Friday, July 29, 2011

National Dialogue Final Score: Khalifah bin Salman 1, Everyone Else 0

From the day Khalifah al-Dhaharani was announced as the head of Bahrain's National Dialogue in lieu of the crown prince, you knew bad news was ahead. (Actually, you knew it as of about March 20.) Not only did the lack of a royal family patron send the unmistakable message of an initiative designed to fail, but al-Dhaharani's long-time proximity to Khalifha bin Salman give the impression that the entire initiative may not be a project of the king so much as of the prime minister. In which case the last month would have served primarily to preclude any substantive political reform rather than to enable it.

Now, it seems as if those fears have been realized. To see this we may take a quick look at the actual results ("recommendations") stemming from the Dialogue, which have been conveniently summarized here (the Gulf News also has a summary). It is perhaps easiest to begin by listing those things that were NOT agreed:
  1. Increasing the powers of the elected lower house vis-a-vis the appointed Shura Council;

  2. Placing the National Audit Court under the aegis of the parliament (due to "concerns over [its] independence");

  3. Changes to electoral districts (which might create "sectarian quotas in parliament, leading to political crisis." Well, good thing we avoided that!);

  4. Term limits for ministers; and

  5. Selection of the prime minister from the largest vote-getting party in parliament (which "was rejected on the grounds that it would result in deepening sectarianism." Obviously!);
So what, you ask?, are all of these monumental political reforms coming out of the National Dialogue that the Bahraini government is now touting? (See Al-Dhaharani's op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal, where he heralds "radical changes to democratic oversight of the executive branch.") In fact, they number about three:
  1. "The presence of ministers will be required when MPs debate issues related to their respective ministries";

  2. "MPs will be able to question ministers during the parliamentary sessions rather than in specific committees. The Parliament will be entitled to initiate discussions on any theme in addition to the agenda"; and, most importantly,

  3. "The king should choose the prime minister who will select his ministers, a change from the current situation where the monarch appoints the prime minister and the ministers."
The first two represent marginal changes at best. The third is where is the action is: the power to appoint ministers will transfer from the king to the prime minister. I guess this is the "radical change" in the "oversight of the executive branch" that al-Dhaharani refers to.

The only question that remained, then, was whether or not the king would agree to such an overt downgrade in authority. Well, his anticipated post-Dialogue address was given today, and it seems the answer is: yes. The operative portion of the speech is:
in order for the national consensus views to materialize by activation through our constitutional institutions, we have ordered the executive and legislative authorities to take the necessary actions.
While he does not address the issue of the selection of ministers specifically--whereas he does note explicitly that the recommendations include "specific standards for the selection of members in the Shura Council, supporting the independence of the juridical power, and boosting human rights"--there is no indication that this additional measure has not been accepted.

If you are wondering how King Hamad's speech went over, the word "hailed" comes to mind:

The prime minister's remarks in response are especially interesting. His statement (and his personal letter to the king to the same effect) says,
The government strongly supports what the popular will has agreed on by consensus and will ease all obstacles to reach forecast goals. ...

In line with the royal directives, the government will work out mechanisms to ensure implementation of the consensual visions through constitutional institutions so as to cope with the present phase and cater to citizens’ needs.
In other words, "I am happy to make sure that the additional powers granted me in the Dialogue come to fruition."

If this matter of appointing ministers would seem a relatively anti-climactic change, Bahrainis at least seem not to understand it this way. The Bahrain Mirror already has an analysis of the implications of this development, titled "On the Principle of Consenting to the Consensus: Transfer of the King's Powers to the Prime Minister." The final paragraph says (or rather asks) it all:
Why would the king approve such a recommendation that decreased his powers? And how did [popular] political demands turn into gains for the prime minister? And what will be the king's [new] position in the state and in the administration of governance? And does His Highness know what will be the catastrophic scenario to follow if agreed to these recommendations?"
Obviously, this article is written in the conditional tense, and I can't tell whether this is because it preceded the king's address--its time-stamp is 06:23, so I think this is the case--or because its author didn't hear an explicit agreement to this recommendation in the king's address. It says "to be continued" at the end, so perhaps the former is more likely. In any event, you get the picture: the significance of this (possible) constitutional change is not lost on ordinary Bahrainis, nor should it be on anyone else.

