Today’s interview with Bahrain’s King Hamad Al Khalifa in German magazine Speigel reveals a man floundering out of his depth. A bit of a PR disaster, really:
On the eve of the first anniversary of Bahrain’s Revolution of Dignity, Hamad’s statement ‘there is no “opposition” in Bahrain’ show a man deeply in denia. One thinks of former British Prime Minister James Callaghan’s career-ending “Crisis? What crisis?” delivered from a Caribbean beach during Britain’s 1978-9 “winter of discontent”.
Or perhaps Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu gazing perplexedly from his balcony at the jeering crowds, December 1989, or perhaps Marie Antionette’s ‘Let them eat cake’.
Bahrain has no opposition? Whatever you say, Your Majesty.
“We are a constitutional monarchy. I don’t order laws, I propose them”, says Hamad. Really, so who is there to turn around and say “No way!”? More “crisis, what crisis”, more “let them eat cake”.
Hamad rambles about some half measure of pseudo-reform that is supposed to mitigate his monarchical dictatorship, but which wouldn’t be taken seriously in any mature, or half-mature democracy. Reform as simulcarum, as PR, the old Bahrain story. “Crisis? What Crisis?@
Has Hamad ever bothered to listen to what the opposition have to say? He must have done, but one get’s the impression he hasn’t. Perhaps none of the opposition demands make any sense if you’ve already convinced yourself there is no opposition, denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.
In case Hamad’s forgot, the Manama Document outlined:
1) An elected government representing will of the people rather than an appointed government…
2) Fair electoral districts guaranteeing political equality amongst the people and meeting the universal principle of one person, one vote….
3) A parliament comprising of a single chamber having sole legislative and regulatory powers….
4) A trustworthy judicial system independent from the executive branch both financially and administratively….
5) Security for all via participation of all walks of life in the country in formation of the army and other security apparatus on the basis of providing security for all….
Not a million miles away from your own son’s Seven Points, do you remember Crown Prince Salman, King Hamad?
Oh yes, and there are “no political prisoners” in Bahrain, apparently, only “criminals”. So the BICI was a waste of time, then? Or was it just to ward of a UN investigation? Or give Your Majesty a get-out clause from the ICC if things got really bad in Bahrain? “Crisis, what crisis?”
Apparently, the King doesn’t have a problem with “taa-taa-tin-tin”, it’s just “bad manners”, a bit like firing tear gas into people’s homes, I suppose. So that’s nice, people can “yasqat Hamad” away to their heart’s content, can they? With “impunity” (Ooops!) That’ll come as welcome news to all those folks who’ve been roughed up or tear gassed over “taa-taa-tin-tin”.
What Hamad does have a BIG problem with, however, is people saying “Down with the king and up with Khomeini”, since “that’s a problem for national unity”. Trouble is, nobody actually chants this. Never heard it, ever ever. Except from the lips of pro-regime actors on the BTV soap opera. In fact, the only demonstrations I EVER seen where people wave the flag of a foreign power are at the so-called “loyalist” rallies, where one sees Saudi flags aplenty.
Hamad struggles in the interview to get his head around the concepts of a constitutional monarchy, political legitimacy, fair representation, separation of powers, but his mind doesn’t seem up to it, “I don’t like contradictions”, he says. It’ a toughie having to think about more than one thing at a time, admitted. Real tough. Hamad’s not a man of great insight, hardly a Founding Father.
“First the people have to find a consensus and then I will support it”, he adds. But supposing the consensus doesn’t involve him? Humm, contradiction. Never mind, it’s all theoretical anyway, since actually there is no opposition, according to Hamad. “Crisis? What crisis?
“We were one of the first to have parliamentary elections in the Arab World”. I thought Egypt had a Parliament in the 1930s, and Lebanon had one in the ’40s? Probably I’m wrong. I bow to Hamad’s superior knowledge. Like when he says Bahrain has the Arab World’s only synagogue, also incorrect, or did I imagine seein synagogues in Alexandia, Beirut, Cairo, Tunis.
Still, Bahrain under Hamad’s rule is a beacon of religious tolerance, is it not? He says, “Democracy also means to guarantee the rights of the minorities. That’s my job as a king. We have for example a Jewish ambassador in the US and a Christian in the UK….” Democracy’s your job as King? I’ll have to look at the job description.
As for a Jewish ambassador to the USA and a Christian one to the UK, well, in community relations in the developed world there’s a word for that, TOKENISM, “a policy or practice of limited inclusion or artistic and/or political representation of members of a traditionally marginalized group, usually creating a false appearance of inclusive practices rather than discrimination, intentional or not….” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tokenism
Of course it’s nice to be able to worship in a church or a synagogue in Bahrain. But what does any of this mean if the polity and the society is riven by institutionalized sectarianism, the majority population are economically marginalized and excluded from key professions? In such circumstances, Bahrain’s much vaunted tolerance is a smoke-screen. All the more so when Saa7ib ass-sammu does his damndest tengineer the ethno-confessional make up of the island he rules through political naturalization. “Crisis? What crisis?”
But never fear, Hamad understands reform because “I am a helicopter pilot?” Of course, never thought of that one. The other day my microwave oven told me the sectret of the universe. Who needs democracy when you’ve got a a guy who can fly a helicopter? Mubarak wearing an Air Force uniform, Saddam in aviator shades. Impresses nobody, “Helicopter” Hamad.
No women have been attacked by policemen. Or at least Hamad hasn’t heard of it, so it couldn’t have happened, could it? Or if it did, says Big H, the abused woman could have taken the offending policeman to court. As one does. There we go, problem solved. “Crisis, what crisis?”
I could go on in this vein, but really I can’t be bothered. And I feel kind of cruel being horrible to Hamad, who obviously can’t help it.
Reading the interview I see a man floundering out of his depth, drowning in denial, a man of the past not the future, part of the problem not the solution. He’s not really an evil man, but Bahrain deserves better, a lot better.
He’d regain his dignity, and respect if he were to stand aside now in favour of his son, Crown Prince Salman, for whom it must surely be “now or never”. A compromise between the CP’s Seven Points and the Opposition’s Five Points (“Opposition, what opposition?”) leading to a genuinely democratic constitutional monarchy is the only thing that can save Bahrain as a civil society.
If the Prime Minister or the Royal Court Minister get in the way, well, who’s boss, H? After all, you can fly a helicopter! Do this for the sake of your son, if not for Bahrain. Already politicians and diplomats are asking “Will Salman ever really get to be King?” I’ve heard them. At the moment, there still might just be a window for Salman to make a real deal with the opposition (who don’t of course exist), but with every death, that window closes.
So back reform, real reform. Show leadership, and the reform should be fully supported by the international community. Hamad, you can still redeem himself by making that change happen. A real leader knows how to lead by example, a great leader will step aside and retire if that is for the greater good of his country. Only a pipsqueak clings on to power to the last possible moment, or lacks the courage to stand up to his own relatives. Your call, H. Now.