Thursday, July 14, 2011

Threatening the King

In what the Bahrain Mirror calls "perhaps the harshest letter addressed to the king of Bahrain since the outbreak of the February 14 crisis," former Health Ministry employee-turned-National Unity Gathering adviser 'Adal 'Ali 'Abdallah has "threatened King Hamad that he might lose his popularity in the event he continues what ['Abdallah] calls 'satisfying the Americans for the sake of the throne.'"

He is said to have written, "O King, to satisfy the Americans for the sake of the throne will only increase your distance from your people; nor will the Americans be satisfied by your attempt to buy them [i.e., the Shi'a] off."

In this latest bad omen for King Hamad, not only did 'Abdallah make no effort to sugar-coat this overt threat, but indeed he even transmitted it publicly over Twitter:

In his open letter decrying the king's appeasement of the Americans, 'Abdallah was joined by Muhammad Khalid, who sent a similar message. The Bahrain Mirror offers details of his own "angry letter," which is quoted as saying, "Your appeasement of the Americans, who have increased treachery and hate for you, has distanced you from those who honor and mentor you." Note that the Arabic word for "mentor" here [ناصح] can also mean "uncle." Coincidence?

This comes less than a week after a strongly-worded oration at the National Unity Gathering's rally last weekend in Busaiteen, where 'Abd al-Latif Al Mahmud warned, "If the regime [i.e., King Hamad] is too weak to stand up to the U.S., they need to declare that so people can have their say."

Today's letters seem to have been prompted by the recent quiet release of several hundred political detainees, including the well-publicized poet Ayat al-Qurmezi, and rumors that higher-level opposition leaders are next on the list. (Note, though, that the actual charges against al-Qurmezi and the others released seem not to have been dropped). Hard-line Sunnis see the moves as tantamount to royal pardons, with which King Hamad has been liberal in the past.

That King Hamad has been unable to put a stop to such rhetoric--either the constant attacks on the U.S. Embassy and president, or these explicit public criticisms of himself--would seem a bad sign for those hoping for a moderate leadership in Bahrain. The more hawkish members of the royal family, and their popular supporters as represented by the National Unity Gathering, seem to be making a strong play for the king's position.

On exactly this topic I have a forthcoming article in (probably tomorrow's) Foreign Policy Mideast Channel. So I'll leave this posting short for now.

Finally, on an unrelated note, last week's article about al-Wifaq's impending pull-out of the National Dialogue seems to have missed the mark only in its timing. There are now several reports suggesting that the group will end its Dialogue experiment sometime next week, not least on account of Jasim al-Sa'idi's use of an anti-Shi'a slur (rafidah) during a discussion session yesterday (you keep it classy, al-Sa'idi), which prompted an al-Wifaq walk-out. No word whether anyone from al-Wifaq retorted with the nickname common among al-Sa'idi's detractors, shaikh al-mujannasin: "shaikh of the naturalized [Bahrainis]."

Really, it's difficult to see how someone seemingly so reasonable could make such comments. Oh, wait, that's right:

: Meanwhile, this week's edition of al-Wifaq's ongoing "Our National Demands" political festival (last week's focused on an elected government) will center around the demand for non-gerrymandered (their euphemism is "just") electoral districts--as compared to, say, the current ones, crafted exactly around Sunni-Shi'i lines:

As per the attractive flier below, this fifth rally will be held tomorrow, Friday, at 5:00pm in Bilad al-Qadim.

The U.S. Embassy demonstration notice also mentions Sitra, so perhaps the February 14 people have something going on there as well.


  1. "you keep it classy, al-Sa'idi"


  2. Yes, well, believe it or not, I actually interviewed al-Sa'idi at his majlis in East Riffa as part of my dissertation research.

  3. I am inclined to disagree that this kind of sentiment is a play for the Kings position, though I do believe that power struggle exists.

    It will be interesting to see how long  this anti-americanism and direct criticism of the King will be allowed to continue, I think they will be pressured to tone it down a lot - even if they are in the PM's camp over the King's at the end of the day the entire Bahraini regime and indeed all of the GCC regimes see Iran as an existential threat.  Despite Al Mahmood's bluster about the Americans "going to hell" if they are threatening to withdraw their fifth fleet, it would be very unlikely that the better equipped but inexperienced Peninsula Shield forces could hold their own against Iran's enormous army who may even be close to developing nuclear weapons and who held off Saddam's Army for 8 years. When Kuwait was invaded it was not liberated by the Peninsula Shield, it was by the US.
    Pretending they're going to kick out the American base and leave Bahrain and the Gulf wide open to a potetial Iranian attack is hilarious.  It's interesting that even the PM has in recent days been at pains to publically praise relations with the US. I very much doubt anyone in the regime is happy about this rhetoric, it is certainly embarrassing them in front of their powerful friends.  TGONU has conveniently propped up the regime when it needed it but I doubt it will be allowed to continue any delusions of having real influence for very long, especially if they begin to harm the regime's relations with its powerful allies.

  4. Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

    I think I am still less sanguine about the king's position and ability to stamp out these growing personalities, not least because it is not just the king and PM camps at play here but that of the so-called 'khawalid' (followers of royal court minister Khalid bin Ahmad and brother and DefMin Khalifa bin Ahmad) as well. The latter are sponsoring Al Mahmud, the prime minister Muhammad Khalid. So there is an additional element on competition here that will make both sides resist kingly pressure all the more strongly.


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