By Arab News
By Siraj Wahab
A leading member of the Bahraini opposition expressed her party’s readiness to take part in a dialogue process announced by King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, but said it is time for a new constitution.
“We are ready for dialogue – provided we know how much the government is willing to concede and how serious it is in listening and acceding to our demands,” said Muneera Fakhro who belongs to the Al-Waad political grouping.
In a gesture of reconciliation in the face of sustained opposition protests, the king delegated Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa to open dialogue with the opposition. “The crown prince has been granted all the powers to fulfill the hopes and aspirations of all gracious citizens from all sections in the national dialogue,” the king said in his announcement late Friday.
“The sooner we return to calm, the sooner we can reach our goals,” said the crown prince in his address on Saturday. “Citizens of Bahrain, let us work together with all political blocs to help return the security situation to normal so we can announce a day of mourning for those we have lost,” he said.
Fakhro, along with party chief Ibrahim Shareef has long been articulating the opposition point of view for greater power and greater accountability. Fakhro unsuccessfully contested parliamentary elections that were held in October last year. “We are part of the opposition, and my party will take part in the crown prince’s dialogue initiative,” she told Arab News by telephone from Manama.
She said Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa is respected by his people. “The dialogue process has the capacity to succeed because the crown prince is trusted by many Bahrainis, including myself. The first element of any dialogue to succeed is the element of trust,” she said.
What makes Fakhro’s voice of opposition important is the fact that she is Sunni. Some elements in the Bahraini establishment have been able to dismiss opposition calls describing the opposition leaders as “disgruntled Shiites” or “Iranian agents”. That is not the case with Fakhro.
She said it is not a Sunni-Shiite issue in Bahrain. “The demand for better education, better health care facilities, better standard of living … these are not the demands of only the Shiites. These are national demands,” she said. “The issue here is not sectarian,” she insisted. “It is just because the Shiites have been the more-deprived lot that they are in the forefront.”
Fakhro said the Shiites are better organized. “Therefore, you have them at the forefront of the protests. Many Sunnis may not have turned up at the Pearl Square protests, but they do support the protesters and their demands,” she said. “And why shouldn’t they? When concessions are granted they will benefit not just Shiites but all Bahrainis. For example, if there are better housing facilities, then everyone will benefit.”
As to why the opposition parties are not fighting it out politically in Parliament, Fakhro alleged there were irregularities in last year’s parliamentary elections. “We were not allowed to win despite the fact that we enjoyed huge support,” she said referring to the opposition’s capture of only 18 of the 40 seats. “Those elections were rigged, and I am in the process of documenting all the facts as to how the results were manipulated to suit the establishment,” she said. “So, what is the point in discussing or raising our demands in such a Parliament?”
She said among the opposition demands are an end to corruption and greater accountability of the government. “And for these things to happen and to curb absolute power that is vested in one person, we need to rewrite our constitution. That is what we are demanding,” Fakhro said.