This is a summary of an event held at Chatham House in June 2012. Part of the Future Trends in the GCC project, the event brought together a diverse group of young people, mostly Bahrainis, from different political backgrounds to discuss scenarios for the future of Bahrain.
- While views on the uprising of 2011 remained profoundly polarized, Bahraini participants generally shared a frustration with the current situation in their country – although they differed sharply on who they held to be most responsible, and on whether they would prefer the situation to go 'back to normal'.
- Participants said that the country’s long-term development, including strategies for reducing oil dependence and managing demographic pressures (with one of the fastest rates of population growth in the world), is at serious risk of being neglected by political leaders who are focusing on short-term zero-sum games.
- Some were optimistic that youth leaders could take a more constructive and long-term approach, and perhaps move beyond the traditional zero-sum sectarian and political divides.
- Participants flagged the existence of 'building blocks' for a political dialogue, such as Bahrain's 2001 National Charter and the 'seven principles' announced by the country’s Crown Prince in early 2011.
- The most contentious issues discussed were the need for democracy and the role of religion in politics and society – though it was noted that the Islamist/secularist divide cuts across opposition/pro-government and Sunni/Shi'a lines.
- While issues of policing, protests and human rights were also contentious, there was an agreement that too many people are suffering from clashes between police and protestors, that tear gas is being used excessively, and that children and old people should be better protected from violence.
- Community policing, more recruitment of local (including Shi'a) police and better communications could all help to de-escalate the clashes. However, it was emphasized that protests are not purely a policing or security problem, but a reflection of the shortage of effective and credible forums for political dialogue and negotiations.
- There has been an argument over whether the problem in Bahrain is primarily political or sectarian in nature. But most participants agreed that political reform, social reconciliation and economic development are far from mutually exclusive; all three tracks would be needed for Bahrain to progress.