(Of course, if this is not your style, you can always go and read Yusuf Al Bin Khalil's latest offering: "Bahraini Societies Control America," in which he once again goes after the American Studies Center (ASC) of the University of Bahrain. In fact, the entire article revolves around a dinner party--the exact date, time, and location of which he not-so-subtly divulges for anyone who might want to pay it a visit--for ASC graduates organized by a Bahrain Transparency Society, which I'd not previously heard of. Anyway, as you would expect, Al Bin Khalil insists that such a meeting is tantamount to a gathering of American spies, and notes incredulously that despite receiving "official promises from the university administration that the center will see changes" following his previous self-styled exposé back in June, "there seems to be an insistence that the American Madrasah Center [sic!] continue ... to train Bahraini political cadres that will turn into anti-state political activists and rights defenders in the name of freedom and human rights." He asks, "Is the university administration aware of the organization of this event for these students?" Well, is it? IS IT?!@#!?1)
You'll have to read to find out!
Back to the Bahrain Mirror article. Government opponents in Bahrain continue to rue the post-February political exit of Crown Prince Salman, a man who, now at the end of July, is looking very much a welcome alternative to the likes of Al Mahmud and Muhammad Khalid, to say nothing of the three Khalifahs: al-Dhaharani, bin Salman, and bin Ahmad. So too, it seems, does the U.S. miss the moderate, youthful (by Gulf royalty standards), English-speaking, American University-educated crown prince. Indeed, as recently as a month and a half ago, the State Department still held out hope that it could somehow singlehandedly revive his political career. A story in the New York Times proclaimed that "The White House [is] Cultivating a Prince to Coax an Ally to Change." I guess they forgot to ask him whether or not anyone in his family is likely to listen to his political suggestions.
As its name implies, the "Palace Wars" article tells the story of the post-February 14 sidelining of the crown prince and corresponding empowerment of Khalid bin Ahmad (Minister of State for Royal Court Affairs) and his brother "The Marshall" Khalifah bin Ahmad (Minister for Defense and BDF Commander-in-Chief), known together as al-khawalid; along with of course the prime minister. If you are confused by all these family relationships, see the following tree of Al Khalifa ministers (it links to a .pdf), for which I cannot take credit.
More important than the actual exposition of the "Palace Wars" article, though--which in any case is probably of interest mostly to Arabic readers--is the popular sentiment it increasingly represents: the feeling that if any political solution is to be reached in Bahrain, it must inevitably involve Crown Prince Salman, not least because there are seemingly few others within the royal family willing even to sit in the same room as the opposition. Whether or not this is so out of a genuine political moderateness, or mere political expediency--a country ever on the brink of societal conflict cannot seem an inviting prospect for the one who hopes someday to inherit it--the underlying cause makes little practical difference.
The U.S. was on the right track in attempting to "cultivate" a viable political peacemaker in the crown prince. Yet, at a time when association with the United States is almost exactly the opposite of a political asset, it would do better to work its magic from behind the scenes rather than, say, by inviting him to the White House to meet with the president. Its lack of recognition of this fact, to say nothing of the more fundamental fact of the crown prince's current intra-family weakness, spells trouble for American policy in Bahrain. Indeed, it is perhaps not an understatement to say that priority number one for the United States should be working towards the settlement not of the country's outward political crisis, but of its internal family crisis, the persistence of which will make impossible any larger political resolution.
On the subject of Bahrain's personality politics, we may note a few other recent news items. The first of these is another string of royal visits to the majalis of pro-government families, presumably to shore up support for King Hamad. The first was performed by the king's son and "personal representative," Sh. 'Abdallah. According to the Bahrain News Agency,
the bin Dainas, Al-Oraifis, Al-Kindis and Taquis reaffirmed their unwavering support for the measures undertaken by His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa to protect the nation and citizens and restore the status of Bahrain as a haven of security and stability, led by the Al-Khalifa.Just the day before he had met a number of families in Muharraq--the "Al-Murbati family majlis, Bu Hijji family majlis and Syyadi family majlis"--where he "emphasized that the Kingdom of Bahrain will remain strong and solid forever with its loyal people who will always continue the path of development, prosperity and preservation of the divine grace of security and stability."
