Thursday, May 30, 2013

Is U.S. Ambassador Krajeski the New Ludo Hood?

Akhbar al-Khaleej: "American policy in the Gulf"

Among the more telling geopolitical episodes in the story of the February 14 uprising was the case of Ludovic Hood, the unfortunate political officer at U.S. Embassy Manama who was yanked from Bahrain (if only a few months early) in May 2011 after coming under attack, along with his family, from pro-government groups for his purported "collaboration" with demonstrators.  His crime: to offer Krispy Kreme doughnuts to protesters who had gathered outside the American Embassy in Zinj to decry continued U.S. support for the then-beleaguered Al Khalifa family.

Thus was the U.S. diplomatic position caught, then as now, awkwardly between two extremes, neither of which it could satisfy. Its support for the Bahraini government is at once too much for the opposition, a sellout to the principles of democracy and human rights, and too little for many in the government and its more ardent supporters, evidence of duplicity both in Bahrain and the wider Gulf region with respect to Iran vis-a-vis the Arab states.

Over the ensuing months, this rare consensus between government and opposition would find expression on both sides of the political aisle. Pro-government groups, sponsored to varying extents by the Royal Court, launched public and sustained campaigns against President Obama, against the unholy U.S.-Iran-Hizballah-Al-Wifaq alliance, against the U.S. Embassy in Bahrain, against U.S. NGOs, and, in October 2011, against the newly-nominated Ambassador Thomas Krajeski in the form of a mass petition.

For their part, opposition groups gave a more half-hearted response, organizing an American flag-burning (and -stomping) day in January 2012, for example.  Yet the anti-American sentiment never really caught on even among the radical youth movements, presumably because they had more pressing battles to fight with riot police, and perhaps because, in the end, they still had more confidence in the U.S.'s will and ability to press for reform than that of other regional and international actors.  Indeed, it is notable that in the two-plus years since the uprising began, there has been no notable protest activity at the most high-profile symbol of American power in Bahrain, the naval base in Juffair, which is after all located alongside a predominantly Shi'i village.

As for Hood, the U.S. Embassy of course denied sending him home early as a result of the threats against him. Yet the case was plain enough, and one can therefore not help but wonder what will be State's response to the ongoing (political) assault on the present U.S. Ambassador Thomas Krajeski, who if not threatened by physical harm is posed with perhaps an even greater danger: that of utter non-cooperation on the Bahraini side.  The tone of this debate one may glean from an anonymous May 29 commentary in the Gulf Daily News.  Titled "The arrogance of a 'diplomat,'" it begins, with reference to an alleged citizen petition to be sent to President Obama,
Let's just call it 'interesting' that an apparently large number of Bahraini citizens want the President of the United States, a veritable ally, to instantly remove from their soil, the United States Ambassador to Bahrain. ...

As a petitioning letter states, "he has lost the confidence of the people of Bahrain", to act as a trustworthy go-between and as such is judged to be doing damage to the (otherwise) warm diplomatic ties that happily exist between the two countries. ...

A letter moreover, which is allegedly known to many, and presumably sanctioned at high levels! These matters are not taken lightly. ...

According to reports, the Ambassador has courted the opposition groups - a perfectly acceptable diplomatic foray, but in a manner seen as "prejudicial and unfair". ...

But the point is that the Ambassador himself 'has become the story', in an adverse way, and that seldom augurs well for bilateral relations.
A separate report from today's GDN offers a bit more information about the petition, which may or may not be the same as an open letter published earlier this week by Sunni groups angered by a badly-timed visit to the home of Sh. 'Isa Qasim by the U.S. envoy to the Organization of Islamic Co-operation.  How badly timed?  It took place on Friday, the same day as a much-publicized mass protest in support of the cleric; and, moreover, it is claimed, on the same day that the envoy had planned to meet with Sunni groups before canceling the appointment.

According to the GDN, organizers of the campaign are calling for a formal rebuke by the Foreign Ministry as well as a protest in front of the Embassy in Zinj to be attended by, among others, members of parliament.  Until now, authorities have disallowed such protests by Sunni groups (demonstrators have had to be content with the highway adjacent to the compound), so it will be interesting to see whether this policy changes.

