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BAHRAIN: Iran's Khamenei sabotaged dialogue talks, official claims

Bahrain-wefaq

A top Bahraini official accused Iran of scuttling a potential deal between the government and the opposition during a weekend dialogue that went nowhere. 

Fahad Ebrahim Shehabi, a spokesman for the Bahraini parliament, said the talks were going well until the main Shiite Muslim opposition, Wefaq, pulled out because of Iran, which opposes Bahrain's Sunni monarchy.  

“The withdrawal of Wefaq came early in the negotiation process, whereas other opposition figures who have been supporters of Wefaq stayed in the negotiation process," he told Babylon & Beyond in an interview. "This is because the decision is not in their hands; it is in the hands of the Wilayet Faqih," a reference to Iran's concept of theocratic rule by its supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. 

"Wefaq has a different agenda," he said. "They want an Islamic state under Wilayet Faqih and they received a green light from Tehran to withdraw from the negotiations.”

Shehabi did not cite proof. And opposition activists said the talks were disastrous because the entrenched Sunni monarchy of King Hamad Khalifa did not participate in the so-called dialogue, instead dispatching a bunch of toothless intermediaries. 

Shehabi's comments may show a paranoid world view by the Bahraini government or be another attempt to paint the opposition as a tool of the country's large and unpopular northern neighbor, casting the ongoing repression against activists and dissidents as an attempt to stamp out an Iranian plot.

Wefaq has strenuously denied that it is a puppet of Iran. Opposition activists criticized the absence of top government officials, including representatives of the monarchy.

"We didn’t participate in dialogue because we knew that it would neither end the political turmoil nor be productive in any way,” said Nabeel Rajab, vice president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, an opposition group. “The problem is between the people, the ones who are protesting, and the ruling family, the king, the prime minister. So then how can a negotiation that does not include one of the parties involved in the conflict be productive?"

Instead of bringing the country's principal players together, "the regime invited civil society organizations to attend who have in the past legitimized the regime to participate. The regime hides behind these civil society groups but aren’t themselves present.  What good is that?”

He added, "The regime set the agenda, set the timeframe, set everything, but they themselves were not present. The opposition wants to negotiate with the decision makers not the NGOs. We need to address our demands to the people who are in power — to the ruling family.” 

Bahraini security forces, aided by Saudi troops, have largely crushed an opposition movement on the island nation, where a Sunni monarchy rules a Shiite majority. Massive protests this year were inspired by uprisings throughout the Arab world -- including in Egypt, Syria, Tunisia and Libya, where rebels have the full support of the Arabian Peninsula monarchies. 

Shehabi insisted that the protests and crackdown in Bahrain differed from the uprisings across the region.

“Bahrain is an exception," he said. "The protests have been pre-prepared. As far as organization and mobilization is concerned, the protest movement is like Hezbollah," the Lebanese Shiite militant group.

"The protests resemble the Iranian revolution that brought [Ayatollah Ruhollah] Khomeini to power," he said. "They want to remove the whole system. We can’t do that."

He also described pictures and videos of hundreds of thousands in the streets as "fabrication" and "acting.”

He said the violence and brutality inflcted on the opposition by Bahrain security forces differed from that of Libya and Syria. 

"There have been select incidents where human rights have been violated, and to this end the king has asked for an investigation," he said. “We are different from Syria because whereas 40 have died in Bahrain, in Syria the death count is four-figured.”

-- Roula Hajjar and Borzou Daragahi in Beirut

Photo: Former opposition parliament members Jawad Fairoz, right, and Khalil Marzooq in March at the headquarters of the Wefaq political society in Manama, Bahrain, the largest Shiite opposition party in kingdom. Credit: Hasan Jamali / Associated Press

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