Moreover, bitter acrimony has erupted, and four Wefaq members last week threatened to pull out on the grounds that the pro-government Salafist Member of Parliament Jassim Al Saeedi referred to the organization as "rawfidh" ("refusers" of traditional Sunni narratives about Islamic history, effectively the equivalent of "heretics"), a term regarded as highly derogatory by Shiites. During the course of the unrest, Shiite derogatory terms for Sunni Bahrainis, including the royal family, have also become well-known, generally some form of "visitors," "strangers," or "immigrants," suggesting their presence is alien and temporary and their rule illegitimate.
All of this is disturbingly reminiscent of sectarian tensions at the height of the civil conflict in Iraq, when Sunni and Shiite Iraqis referred to each other as Umayyads and Safavids, respectively. Of course, Bahrain has not seen anything close to Iraq's orgy of bloodletting, but the pattern is hard to ignore. Such terms not only draw clear sectarian distinctions, but they invoke bitter historical memories and age-old grievances, linking them to contemporary conflicts in an exceptionally dangerous way.
Over the weekend the situation deteriorated significantly, as Wefaq organized tens of thousands of protesters under the slogan "one person, one vote," which will yet again be perceived as a direct challenge to royal authority and an implicit claim to power by a thus-far marginalized sectarian majority. At least one female protester was reported killed by tear gas asphyxiation in the oil-production hub of Sitra. Between the insults, the frustration, and the unrest, Wefaq's board said it intends to pull out of the talks and ask its ruling Shura council for approval. The absence of the country's largest opposition party would probably be the final blow to any chances the dialogue could have of creating a new dynamic in Bahrain.
It's not clear whether or not Waad and other opposition parties will follow suit, as the opposition is divided on many issues. The royal family also has obvious competing factions, although the power of Saudi influence can hardly be overestimated. As an unnamed senior U.S. official was recently quoted by the Financial Times, Bahrain "is a divided country and a divided ruling family".
Virtually every piece of good news coming out of Bahrain these days is offset by the bad. For example, the government recently released a 20-year-old poet, Ayat al-Qurmezi, who had been sentenced in June to a year in prison for reciting an anti-royal poem at the now-demolished Pearl Roundabout, then the epicenter of protests. However, Qurmezi now says she was beaten, electrocuted, and threatened with rape during her incarceration. Human rights organizations have issued scathing reports about both the crackdown and ongoing abuses, mainly directed against the Shiite majority. For its part, the government continues to cast the blame squarely on Iranian meddling, although the evidence of this is scant at best.