- Chances of an Alliance between The Shi’as and Al-Khalifa in Bahrain
- Justifications for the Alliance between Shi’as and Al-Khalifa
- The Crown Prince’s Position in the Ruling System
- Positioning of Al-Wefaq/ Shi’as in the Ruling System
- The Map of Shi’a, Sunni, Al-Khalifa Alliances
- The Option of a Harmony between the Crown Prince and the Existing Situation
- The Option of an Alliance between the Crown Prince and the Shi’a Elite
- Between Saudi Arabia & Iran
The positions adopted by Shi’as in the Gulf Arab states to wards their relationships with, their governments their political, economic and military influence their religious and political inclinations and their representation in the official establishment, may not be discussed within a single framework.
In Kuwait, indicators record a positive relationship between the ruling Al – Sabah family and the Shi’a minority who constitute an estimated 30% of a population of about 1.3 million. The Shia’a citizens were biased towards the existing situation when the opposition had some very noisy demands for an elected popular government to replace the government appointed by the Amir, in contrast to the situation in Bahrain where the majority Shi’a population demanded the election of the government, and the Sunni minority rejected the demand, although there is a different situation in Kuwait which is ruled by an agreed upon constitution and a parliament, with two thirds of its members being elected members, and whose people enjoy a comfortable economic condition, white in Bahrain, the ruler revoked the 1973 constitution which was almost an exact replica of the Kuwaiti one. He turned Bahrain into a dictatorship with a liberal decoration.
The relationship between the ruling Al-Sabah and the main Shai’a factions turned from tension to alliance in 2008, on the background of the official attacks against some Shi’a groups which had expressed their sadness for the murder of Hezbotlhah military commander Emad Moghniah, accused by Kuwaiti authorities of blowing up Al-Jaberiah civil aircraft in 1986. This complication came to an end when the Kuwait Shi’as, traditionally opposed to the regime, entered into an alliance with it. This was manifested in their support for the former Prime Minister Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Sabah throughout five years of systematic attacks against him by the tribal – Islamic opposition led by Muslim Al-Barrak. The Shi’as then went on to form a more open and obvious alliance with the authorities during the demonstrations which raged in different areas of Kuwait in 2011, and did not end with the ousting of Al-Mohammed from premiership in November 2011.
In Oman – Shia’s form an estimated 5% of a population of almost 2.1 million. The Shi’as minority enjoy an ideal condition in terms of their relationship with the authority and their representation in the official establishment. On the eve of the peotests in 2011, the Shi’a bias towards the options adopted by Sultan Qaboos bin Saeed who is ruling this conservative sultanate since the early seventies of the past century, at the same time that the Omani Shi’as were demonstrating to condemn the unprecedented level of violence used by Al- Khalifa regime against the Shi’as of Bahrain, just as the Kuwaiti Shi’as did
In the UAE and Qatar where Shi’as constitute 15% and 10% of their populations respectively, the official concern did not turn into any kind of blatant oppression against the Shi’a minority which is living in a comfortable economic and social condition, however the indirect stick of constraint against the Shi’a institutions and occasions has always been present.
The Shi’a mmoriy in Saudi Arabia, mainly concentrated in the Oil producing areas east of the Arabian Peninsula, who constitute some 15% of the citizens, are increasingly protesting against discrimination, and demanding equality and a fair representation in the official establishment, some small groups are going as far as demanding secession from the Kingdom or autonomy, just like the Kurds in Iraq. They see that as a just option, and perhaps more capable of achieving justice which remain unachievable by the Kingdom regions as long as centralism and dictatorship were prevailing in Riyadh.
Therefore, talking in general tens about a unified stance by the Shi’as in the region appears to be an over simplification of situations which are numerous in their generality, contrasting in some of their details.
be an over simplification of situations which are numerous in their generality, contrasting in some of their details, because Shi’a groups move within what they believe to be their right to citizenship, this applies to the Shi’as in Saudi Arabia whose leadership decided to return back home in 1993, but the belief today is that the dreams of Shaikh Hassan Al-Saffar, the most prominent Shi’a leader in Al-Qatif, other Shi’a leaders, Sunni reformists and all those who wish to see some change have long evaporated especially since the promises made by King Abdulla who raised some reformist slogans some three years ago were not better than calls for reform by King Hamad in Bahrain, although the latter had liberal appearance whose inherent dictatorial nature was soon revealed.
