Ali Al-Aswad: 5 Things the Biden Administration should Discuss with Bahraini Government during Jeddah Summit
2022-07-06 - 2:46 p
Parties within the international community, close to the ruling Democratic Party of the United States, have been talking about the State Department's intention to raise the issue of Bahrain during the upcoming Biden-Gulf-Arab summit, which was marred by a lot of confusion, before even happening, on whether the US president will talk to the Saudi government or not, which Biden has kept vague and will not disclose before the upcoming meetings. The visit is protocol, even if it is delayed this time for reasons related to the relationship between the President and Saudi Arabia on the one hand, and on the other hand for the new major international issues, the most important of which is the Russian-Ukrainian war and the internal crisis in America linked to the high prices of fuel and food commodities, a crisis globally known as economic inflation or fiscal deficit.
The United States does not need Bahrain's oil, and the limited trade relationship between the two countries cannot be relied upon to put pressure on domestic political reform. What Washington has is more than oil or trade; it has the Fifth Fleet which is of strategic importance in the region and which the Biden administration, if it wants, can use to bring about real political transformation that involves Bahrainis of all walks of life in power and political decision-making at the local level, if not on the Gulf or Arab levels.
The US administration drew the outlines before the recent US election campaign, and specified the features of external work within the portfolio of Mr. Blinken, an expert on Bahraini affairs before he became secretary of state. The program of action included reforming the human rights system and dealing with Arab countries as one file, wherever the need for reform of the political system is required; systems that are no longer fit to keep pace with developments in the region. As soon as the Russian-Ukrainian war broke out, international interest in the Middle East declined, which was good for many Arab countries, including Bahrain, where the opposition, which constitutes the majority, suffers from marginalization and exclusion in an organized program that was wanted to be implemented locally, in line with the aspirations of the international community, making formal measures that are not counted as considerable reform programs. The opposition is either in exile or in prison, and the presence of a number of its members at home lies within the circle of direct targeting of persecution over belonging to dissolved societies within the framework of the political isolation law, the dissolution of opposition societies and banning them from taking part in parliamentary life since 2018 to this day.
In this sense, after a deep reading of the blocked political horizon in Bahrain, the Biden administration should take practical action at the next summit, free from criticism or public statements that recommend a democratic political transformation involving Bahrainis in the political process within a systematic framework, that leads to a compromise that requires consensus on a comprehensive national reform program other than the visions that the authorities announce from time to time and do not involve the opposition or active political societies.
The number of possible interim goals for the Biden administration:
First: Release political prisoners and achieve justice for torture vitcims.
Second: Adopt a project that would manage a national dialogue like what the US envoy George Mitchell did in Northern Ireland during the conflict that ended with the Good Friday Agreement.
Third: Postpone the upcoming parliamentary elections scheduled for the last quarter of this year until the national dialogue project ends so that its outcomes are reflected on the elections, also carrying out the necessary legal procedures for the success of the elections.
Fourth: Build the reform process through independent oversight and implement the outcomes of the national dialogue for a transitional period, as in countries of local conflict where the parties need acceptable international sponsorship and the United Nations may be in charge.
Fifth: Adopt the restructuring of institutions that were established after the February 14, 2011 events, and work toward reviewng legislations, so that they become invalid and ineffective until they are reconsidered, since they were issued in the wake of a long political conflict.
Bahrain ultimately needs a new social contract leading to a political consensus that will make Bahrain a model country for the region. All of this is possible if the US administration wants to adopt it, putting the ruling Democratic Party's program into effect.
Ali Al-Aswad - Former Bahraini MP and Al-Wefaq official