The Bahrain Debate – a glimpse of hope?

Amidst failed attempts at reform, and the struggle to come up with effective strategies to dig Bahrain out of the political hole it has been in for four years has prompted some Bahrainis living in London to push for a debate to “rethink the conflict.”

Independent from any political affiliation, “The Bahrain Debate: Rethinking the conflict” is an initiative to be held by a group of Bahrainis at University of London’s SOAS Middle East and North Africa Society on the 3rd of December.

The event is somewhat a second session of the initial Bahrain Debate that took place in the capital of Manama in 2012, where

Mohammed Al-Daaysi,

Mohammed Al-Daaysi, “Bahrain Debate” organizer

“different political stripes faced off in a rare forum,” according to Reuters. Besides drastic changes in the structure and organizing team, the difference between the former and the upcoming event is the vibe. In 2012, the uprising was still fresh and the people were emotional, according to Mohamed Al-Daaysi, the only member from the old team organizing this year’s debate. This time, the objective is to focus on portraying different views of the conflict and tackle the issues Bahrain witnessed over the past few years since the 2011 uprising, targeting a more international audience.

The call to rethink the conflict comes at an appropriate time, at least according to Al-Daaysi who is on of the organizers of this event.

“In a sense we’re at a challenging point. The Crown Prince saying that dialogue should go through parliament, and you have the opposition, boycotting the parliamentary elections.”

Al-Daaysi says the whole idea is to provide a new platform for political economical analysis to kick in, revisit the current colonial and neocolonial legacy in Bahrain, and rub off on the discourse of the political actors themselves.

“Rethinking in itself provides a way for change. We don’t need to act so much these days, we need to think before we do act and mobilize political actions,” he says.

Looking at the current situation in Bahrain, and the attempts by different parties to construct a strategy, Al Daaysi says it’s not working. He suggests the Crown Prince initiatives failed, and the Manama Document put forward by the opposition groups is inadequate to solve political and socioeconomic issues in Bahrain.

Marc Owens - Panelist in the

Marc Owens – Panelist in the “Bahrain Debate”

Marc Owens, sitting on the panel, will be offering a critical account of government repression, both historical and economical. He will also present his concerns of democracy in Bahrain’s divided societies, and says he will argue for the need to “respect a strong and secular constitution that does not privilege any belief system over another.”

I asked Owens about this event and the purpose behind it, here’s what he had to say:

What does “rethinking the conflict” mean?

“I think ‘rethinking the conflict’ simply is a concept that highlights the ongoing nature of the problem. There is a tendency to believe that ‘the conflict’ is what happened in 2011, and 2011 alone. I think it is important to position as part of an ongoing historical struggle against a kleptocratic and illegitimate state. That’s does not imply an acceptance of all opposition demands, but merely disturbs the dichotomous narrative that implies those who support the government support dictatorship, and those who oppose wish for some sort of religious dystopia.”

Why Now?

“I think it is important to keep discussing the conflict as it is an evolving and dynamic thing, one that constantly needs to be evaluated and analyzed. Perhaps most importantly, while Bahrain must move forward, those who have suffered must not be forgotten, and those who have escaped justice, must be sought.”

Abdulla Abdulaal, organizer and chair of the Bahrain Debate explains the purpose is to try and break down walls and build bridges between

Abdulla Abdulaal, PHD candidate in economics at SOAS and chair of the Bahrain Debate

Abdulla Abdulaal, PHD candidate in economics at SOAS and chair of the Bahrain Debate

different political, economic and social players both internally and internationally. He says they will try to find commonality across the spectrum, encourage fruitful debate and laying the grounds for creative solutions in rethinking the conflict.

“Our aim is to reignite interest in political economy discussions in crucial areas such as fiscal policy, history lessons from the 1950s nationalist movement for example, and shaking up civil society which once at the frontier of change.”

Abdulaal says with the way things are going now, he fears the longer the cycle drags on, the more likely violence will escalate. Four years later, and a new parliament in place, he says the outlook seems bleak as business goes on as usual.

“We’re not promising solutions but we’re trying to get people thinking about common problems like unemployment and the national identity, and find common grounds in a shared history and shared destiny,” he says.

However, panelists don’t seem to be representing a wider spectrum of Bahraini society, but rather a very limited picture of the different players in the country.

Abdulaal says organizers reached out to several institutions and individuals with a variety of backgrounds, however logistics and practically prevailed in many ways.

The panelists will talk about a variety of topics from human rights and the rule of law, to the history of the nationalist movement in the 50s and 60s. They will be shedding light on the role of the opposition and expatriate workers in Bahraini society, as well as exploring unemployment challenges.

List of panelists:

– Ali Al-Aswad – Ex MP for Alwefaq

– Anna Hagberg – Activist with a focus on Bahrain, MA in Gender Studies at SOAS

– Hasan Alhasan – research analyst at the office of the First Deputy Prime Minister

– Marc Owen Jones: PHD candidate in Durham and Senior researcher at Bahrain Watch

William Morris is the Secretary General of the Next Century Foundation

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The whole event will be recorded and streamed on YouTube. The video of the whole debate will be screened with Arabic subtitles at an event held in Bahrain (Information and updates o be announced).

People can participate and voice their thoughts on social media using the following Information:

On twitter, follow @Bahrain_debate

On Facebook, find the Bahrain Debate page.

Or via email: thebahraindebate@gmail.com

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