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Bahrain's Al Khalifa Hardliners Consolidate

by maracatu Sat Feb 23rd, 2013 at 06:35:44 AM EST

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal presages some rough sailing ahead for US military interests in the island Kingdom of Bahrain. Entitled A Palace Rift in Persian Gulf Bedevils Key U.S. Navy Base, it highlights growing public evidence of discord between two branches of the Al Khalifa royal family.  Although this isn't my area of expertise, I will link to what I understand are some critical news items and leave it to the discussion/comments section for those more knowledgeable than I to contribute.

The Al Khalifa royal family, according to wikipedia:

profess Sunni Islam and belong to the Utub tribe that migrated from Najd to Kuwait in the early 18th century. The Utub tribe is part of the larger Anizah tribal confederation. The current head of the family is Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, who became the Emir of Bahrain in 1999 and proclaimed himself King of Bahrain in 2002. As of 2010, roughly half of the serving cabinet ministers of Bahrain have been selected from the Al Khalifa royal family,[3] while the country's only Prime Minister, Khalifah bin Salman al-Khalifah, (serving since independence in 1971) is also from the Al Khalifa family and is the uncle of the current King.

Fellow ETers will recall the Day of Rage two years ago this month, when on February 14, it was reported that:

Rubber bullets were fired into peaceful crowds. The government... tried cash payments to buy off the country's Shi'ite majority ahead of today's protests, which took place under the name "Day of Rage."

So began the Bahraini uprising:

Protesters in Manama camped for days at the Pearl Roundabout, which functioned as the centre point of protests. After a month, the government requested troops and police from the Gulf Cooperation Council, which arrived on 14 March. A day later, the king of Bahrain declared martial law and a three-month state of emergency.[26][27] Pearl Roundabout was cleared of protesters and the iconic statue at its center was destroyed. After lifting state of emergency on 1 June, the opposition party Al Wefaq organized several weekly protests[28] usually attended by tens of thousands.[29] One of their marches organized in 9 March 2012 was attended by over 100,000[30] and one of their recent on 31 August attracted tens of thousands.[31] Daily smaller-scale protests and clashes continued, mostly outside Manama's business districts.[32][33] By April 2012, more than 80 people had died during the uprising.[34]

A year later and things hadn't calmed down much:

(Reuters) - Formula One cars took to the track in Bahrain on Friday, while the government, hoping for a successful Grand Prix, squared off against activists determined to mark it with "days of rage" after more than a year of Arab Spring protests.

One item that went under-reported in most of the Western press during this period (and, as far as I can tell, wasn't picked up by anyone here at ET) was the identity of the particular "forces" behind this repression:

DUBAI (Reuters) - Hardliners in Bahrain's Saudi-backed Sunni Muslim ruling family may dig in their heels after a Formula One Grand Prix debacle that spotlighted a frustrated pro-democracy uprising instead of projecting an image of stability.

The above Reuters piece quoted a Qatar-based researcher on Bahrain, who pointed the finger at the royal court and defense ministers:

Those ministers, full brothers from a family branch often known as the Khawalids, are widely viewed as masterminds of last year's crackdown, which cut short a dialogue Crown Prince Salman had begun with the opposition on democratic reforms.

Today the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) reported that:

Since the 14th of February 2013, which marked the 2nd anniversary of Bahrain's pro-democracy movement, protests against the government have increased in different areas around Bahrain. The BCHR documented many cases of severe injuries inflicted by government forces. Other injuries have proven fatal and lead on the 14th of February 2013 to the death of Hussain Ali Ahmed Abrahim: a 16 year-old teenager killed by shotgun wounds in several areas of his body.

This all brings me back to the Khawalids branch of the Royal Family and the Wall Street Journal piece I cited in the introduction, which (unfortunately) is behind a paywall.  It cites a UK expert on Bahrain as saying that the Khawalids are engaged in a huge battle to control the family.

According to the Independent,

Reports from Manama suggest the takeover of the Royal Family by the so-called "Khawalid faction" has become so successful that Bahrain's chief allies in London and Washington are beginning to fear that the normally pro-West monarchy is being usurped by a group with virulently anti-American and anti-British views.

The above cited Qatar-based researcher on Bahrain, has accessed the WSJ article and expresses the following:

...the most interesting thing about the WSJ article is not the analysis of the Khawalid per se, which those following Bahraini politics have been writing on for some time...  Rather, the surprising bit is that a "senior" member of the ruling family was willing to give an interview to a Western journalist wherein he complains that "surrounding the king are all powerful Khawalids."  While he is not named, one presumes that this individual lies within the crown prince's camp, bringing into the open the sort of fight that has been playing out behind closed doors since the very beginning of the uprising.

I suggest going to his blog to get more background on this (as I am no expert on the subject).  I'll close by citing the Independent, once more:

Khawalid is a term used in Bahrain to describe an ultraconservative faction within the Royal Family who trace their lineage back to Khaled bin Ali al-Khalifa, who in the 1920s was the powerful younger brother of the then Emir. He led a brutal crackdown against a Shi'a uprising and was imprisoned by the British. His supporters were known for their intense dislike of the island's majority Shi'a population and spent much of the late twentieth century outside the corridors of power.

The Independent cites a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace report which states that:

Much of the kingdom's political power resides in a conservative triumvirate comprised of Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, Royal Court Minister Khalid bin Ahmad bin Salman al-Khalifa, and the commander of the Bahrain Defense Forces Khalifa bin Ahmed al-Khalifa--with the latter two being brothers, part of the al-Khawalid branch of the al-Khalifa family.

Previously posted at the Daily Kos.

What I wonder is what role Saudi Arabia plays here. Considering that the Saudi backing was a significant factor in the fighting at the Pearl Roundabout (as I understand it was), the Bahraini government should be indebted which means the Saudis should wield significant power. So are the Saudis backing the Khawalids?

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by A swedish kind of death on Sat Feb 23rd, 2013 at 03:48:39 PM EST
That seems like the $64k question. And would a Khawalid victory in the succession stakes be somewhat Pyrrhic ? It's kinda difficult to suppress a majority of your population unless you're willing to go to Saddam Hussein lengths, and that could get get pretty bloody.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun Feb 24th, 2013 at 10:15:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I would imagine so, but I don't have a clue.  I suspect I would have to buy this article.

"Beware of the man who does not talk, and the dog that does not bark." Cheyenne
by maracatu on Sun Feb 24th, 2013 at 05:49:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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