Moreover, I'm told that Crown Prince Salman is scheduled to be in Washington next week to attend "top level" meetings.  Notwithstanding the U.S.'s post-uprising support for Sh. Salman, and indeed the fact that it is precisely this support that can explain much of the present backlash against Krajeski and U.S. policy in Bahrain, one wonders whether the Ambassador's ongoing troubles nonetheless will be raised by the Crown Prince.  At a time when the British Ambassador enjoys essentially unfettered access to King Hamad and others among the ruling elite, and is closely involved with the only real (if presently stalled) political process ongoing in Bahrain, the U.S.'s continued lack of diplomatic access and indeed diplomatic leverage is a liability not only for it but for its closest ally Sh. Salman. At some point, the latter may not wish to continue going down with a sinking ship.

The problem, one senses, and the factor that distinguishes the present controversy from that of 2011, is that the attack on Ludo Hood and American policy at that time was born of fear and a position of relative political weakness and uncertainty. Now, one has the impression that the case is rather the opposite: that Bahrain, now secured in its domestic and, thanks in large part to the British, international position, need no longer be so attentive to the pressure brought to bear by its other Western patron. Or perhaps Bahrain feels it has already called the U.S. President's bluff.

More generally, one wonders if this same cause might also help account for the government's relative willingness today to engage in political "dialogue" with opposition societies and other actors (inefficacious though it is), something it had eschewed for the better part of two years.  One interpretation is that the state decided, or came under increasing pressure by citizens who had decided, that the initial security-centric approach simply wasn't leading to a solution and must be accompanied by a complementary political process.

An alternative view is that the state's change in strategy is not primarily a reflection of a new ideological orientation or a shift to a more moderate position, but a reflection of its newfound confidence vis-a-vis the opposition, the various Sunnis groups that seemed for a time to pose a potentially confounding political dilemma, and the international community. Whereas previously the state may have been reluctant to re-engage politically because it was not sure that it could maintain control over the process, this worry seems to have faded.

Of course, the two interpretations are not mutually exclusive. The rumored announcement in the coming weeks of a new Sunni youth movement may offer a useful opportunity to observe the state's strategic thinking.

Update: It seems that Bahrain's Salafis are still busy fighting the infidels in Syria.  Following recent reports of the "martyrdom" of the son of the imam of the Al-Nusuf mosque (who incidentally is now calling upon members of the Bahraini armed forces to spend their summer vacation fighting the jihad in Syria), today pro-government groups are reporting the death of "the second Bahraini martyr."  Others are promoting charities to fund the Bahraini "mujahidin."

Update 2: In the wake of last night's explosion/bombing in Bani Jamra in which seven policemen were injured, two critically, Ambassador Krajeski has personally issued a statement "on violence in Bahrain." It "condemn[s] this attack on police" and "urge[s] all parties to do everything in their power to prevent further violence." If that isn't enough of a veiled reference to al-Wifaq, it concludes by saying, "It is incumbent upon all segments of Bahraini society to support and participate in the National Dialogue, condemn acts of violence and incitement, and to contribute to a climate conducive for reconciliation."

Update 3: For the first time that I can remember, and I've been getting these messages since 2006, the American Embassy in Manama has issued a "security message to U.S. citizens" of a seemingly serious nature.  The operative part warns,
Extremist elements of certain opposition groups have conducted surveillance on U.S. persons and locations where U.S. persons are known to reside and/or spend leisure time, including locations associated with night-life activities. These facilities and locations include, but are not limited to, the U.S. Embassy, the Naval Support Facility, the Bahrain School and American Alley.

We have no further information regarding the precise purpose of this surveillance activity, nor any information as to whether it may be used in any future threat to U.S. persons or interests, and if so, what the timing, target, location, or method of such a threat would entail.
Update 4: On the subject of U.S. ambassadors to Bahrain, and in case you missed this as I did, a Foreign Policy article from April by former American envoy (2001-2004) Ronald E. Neumann. It is titled, sans any sarcasm, "Our Friends in Manama."

Update 5: The Bahrain Mirror relays reports from the Internets of the death of a fifth Bahraini fighter in Syria.  What happens when/if these guys come back to Bahrain?

Update 6: Sh. Salman visits Washington, meets with senior Defense Dept. leaders, U.S.-Bahrain defense cooperation hailed. Sound familiar?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Political Segmentation and Diversification in the Rentier Arab Gulf

Amid the latest drama in Bahrain -- a "temporary" (two-week) dialogue boycott by opposition parties prompted at least in part by a recent police raid on the home of 'Isa Qasim; and al-Wifaq's call for the "largest human gathering in the history" of Bahrain on Friday, tomorrow, in solidarity with the shaikh -- amid this flare-up in an otherwise boring story of "dialogue" without the actual dialogue, I've been preparing remarks to go along with a paper I'll present at the upcoming Gulf Research Meeting in Cambridge.

