Now, it seems as if those fears have been realized. To see this we may take a quick look at the actual results ("recommendations") stemming from the Dialogue, which have been conveniently summarized here (the Gulf News also has a summary). It is perhaps easiest to begin by listing those things that were NOT agreed:
- Increasing the powers of the elected lower house vis-a-vis the appointed Shura Council;
- Placing the National Audit Court under the aegis of the parliament (due to "concerns over [its] independence");
- Changes to electoral districts (which might create "sectarian quotas in parliament, leading to political crisis." Well, good thing we avoided that!);
- Term limits for ministers; and
- Selection of the prime minister from the largest vote-getting party in parliament (which "was rejected on the grounds that it would result in deepening sectarianism." Obviously!);
- "The presence of ministers will be required when MPs debate issues related to their respective ministries";
- "MPs will be able to question ministers during the parliamentary sessions rather than in specific committees. The Parliament will be entitled to initiate discussions on any theme in addition to the agenda"; and, most importantly,
- "The king should choose the prime minister who will select his ministers, a change from the current situation where the monarch appoints the prime minister and the ministers."
The only question that remained, then, was whether or not the king would agree to such an overt downgrade in authority. Well, his anticipated post-Dialogue address was given today, and it seems the answer is: yes. The operative portion of the speech is:
in order for the national consensus views to materialize by activation through our constitutional institutions, we have ordered the executive and legislative authorities to take the necessary actions.While he does not address the issue of the selection of ministers specifically--whereas he does note explicitly that the recommendations include "specific standards for the selection of members in the Shura Council, supporting the independence of the juridical power, and boosting human rights"--there is no indication that this additional measure has not been accepted.
If you are wondering how King Hamad's speech went over, the word "hailed" comes to mind:
The prime minister's remarks in response are especially interesting. His statement (and his personal letter to the king to the same effect) says,
The government strongly supports what the popular will has agreed on by consensus and will ease all obstacles to reach forecast goals. ...In other words, "I am happy to make sure that the additional powers granted me in the Dialogue come to fruition."
In line with the royal directives, the government will work out mechanisms to ensure implementation of the consensual visions through constitutional institutions so as to cope with the present phase and cater to citizens’ needs.
If this matter of appointing ministers would seem a relatively anti-climactic change, Bahrainis at least seem not to understand it this way. The Bahrain Mirror already has an analysis of the implications of this development, titled "On the Principle of Consenting to the Consensus: Transfer of the King's Powers to the Prime Minister." The final paragraph says (or rather asks) it all:
Why would the king approve such a recommendation that decreased his powers? And how did [popular] political demands turn into gains for the prime minister? And what will be the king's [new] position in the state and in the administration of governance? And does His Highness know what will be the catastrophic scenario to follow if agreed to these recommendations?"Obviously, this article is written in the conditional tense, and I can't tell whether this is because it preceded the king's address--its time-stamp is 06:23, so I think this is the case--or because its author didn't hear an explicit agreement to this recommendation in the king's address. It says "to be continued" at the end, so perhaps the former is more likely. In any event, you get the picture: the significance of this (possible) constitutional change is not lost on ordinary Bahrainis, nor should it be on anyone else.
(Unrelatedly, the sequel to the "Palace Wars" article of a few days ago is now up as well. It is titled "Al Mahmud's Industry in the Context of the Palace Wars.")
Update: Khalifah bin Salman has already chaired a cabinet "work meeting" aimed at implementing the recommendations of the National Dialogue. I guess he is wasting no time.
Update 2: International Crisis Group has released a comprehensive paper on the politics of post-February Bahrain.
And Al-Jazeera English has a revealing if somewhat dated (unavoidably so, I'm sure) undercover documentary on Bahrain. The video is here:
Update 3: the Bahrain Mirror has an appropriate follow-up story to this article titled "His Highness the King and the Claimants of His Power."