“It is a well-known fact that they are backed by Iran. The opposition movement is sectarian,” she said on Wednesday at a roundtable meeting organized by the Turkish Policy Quarterly (TPQ).
Asked by Today's Zaman following the meeting if government contacts are broken with the leading Shiite party Wefaq, she said Wefaq does not want dialogue. “They don't want to cooperate with the government,” she said. “But we will keep trying.”
She also said the government of Bahrain remains open to some reforms but shows unease at the prospect of a power shift from the royal family to the Shiite majority. “In the case of other Arab countries, there are demands for economic change, but in Bahrain, they [the protestors] push for political change. They want to change the political system; they want religious authority to be supreme. They are changing the national identity of Bahrain making it religious,” she said.
“We need to reinforce national identity in Bahrain so people will not act on orders from religious authority,” she added.
In response to a question about women's place in the country, Al Khalifa said there is gender equality in terms of pay, most scholarships are given to girls and women hold high-level positions in the workplace.
“Shiite religious leaders refuse to allow protection of Shiite women [by passing a comprehensive family law],” said Al Khalifa who was in Turkey for a meeting of the Arab countries in Bursa over the weekend to exchange views on improving ties in the culture and tourism sector.
Inspired by revolts in Egypt and Tunisia, Bahrainis took to the streets in February 2011, but have won no concessions so far. The government broke up the Pearl Roundabout protest camp, imposed martial law and brought in the Saudi-led Peninsula Shield forces of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Al Khalifa said that the GCC force was brought into Bahrain to protect key installations only.
The Sunni Al Khalifa monarchy branded the protesters Shiite subversives backed by Iran. Turmoil still continues on the tiny gulf island where riot police clash daily with demonstrators. Activists say 80 people have been killed in the unrest since February 2011.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed this week concern about Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, a jailed Bahraini activist respected by international rights groups as a rights defender but seen by some Bahrainis as a Shiite Islamist activist. “The Secretary-General remains concerned about the situation in Bahrain, particularly with regard to the continuing clashes between security forces and protesters which have resulted in more casualties,” Ban's office said.