Today the Financial Times ran a (paywall) front page story on how the King of Bahrain has amassed a lucrative investment portfolio through a company called Premier. The FT found ‘that subsidiaries of Premier Group have shares in projects that have an investment value of at least $22bn at home and an extensive luxury property portfolio in Britain’. While I doubt anyone is surprised at this barefaced profiteering, the sheers numbers are staggering. What is more, this revelations marks the inevitable shift of the Al Khalifa family as a kleptocratic regime who made much of their wealth to from oil rents, to a cartel that are now diversifying into property development. Much of this ability derives from the Ruling Family’s tendency to view Bahrain and its resources as loot to be plundered, as opposed to a society that contains people with ideas, aspirations, and dreams.
As the FT reports, ‘the king issued a law [in 2002] giving himself the sole authority to grant state land rights. In several cases, he used that power to transfer plots to companies linked to Premier Group, according to land deeds seen by the FT’. While many Bahrainis are irked by land reclamation, which they see as the ‘expropriation of public assets’ by a Ruling cartel, the phenomenon is not new. Even in the 1920s, when the British attempted to temper Al Khalifa excesses, the issue of land was a controversial one. Prior to regulating land ownership, one British official writes. (part 2)
A great deal of the land held by the Al Khalifa family and well-to-do Sunnis has undoubtedly been filched (stolen) from the original Bahraini holders. It will not be possible however to rectify the oppression of years, and I would suggest that when a landowner can furnish proof of a definite period, say ten years, his right to the land should be considered valid.
And so it was the the Al Khalifa came to ‘own’ much of a land that they had previously stolen from an indigenous population. This theft has now been formalised and institutionalised in the law of 2002, with King Hamad the main beneficiary of what the British once described as ‘filching’. As a British passport holder, I cannot help but feel shame that our government can continue to support such a kleptocracy. The recent announcement of a $15 million dollar permanent British base in Bahrain is simply the latest insult to a population that have struggled for decades against a voracious and insular tribal government focused on their own enrichment. And if this all was not enough, read about how the Al Khalifas also took a quarter of Bahrain’s GDP between 1925 and 1970 – the sense of injustice is staggering.