Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Palace Wars and Royal Visits

As there seems to be a relative lack of headlines this week following al-Wifaq's withdrawal from the National Dialogue (although there is speculation that Wa'ad may be next; and there is another al-Wifaq "festival" this Friday in al-Musalla, titled "We Are Committed to Our National Demands"), I thought I would highlight an interesting article in the Bahrain Mirror titled "Palace Wars and Their Implications: How Did the National Unity Gathering Overthrow the Crown Prince?" (bad Google translation here). It seems to be the first in a multi-part series, so I will have to keep track of the new ones.

(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.

Our motto for the next 8 hours needs to be ‘As many as possible – There is no such thing as too many.’

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."

What is this "ground breaking," democratizing consensus, you ask? Habib Toumi at the Gulf News explains:

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.

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.

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.


  1. I don't understand why people write these articles about the US 5TH fleet going anywhere. Its nonsense. Lets me honest, the US would rather topple the regime then move out.

    What do you think Justin?

  2. Agreed. I am no naval logistical expert (though enough U.S. Navy people visit this blog that perhaps they can tell us), but there must be some good reason for the choice of Bahrain not only for the U.S. Fifth Fleet but also the imperial British Regency of the Persian Gulf before it. This is all the more so in the case of Britain, which chose Bahrain over its other dependencies stretching from from Basra to Aden.

  3. By the way, al-Wefaq's rally is in Al-Musalla (near Jid-hafs) and not al-Sanabis.

    As always, great article... We don't expect anything elss :D

  4. Oh, ok. When I wrote it the actual place hadn't been decided; people were just speculating on the forums. I'll change it.

    Want to take a stab at the $1,000,000 question?:

    How does "choos[ing] the prime minister from the party that has the highest number of votes in the quadrennial elections ... result in deepening sectarianism?"

  5. Its quite simple really, you are avoiding the Hezbollah scenario by preventing Wefaq-like Shia majority groups from taking the PM position. In any election the outcome is already a forgone conclusion (18 out of 40 seats anyone?). Hezbollah has been able to paralyze the Lebanese state to ensure that it can continue building a state within a state, purely be acting as an impediment in parliament and in forming a government. No differently has Al Malki in Iraq done a wonderful job of focusin on employing his Shia buddies in high flying positions and lining their pockets with oil treasure, not to mention complete subserviency to Iran!! Should I go on, or has the point dawned on anyone yet?

  6. Right, but won't "sectarianism" likewise be "deepened" so long as the current political status quo remains? In other words, if the least accommodating member of the ruling family is given even more authority, then isn't the current crisis more likely to continue on indefinitely, and in the process "deepening sectarianism?"

  7. Justin, the tweet you mentioned in the end is not from the National Unity Gathering; rather it's from the National Democratic Assemblage, which was invited to the dialogue but did not want to participate apparently.

    Sal Rahim, it seems like you're suggesting that we tramp on peoples' will because of a fear of "Wefaq-like Shia majority groups taking the PM position... and because "Wefaq-like Shia groups" are interested in paralyzing the government and "building a state within a state, purely by acting as an impediment in parliament and in forming a government"? And employing "Shia buddies in high flying positions and lining their pockets with oil treasure, not to mention complete subserviency to Iran"?

    Is that what you are suggesting?

    So basically, the likes of al-Wefaq, that got around 63% of the popular vote in the previous elections should be prevented from representing the people fairly because we fear them?

    Interesting... and should we ignore the actual employment of the government's Sunni buddies in high flying position and lining their pockets with oil treasure? Or the state within a state that has been created by some members of the ruling family that has paralyzed the country's progress and stood in front of a fair representation of the people including stopping the development of a parliament that represents people and a government that represents peoples' needs & aspirations.

    And of course... the wonderful job of firing opposition members, naturalizing mercenaries in defense and security positions, hiring incompetent royalist buddies in high flying positions and lining their pockets with oil treasure, not to mention complete subserviency to money, power and certain people...

    That is the current state... So I'm not sure what you "quite simply" are describing except the current situation in Bahrain, except that we should be preventing the country being continually sabotaged.