(Unrelatedly, the sequel to the "Palace Wars" article of a few days ago is now up as well. It is titled "Al Mahmud's Industry in the Context of the Palace Wars.")

Update: Khalifah bin Salman has already chaired a cabinet "work meeting" aimed at implementing the recommendations of the National Dialogue. I guess he is wasting no time.

Update 2: International Crisis Group has released a comprehensive paper on the politics of post-February Bahrain.

And Al-Jazeera English has a revealing if somewhat dated (unavoidably so, I'm sure) undercover documentary on Bahrain. The video is here:

Update 3: the Bahrain Mirror has an appropriate follow-up story to this article titled "His Highness the King and the Claimants of His Power."


  1. People can hail all the hailstones that they want. But here is a fact: No one lives forever; and old age has a way in catching up with people. Bahraini's will have to wait for our dear Prince to breathe his last before they can let out a sigh of relief. Unfortunate but true.

    That aside, Khalifa bin Salman is a fortress, a bulwark, against those Iranian imperialists and their minions dotted all across the villages of Bahrain. For the purposes of defence and national security, against a threat that is equally menancing for the GCC and their American friends, I can think of no one better. Its time we put our foot down on the Iranians and really ramped up the pressure, and maybe everyone once in a while, we remind its local subsidiary, Al Wefaq, of who is in charge.

    As for the over rated concept of democracy and people power, I can see how it might be a set back, particularly if you are the tree hugging (or more like Hezbollah hugging) type and into flowery ideals. Discipline, rigor, order, and strong iron-fisted leadership is whats needed. Most of the vile citizenry will not submit to anything else.

  2. I wonder what the King is thinking about all of this, it certainly sounds weird that the King is unaware that his uncle is gaining more power than him, could it be that he's planning on removing him later to remind him of his place?

    @Sal: Yeah, we're all waiting for the moderate voice to die in Bahrain and the hardline voice to completely take over, that will surely work for the best in eliminating all strife and sectarianism, and will likely end corruption entirely.

    Besides, citizen rights? Who gives a crap about that when your country is under attack by the evil evil evil Iranians?

  3. Haha... It's always been 1 Khalifah bin Salman and 0 Everyone Else. Let's not forget the "iron fist" that looted all that public money.

    IRAN IRAN IRAN!!!!! Bololololololoooooooooooo


  4. you know justin, it's interesting to me that sal rahim and other anonymous commenters who agree with him and call him "my friend" started to show up and enlighten us on the iranian conspiracy to take over the world austen powers's dr. evil style, after you've noticed the frequent visits of the CIO to your blog.

    just saying..

  5. Rogork - EXACTLY, national security trumps everything.

    It does not have to be right (or good for that matter) to be effective. The "village people" need to be reminded of their place. Back to serfdom I say!!

  6. Yes, well, as long as long as they can write coherently and make some point or another, it's not doing me any harm. If the Wall Street Journal can publish a patently disingenuous op-ed yesterday from al-Dhaharani, I can handle the CIO folks. Although they seem to have stopped coming so frequently, and Sal Rahim is not even writing from Bahrain...

  7. I am not CIO, maybe CIA, but not CIO.

    Besides with three academic degrees and a salary to match, they couldn't afford me, but being a good citizen I am doing it for free! Well, mostly. Watch and learn village people, watch and learn.....

  8. @Sal Haha, I don't know. They could probably afford you. The Information Affairs Authority did just announce a new 5BD million media blitz plan, right? I think it put Saqir Al Khalifa as the new media attache in Washington.!/manamavoice1/status/83935911758397440

    Anyway, given that this blog does not take itself too seriously anyway why not have a bit of fun in the comments section too, right?

