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“I think the national dialogue is designed to fail to solve the real serious political issues and it's designed to shore up the regime's position,” says Toby Jones, a historian of the Gulf at Rutgers University. With the talks, as well as a commission appointed by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa to investigate the crackdown, “there's an underlying case being made by the government that the crisis started in February,” he says, instead of acknowledging the long-running problems that led to the uprising.
Coming on the heels of a visit by Bahrain’s crown prince to the US and Europe, both moves also appear meant to placate international allies like the US, which has pressured Bahrain to find a political, rather than a security, solution to the crisis.
To the opposition, the biggest problem with the talks is their structure. Out of 320 participants, just 25 are members of the political opposition, according to Marzooq. That includes four Al Wefaq members – a fifth who would have participated is currently detained on charges of passing false information to the media.
Representatives of the monarchy are not present. Members are divided into four groups focused on politics, rights, economics, and social issues, and are each given five minutes to speak in a session. Consensus is reached by majority opinion, says Marzooq. Because the government filled the invitee list with pro-government delegates, the voices of the opposition are drowned out.