Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Bahrain's Crown Prince Makes His Move—And It Might Just Work

I have a new article out at Foreign Policy on the crown prince's recent intervention in the national dialogue. More than that, though, it is about the larger political maneuver (in my view at least) being attempted by Sh. Salman vis-a-vis his royal challengers.

Update: Lost in all the attention on Sh. Salman's meeting with 'Ali Salman is a recent statement (characterized by some as a "fatwa," though I'm not sure that's correct) by Sh. 'Isa Qasim declaring that "terrorism is forbidden in Islam." According to an English translation carried in the Iranian ABNA, he said, among other things, "This is our clear and persistent word to all believers; no to terrorism. Nothing other than a nonviolent approach must be adopted while demanding reforms."

Of course, the sorts of people over whom 'Isa Qassim has religious sway are not necessarily the same individuals engaging in violent acts.  The message is probably more important for (and addressed to) the government and its Sunni support base, which continues to demand an explicit denunciation of violence from al-Wifaq, and to question why the state would agree to negotiate with "terrorists."  Thus, for instance, we have this photoshop, which would seem to summarize the opinion of the latter:
Update 2: Simon Henderson scours Robert Gates' new memoir for interesting bits on royal factionalism in Bahrain, which unfortunately seem to be relatively few. Mainly we are told what we already know, to wit:
The book recalls a February 2011 conversation in which Crown Prince Salman said "he was ready to become prime minister if asked." Yet despite describing him as "the voice of reason," Gates noted that Salman "was powerless" at the time. When visiting the island a month later, Gates "suggested to both the crown prince and king that they find a new and different role for the prime minister, who was disliked by nearly everyone but especially the Shia." Although Salman and the king responded positively to his suggestions, Gates concluded that "the royal family was split, and the hardliners had the edge."
Update 3: A pessimistic view from the BBC on the Crown Price's initiative, focusing in particular on the paradoxical role of Khalid bin Ahmad. This is in line with a notable Bahrain Mirror story that describes the first opposition meeting with the Royal Court Minister as follows: "cold, negative, and [Khalid bin Ahmad] has snatched leadership of the dialogue."

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