As the political crisis in the tiny Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain deepens, there is apparently a growing schism within the ruling al-Khalifah family over how to handle the anti-government protests.
According to a report by the BBC, Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifah – who is widely viewed as a reformer – almost reached a compromise agreement with pro-democracy activists over the weekend on terms for a dialogue between the two parties. The crown price apparently offered to establish an elected parliament with full legislative authority and an end to gerrymandered electoral districts which previously guaranteed that Shias (who are the majority of the country’s population) would hold a minority of seats.
However, later that afternoon, state security forces attacked demonstrators at Bahrain University and in nearby Pearl Square – an obvious signal that the government would not make any concessions to the protesters.
To make things worse, on Monday, foreign troops from Saudi Arabia (a Sunni kingdom) and other Gulf nations were deployed in Bahrain to quell disorder and protect government facilities from protesters.
This was viewed as a last straw by many pro-democracy activists as the ultimate provocation.
However, the ruling al-Khalifahs are reportedly deeply divided over the crisis. While the Crown Prince appears willing to negotiate with protesters, his uncle Sheikh Khalifah bin Salman al-Khalifah (who has been prime minister for more than 40 years) remains adamantly opposed to any agreements with anti-government forces.
Reportedly, the crown prince’s father King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, is somewhere between these two opposite poles.
BBC reports that while Hamad has permitted his son to speak with anti-government activists, he hardliners in the family and regime (including the uncle) interfere whenever any solutions appears at hand.
Moreover, Hamad is reportedly facing pressures from his powerful allies (and fellow Sunnis) in Saudi Arabia. The BBC report claims that the Saud dynasty will not allow the Khalifahs of Bahrain to fall. The Saudis are apparently fearful that if the Khalifahs make too many concessions to democracy, a government dominated by Shias will take over Bahrain. In that event, that might force the House of Saud to reduce discrimination against its Shia minority in the oil-rich eastern part of the kingdom where they live.
Indeed, Shias in Saudi Arabia have already protested sporadically, despite an official ban against any such demonstrations.