Bahrain: talks about what?

A new round of political dialogue is due to start in Bahrain today amid generally low expectations. The last such talks, in the middle of 2011, collapsed quickly.

However, the Bahraini government has faced growing diplomatic pressure to talk to the opposition and the latest talks may have been timed to give a positive spin to the second anniversary of the uprising on February 14.

blog post by Justin Gengler describes the background to arranging the talks. It appears there will be 24 participants – eight from parliament, eight from opposition societies and eight from "nationalist" societies.

So far, the agenda for the talks, and the government's exact role in them, remains unclear.

There's little to suggest this is anything other than window-dressing by the kingdom's rulers and, as AP points out, the crucial test is whether the authorities are willing to contemplate "any reforms that would weaken their direct control over the country’s affairs".

For example, "a key challenge could be opposition calls to replace Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, an uncle of the king who has been in office since Bahrain’s independence in 1971," AP says.

Underlying these political problems, of course, is the marginalisation of the kingdom's Shia majority by its Sunni rulers. In that connection, the Bahrain Mirror has an intriguing story (in Arabic) about the resignation of Gordon Smith as chief executive of the Bahrain Petroleum Company (Bapco). 

Smith's resignation was announced last month with no reason given for his departure. Bahrain Mirror quotes unnamed "informed sources" as saying he resigned in protest at discriminatory employment practices that were forced on the company by the government.

It claims he rejected a decision from the royal court to replace dismissed Shia employees with 120 soldiers.

If the story is true, Smith deserves to be congratulated for his stand.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 10 February 2013.