x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Bahrain protests must not stop talks

A political solution must be found to end the crisis in Bahrain. That needs to happen soon and for the good of a region that can ill afford more instability.

In the past week, the long-running protests in Bahrain took a positive turn and then a negative swing. The positive was the restarting of dialogue sessions, at the urging of Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa AlKhalifa. The negative was the deaths and demonstrations marking two years since the protests began.

Hussain Ali Al Jazeeri , 16, was killed on February 14 after being shot in the stomach by security forces. A police officer was also killed in the melee. At the boy's funeral on Sunday, more clashes broke out between police and protestors, with tear gas eventually used to disperse mourners.

The situation off the streets is different. While police are trying to maintain law and order, and protestors keep attempting to make their voices heard, both sides want to see a lasting solution. And last week, dialogue sessions began at a resort outside the capital and, all parties involved insist, will continue twice a week until some consensus is reached.

It is imperative that they do. Opposition protests may fuel more violence in the days and weeks ahead, but clashes on the streets must not derail efforts to find a negotiated end to this crisis.

The issues on the table are many, although one MP told this newspaper that around "70 per cent" of the agendas were the same. The sticking points are likely to be over elected government and how to increase Shiite participation in the government.

These talks are still in their early days; it will be some time before a consensus is reached that all sides can find agreement in. But the rarefied atmosphere of the talks stands in sharp contrast to the street clashes, which cause real loss of life, and also make daily life difficult for ordinary Bahrainis. There are still weekly demonstrations, mainly in Shia areas, and with every death, with every violent response, the polarisation increases. After two years, the feelings among the protest movement are hardening. But compromise is desperately needed, and the opportunity of the talks should not be squandered.

Bahrain's economy has taken a battering in the past two years and there is no recovery in sight without a political solution. Bahrain does not have the buffer of natural resources that some of its neighbours have and it will take time, after a consensus is reached, to get the economy back to normal. That needs to happen soon, for the good of all Bahrainis, and for the good of a region that can ill afford more instability.