The paper, which on the whole is more theoretical than empirical, utilizes survey data from my fieldwork in Bahrain along with a new survey of Qatari citizens undertaken in early 2013 as part of a survey research course I co-taught at Northwestern University in Qatar.  Anyway, I thought I would post these remarks here, along with the actual paper, in case it is of interest to anyone thinking about similar issues.  The panel, titled "The Rentier State at 25: Dismissed, Revised, Upheld?" should prove to be very interesting despite the inevitable heckling by members of Bahrain's conference-crashing "think-tank" Derasat.

My paper examines the different ruling strategies available to rent-based regimes such as those of the Arab Gulf, and demonstrates how these divergent political strategies must serve to alter our theoretical expectations about the citizen-level relationship between economic and political satisfaction in the Gulf states.  It is titled "Political Segmentation and Diversification in the Rentier Arab Gulf."

A draft of the paper can be found here.  The draft discussion is below.

I will talk a little bit about the relationship between economics and politics in the Gulf, and about the larger explanation for the region’s relative immunity from reform pressures compared to other countries of the Middle East, with partial reference to a recent political survey conducted in Qatar. The common explanation is, of course, some variant of the rentier state hypothesis: the idea that Gulf nationals are too wealthy to care about politics—or at least too wealthy to act upon their political grievances, to the extent that they exist, and risk upsetting the comfortable status quo.

And, certainly, citizens’ satisfaction with their material circumstances is an important driver of the perhaps unlikely stability achieved by the Arab Gulf states—not only since the Arab Spring but for decades now, during which time they have continued to defy expectations that their outmoded political structures will eventually be overturned.

Yet this seemingly straightforward picture—economic benefits for citizens and political autonomy for Gulf rulers—is surely more complicated than it seems, and is becoming ever more so. In the first place, we see that this so-called rentier bargain, to the extent it operated before, clearly no longer obtains either in entire Gulf societies or among some groups of citizens, most obviously in Bahrain but arguably elsewhere as well.

More importantly, and more fundamentally, we see that it is no longer material benefits per se that tends to bind citizen and state in the Gulf, but in most cases intangible benefits: things like opportunities for knowledge and education, safeguarding of culture and religion, international prestige, protection of some citizens against other groups in society (the Shi‘a in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, the Muslim Brotherhood in the UAE, or the tribes in Kuwait), and finally political stability (if not political accountability) in the face of regional upheaval and perceived external and internal security threats.

This fact reflects another element conspicuously missing from the rentier state story: an appreciation that the citizen-state relationship varies widely across the Gulf region, and is unpinned by dramatically different rentier strategies on the part of states themselves. These differences in strategy reflect both differences in resource and population endowments but also the particular orientations of rulers and ruling families.

For the primary purpose of the rentier state is not, as is often said, the allocation of oil and gas revenues to ordinary citizens, but the allocation of this revenue in the cheapest manner possible—that is to say, in a way that guarantees the survival of the regime while at the same time maximizing the state’s own share of the resource wealth. Indeed, to what purpose rule if one is unable to enjoy the material rewards?

Some Gulf rulers, such as those in Qatar and the Emirates, enjoy the resources to be generous both to citizens and to themselves—i.e., to deploy consider benefits without impacting their own discretionary spending. As of 2012, the resource revenues of Qatar equaled $164,000 per citizen, and in the UAE a relatively meager $84,000. (Kuwait is $49,000.) Yet in Bahrain, by contrast, this ratio was only $6,500 per citizen, in Oman only slightly more at around $7,000, and in Saudi Arabia about $13,000. So clearly half or even two-thirds of the Gulf states could not simply buy citizens’ political support even if they so wished.

On the other hand, it is not clear that even the wealthiest Gulf states, including the supposed quintessential rentier state Qatar, can achieve this feat using economics alone. The first problem is that expectations are not static but ever increasing. Qatar, for example, doubled pensions only in 2006, yet today there are widespread calls for a further increase, as prices and lifestyles continue to become more expensive. In fall 2011 salaries in the public sector, where nearly all Qataris are employed, were raised by 60%, 120% for those in the police and military. Yet according to a public opinion survey conducted by SESRI in January 2013, less than half of respondents (47%) said that the increase “really helped our family.” (This is in part a reflection of widespread indebtedness, estimated to affect some three-quarters of Qatari families.)