Justifications for the Alliance between Shi’as and Al-Khalifa
So, in the light of there being no fixed basis for the dealing by Shi’as with their rulers, apart from what their convictions and the interests of their countries dictate to them, and in the light of very important developments and a new balance of power in the region, including the talk about a new American turn – around towards Iran, where interests are lasting and relations are moving, can there be any talk about an alliance between the Shi’as and Al-Khalifa in Bahrain?
I am not going to talk here about chances of an alliance with the Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman who is on his way out, although his era did not witness the same unjust and blatant discrimination as that which was spread by the attitude of King Hamad, but Khalifa had chosen the active anti- Shi’a discrimination in the financial sector where he enabled the Sunnis, to take full control of the Banking Sector which started to come to life with the first shots of the Lebanese Civil war in the summer of 1975. that came at the same time as another kind of vivid discrimination drawn by the King in the military establishment which he had began to establish with British help in the mid – sixties of the past century.
I fear, that after the recent deterioration, any talk about the chances of an alliance between the Shia’s and King Hamed may not be logical, because his era was decisive one in the deterioration of the relations between the Shi’as and the ruling family on one past , and the Shi’as and Sunnis on the other, in a manner which has no precedence in the modern era.
Therefore, we shall approach here the possibility of an alliance between the Crown Prince Slaman and the Shi’a Islamists in “Al-Wafaq” Society led by the cleric Shaikh Ali Salman, in a country where the opposition and the Shi’as were always looked at as being two sides of the same coin. This is not accurate historically, but it carries many signs of correctness at present.
To test the above assumption, we should discuss what the opposition and the Shi’a elite as a whole on one part and the Crown Prince on the other can give each other, to break through the current situation based on the alliance between the Sunni constituent with the ruling family, who practically monopolize the decision making.
Here, we a suggest series of topics to study the positioning by the Crown Prince, which will enable us to draw the map of the current alliances. They are is follows: his position in the ruling family, the position of pro-regime Sunnis towards him, the position of Saudi Arabia and Gulf Arab ruling families towards him, the position of the west and their evaluation of his program and performance, his available options since he became Crown Prince in 1999 until 2013, especially since his appointment as First Deputy Prime Minister in March 2012 until today, which is a sufficient period to monitor his resources and the chances of success of his propositions which are described as being moderate.
It seems that I have pointed to some of his positionings in the paper titled “The hidden conflict: The future of heir apparency in Bahrain”, and in the book “The structure of Despotism in Bahrain – A study of the balances of influence in the ruling family”, so I see no need for elaborating, and I hope the readers will refer to these previous writings, some of which are published on this web-page.
Some of the above topics may help to approach the positioning of Shi’as, in addition to other topics such as the demographic weight, economic influence, Iran’s position and that of the Western countries and especially Britain, the USA and the Shi’a influence centres in Bahrain and abroad.
The assumption upon which this approach is built has three basic elements” (1) The fragile position of the Crown Prince and the Shia’s in the decision centres and the military establishment (2) The strained relationship of both parties with Saudi Arabia (3) The Western openness towards them is based on the assumption that the Crown Prince will be in power and Al-Wefaq will participate.
The Crown Prince’s Position in the Ruling System
When we consider the position of the Crown Prince and the Shi’as in the ruling system, we may realize that they are both in a weak position in the ruling system. As for the Crown Prince three points may be looked at:
1- His Constitutional position, Apart from standing in, for the King in his absence, or in opening the Parliament, the Constitution does not grant any authority to the Crown Prince, except those for which he is appointed by the King. This is revealed by the three articles of the Constitution (1,34 & 74) concerning the Crown Prince.