  8. Right about the Tweet of course. I just looked at the name "tajamoa" and didn't think twice.

  9. The King and the Royal Family are not free of ill, but they are far more unifying than the divisive shia political thought. They do not hold allegiance to Iran, if they are subservient to anyone then it is to either to our brothers in the GCC, or like minded Western allies. There is no magic wand here or a "nice" alternative. Its all about making a choice between many evils! Evils I say!!

    As a result, we must all accept and grasp both the local and regional politics that surround us. We are in the middle of a game of international relations and only the forces aligned with the global powers that be, will prevail. In such a state of affairs, you cannot blame the government, royal family or King, for doing what they must in order to hold the country together and put down the wretched protesters. Do what you must is the mantra of the day, not what is right. Realist politics 101, within which the spectrum of tools is vast - whether thats detention, torture, mass firings.... you get the idea. Didnt the US bring back torture and arbitrary detention vis a vis Guantanamo and the infamous rendition program???

    Lastly, everyone needs to come to the quick realization that Bahrain has been and remains a bulwark - a first line of defense - against Iranian hegemony. The West, and US specifically, has unintentionally handed Iran many victories over the years, a patch work of influence lost, that is only now coming together to reveal an Iranian plan for dominance - Lebanon, Iraq,Gaza, Kurdistan, Western Afghanistan (Herat etc), and now will it allow Bahrain to fall?? The US Navy's 5th Fleet is not going anywhere.

  10. I think we can agree that there is more at play here than domestic Bahraini politics; that the U.S. has contributed to its own problem in inadvertently empowering Iran by taking out its two main regional competitors within a 2-year time-span; and than the Fifth Fleet is not leaving Bahrain save to chase down some Somali pirates.

    But just as the U.S. will not "allow Bahrain to fall" to outside aggression, it cannot wish to see it implode as a society either. And I think further empowerment of those who seem least to care whether it does (and whose political planning--not least on account of age--is firmly in the short-term rather than the long-term) cannot help turn the situation around.

  11. Justin thats exactly what I said :)

  12. Oh ok. But you seem to be more sanguine about the implications of this new dialogue "consensus" (whether it will ever become law is another question) as regards additional empowerment of the prime minister vis-a-vis the king.

  13. Absolutely - it defeats the argument that Wefaq and it's minions keep articulating that the govt needs to be reflective of the people's will. Well here is another mechanism of ensuring that without having the nation hijacked by those who hold a terrorist organization, Hezbollah, in high regard!! Nothing like a Prince to keep things regal and polished - no matter how distasteful that may appear on the surface. Who likes taking bitter medicine? Even when it's good for you!

  14. Haha -- ok. Have you been reading this by chance?:

  15. Sal Rahim, the difference between the king and the ruling family not being free of ill and the someone else not being free of ill in this situation is that it could lead to more than 2000 families not having stable incomes to support themselves, tens of students being expelled from their higher education institutions, and more than 30 killed. Mind you... we also have people like yourself considering Wefaq, it's minions and the wretched protesters as, well... wretched. I remind you that those whom you call wretched were at least half of Bahrain's population.

    Anyhow... What else did you say? I'm not sure. One second the wretched protesters, including Wefaq and the its minions, are supporting "terrorist organizations" like Hezbollah and its Iranian agendas, and the next the wretched protesters are supporting like minded Western allies. I'm confused... Seems like Yusuf Al Bin Khalil's voice is spreading faster than we thought.

    You know what? I'm beginning to have a different theory altogether. The wretched protesters ever since the 1950's when they demanding their rights and 3 leaders were banished to St. Helena and other were put behind bars, planned to establish an Islamic Republic in Iran to overthrow the regime and then... In the in 1970's when the parliament was shut down, they decided why not create Hezbollah in Lebanon and pretend that they are fighting occupying Zionists so that they gain legitimacy amongst Arabs & Muslims.

    Wait... the drama ensues! Then, they encourage a war between Saddam & Iran to rally the Arabs behind Saddam, including Bahrain, so that they can bring down the Bahraini government. But oh no... They failed. Saddam was liked. But, oh wait... they began planning to get rid of Saddam and install a government in Iraq that would aid them in bringing down the government in Bahrain.