The second problem facing Qatar and other Gulf countries is that citizens do not evaluate their economic status in absolute terms but in relative terms, compared to their fellow citizens. For example, the aforementioned survey also asked Qataris to rate the economic situation of a hypothetical Qatari family. “Imagine,” it asked, “a Qatari family with three children. Its annual income is [the equivalent of] $100,000 per year, its primary vehicle is a Landcruiser, and in the summer the family vacations in Europe but doesn’t own a house there. How would you evaluate the economic situation of this family?” Just 21% of respondents said that this family was doing “very well,” whereas a combined 37% rated it as “moderate” or below—“weak” or “very weak.”

A follow-up question altered the scenario. This time, the family’s annual income was the equivalent of $200,000, it had a Lexus SUV as a primary vehicle, and the family summered in an apartment in London that it owned. But even in this case, only 4 of 5 Qataris (81%) said this family was doing “very well.” Hence in Qatar, at least, it is not simply the absolute standard of living that influences the relative satisfaction—and thus political orientations—of citizens, but one’s impression of how well one is doing relative to others.

As a result, even countries wealthy by Gulf standards have had to find sources of political legitimacy beyond mere economic benefaction. Some countries—including Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and to a lesser extent Kuwait—have employed a strategy of political segmentation, disproportionately benefiting one class of citizens with the material (if not necessary demographic) preponderance to ensure the regime’s political continuity.

Apart from allowing the state to save precious resources by not dissipating them across the whole of society, this strategy also has the effect of creating a constituency of supporters with a basic stake in the preservation of the political status quo. Such constituencies, such as most obviously the Sunnis of Bahrain, may in principle share few policy preferences with the ruling elite, and indeed may benefit economically little more than members of the excluded community. However, the basic social and political division engendered by the state’s strategy of segmentation means that the Bahraini state continues to provide a vital benefit to its Sunni supporters: it “protects” them from their fellow citizens in the opposition, who would seek a wholesale revision of the social, economic, and political status quo. This same dynamic one witnesses across the Gulf, from the Shi‘a of Saudi Arabia, to the tribal community of Kuwait, to the Muslim Brotherhood in the Emirates.

An alternative to political segmentation in the Gulf has been political diversification. Here the state attempts to cultivate non-material sources of political legitimacy through the promotion of, among other things, nationalism, culture and heritage, education, international prestige, and an emphasis on political stability. Thus, in the Qatari case, for instance, we find Education City, Katara Cultural Village, the Museum of Islamic Art, the Imam Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab state mosque, Suq Waqif, World Cup 2022, the Doha-Tribeca Film Festival, and other mega-projects.

The difficulty here is that this strategy of political diversification requires a considerable up-front investment in physical infrastructure, meaning that in order for a state to limit the necessity of economic distribution it must already have considerable resources to distribute. Those states most in need of diversification, then, are those least able to afford it.

On this point, I will end with another relevant finding from the aforementioned survey of Qatari citizens. This analysis attempts to predict—statistically—the political views of Qatari citizens using several variables (along with standard demographic control variables) that one might expect to be related to political orientations. A first is a respondent’s level of satisfaction with his current household economy; a second measures the extent to which a citizen thinks job opportunities are distributed fairly in the country—that is, that a Qatari and expatriate of equal qualifications would have an equal chance of being hired for an open position; a third measures the extent to which a respondent believes the state represents his values; a fourth measures the degree of agreement between what the respondent says are his top political priorities, and what the respondent believes are the state’s top priorities; and, lastly, a final variable measures whether a Qatari respondent names “maintaining political stability” as his top political priority.

The results of this analysis are surprising. Across a wide range of indicators, the strongest and most substantively important predictor of Qataris’ political opinions and behaviors is not their relative satisfaction with the economic benefits they receive, but their perceptions of the fairness and values of the state, and the extent of their agreement with its actual policies. On the one hand, this finding—that Qataris are not linked to the state simply on the basis of economics—is a positive one from the standpoint of the state, as it demonstrates the effectiveness of its deliberate strategy of political diversification. But it also implies that Qatar and other Gulf states increasingly, and largely of their own doing, must be responsive not just to the wallets of citizens but to their values and policy preferences.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Bahrain Re-Opens to (Pseudo-) Academics

Since I'm often compelled here to be the bearer of bad news, today I am happy to report a very positive development indeed, one certain to be welcome to everyone interested in Bahraini politics: the country is now reopen to academic research, even on the most sensitive of subjects. Apparently this decision was taken quite recently, as it was only three weeks ago that I received an e-mail from a researcher having just been barred entry into Bahrain for being "a journalist." But no matter, for we have already an example of the sort of work we can expect moving forward, namely a new empirical study (full .pdf here) of Bahrain's sectarian demographics by one Mitchell A. Belfer, which summarizes "the results of some eighteen months of field research in Bahrain."

