Tagged: History

Political History of #Bahrain

For those interested, I have written a 10,000 word political history of Bahrain covering the 20th and 21st century. It was for Routledge/Europe annual MENA reference. You can read the pre-proofed version here on Research Gate.

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Methods of a Mild Spanish Inquisition: British Torture in Bahrain Before Ian Henderson

The discussion about the role played by British officers in carrying out torture in Bahrain tends to focus on Colonel Ian Henderson. However, British officials in Bahrain were torturing long before Ian Henderson’s arrival in the late sixties. Indeed, torture at the hands of the police has been occurring in Bahrain since the birth of the police force in the 1920s. Most of the information here is taken from the diary of Charles Belgrave, who was financial adviser to the Ruler of Bahrain from 1926-1957. All the stories here involve either Belgrave or Captain L.S. Parke, the Commandant of the Bahrain Police from 1927 – 1931.

Generally speaking, torture occurred during the investigation of relatively high profile incidents, such as the assassination attempt on the Shaykh, the shooting of the Political Agent, and the raid on police offices. This ties in with a lot of the scholarship on repression, which finds that repressive measures tend to increase when elites feel threatened. Having said that, I am sure it occurred a lot more frequently than is documented by Belgrave. While some might say ‘but those were different time’, it is interesting to note that Belgrave himself acknowledges the barbarity of such tortuous methods.

Oriental Methods, and those of a Mild Spanish Inquisition

On 4th August 1926,  Ismail Shah Murad, a Baluchi sepoy of the Levy Corps, shot and killed fellow Levies Subedar Niaz Ali Khan and Havaldar Nuur Daad (Al-Tajjir, 1987).* After Major Daly (the British Political Agent) intervened, Ismail stabbed him five times with a bayonet. In the end, and in line with British suspicion of Bolshevik agents that was common at the time, a Mullah from the Russian Persian frontier was found guilty of masterminding the affair and deported (although Belgrave doubted his complicity in the case). During the course of the investigation, Belgrave admits to using methods of a ‘mild Spanish Inquisition’:

Paid out the men. Really they are not such a bad looking crowd, I believe only three or four of them were affected but Daly wants them to go bag & baggage,yet I’m sure that wont be sanctioned. Arrested another of the men who I really believe knew all about it, but though we used methods of a mild Spanish Inquisition we could get nothing out of him. I felt sorry for the boy.  (Belgrave, Belgrave Diaries, 15 August 1926)

During the late twenties, the police were investigating a raid on the town of Sanabis. Captain L.S. Parke used sleep deprivation methods in order to make one of the suspects speak:

Parke looked in very excited as he thinks he has got one of the men who was in the raid on Senobis two years ago. The Police have been after him ever since. The difficulty will be to make his talk. This is such a civilised place that one cant do even mild torture but P’s idea is to keep him from sleeping for a few nights and then he may talk, that is not exactly torture. (Belgrave, Belgrave Diares, 12 Novemeber 1928)

In 1926 there was an assassination attempt on Shaykh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, the Ruler of Bahrain. Ibrahim bin Khalid bin Ali Al Khalifa was found guilty of carrying out the attack, though I am inclined to think Hamad’s brother was behind it (Read here for more on this. The fact information was extracted from suspects under duress perhaps strengthens my argument that it may not have been Ibrahim bin Khalid.) In the course of the investigation, ‘oriental methods were used’: Read on for more details:

They were taking the case of the attempt on the Shaikh. The men admitted that it had been ordered by Shaikh Khalid a near relation of the Shaikhs. Barrett wrote officially to the Shaikh telling him of his various relations who were implicated in the murders but the Shaikh does not dare to do anything about them. It makes me really very angry. Barrett spoke about the business of the Police having used rather oriental methods with the prisoners to get them to give evidence. Parke ordered it and Barrett is very angry with him, one thing they did was to tie the men up and then put lighted papers between their toes. Of course it is a pity that it came out, but knowing the men and what they have done I dont feel much compunction for them, It is a pity that Parke took part in it himself (Belgrave, Belgrave Diaries, 16 April 1929)

