did not speak raises hopes that the spat involving Qatar and the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain might be slowly moving towards a resolution.

 Twitter photo of  Abdel Fattah El Sisi on the campaign trail on March 30. Photo courtesy-Twitter/@SisiCampaign

El Sisi rides a bicycle, kicks off social media storm

The photos and video created a huge buzz across social media networks, possibly a marker of a new era for Egypt.

 An Afghan election commission worker carries a ballot box at a vote counting centre in Jalalabad on April 6. A roadside bomb hit a truck carrying full ballot boxes in northern Afghanistan, killing three people a day after the country voted for a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Eight boxes of votes were destroyed in the blast, which came as the three leading candidates voiced concerns about possible fraud. Noorullah Shirzada / AFP Photo

Two pressing questions for Afghanistan’s future president

Once in office, the next Afghan president must move fast to address important questions that will decide the immediate future of the country.

 Friday is UN Mine Awareness Day and Omer Hassan, who does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing all he can to teach people about the dangers posed by landmines. Louise Redvers for The National

A landmine nearly ended Omer’s life but he now works to end the threat of mines in Iraq

Omer Hassan does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan and only has to show people his mangled leg to underscore the danger of mines. With the world marking UN Mine Awareness Day on Friday, his work is as important as ever as Iraq is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world.

 Supporters of Turkey's ruling AKP cheer as they follow the election's results in front of the party's headquarters in Ankara on March 30. Adem Altan/ AFP Photo

Erdogan critic fears retaliation if he returns to Turkey

Emre Uslu is a staunch critic of Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Now, with a mass crackdown on opposition expected, he is unsure when he can return home.


To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National