2- Al-Khalifa traditions, historically, do not allow the Crown Prince to administer public affairs, and is not considered as a right hand for the head of state. Indeed there is a great deal of effort to keep him away from the open movement circle of the ruler. The same applied to King Hamad when he was the Crown Prince, and it clearly applies to the present Crown Price Salman.
3- In terms of practical performance, four stages may be noticed for the Crown Prince: The first is from 1999 until the issuance of the Constitution in 2002, which includes his chairmanship of the doomed National Charter Activation Committee, which was a disappointment for the reformists in the country. The second stage was from 2002 until the uprising in 2011, which was the main stage during which he had some unsuccessful economic experiments. The third stage was between February 2011 and February 2012 when he was, presented as a link on-call, and the senior public relations manager for the regime, and finally the fourth stage since his appointment as a deputy Prime minister in March 2013 until today, which confirmed the absence of the distinction of his alternative political program, the most dangerous of which was his adventure to lose the West, as was seen in his last visit to Britain and his participation in the International Islamic Economic Forum during the period from 28, October to 1 November 2013.
Although I intend to dedicate a study to those stages through which the Crown Prince has passed, and especially what he achieved in the past eight months since he became a deputy prime minister in March 2013, I record the following two remarks:
The first remark: the failure of this economic program, and deterioration of performance of the institutions set up by him and those under his supervision, both of which witnessed widespread corruption. All that gained him nothing but distancing the Al-Khalifa class and contempt of the influential and commercial classes. The Crown Prince also disappointed the opposition and those liberal loyalists who had hoped to get a piece of the cake of financial interests distributed by the regime among its followers, and who look forward to a serious reform program, even in Chinese style, if the statement was correct, where there is economic success without political openness.
The Second remark: I don’t want to talk about the failure of his political program, because I don’t believe that this program is even emerging, let alone failing, as apposed to the King’s clear cut program. However, I may talk about his outstanding success in losing the trust of the influential and the extremist faction in the regime, i.e the Khawaled and also his outstanding success in losing the trust of the conservatives led by the Prime Minister, in addition to his success in losing the trust of the Sunnis loyal to the regime, plus an increasing degree of skepticism among the Shi’a opposition about his ability to tilt the balance of power within the ruling family or the society, since they don’t see him as a strong alterative to rely upon.
Positioning of Al-Wefaq/ Shi’as in the Ruling System
So much for the Crown Prince, but the other part of the alliance equation discussed by this paper, is the Shi’a opposition which is completely excluded from the authority structure, and the management of all sources of wealth, without exception. In fact the regime is adopting a distinctive exclusion strategy with the opposition which is similar to the method of treating those affected by plague, by excluding them completely from the social interaction circles, burning their properties and eventually, liquidating them spiritually and materially. The regime also adopts another degree of excluding treatment even with the Shi’as loyal to it, treating them as people affected by leprosy, who must be kept away and isolated from the axes of economic influence and the joints of the state, and who should be besieged and treated by various anti-doses until they die slowly. This is crystal clear, especially after the resignation of the majority of prominent Shi’a figures on the background of the bloody attack on the Pearl Roundabout in March 2011, following the Saudi military intervention in Manama (Refer to my article: Restructuring the Loyal Shi’a Elite).
The statistics published by Al-Wefaq Society recently show that the Shi’as have a mere 15% representation in the executive branch (the Council of Ministers), for among 20 Sunni ministers (including Al-Khalifa) there are 6 Shi’a ministers, while there are only 2 Shi’a undersecretaries out of a total of 28. Their absence is almost complete in the field of diplomatic representation. The percentage of Shi’as in major government commissions and companies is 10% only as opposed to a 90% domination by Al-Khalifa and the Sunnis. There are only 28 Shi’a judges in the judiciary out of a total of 230 judges.
The Shi’a presence in the military and the security establishment is close to zero, while the Crown Prince’s presence in this establishment is only formal and fragile, as I explained in the article “The Relationship of Al-Khalifa Extremists with the West” published on this web-page, in which I mentioned that the power of Al-Khalifa extremists in the military and security establishment makes the Crown Prince a non-guaranteed card in the eyes of the West.
