The mainstream opposition al-Wefaq is taking part in the talks. It wants a constitutional monarchy with an elected prime minister to replace King Hamad’s uncle – in the job for an extraordinary 42 years. Equally threatening for the Al Khalifa dynasty, it is demanding a redrawing of gerrymandered constituency boundaries and equal access to government jobs for Shias, who face discrimination that sometimes borders on apartheid. State media has whipped up anti-Shia prejudice.
Wefaq also insists that the results of the dialogue be put to a referendum rather than be submitted to the king for approval – a crucial difference. Under pressure from the west Hamad did appoint a commission of enquiry into the 2011 events but he has yet to implement key recommendations.