Bahrain works to promote civic discourse

By Mohammed al-Jayousi in Manama


Twenty Bahrainis are taking part in an 18-month training programme organised by the Bahrain Foundation for Dialogue and Search For Common Ground. [Photo courtesy of the Bahrain Foundation for Dialogue]

As part of an effort to restore peaceful co-existence in Bahrain, which has become increasingly divided along sectarian lines since the protests of 2011, a group of trainers have been learning how to facilitate community dialogue.

The goal of the 18-month programme, organised by the Bahrain Foundation for Dialogue (BFD) in partnership with Search For Common Ground (SFCG), is to promote reconciliation among the people of Bahrain.

To this end, 20 Bahraini trainers are taking part in a series of four workshops that are teaching them how to design and facilitate community dialogue in order to bring people of different sects, ideologies and social groups together.

"Instead of talking about each other, we try to get them to talk to each other," BFD chariman Suhail Algosaibi said in a previous interview with the Bahrain Today TV show in which he described the foundation's work.

The first workshop of the current series taught participants how to design community dialogue, while the second, which concluded March 18th, taught them how to facilitate it.

The third and fourth training courses are scheduled to take place later this year, and will conclude the first phase of the joint training programme.

At the conclusion of the training courses, the trainers will receive certificates that qualify them to teach others how to plan community dialogues and effectively communicate with influential members of their local communities.

Spreading a culture of dialogue

The second workshop was presented by international trainer and SFCG Yemen office director Shawqi Maqtari, said BFD executive secretary Abbas Hamada.

The programme "aims to spread the culture of dialogue, including both political dialogue and dialogue between members of civil society", he told Al-Mashareq.

During the workshops, trainers are encouraged to come up with real-world dialogue initiatives that can be implemented with support and funding from SFCG, he said.

Workshop participant Saleh Mahdi, of the Bahraini Ministry of Education, stressed the importance of dialogue design and of learning the right techniques for dealing with all parties to a conflict.

What distinguishes this training course, he told Al-Mashareq, is the availability of scientific materials on the design of community dialogue.

"We acquired specialised skills in how to design and facilitate dialogue and plan the entire process over several stages," he said.

The workshop also promoted skills such as teamwork, and was an opportunity to meet people who are eager to spread community peace, peaceful co-existence and acceptance of others, he added.

The training course included a review of examples of difficult cases of political and social dialogue from places such as Yemen, Egypt, Northern Ireland and Iraq, Mahdi said, and offered insights in how to approach situations like this.

Launching 'effective national initiatives'

The course was "an excellent experience" that focused on human development and youth capacity-building, said course participant Sayed Mustafa Allawi, director of the Ministry of Health’s Hematology Centre.

The course aimed "to promote and stimulate civil dialogue and enable [participants] to lead inclusive civil dialogue from which effective national initiatives are born", he told Al-Mashareq.

The "important and sensitive" role of the facilitator kicks in during the dialogue session, he said, while the role of the designer is in play before, during and after the dialogue session.

Bahrain needs to train more facilitators to plan and design effective civil dialogue sessions and engage participants at the various stages of the process, he said.

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