Northern Ireland lesson for Bahrain

VICTIMS and perpetrators of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland could hold the key to conflict resolution in Bahrain, according to a leading intermediary.

For two years, delegates from the Bahrain Foundation for Reconciliation and Civil Discourse (BFRCD) have met former terrorists, prisoners and negotiators involved in either side of the 30-year-long Northern Ireland

Now, as a result of these exchange programmes with the Belfast-based Causeway Initiative for Peace-building and Conflict Resolution (CIPCR), BFRCD chairman Suhail Al Gosaibi hopes to form an alumni group of delegates to chart a way forward for Bahrain.

“We need to think how we can implement these experiences that we received in Northern Ireland,” he told the GDN.

“We should be thinking in terms of what can be done immediately, for Bahrain’s present situation, as well as in the longer term.

“These sessions have been powerful and inspiring because we met people who once believed that violence was a solution to conflicts, but have now changed their beliefs and their ways.

“The people with whom we interacted included former terrorists and prisoners, who had committed terrible crimes but later realised that violence was not the way.

“Some had lost loved ones or been horribly injured, but they have been through these experiences and emerged with the incredible strength to forgive.

“We have also met community leaders, activists and politicians – a whole spectrum of society who shared with us their experiences.”

Mr Al Gosaibi was quick to point out that Bahrain’s current conflict is not on the same scale as that which wracked Northern Ireland from the late 1960s to the end of the century – but he did voice concern that the violence here could escalate if more was not done to bring all belligerents to the negotiating table soon.

“Bahrain has a lot to learn from Northern Ireland because we have some similarities, but it is very important to point out that our conflicts are not the same,” he said.

“Sectarian tensions in that country left more than 3,000 killed and tens of
thousands injured.

“Bahrain’s crisis is in no way close to this, but I am concerned that if we don’t resolve our crisis, one day we will become like they were.

“This is because we have a generation growing up inured to violence that might become even more prone to it than they are now.”

CIPCR was formed in 2010 when a number of like-minded individuals who had worked to resolve conflicts in divided and disparate communities – both in Northern Ireland and across the globe – came together to discuss combining efforts to achieve a more substantial initiative.

They embrace a set of six ground rules known as the “Mitchell Principles” that focus on reaching political settlements through peaceful means.

In 2013, BFRCD signed a memorandum of understanding with the institute with the aim of helping bridge the sectarian and social divide in Bahrain.

Since then, more than 70 Bahrainis have attended exchange programmes and had the opportunity to meet former participants in the Northern Ireland conflict.

Known across the UK and Northern Ireland as “The Troubles”, this 30-year-long conflict was primarily a political one, but it also had an ethnic or sectarian dimension.

A key issue was the constitutional status of Northern Ireland – with unionists or loyalists, who are mostly Protestants and consider themselves British, generally wanting Northern Ireland to remain within the United Kingdom.

Irish nationalists or republicans, who are mostly Roman Catholics and view themselves as Irish, generally wanted it to leave the United Kingdom and join a united Ireland.

Another key issue was the relationship between these two communities.

The conflict began amid a campaign to end discrimination against the Catholic or nationalist minority by the Protestant or unionist-dominated government and police force.

Another grievance was the introduction of internment for nationalists and the use of illegal interrogation methods originally acknowledged as torture.

The next 10-member BFCRD delegation is due to leave for Northern Ireland on August 30.

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