It seems clear now that the Khawalid have managed to commandeer what was meant to be a serious agenda, the Crown Prince nowhere to be seen with the start of bilateral talks. Instead, the Royal Court has as usual insinuated itself into the process in order to sabotage it from within. The Bahrain Mirror summarized the first opposition meeting with Khalid bin Ahmad as follows: "cold, negative, and [Khalid bin Ahmad] has snatched leadership of the dialogue." Even the BBC picked up on his obstructionism.
Meanwhile, KbA's brother in the Justice Ministry followed through in late January on threats to disband the (Shi'i) Ulama Council led by Isa Qasim, charging that it was unregistered, involved in politics, and otherwise operating "outside the constitution and law." The body now faces potential repossession of assets and other penalties unless it agrees to "regularize its status" and abstain from politics.
It is under this rather negative backdrop that al-Wifaq and the rest of the opposition societies have just submitted their "roadmap" for formally restarting National Dialogue talks. It calls for three meetings per week to speed up the process, but also a referendum on the outcome, along with equally unlikely concessions such as a parliament with "full legislative powers" and an "elected government." Other longstanding demands, like new electoral boundaries and independent electoral commission, probably stand a better chance at agreement.
Most interesting to me, though, is the roadmap's immediate rejection by al-Asalah, which says of the opposition vision,
We do not for instance support having an elected government as there is nothing that points to it in the charter or in the constitution. The formation of the government remains an essential element within the prerogatives of HM the king and he is the one who nominates the prime minister and the ministers. ...Indeed it is, and it is of course not difficult to see why other Gulf governments would not wish to see a precedent set in Bahrain. But this is a strange sort of argument for someone meant to represent an independent political party to make.
Our view on the government also takes in consideration the character of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and Bahrain cannot break out of the Gulf ranks.
That is why all the GCC member states seriously stand by Bahrain on this matter.
It would seem to me that breaking ranks sits precisely atop the list of things Bahrain needs -- whether with respect to the ruling family, the GCC, or the sectarian-cum-political groupings that continue to run in circles so long as they are unable to mobilize individuals on some viable political basis.
On an unrelated note, finally, the commander in charge of the U.S. Fifth Fleet's one active carrier strike group, Rear Adm. Kevin Sweeney, has made headlines for having reportedly "reiterated [the U.S. navy's] commitment to Bahrain." Yet, when one reads his comments, in fact he seems to go out of his way not to mention Bahrain by name, substituting instead "this region," "this area," and so on.
The Gulf Daily News quotes him as saying, for instance, “We have a full commitment to this area. ... Our presence in the region is a continuation of six-decade long commitment to stand by our partners in the region and we’ll continue to honour that commitment." But it seems to me that in these two sentences alone Sweeney spurned at least three different chances to mention Bahrain. What it means, if anything, one can debate, but certainly this cannot be interpreted as an expression of commitment to anything other than the Gulf region generically.