Ever since protests against Bahrain’s government started in February 2011, Manama has insisted it is open to a meaningful dialogue with the opposition to restore stability.
But it has taken pressure from its neighbours, most notably Saudi Arabia, to get the most promising round of dialogue going in two years.
The long-running instability in Bahrain is starting to cause more of a headache around the region, especially in Riyadh, where the Al-Saud ruling family worries the situation in Bahrain is stirring up trouble in its own restive Eastern Province, opening up the door for Iranian influence.
Although Bahrain’s economy has fared better than many thought since the uprising began, confidence is still weak. A political solution is essential. So far the prospects are mixed. Opposition groups want the outcomes of the dialogue to be put to a referendum. That would help engage young Shia protesters in the process, who currently complain they do not have a voice.
The ruling Al-Khalifa family, however, are against this plan. They also have ruled out putting a representative of the king at the table, another key opposition demand. Hardliners in the family appear content with the status quo. Talks continue, nonetheless, mainly because neither side wants to be blamed for yet another failed attempt at finding a solution.
The main hope is that the reformist Crown Prince Salman will use his new position as first deputy prime minister to push for a meaningful dialogue from within the government. If he can claim support from Riyadh for this plan, it may give him the political capital he needs after his last attempt at negotiating with the opposition backfired.