    Hmmmmm... then they thought that perhaps they need to bring down Afghanistan as well because you cannot bring down the Bahraini government if the Taliban is ruling Afghanistan.

    Oh yes... where were we?

    A prince's real power is when he listens to his people and people raise him on their shoulders with love. A country's real strength is when people live side by side respecting each other and their voices. 2001... the king was so loved that people proudly voted for the National Action Charter. What happens? Broken promises and gradually going back to the old ways.

  16. More to the point, remember that even Machiavelli advised that it is good for a prince to be feared but not hated (Chapter 19).

  17. Am I the only one finding irony in the fact that Sal Rahim is condemning Shia muslims for liking terrorists like Hezbollah, while majority if not all of Sunni muslims, especially as demonstrated in BahrainForums hold Osama bin Laden as an idol and martyr and Al-Qaeda as Mujahedeen?

    Fear and loathing, a good argument do not make.

  18. Most main stream Sunnis are far from supporters of Al Qaeda or OBL. Even you should know that. In fact, they have historically been apolitical and are more interested in commerce and trade, living in luxury, and enjoying life like the rest of their GCC brethern in London, Geneva and Milan. Not deeply religious except for show, very superficial. Dont let those beards kid you.

    However, the Shia discipline, level of organization, the mirroring of Hezbollah type political and religious structure is just plain obvious and concerning. I am sure Justin as a political observer can tell you the similarities are just too clear to ignore. Should I use the word wholly owned subsidiary of Hezbollah, Iraq's Dawaa Party, or Iran, when I think of Wefaq??

    The point about our Prince is that from a local and geopolitical perspective he is the least evil amongst the choice or opportunity set available, so he is relatively a force of good. And isnt it true that all that is required for evil to triumph is for "good" men to do nothing??? Well in your face Iran, the rock that is the government of Bahrain will not DO NOTHING, will not standby and watch as thousands of its own citizenary are militarized and put on the streets to carry out an Iranian agenda.

    The Prince will do what he must, for the greater good, which as far as I am concerned may include tactics which lead to a situation where "more than 2000 families not having stable incomes to support themselves, tens of students being expelled from their higher education institutions, and more than 30 killed". In fact, it is a small but acceptable price to extract from a population that has voluntarily betrayed their oath of citizenship and treaded on the flag.

    I know them well, very well, because I happen to be born Shia too (notice the choice of words, "born").

  19. This is not a personal conversation for it whether you were born of this sect or that sect to be relevant at all...

    This is about what is right: Justice, something we can all agree on. There is absolutely no evidence of an Iranian agenda. What Iranian agenda? You're calling half of Bahrain's population traitors? That's pretty ridiculous...

    The principles and values that you hold in your mind are the reason the world is messed up. A politics of realpolitik and one self-imposed person or family determining what the "greater good" is for an entire population is unacceptable by any standards.

    Besides, this Iranian agenda you speak of... are Wa'ad and the previous uprisings that happened to happen in the 50's and early 70's related to it as well? I don't think so.

    The "Prince" sees what you speak of as the greater good, and someone else may see something else as the greater good. Good. Let's put both ideas to the table and let people decide. Oh wait... we don't want people to have a say, because doing so is an Iranian agenda? If anything, it would be a Greco-Roman-Franco-Anglo-Saxon-American agenda... I mean they came up with all these democracy and representing peoples' ideas stuff.

  20. Thats exactly the point. In Bahrain it is personal. Good day to you sir and good luck in your pursuit of the idealist world you speak of. I will let dreamers dream.

  21. It's interesting, Justin, that every criticism of the US or Al Wefaq you attribute as a FACT to the Royal Court or the GoB. The source for all of this: rumors by some unnamed opposition member.

    Yet, when someone points out to the synchronization with Hizbullah's leader's speeches or Iranian clerics' direct statements on Bahrain (as Jannati did a day prior to Wefaq's pull out from the ND), these are dismissed as baseless!

    Just wondering...