If that name Belfer rings a bell, it should.  He is the author of an equally impressive work published last year by his Central European Journal of International and Security Studies, among the flagship publications of the Metropolitan University Prague (est. 2001), titled "The Fourteenth Province: The Irano-Bahraini Conflict in Perspective." This was subsequently parlayed into a Wall Street Journal op-ed of equal rhetorical vigor.

Continuing with the martial theme of the great "Irano-Bahraini Conflict," Belfer's new "policy analysis" is titled "Demographic Warfare," and aims to "falsify" "claims that Bahrain’s Shia community is underrepresented and/or excluded from the advanced elements of Bahrain’s economic life."  To this end, Belfer claims to have undertaken an extensive quantitative analysis of the sectarian demographics of dozens of public agencies and companies, namely
in four main areas of Bahrain’s economy: government (six ministries and five organisations were selected based on the number of employees), high income specialisation areas (the health sector, finance and accounting, information technologies etc), the private sector (the ten most successful companies in Bahrain were selected for investigation) and the banking sector (the five largest bank, in personnel and financial holdings, were selected for this research).
How could someone accomplish such a thing, you ask?  Using marriage certificates -- duh!  Criticizing the "bizarre techniques of unofficial 'census-taking'" (i.e., representative sampling?) employed by some researchers, Belfar explains that there is only "one way to determine (with only a small margin of error) whether a Bahraini national is an adherent of the Sunni or Shia denomination; through an inspection of marriage certificates since these are issued by the religious authorities of each denomination."  Thus, he says, he simply utilizes this previously-ignored source of provenance to determine the sectarian composition across a diverse array of Bahraini institutions.

And when I say "simply" here, that's exactly what I mean.  In fact, nowhere does Belfer describe how he actually goes from (the in principle reasonable idea of) marriage certificates to the extensive statistics he presents.  In describing his methodology he offers but a few lines:
six governmental ministries and five organisations were selected to better grasp the sectarian divide between Shia and Sunni Bahrainis. These were selected based on three main criteria: first, that they are considered key agencies for governance and national development, second that the ministries employ more than 1,000 people and the organisations employ more than 300 people so that the research is more reflective, and third, for practical reasons, there was wide access to information in these ministries and organisations.
Thus, one is led to believe that Belfer has taken random samples of employees across dozens of Bahraini companies and ministries--thousands of individuals, assuming at least a few hundred from each organization to make the sample representative--asked the selected employees in each case to bring their marriage certificates to him for inspection, and then recorded their denomination. Apart from the irony that this sort of sampling is precisely the sort of "bizarre unofficial census-taking" that Belfer dismisses in his introduction; and apart from the question of unmarried workers, one wonders at the luck of this seemingly obscure Czech-based researcher granted "wide access to information" while others are turned back at the airport for no more than uttering the name Bahrain.

The possible explanations, accordingly, would seem to be three: either his data and study are entirely fabricated; or the study was done with the explicit blessing/sponsorship of the government; or both. The latter two alternatives would help explain (setting aside the question of his previous "work") his explicit aim here of trying to "falsify" claims of discrimination against Bahraini Shi'a, which is an odd aim for an academic study. If his purpose were purely intellectual, presumably he would have aimed simply to determine the actual sectarian composition of various Bahraini agencies and industries, not to falsify any particular argument.

On the other hand, the substantive results of his analysis are, surprisingly, not surprising.  Far from it, most would seem to confirm general perceptions in Bahrain regarding the relative over-representation of Sunnis and Shi'is, respectively, across various sectors of government and the economy.  That Shi'a are, for example, over-represented in the Ministries of Health and Municipalities but under-represented in the Ministry of Finance, is quite believable and in line with popular perceptions.  Likewise, that Shi'a dominate the staff of ALBA and BAPCO but not at the airport seems far from controversial.

