Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Different Sort of Coup

For weeks, protesters around the Arab world have been calling for isqat al-nitham -- "the fall of the regime." In Egypt and Tunisia they found success; in Yemen and perhaps now Libya they will soon achieve the same.

Seemingly out of place here, then, is a discussion of Bahrain, where "the regime" remains intact. Yet Bahrain too has witnessed a coup of sorts, though it's not what one might think. Bahrain's coup was an internal one.

Rumors of an intra-Al Khalifa split were swirling even before "Island shield" forces crossed the causeway. The crown prince, it was said as early as March 12, resigned from the "family council" after an "altercation" with the head of the royal court (and his second-uncle?), Khalid bin Ahmad. Reportedly, the crown prince complained of the conduct of the royal court (which incidentally controls the inflammatory newspaper Al-Watan), namely its employment of armed thugs to intimidate protesters at a time when he was attempting to gain support for his national dialogue initiative.

Khalid bin Ahmad replied that the crown prince would "bring God only knows what disaster upon the family," and that it is only the older members that "know these people" (i.e., the protesters) and how to deal with them. In the end, both members left the meeting angry, Khalid bin Ahmad taking with him a group of supporters and purportedly saying that the family would "not forgive [the crown prince] for the destructive mistakes he had made since taking office."

Finally, these rumors talked more generally of a larger split within the Al Khalifa--a split which indeed is nothing new--between the king and crown prince on the one hand and the king's uncle the prime minister and his supporters on the other, the latter advocating a much harsher response to protests.

Yet all of this we could dismiss as mere speculation if not for the developments of the previous week, during which time the crown prince has all but disappeared and the state's orientation toward protesters turned from ostensive dialogue to razing the Pearl Roundabout altogether.

And now we have tentative confirmation of the internal coup within the ruling Al Khalifa, and it is more interesting even than the rumors. This article (Ar.) in the newspaper Al-Quds (citing a Times of London article, which I cannot find) claims that the crown prince was not notified prior to the arrival of Saudi forces, that his official position as the commander of the armed forces "has been virtually marginalized by the strong and hawkish prime minister," that King Hamad has been caught between the fighting, and even that the Al Khalifa did not hold an official family council to deliberate upon the decision to "invite" Saudi troops. Indeed, the article says, there may not have been an "invite" at all (as I have previously speculated).

All this was clear, I think, as soon as Saudi tanks started rolling into Bahrain. Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman, long assumed by Shi'a opponents to be the real ringmaster in Bahrain, is now firmly in charge where it counts most. And with him comes his strong, long-standing relationship with the Al Sa'ud. So long as this remains the case, "national dialogue" in Bahrain is unlikely to move forward.

1 comment:

  1. Sir your article is filled with innuendo & hear say ... How could you possibly know what goes on behind closed doors.Also we do not have a family council as such when contemplating major decisions, this leads me to believe that facts and credibility weren't a consideration for you and thats a shame for you.

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