  9. I met an old acquaintance by pure coincidence in a shopping Mall and he happens to be one of the participants of National Dialog. For a short period of time, we also worked together, him becoming my Boss. A fine gentleman, smart, educated, liberal leaning and a whole lot of other good attributes which I will not go into details in. Naturally, I asked him about the progress of the National Dialog. I shouldn’t have!

    It was a shock to my system when I heard the man talking or more accurately , bragging about the deeds , the great achievements , the government sincere efforts in improving the political situation and giving the Bahraini citizens real democracy (….) ! . What happened to his intelligence, I wondered? How on earth they could brain-wash this guy in particular? What methods they are using to make an educated professional technocrat with years of management experience, believe the lies? I am really starting to believe the rumors that the remnants of Sadddam’s Bathist intelligence have been recruited by Al Khalifa and are operating Bahrain government’s brutal security forces using iron fist tactics and same propaganda strategy that Saddam was using.

    One more thing struck me. I seems to remember this person telling me years ago, he frequently reads “The Independent” , never touches “Gulf Daily News” and listens to BBC all the time for genuine news, which is understandable since he was educated in the UK. However , that day he mentioned something about BBC , the British and Irish Media having an agenda against Bahrain!!

    Analyze that….I said to myself!

  10. I wonder if Sal Rahim can give us a head up on the Iranians plans on Bahrain? I have a chance to enter my name in the "Green card" lottery any any information about Iranians grand plans in Bahrain will help me decide whether to go for it.

    Who wants to live under the Iranian rule , while we have the progressive , peace loving , ultra liberal , democratic Al Saud family keeping an eye on us , or should I say , their watering hole.

  11. To those who hide behind the veil:

    Anonymous 1: Your friend saw the light and realized that in any choice set between pure Iranian-backed (or insipired) evil or Al Khalifa, Al Khalifa wins. I say it again, to those who are truly intelligent and want to deny this version of neo fascism, its an easy choice to make. The one who should be questioned is yourself for these dim ideas, Iraqi baathist (hahahahahaa!!) and other conspiracies! if you had the slightest grasp of regional politics, you would not actually believe that there is an alternative to the Al Khalifa that would be immensely better. The devil you know... THE DEVIL ...YOU ....KNOW.

    Anonymous 2: Dont waste your time or money with the Green Card lottery. We aint going anywhere, the Al Khalifa and all our GCC brethern will more than do their part to protect us against satan's presence on earth, Iran. We should remain focused on developing our nation and doing your part for Bahrain. The village muppets will always dance to the rhythm of those who pull the string, but even thats becoming old and ineffective at this point.

    Lastly, if you were to relocate, the grass is not greener in the US of A. Unemployment at 9.2%, a lingering financial crisis, a national budget and debt burden that resembles a third world country, and a host of other hair raising social problems. Not to mention the decline of a superpower that is still coming to grips with its increasingly obvious limitations. Gone is the myth of American exceptionalism!!

  12. Sal Rahim... We don't have the luxury of being Al Khalifa hugging to tear the veils and expose ourselves. As for Saqer Al Khalifah, here's an interesting read for y'all:

  13. Sal Rahim: You had me at "satan's presence on earth, Iran."

    Do I get any materialistic benefits for joining your views or do I just get a pat on the head for being such a good obedient boy?

  14. @Sal Rahim ,Yeah the Bahrainis sure love the Al Khalifa who shoot marchers , kill innocent protesters , fire them from their work , rape women in cells , torture detainees, arrest doctors , puts them on trial for murder ...ahhhh...what are these minor infractions compared to the utter love of benevolent Hamad and Khalifa to the people? Who needs democracy ? How dare we even talk about electing a Prime Minister? it is a Western evil idea that is intended to ruin our country, right ?

    How about letting Bahrain people express their own views in a free poll , instead of having an Einstein speak on their behalf and tell them what is good for them? BTW: When was the last time you did an IQ test?

  15. @ RogerK ..that was it.

    Speaking of materialistic benefits for supporting Al Khalifa, a few months back , my son was offered BD 40 for spreading good words about the family on the net specifically Facebook and twitter !!!

    So , Sal Rahim is the right person to ask..LOL

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