In 1932, during Bahrain’s economic recession brought about by the collapse of the pearling industry, a group of divers broke into the police station to release a fellow diver who had been imprisoned some days earlier. In order to find the ringleaders, Belgrave beat some of the suspects, a procedure he noted as being ‘barbarous and illegal’:

 Prior came over and we composed a long telegram to the P.R. reporting the matter,then Haji Sulman came in and after some time I went with him up to the Fort where I spent the whole morning till two oclock interrogating the prisoners, at first they wouldnt speak but I beat a few of them till they did speak,it was all very barbarous and illegal but on some occasions one has to behave illegally. They gave me the information that I needed and on that I was able to make a list of the names of the men who were the ringleaders and who actually broke into the Police Office and took the man out. (27 May 1932)

* Al-Tajjir puts the date as 1st August, though I believe this is the date when another policeman tried to kill Hajji Salman bin Jasim, the head of the police.

Attitudes of British Officials to the Al Khalifa Family Between 1920 and 1954

King Hamad recently rocked up at the first Windsor International Endurance Festival, where he gave a speech in which he described Bahrain’s historic relationship with Britain as one of ‘cooperation and friendship’. Hamad then expressed sadness at Britain’s withdrawal from Bahrain in 1971, quoting his father as saying;

“Why? – No one asked you to go!”

King Hamad’s desire to surround himself in the UK with other people who love horses does not detract from the fact that Bahrain’s relationship with Britain has been one of mutual convenience as opposed to true friendship. Indeed, despite this so-called ‘friendship’, the attitude of many British officials to the ruling Al Khalifa family was one of disgust and frustration. A selection of quotes attributed to various British officials on the subject of the Al Khalifa is included below. Before I am accused of historic muck raking, I should point out that such comments are important in contextualizing Britain’s relationship with Bahrain, and erode the veneer of legitimacy that horse-based events and other efforts at ‘High Society Diplomacy’ attempt to confer upon this so-called friendship. Also, sometimes these things are just plain interesting.

This blog post is focused more on the historic attitude of British officials towards the ruling family in general as opposed to specific cases. The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights have documented scandals perpetrated by the Ruling Family by collating all the examples mentioned in the papers of Charles Belgrave – financial adviser to the Ruler of Bahrain between 1926 and 1957 . Similarly, I have blogged or written about various other acts of oppression or political crime performed by members of the Ruling Family, so often aided and abetted by the British. Some of these are listed at the end of this blog.

Attitudes of Some British Officials to the Bahrain Ruling Family between 1920 and 1956.

In 1923, Political Resident Lieutenant Colonel A.P. Trevor wrote about Salman bin Hamad – Bahrain’s ruler between between 1942 and 1961:

Selman bin Hamad has all the worst qualities of the Al Khalifa family. He is totally uneducated, vain, lazy, and inclined to oppress and tyrannize over anyone who is powerless to resist. Selman is absolutely unfit to succeed is father as ruler.

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Colonel Knox (who seemed to entertain an equal disdain of all Bahrain’s communities) wrote in 1923:

Gentlemen of the Al Khalifa: I am afraid that looking to the past is my duty to warn you that you must not expect that because you have taken the trouble to be born you ave therefore a right to live on the rest of the community , whether by allowances from the revenues of these Islands or by preying on the poor and helpless

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C.C.J. Barrett, the Political Resident in the Persian Gulf wrote in 1929:

The family – the Al Khalifa – were uneducated savages with a veneer of town manners

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Charles Belgrave wrote in 1926 (21 August):

The Khalifa family is the Royal Family of Bahrain, & very much so. They are paid allowances by the Govt & do nothing apparently considering it infra dig to do any work, they are lazy conceited oppressive people for the most part, living on being royalty.

Charles Belgrave wrote in 1929:

With a few exceptions the Khalifa family are lazy, almost illiterate, and entirely without public spirit.

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Bahrain’s Political Agent Captain C. G. Prior  wrote in 1929:

…apart from these all adult Al Khalifa are nonentities, incapable or vicious or all three.

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Charles Belgrave wrote in his diary in 1954.

…now nobody has any opinion of the Khalifah, they are drunken, dotty & dishonest & have entirely lost the little prestige that they once had. The only one of them who people in any way respect is HH & they are rapidly losing their respect for him.