Therefore, the Crown Prince and the Shi’as (1) are in a fragile position in the ruling system and the sources of wealth, (2) their alliances with Al-Khalifa, commercial and Sunni elites is fragile and not clear (3) The relationship between the Crown Prince and the West is based on the assumption that he is a potential king, more than expressing any confidence in his ability to develop his internal power base (4) As for the relationship between Al-Wefaq and the West, it is based on the dual containment of its influence, and relies on two axes, the first is to open the lines of communication as a kind of preparation for possibilities of a dramatic and an expected change in the situation (as happened to Hosni Mubarak or the Shah of Iran). The other axis is the effective Anglo. Saxon influence in forming the dimensions and levels of the decision making process in Al-Wefaq to weaken its pressure on the regime, oust the groups calling for the downfall of the regime from the active political circle and to neutralize their position towards the regional balance of power equation. As for the result of the good diplomatic communication between Al-Wefaq and the West, it needs further effectiveness by internal conflict criteria. This communication is still in the circles of exchanging viewpoints and has not yet turned into an agenda for drawing a specific road map to solve the Bahraini crisis and its complications.
The Map of Shi’a, Sunni, Al-Khalifa Alliances
It is possible to talk about two very influential groups on the internal situation: The current situation group which includes the ruling family and the Sunni loyalists who are allied with Saudi Arabia and the West, and the opposition group led by Al-Wefaq with its active presence which some claim is in alliance with Iran. So, what are the Crown Prince’s Chances in forming an alliance with any of the two groups, taking into consideration his dire need for such an alliance, assuming the fragility of his position inside the ruling family, and the supposed restructuring which is taking shape regionally and internationally.
The Option of a Harmony between the Crown Prince and the Existing Situation
If the Crown prince choses a flexible approach towards the existing situation, it may guarantee his continuation in power, in return for giving up a major
part of his authorities in order to secure the confidence of a broad spectrum of conservatives that includes (1) The Military, (2) Al-Khawaled (The influential group in the ruling family), (3) loyal Sunni societies (The Islamic Forum, Al-Assala, and The National Unity Gathering), and (4) it is most probable that this alliance will include an important sector of influential businessmen, who are disappointed with the Crown Prince’s economic reform program in the past, the program, which if successful, would have benefited the most marginalized Shi’a citizens in the labour market, and the least present in the public positions due to the discrimination policies.
Therefore, with the exception of the business sector in which the Crown Prince may have some loyalists, and which may not be under the full control of the King, and in which the Prince Minister may not have a significant share, the other three elements whose allegiance to the King is mentioned, have emerged to the surface and were enabled to become powerful as a result of the King’s strategy, and in return they enabled him, I mean the military and the security establishment, especially the Army, and the Khawaled group, in addition to the loyal Sunni political societies establishment by Al-Khawaled led by Khalid bin Ahmed and his nephew Ahmed bin Atiyatullah.
According to this option, the Crown prince assumes that he will inherit the power from his father, and will also inherit the allegiance of the military and security establishment, the loyalist societies and the money emperors …. but this is like a dream, because these establishments will not give their allegiance submissively (refer to the article: Sunni loyalists … a potential scheme for bloody opposition).
Therefore, the deal is that the Crown Prince will exchange the power and the monopoly over the sources of wealth for allegiance, i.e he will grant them a share of the power and an increasing role to control the economic surpluses, in return for their allegiance to him as a restricted king. Even if it is assumed that this will be an initial stage until the Crown Prince is able to impose himself, the transformation to the second stage (domination by the Crown Prince) will not be as easy as is perceived, in the light of the weakness of the Crown Prince’s supporting groups. He may need to fight battles on all fronts, without any exception to secure a reasonable amount of power, and this does not seem to be possible with the expected effectiveness and speed. The Crown Prince must take into consideration the regional neighbourhood, especially Saudi Arabia which controls the oil income of Bahrain, and gives the regime 150 thousand barrels of oil daily from the border field of Abu-Saafa, while the Bahrain field produces only 40 thousand barrels a day.
