Both countries are understood to be keen to see Manama make progress on a renewed effort at a dialogue with opposition groups to help restore stability to the Gulf peninsula.
A renewed dialogue is said by some sources to have been a condition attached to the financial aid the two countries have given to Bahrain since the start of the year. “There is a growing consensus in the GCC countries that Bahrain is taking too long to resolve this situation,” says one Western diplomatic source. “So the aid package was used as a way to get Bahrain to restart talks.”
Manama announced a fresh round of talks consisting of both government supporters and opposition groups on 21 January following a royal directive issued by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. Although the Sunni royal family says it has always been open to talks with Shia opposition groups, the latest round of talks, which started in February, are the first time in around two years that all the major political societies have met to discuss how to end the continuing unrest.
“The international and regional community have been putting pressure on the Al-Khalifa family to start a dialogue,” says one member of a Shia political society involved in the talks. “We serious about having a dialogue and not losing this opportunity, but our eyes are open. We do not yet think the government is serious about this, but if they show themselves to be serious then we are very serious.”
The UAE barred Kristian Ulrichsen, an academic from the London School of Economics, from entry in mid-February to attend a conference where he was due to speak about the situation in Bahrain. In a statement issued by the UAE Foreign Ministry following the incident it said: “The UAE is a strong supporter of efforts by the government of Bahrain and the opposition parties to resolve their situation through peaceful dialogue.” It added, “at this extremely sensitive juncture in Bahrain’s national dialogue it would be unhelpful to allow non-constructive views on the situation in Bahrain to be expressed from within another GCC state.”
Saudi Arabia’s position towards Bahrain is also understood to have softened following the death of Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, who was a key figure behind Riyadh’s support for the Al-Khalifa family and the decision to send in Saudi troops in March 2011 to help clear the streets of protesters.
Although there have been several meetings in the latest round of talks, little substantive is understood to have been discussed and big differences between the various parties involved have not been overcome. A coalition of six opposition societies, including the largest opposition group Al-Wefaq, say they want the outcome of the talks to be put to a referendum. They also want the royal family to be represented. Currently, the talks consist of government ministers and members of the opposition and pro-government political societies.
Neither of those demands appears likely following a statement by the powerful Khalid bin Ahmad al-Khalifa, the minister for the Royal Court in early March. He said that “no side at the dialogue represents His Majesty the King against the other components”, and added that any results of the talks would be implemented through “existing constitutional institutions”, which has been understood to mean that a referendum is off the table.
While there are renewed efforts at a dialogue between the mainstream political organisations, demonstrators on the streets of Bahrain are becoming more radical. At the funeral of Mahmood al-Jaziri on 5 March, a 20-year-old Bahraini killed after being hit in the head by a tear gas canister fired by police, protesters said that they had no faith in the dialogue going on.