In fact, then, one begins to suspect that Belfer's statistics--which apart from the Justice Ministry do not include data on sovereign ministries such as Foreign Affairs, Defense, and so on, nor on the police or military--are probably real, originating perhaps from the Central Informatics Organization or some other statistical authority.   One may recall, for instance, a July 2011 Al-Jazeera report, a report the Bahraini government vociferously denied, about a claimed government study into the sectarian composition of the country.  Moreover, government cooperation would also explain how Belfer actually acquired the data, given the impossibility of his purported methodology.

Whatever the case, the purpose of the Belfer paper is clear: to counter perceptions--local but probably mainly Western perceptions--of employment discrimination against Shi'a citizens.  Of course, insofar as the main grievance of Shi'a is not simply employment discrimination per se but disproportionate exclusion from politically-important positions--indeed, from precisely those ministries (and security services) not included in Belfer's report--it does not directly address this issue.

Yet the bigger problem with the paper would seem to be one for the government itself.  That is, what exactly is the lesson here? And to whom is it directed? Though the article's main audience is obviously Western, still if I were the Bahraini government I don't know if I would want to be advertising the fact that, in reality, Shi'a citizens seem to be doing better than Sunnis in many industries and agencies. For, as my own survey results showed, the political views and behavior of ordinary Shi'a Bahrainis are not systematically related to their economic status; those of Sunnis, by contrast, are, and one would think the state would be cognizant of this.

Thanks may be in order, therefore, to Mitchell A. Belfer, who seems to have substantiated the primary complaint of many of the government's fiercest critics: that Bahraini Sunnis are poorly rewarded for their staunch support of the government, which continues to patronize exactly those who oppose it.

Update: Speaking of random "scholars" given unfettered access to Bahrain, here's one for you: Moroccan freelance journalist Souad Mekhennet, now a Nieman Fellow based at Harvard University, has apparently conducted a lengthy interview with King Hamad in Bahrain. One can infer the gist of the article from its novel title, "Terrorism Has No Religion." In any case, there must be a good story behind this.

Update 2: Perhaps we're getting closer to the mystery of Mitchell Belfer's demographic "study." Friday's edition of Akhbar al-Khaleej featured an extended treatment of his work, including a front-page blurb with the headline "Academic study from Prague University: Opposition Societies Lying [or Liars]: No economic or employment discrimination between Shi'a and Sunna in Bahrain."  This was followed by a full-page treatment in the "local news" section, which you can read below:

Update 3: An alternative theory: perhaps Mekhennet and Belfer are angling for Bahraini citizenship?  Still in London, King Hamad announces that 240 British citizens will be given Bahraini nationality. Now there's some political naturalization for you!

Update 4: Al-Wifaq is reporting that the home of Sh. 'Isa Qasim was "raided" late last night by "tens" of security officers. As far as I can recall, this marks the first time that the government has taken physical action -- threats of legal action, of course, have been numerous -- against the ranking Shi'i marja' in Bahrain. (Apparently he was not home at the time of the raid.) According to a travel warning I received yesterday from the U.S. Embassy in Manama, there were already two separate rallies planned for today, Friday: one along al-Budaiyi' Rd (i.e., not far from 'Isa Qasim's home in Diraz) and one in the Manama Suq. This newest escalation will likely only redouble the enthusiasm of demonstrators.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Trans-Atlantic Divide in Bahrain

One might recall that in his surprise December 2012 call for renewed political talks at the Manama Dialogue, Crown Prince Salman singled out Great Britain for its support for Bahrain, telling the long-time colonial master, "You stood head and shoulders above the rest." The United States, by contrast, was not mentioned at all, an exclusion described in the media as a "snub" and taken to signal Bahrain's displeasure with the U.S.'s relative willingness to pressure its ally toward meaningful reform.

A few weeks later, when the dialogue process restarted (though not, ostensibly, as a result of Sh. Salman's urging), I wrote that this "snub" in fact should serve the dialogue process well, as it meant that there would be no confusion as to its sponsorship. The quickest way to derail any political talks in Bahrain, that is to say, is to leave open the interpretation that the United States is surreptitiously behind them. And what better way to demonstrate that such is not the case than by a public suggestion of a diplomatic spat?