Acting Political Agent J.E.R. Little wrote in 1955:

…the ruler has donated a quarter of a million rupees to education, health and public protection. Other members of Al Khalifa apparently are impervious to the promptings of conscience.

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Rape, Booze and Torture: The Princes’ Diaries

Scrutizing the Civil List in Bahrain  

How the Al Khalifas Took a Quarter of Bahrain’s Wealth

Bahrain’s History of Political Injustice 

‘Oppression of Bahrain Subjects by the Ruling Family in Bahrain in the early 1900s: The Full List

How camels led to murder and sectarian tension in Bahrain

Who Really Tried to Assassinate Shaikh Hamad?

Who Really Tried to Assassinate Shaikh Hamad?

In 1929, Ibrahim bin Khalid bin Ali Al Khalifa (a nephew of Bahrain’s former ruler Isa bin Ali) was convicted for instigating a failed assassination attempt against Sheikh Hamad in 1926. Although the men who carried out the attack were given varying prison sentences, Ibrahim was exonerated by Shaikh Hamad, who argued that because the attack had been against him, he had the power to forgive. Hamad’s mercy stemmed from both his weakness and desire to maintain family unity, itself an important factor in preventing further challenge to his rule.

However, an important aspect of the case that has so far been omitted from historical studies of Bahrain is that the initial investigations suggested that it was the ruler’s brother, Shaikh Abdullah bin Isa Al Khalifa, who had been behind the assassination attempt (I have written previously about Shaikh Abdullah’s record of rape, extortion, theft and murder here). Understandably, Hamad was troubled by the news that his brother had orchestrated an attempt to kill him, though it seems the accusations were suddenly dropped. Despite the ‘ considerable evidence’ against Abdullah, he was brought in to augment the judges on the Bahrain Court that convicted Ibrahim. When it was suggested that Abdullah be put on the court, Belgrave writes rather cryptically in his diary

‘As Abdullah is one of the people implicated he would be certain to condemn the men to shield himself, and if they accused him in Court he is quite clever enough to suppress any such idea. I think it would be a good idea to put him on the Court’.

Unless Belgrave has made a grammatical error, he appears to support Abdullah’s position as a judge in order to protect himself from accusations against his involvement in the assassination attempt on his brother. Given Abdullah’s previous, inexorable attempts to undermine Hamad’s rule, his involvement would not be unlikely. Such evidence, in addition to Abdullah’s continued attempts to work against Hamad, contradict Fuad Khuri’s assertion that Abdullah committed himself to maintaining unity within the ruling family following the abdication of Shaikh Isa in 1923. Indeed,  Khuri’s idea that Abdullah became a conciliator as opposed to a party to conflict seems too simplistic, and it was perhaps the fear of losing a generous stipend from the state that induced Abdullah to limit his intrigues against Hamad. Furthermore, despite Abdullah’s attempts to work against Hamad, he was perceived by the British as the most competent Al Khalifa, and one who was important in getting Shaikh Isa’s supporters to cooperate more fully with Hamad’s rule. Whether or not Abdullah was behind the assassination attempt is unclear, though far from unlikely. Furthermore, although Abdullah was, according to Belgrave, a ‘bad hat’, ruling family fratricide was not unusual in the Gulf at the time.

If Abdullah did attempt to kill his brother, it simply marks yet another instance of his ability to evade justice. Furthermore, the fact he was a judge on the court set a precedent for political trials in Bahrain. Let us not forget that Abdullah was one of the three judges who sat on the court that sentenced the leaders of the Committee of National Union to exile on St. Helena in 1956.

 

‘Oppression of Bahrain Subjects by the Ruling Family in Bahrain in the early 1900s: The Full List

Back in August I wrote a blog post about the abuses carried out by the Al Khalifa family and their fidawis against the Baharna in the early 1900s. I included a number of examples provided by the then Political Agent Major Daly. Below is the full list of abuses provided by Major Daly. It is also worth mentioning that this is, in itself, an abridged list. Major Daly did not have time to provide an even more extensive report. Many of those responsible were members of the Al Khalifah family. As I said back in August, it is amazing that those accused of terrible crimes later went on to be an important part of the administration. Abdulla Al Khalifa for example, was one of the three judges that sat on the court of appeal in the high profile trial of 5 members of the HEC committee sentenced in 1956. His desire to preserve Al Khalifa rule in Bahrain went back to the early 1900s where, on a trip to Britain, he went to the UK to complain about British interference in Bahrain’s (read Al Khalifa’s) affairs. Given the list of abuses documented below, it is pretty incredible someone like him could ever be in a position to administer justice.