This follows a personal visit by King Hamad on July 12 to the Al Ghatam in al-Zallaq, where he "laud[ed the] Al-Ghatam family's dedication in serving their country and contributing to its progress and prosperity."
And prior to this was a visit on July 6 to the majalis of the Al Sabt and Al Sindi; and on July 4 to those of our friend Muhammad Khalid, Safouq Khalaf, and Jamal Dawad.
Not to be forgotten, finally, are the previous visits to the Al Musallem and Al Mahmud in al-Hidd that we noted in June. Isn't it strange that no member of the royal family has the time to make an appearance at the National Dialogue, supposed to contain a representative cross-section of Bahraini society, and yet in the past month various members including the king himself have made repeated stops at the homes of individual families? It is almost as if prominent, tribally-allied families in Bahrain have better political access than do ordinary citizens and members of actual political societies. But that couldn't be right.
Not to be outdone, the prime minister is aiming to receive the entire ex-patriot community of Bahrain--or, barring that, at least the members of the newly-formed Western Expatriot Council, which seems to consist entirely of Britons. Prominent Bahraini political scientist 'Abd al-Hadi Khalaf has published an e-mail to the British Club listserv that
ask[s] for [members'] help on a pressing matter. His majesty the King and HRH the Prime Minister have both expressed their wholehearted support for the concept of Expatriate Councils and the Prime Minister now wishes to meet members of the WESTERN expatriate community during this coming week.The tone comes off as oddly desperate:
We are seeking at least TWO HUNDRED people for the visit and, as a starting point, it would be good if we could get a minimum of TWENTY nominations from each of the following twelve organisations. However, if you get to 20 confirmed names please do not stop there, keep going as there is no upper limit and we really are going to be struggling.Speaking of desperation, organizers of the post-al-Wifaq National Dialogue are taking pains to demonstrate that it is still relevant. The Bahrain News Agency is doing its part by proclaiming that participants have reached "a ground breaking consensus" that, according to the Dialogue spokesman, "represents a radical shift in the balance of power, between the democratically elected parliament and the executive branch, in a new commitment by Bahrain to concrete reforms."
Our motto for the next 8 hours needs to be ‘As many as possible – There is no such thing as too many.’
What is this "ground breaking," democratizing consensus, you ask? Habib Toumi at the Gulf News explains:
So, this new "consensus" to improve democracy in fact is a project to institutionalize additional autonomy for the prime minister, whose right-hand man in parliament Khalifah al-Dhaharani just happens to be in charge of the National Dialogue. Interesting. Still, though, I offer $100 to anyone who can explain in the comments section how "choos[ing] the prime minister from the party that has the highest number of votes in the quadrennial elections" would "result in deepening sectarianism." That is what we call a paradox.
The government will under the proposal require the endorsement of the parliament before taking up office. ...[P]articipants agreed that 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.
A suggestion to choose the prime minister from the party that has the highest number of votes in the quadrennial elections was rejected on the grounds that it would result in deepening sectarianism, the spokesman said.
Participants could not agree on how long ministers can remain in charge of their portfolios.
Finally, Bahrain's much-heralded truth commission led by Prof. Bassiouni will hold its first public session on July 24 at the National Museum. This location is actually very convenient as the committee can begin its investigation immediately with the post-February firing of Hasan Madan--the head of the very dangerous Progressive Democratic Tribune political society--from his administrative position at the National Museum. You can bet that they'll get right on that.
Update: and on an unrelated note, The Australian (via The Times) is reporting (though with anonymous "sources") that the U.S. is mulling moving the Fifth Fleet out of Bahrain. Somehow I doubt anyone is holding their breath. Update: the Defense Department is now denying this.
Update 2: the posters for al-Wifaq's Friday rally in al-Musalla are in. First we have an appeal to our love for old toothless guys and kids:
Another, if not as heart-wrenching, offers a nice overview of all of the previous rallies. It asks, "Will you be a part of the sixth festival's picture?"
Finally, we have the al-Diraz Youth Movement inviting the new U.S. Ambassador to its own rally in, well, al-Diraz.
I'm sure his attendance would go over really well with the likes of Al Mahmud and Muhammad Khalid.