This means that some three quarters of the public treasury is a gift from Riyadh, and that is the largest sword held over the head of Bahrain’s rulers, in addition to what is known as the Gulf Marshall Plan of one billion US Dollars given annually by four Gulf states (Qatar, Kuwait, UAE, Saudi Arabia) in the form of a grant of US$ 250 million annually be each state for a period of ten years to raise the standard of public services is Bahrain.
Therefore, the question here too, is whether the Crown Prince will be able to fine regional support if he decides to marginalize the current active players in the regime. At the very least Saudi Arabia and the UAE will not be very enthusiastic for that, wile Qatar, Oman and perhaps Kuwait might find in strong Crown Prince, an opportunity to test another assumption (alliance with the Shi’as) which may take Bahrain out the instability that may shake the security of the GCC states.
As for the West, I believe it is inclined towards seeing a ruler capable of imposing stability and protecting the Western interests, with transparent democratic dress, within the framework of its policy of double standards and direct opportunism. The Crown Prince may be able to play the second role, but the first will remain doubtful.
The Option of an Alliance between the Crown Prince and the Shi’a Elite
An alliance with the opposition necessitates that the Crown Prince takes more and deeper measures than those taken by his father in 2001, who did not announce the intentions of his reforms, a scenario which the Crown Prince will find difficult to apply again.
When King Hamad succeeded to the throne in March 1999, he found himself in a fragile situation just like the current situation of his son Salman. He declared the so – called reform plan, especially the national action charter as a leverage to change the balance of power within the ruling family and in the society, relying on the loyalty of the Arny and the security apparatus of which he took full control by appointing the current minister of interior Rasgid bin Abdulla instead of Mohammed bin khalifa who was considered to be a member of the Prime Minister’s circle (Refer to the article : The King strangles the Prime Minister in his constitutional den).
The main challenge facing the Crown Prince in any step he takes, is the fact that he lacks a solid ground to stand on, such as the military establishment, (BDF + The National Guard) or the security establishment on which his father relied to impose his grip on power. This grip which became so tight that it led to an uprising which nearly overthrew him in February 2011, because he did not take into consideration the interests of the Shi’a sect, both the elite and ordinary citizens.
So, in 2001, King Hamad found the opposition exhausted and longing to get out of the cumulations of a predicament which started before the independence of Bahrain in 1971. In fact, the period between 1973 and 1975 when the parhaimentary life continued was nothing but a temporary positive break along a continuous path of instability. So, the magnitude of the burden and responsibility on the shoulders of oppositions whose activity has lasted for decades, may be imagined.
The opposition was quick to respond positively and welcome the King’s announcement of his intentions for reform and voted “yes” to the National Action Charter, believing that such an act will lead to the election of a parliament with full legislative powers, only to discover later, that the whole issue was nothing but a strategic deceit which brought into being a legislative branch unable to support the desired democratic transformation. A parliament restricted and lacking the necessary powers.
The Sunni concerns that the King may go ahead to form a parallel Shi’a base and turn his back to full and complete dependence on the Sunni base of the regime came to surface. However, once the King fallen that the opposition has fallen into the trap, he forgot all his promises. Here two very clear approaches were seem, where the mentality of the “pigeon hunter” prevailed in the tactics adopted by the opposition and the Royal Court used the tactics of a “fisher”. The first is noisy, drawing attention and random, which may hit or miss. While the King had the initiative and was laying his fishing line ready to catch any body who gets near it.
There is no doubt that one of the most serious mistakes committed by the opposition was its lack of action and resistance during the period between the issuance of the National Charter and the issuance of the new Constitution (February 2001 – February 2002), because it was fearing a regime which had a habit of monopolizing the decision making process and showing no respect for promises and covenants. The opposition was keen to enhance its image as a patriotic opposition committed to secure stability, to guarantee a contractual constitution. That slowness, hesitation and confusion, and the absence of an alternative plan (Plan B) to activate the political scene, provided the King with an exceptional opportunity to be the only player on the scene, while , at the request of the opposition, the street had to wait, in order to test the King’s credibility over a longer period of time!