The list, taken from the Records of Bahrain. 

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How camels led to murder and sectarian tension in Bahrain

It was interesting to read today that Bahrain was thinking of bringing back camel racing, which apparently ‘died off as the animals slipped out of regular use’. The announcement of this camel racing followed a 2-day meeting in which all things camel were discussed, including an initiative to map all the camel herds in Bahrain. Presumably the idea of camel racing was a scheme concocted to encourage tourism in Bahrain. Formula Camel if you will. While I do not mock the humble camel, nor deny its ‘iconic’ status in the region, Bahrain’s history with the camel is actually quite interesting. Indeed, far from being seen as a potential tourism boon, they were the bane of many people’s lives a century ago. So much so, that laws had to be created to rid Bahrain of the camel scourge…

A Camel, Shaikh Khalid and the ‘Sitra Outrage’

 ‘Attack on Bahrain Shiahs’ was the title of a confidential telegram sent by the Political Agent in Bahrain to the Political Resident in the Persian Gulf in 1923. The telegram documents how a Bahraini villager in Sitra was killed and a number of houses looted by a gang of servants working for Sheikh Khalid ( Sheikh Isa bin Ali Al Khalifa’s brother). The reason? A camel belonging to Sheikh Khalid had been found wounded near Sitra. The Political Agent writes:

The large herds of camels which the Shaikhs allow to wander into gardens and destroy the dates have been a fruitful source of trouble for years. It is reported that on hearing this [about the wounding of the camel], Shaikh Khalid then said a Bahraini should be killed for it.

Camel Laws

The above incident marked a culmination in the frustrations of many Baharna farmers,  who were tired of camels destroying their dates –  (an important part of the Baharna’s staple diet). The camels also  destroyed vegetable crops grown by many Baharna farmers. The extent of this destruction was so great that many farmers stopped growing vegetables, forcing Bahrain to become dependent on vegetables imported from Qatif in Saudi Arabia. When discussing the camel problem,  Political Resident Knox writes in 1923 (pg 133)

It is presumed that these large herds of camels are of no particular use and are merely maintained by the Shaikhs at great expense to themselves and others, with some shadowy sentimental notion of maintaining the fiction that the Al Khalifeh are Lords of the Desert.

Knox goes onto describe how the camels are an ‘economic evil’ to Bahrain, and a constant source of ‘quarrel leading, as in the present case, to actual bloodshed between Sunni landlords and Shiah tenants’. Not one to mince his words, Knox added that the camels should be ‘taxed to extinction’. He believed that this would eliminate a ‘fruitful source of quarrel’ between the two sects.  In order to do accomplish this ‘extinction’, Knox proposed the following laws:

(1) Absolute prohibition of further importation of camels into the islands (2) Registration of the animals. (3) Imposing taxation three, four or five times, as may be deemed advisable, of the present scale. (4) Establishment of pounds by which camels found straying in the vicinity of gardens and villages can immediately be confiscated to the state; and as a corollary to the above, arrangement for the conveyance of speedy information to headquarters of the impounding of such animals with a view to precautions being taken by official agency to guard Shiah villages where such animals have been impounded, from retaliatory outages.  (5) Heavily penalising the wounding, maiming or killing of such animals as an offence against the State.  (6) Earmarking all funds raised by such taxation for the efficient carrying out of the measures detailed above.

Justice

In addition to the introduction of these laws, an investigation was carried out. It transpired that Shaikh Khalid had indeed ‘enouraged and approved the attack’, while his son Ali bin Khalid had masterminded it. The political agent believed that the Ruler Shaikh Isa and his wife had probably encouraged the attack in order to bring Sheikh Hamad’s ‘administration into ill-repute’. Their bitterness stemmed from Hamad’s recent accession, which was done in  ‘obedience to the orders of the British government’ (Knox, 1923).