More recently, however, one gets the sense that something of a diplomatic divide is indeed brewing. Yet this would seem to entail not simply a rift between the United States and Bahrain, but perhaps more importantly a growing disconnect in policy between Bahrain's two historical patrons themselves, i.e. the U.S. and Britain.  Notwithstanding the (now prior?) involvement of former Miami police chief-turned-police adviser John Timoney, still it is the British who are working closely with the Interior Ministry to help try to reform the institution.  (Incidentally, the Gulf News reports that three individuals were detained just yesterday for alleged abuses.)  Similarly, it is the British Embassy that has been coordinating closely with the sponsor of the ongoing dialogue process, Justice Minister Sh. Khalid bin 'Ali, and indeed seem to have been instrumental in setting up the process.

Not all has been smooth sailing of course -- the ongoing parliamentary inquiry into British relations with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain is a particular sore spot -- yet the situation stands in stark contrast to Bahrain's present relations with the United States. Whereas the British Ambassador Iain Lindsay is said to golf regularly with King Hamad, the U.S. Embassy is lucky to have its calls returned at all. Last Monday, Ambassador Thomas Krajeski was, according to the BBC, "summoned" to a meeting with Foreign Minister Sh. Khalid following the publication of the State Department's annual human rights report on Bahrain.  It described "significant" continuing violations including torture in custody, as well as
"serious human rights problems," including "citizens' inability to change their government peacefully; arrest and detention of protesters on vague charges, in some cases leading to their torture in detention; and lack of due process in trials of political and human rights activists."
A yearly source of diplomatic tension (including in 2008-9 when I was in the country), the State Department's report was compounded by Bahrain's near simultaneous decision to "postpone"--that is to say cancel--a long-promised visit by a UN torture investigator.

Bahrain's opposition-less parliament has had a field day, of course, railing against the report and in particular against Ambassador Krajeski, already under parliamentary (and popular) scrutiny for his alleged secret liaisons with members of al-Wifaq on the premises of the ongoing dialogue -- not to mention his time in the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. Thus the following Gulf Daily News editorial from mid-April:
Indeed, if you [i.e., an American] live in Bahrain and have enjoyed your stay and would like to continue living here, can you honestly tell me what business is it of the US government to spoonfeed the so-called opposition which is nothing but a terrorist movement financed by Iran - our mutual enemy - and adopted by your government?

This very opposition is committing atrocities on a daily basis. They are killing innocent citizens and innocent foreign workers. They are killing the very symbol of security by burning policemen alive. Indeed, when was the last time you saw a person scalped? Well, you probably saw it in a Western movie, however we had a police man scalped here in Bahrain, with a brick, would you like to see his picture?

The British Ambassador had the decency to admit that this mob is nothing but a group of terrorists. British minister Alistair Burt admitted that Iran is interfering and is the direct cause of what is going on in Bahrain. Yet, he also categorically denied that Britain had anything to do with it.

On the other hand, the American Ambassador has neither condemned the violence nor denied the fact that he is indeed in constant touch with these so-called terrorists.
For the record, then, that's: American ambassador: terrorist sympathizer working for Iran; British ambassador: not a terrorist sympathizer and not an Iranian agent. Or, simply consult the following checklist:

Of course, the worrying bit is not this discrepancy in public opinion per se but the divergence in policy that underlies it.  The United States continues to pin its hopes for political resolution on the crown prince, seemingly shunning all other members of the Al Khalifa. Compare, for instance, the recent White House visits of the Qatari emir and Abu Dhabi's Muhammad bin Zayid, who met with President Obama.  By contrast, Bahrain's April 29 visit was made by the unimportant foreign minister, who was greeted only by a chiding John Kerry.

Unfortunately for U.S. policy in Bahrain, however, despite some recent success (I hear) in asserting his newfound authority within the government, Sh. Salman still is best known for his embarrassing failure in March 2011. Only when he is able to make substantive progress that ordinary citizens can see and feel -- say, by reinstating the now-suspended LMRA tax on foreign labor and reviving the employment training program that it funded -- will his political stock begin to rise.  And one can be sure that his competitors within the ruling family, along with like-minded members of society, will be working diligently to ensure that this comeback attempt does not proceed smoothly.

The British, on the other hand, are clearly reaching out to a wider range of partners within the ruling family. Beyond Britain's aforementioned cooperation with the Ministers of Interior and Justice, it has cultivated a seemingly close relationship with Bahrain's military establishment, an institution closely linked to the powerful, hard-line Khawalid faction of the ruling family.  This coordination includes bilateral trainings, exercises, high-level visits, and a new Defence Cooperation Agreement signed in October 2012. (Incidentally, Sandhurst, where King Hamad underwent training while crown prince, recently renamed a hall in his honor -- i.e., in return for £3 million.)