At the time being, the Crown Prince is not in a position to repeat the same show and put forward a pompous initiative without paying a reasonable price for it, to convince the Shi’a opposition to enter into an alliance with him against the conservative crew in the regime , as did his father, and as he himself did in the economic reform projects and the labour market.
The position of the Crown Prince becomes increasingly complicated if his father comes out with a multi faceted political initiative to break the current deadlock, for which he will rely mainly on the support of the military and the security establishment which will look at him at any turning points. The leaders of the military Khalifa bin Ahmed (Army Commander) and the security Rashid bin Abdulla (Minister of Interior) are both the violent arms of the King, and are aware of his real intentions in having exclusive power and monopoly over wealth.
Therefore, the Crown Prince is not going to have an easy task in forming an alliance with the Shi’a elite, even if they were thirsty for having a role in decision making, since they have experienced the regime and its maneuvers and are facing a real difficulty in marketing any agreement or deal with the regime that is not proportional to their sacrifices or the minimum of the slogans chanted by the crowds of Pearl Roundabout uprising, especially with the main figures of the republican alliance remaining in jail, the figures who are difficult to ignore and bypass.
As for the chance of the Crown Prince to for an alliance with the traditional and religious Shi’a elite (non-opposition) that will be possible, and less costly. However, it will not guarantee him an alliance with an influential popular front.
Between Saudi Arabia & Iran
The Crown Prince must be aware that his alliance with the Shi’a opposition could lead to the loss of his already weak position among the Sunnis, in addition to losing the Saudi support and that of some regional parties. In that case Iran might have to take a practical step by which it grants Bahrain 150 thousand barrels of oil a day, provide political cover for its government, and impose direct conditions on the Shi’a opposition to support the new regime.
The anticipated change in the map of regional alliances, if moves towards a deep U.S. – Iranian rapprochement, may lead to lifting the western veto concerning the existence of a regime in Bahrain, close to Tehran, who is supposed to be Washington’s partner in running the affairs of the Gulf, in contrast to the situation that existed or might exist if the Islamic Republic was to continue as an axis of evil (Refer to the article: Geopolitics & Democracy in Bahrain)
The US positioning in 2003 turned Iraq into an ally of Tehran attracting a bloody Saudi retaliation against Baghdad over a full decade, a scenario which may be repeated if Saudi interests in Manama are not preserved (see the article: The Falling of the Marks .. One year of Saudi Military Presence in Bahrain)
Saudi extremism has failed in reaching an understanding about Baghdad, and is now in the process of destroying Egypt and Libiya. The Saudi approach in Yemen had also failed allowing the Iranians to expand in manner which has amazed the region and the world. The Iranians are in no hurry about Bahrain, although Manama seems to be or Iran’s priority list, and the relation between the two sides is more than political interests. I believe there is no room in this article for a further discussion, and I promise the readers with a deeper reading of these relations, However, I would like to point out that King Hamad has gone too far in harming his relations with both Iran and America, and I believe he will have to pay a price for that, which will certainly be higher than removing the Foreign Minister who will have to leave his position after using expressions which lack diplomacy in his dealing with Iran, Hezbollah and America.
Whether, Al-Khalifa opt for an alliance with Saudi Arabia and the Sunni loyalists, or with Iran and the Shi’a opposition they will not continue as absolute rulers and will have to chose between three difficult alternatives (1) To handover authority and power to the military and security establishment and the Saudi supported Sunni loyalists, resulting in a deterioration of the Bahraini situation and turning it into a failed example just as other examples sponsored by Riyadh, (2) Establish an alliance with the Shi’a opposition to win their support within the framework of an agreement sponsored regionally and blessed by the West, thereby leading to the marginalization of the Sunni side, and (3) Resort to the most difficult choice, but the lasting one, within a constitutional democratic formula that gives all parties opportunities for balancing, equality, justice and equity – in power, and guarantees the interests of Saudi Arabia, Iran, .. and America.