  22. Sal Rahim, thank you for allowing me to dream. At least the Prince hasn't found a way to stop those yet, thank God (to whom we all shall return).

    As for the suggestions that there are synchronized statements between the al-Wefaq, I invite you to look at 3 things:

    1) History of the opposition movement (been there since God knows when
    2) Demands of the opposition
    3) Members of the opposition

    To help you answer some of those questions, refer to the following:

    Also, it is clear that the most recent round of attacks is directed towards al-Wefaq specifically for withdrawing from the talks.

  23. All that is required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

    There is no difference between the spread of fascism or communism or the danger of the Iranian ideology reaching our shores. Lebanon, Iraq, Kurdistan, and parts of Afghanistan have been delivered to them on a gold platter.

    Bahrain will not and should not remain silent and allow Wefaq or anyone else to turn us into another Lebanon. We used to wonder why did the government spend such a disproportionate amount of GDP on the police and military? It all looks like a great investment now, doesnt it?

    The only political solution that will emerge is one that overlays an underlying security plan. Bahrain will never ever be the same again and Wefaq and other Hezbollah-hugging creatures will never be trusted. The economic and social openness we enjoy is only because of the alertness and counter balancing forces our monarchy has created. In the hands of Wefaq we would be no different to the many sewage laiden parts of Iraq that Malki and the Dawaa party preside over.

    Keep on walking. Keep on dreaming. ;)

  24. Truth shall prevail. It is a divine promise.

  25. ok well since we are now posting lame comments, why dont you add, ye must seek the truth and the truth shall set ye free? I know a few boys at Langley who would be flattered by such a statement.

    And since you mentioned the word divine, do you mean like Moses parting the ocean divine? or "Oh this chocolate cake is soooo divine" divine? Both would be amusing to apply in the Bahraini context, but as a dreamer you already know that.

  26. Salman Rahim, you said:
    "All that is required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."
    And then afterwards, you said:
    "Keep on walking. Keep on dreaming. ;)"
    That's some mixed messaging.

    You also said:
    "Most main stream Sunnis are far from supporters of Al Qaeda or OBL. Even you should know that. In fact, they have historically been apolitical and are more interested in commerce and trade, living in luxury, and enjoying life like the rest of their GCC brethern in London, Geneva and Milan. Not deeply religious except for show, very superficial. Dont let those beards kid you."

    Context wasn't clear, but you can extrapolate that the subset of Sunni Bahrainis are the ones being talked about. I personally have yet to meet one Sunni person who does not at least respect Osama Bin Laden. Even since 9/11 I haven't seen one case of outspoken condemning from Bahraini Sunnis against Bin Laden's and Al-Qaeda's actions. And in the recent crisis, majority of Sunni forums embrace him as an ideological leader alongside others like Saddam Hussein.

    You also keep mentioning Hezbollah and Iran as terrorist/evil entities that need to be fought off. In the context of politics, "good" and "evil" make very poor arguments, I'm not going to get into why I think Hezbollah/Iran are just entities that happen to be opposed to our regime, but I will however point out that there is absolutely zero evidence of foul play from them in the crisis, even the Wikileaks cables suggest that. Them standing to gain from it is motive, but does not automatically imply that they were the moving force behind it all. That's a very weak and bad counterargument anyway to justify imprisoning hundreds, torturing and killing tens and letting sectarianism flow through the country like water in a very rainy day.

  27. Rogork - I am now bored with this posting and its comments. I have far too much than I had anticipated on the topic and since most of you are not privy to the intelligence sources that form the basis of my arguments, I can really say no more. Lets move on here, Justin how about you do us a nice new posting? Something heart warming, optimistic and insipiring about the Bahraini case? I hear that 2 young Al Khalifas have teamed up with Kim Kardashian (oh she is to die for!) to launch a new brand, "Noon by Noor",
    check it out:

  28. My goodness- fascinating insight into a mind with no compassion. Frightening.

    There are so many flaws in that argument, perhaps the most fundamental is his assumption of the existence of a single and "divisive" Shia Political Thought- no more true than the existence of a single Sunni political thought. The rest seem to all stem from this erroneous and rather lazy way of thinking.