Notably, this increased collaboration on military matters also means that, rather than Sh. Salman, the British have grown closer to another of King Hamad's sons, Sh. Nasr. Shaikh Nasr, known before the uprising mainly as the head of Bahrain's Olympic Committee, has risen from relative obscurity in the period since February 2011.  At the height of the security crackdown in June 2011, he was appointed Commander of the BDF Royal Guard and promoted from captain to colonel.  Around the same time, opposition activists accused him of involvement in torturing detained athletes, a reputation (ill-gotten or not) that has served to boost his image and popularity among security-minded Bahrainis.  Like his father, Shaikh Nasr attended Sandhurst, graduating in 2006. While Sh. Nasr is not an immediate threat to displace the crown prince as heir apparent, such a thing is perhaps not unimaginable, and his marriage to the daughter of the ruler of Dubai is one additional asset in this regard.

It is unlikely, however, that Britain's newfound military interest in Bahrain represents a mere hedging of bets in the event that the crown prince does not prevail in his intra-familial contest for political direction. Indeed, a recent report by the Royal United Services Institute, a British security think-tank, "suggests Britain could be slowly re-establishing a permanent, strategic military presence in the Middle East in what amounts to a rethink of the 1960’s decision to withdraw UK forces from areas 'East of Suez.'"  It continues,
[T]he UK is at a significant decision point where defence orientation towards the Gulf States is both plausible and logical. ...

The Royal Navy is ... taking a more active interest in Bahrain, which is already home to the United Kingdom Maritime Component Command (UKMCC).

“We seem to be witnessing the slow transformation in the UK military posture towards a tentative return (at this early stage) to the pre-1971 strategy of rooting Britain's presence in the southern Gulf through agreements with its traditional allies in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, with outlying anchors in Bahrain and Oman, and with close political and economic ties with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait that could be upgraded to the military level if necessary.”
Whatever the case, one hopes that Britain and the United States can achieve a more constructive policy coordination in Bahrain going forward. With all the internal fractures already helping to preclude resolution of Bahrain's political stalemate, the country certainly is not in need of another.

Update: Several people have written to point out the British Embassy in Bahrain's odd choice of "contributors" for a blog post on Thursday celebrating World Press Freedom Day, namely Editor-in-Chief of Akhbar al-Khaleej Anwar 'Abd al-Rahman (who in December utilized his freedom of the press to railroad a planned symposium on Bahrain organized by Brookings in Doha); and "Citizens for Bahrain," an anonymous pro-government "citizen coalition" whose main thesis is that "freedom of the press has limits."  As a friend joked, "the British Embassy may have inadvertently confused World Press Freedom Day with International Love For Censorship Day. It's easily done!"

Update 2: From a report in The Independent from late March: "[In an interview with the Gulf Daily News, Lindsay] also remarked that 'British companies should be able to pick up at least £1bn worth of business here over the next five to 10 years,' a prospect which may or may not colour his attitude to civil rights in the kingdom."

Update 3Al-Wasat reports (via Sameera Rajab; English here) that the Bahraini cabinet has approved a parliamentary proposal to end the U.S. Ambassador's "interference" in the country, in particular his meetings with al-Wifaq. Unless I'm mistaken, the proposal in question dates to October 2012 and was sponsored by six Islamist MPs. It's not clear what if anything this means in practice, since Rajab also stated that Bahrain "will commit to international agreements in dealing with the US ambassador," i.e. will not dismiss him.

Update 4: King Hamad and Shaikh Nasr (along with brother Khalid) back in Britain as head of Bahrain's delegation to the Royal Windsor Horse Show.

Update 5: Happy Fourth of July!

Update 6: Lots of diplomatic maneuvering these days.  According to the BNA, the Commander of U.S. CENTCOM is in Manama, having met with Sh. Salman, Khalifa bin Salman, and Khalifa bin Ahmad. The latter meeting, the BNA story makes clear, included Ambassador Krajeski.  On the other hand, Sh. Nasser and King Hamad are in London ostensibly for the Windsor Horse Show.  The former paid a visit to the newly-christened King Hamad wing at Sandhurst, while his father gave a very interesting address (see video below, around 8:15) to his British counterparts in which he asks flatly why the British ever left the Gulf in the first place, relating his father's reaction to their 1971 decision to withdraw: "Why?  Did someone ask you to go?":