U.S. Welcomes Bahrain Dialogue, Analysts’ Criticisms Continue
U.S. Department of State spokeswoman Victoria Nuland stated on Monday that “The United States welcomes the start of Bahrain’s National Dialogue. We’re encouraged by the broad participation of Bahraini political groups in the dialogue.” She added, “We view the dialogue as a positive step in a broader process that can result in meaningful reform that meets the aspirations of all of Bahrain’s citizens. We believe that efforts to promote engagement and reconciliation among Bahrainis are necessary to long-term stability.” The second dialogue session is set for Wednesday afternoon.
Meanwhile, in a piece for The Hill, Dennis C. Blair of Freedom House argues that with regards to Bahrain, the United States’ “stated priorities and our understanding of the leverage in the relationship are inverted.” He claims that a democratic political system in Bahrain is in the long-term national interest of the U.S. and U.S. policy priorities should shift from cooperative efforts on military and economic issues, which have been the priority in relations with Bahrain, to the development of democracy and rule of law. Blair suggests that the U.S. should withdraw the Fifth Fleet from Bahrain, pressure moderate government and opposition leaders to implement the recommendations of the BICI report, and enlist the help of Saudi Arabia in achieving democratic reforms in order to “to put its interests where its values are.”
Bahrain Watch also published a discussion of gerrymandering in Bahrain. The issue of districting has been a point of conflict between the government and opposition groups since 2002, when the government drew new electoral districts. Bahrain’s voting districts are not required to have equal numbers of voters in them, so a district may have the same representation in parliament as another district with several times its number of eligible voters. Since the five districts with the largest electorates are dominated by al-Wefaq supporters, opposition groups have charged that the government established the new districts to ensure that opposition parties would never gain a majority in parliament. The issue of electoral districts is likely to be a topic of discussion in the National Dialogue.