Given the high position of those involved in the attack, the British administration worried that no punishment would take place against the guilty parties.  Daly writes:

The Al Khalifah family have never had a reputation for ability to take strong action, especially in cases in which their own family are concerned, and I fear that unless some pressure be brought to bear on Shaiks Hamad and Abdulla, little or no punishment will be inflicted on the guilty in the present case, and outrages of this nature will continue until we shall be forced to take action.

To a certain extent, this pressure succeeded, though the sentences against members of the Al Khalifa were lenient. Sheikh Khalid, who encouraged and approved the attack, was merely deprived of his property in Sitra, required to pay 2000 Rupees blood money,  and forced to move to Manamah – hardly a severe punishment given the fact he would have been able to prevent his son carrying out the attack.

His son Ali bin Khalid, who ‘masterminded’ and attended the attack was sentenced to banishment from Bahrain for life. What actually happened was that the political agent requested (on Sheikh Hamad’s suggestion) that Ali instead be banished to India for 10 years, conditional on good behaviour. It was also suggested that he be given a monthly allowance of 250 – 300 Rupees per month. Despite the sentence, the Political Agent felt Hamad’s response was the best that could be expected, and an important assertion of Hamad’s desire to ‘maintain order’.

The servants who were among the attackers, but did not murder the deceased, were given three years imprisonment in Lahore. The fact that the lowest ranking of those involved were the only ones given prison time is indicative of the way in which justice was carried out in Bahrain.  As giving any of the Al Khalifas prison time was too politically provocative, and likely to cause further hostilities among already disgruntled members of the Ruling Family, Daly’s acquiescence to Hamad’s plea for a reduced sentence was done primarily to maintain unity within the ruling family. The Political Resident in Bushire, S.G. Knox, agreed with Daly’s action, and was perhaps even more vocal in his desire not to ruffle too many powerful feathers. (In the end, the Khalids snuck back into Bahrain, and after being given a retrial, were let off.)

At the time, Knox believed that the steady introduction of legislation was better than drastic punishment of individuals. As  the camel laws only effected the Al Khalifas, Knox’s philosophizing seemed to be an eloquent way of justifying leniency on those in a position of authority. Indeed, although the Al-Khalifa family were often the cause of  dissent, they were also under British protection. This put the British in an unusual situation, as they had to address Baharna grievances within specific parameters, namely parameters that did not involve the wholesale removal of the Al Khalifa regime. For this reason, the introduction of such legislation was a way of addressing grievances without being too forceful with the Ruling Family.

Concluding remarks

It does seem unusual that such a seemingly benign creature was the course of so much political animosity. Given Bahrain’s overall move away from agriculture, the reintroduction of camel racing does not seem like such a big deal. But it’s important not to forget such lessons in history. Indeed, camels were the privilege of a ruling family who frequently displayed a callous disregard for the local population. While the point of this blog post is mainly historical curiosity, and while camels are not an issue today, similar attacks on more traditional industries still exist.

Recently, for example, Bahraini fishermen organised a mass strike to protest for the ‘scrapping of new maps demarcating fishing and shrimping sites and to allow access to coastal areas being grabbed for urbanization schemes’*. Despite this, the suggested solution by a market trader was to make up any shortfall in supply by importing it from Saudi Arabia – just as vegetables had to be imported from Saudi due to the rampant camels. This flippant dismissal of the plight of the fishermen brushes aside the source of their grievances, which include the development of coastal areas and fisheries. Although some might argue that this is the cost of ‘development’, it is important to understand who actually benefits from these urbanizaton projects. I, for one, would be interested to see who is behind a lot of these urbanization schemes, and whose pet projects they are. In some ways, they are the modern day camels…

*Urbanization schemes, which frequently involve the reclaiming of coastal land, have long been a source of contention for Bahrain’s fishermen. In addition to over fishing, 13 of Bahrain’s 18 fisheries were handed over to Qatar as part of the ICJ’s resolution of the Hawar dispute .  In 2010, this led to one Bahraini fisherman being shot and injured by the Qatari Coastguard for fishing in Qatari waters. A  year earlier, another Bahraini fisherman drowned after he was rammed by the Qatari Coastguard. Recently, 22 Indian fishermen working for a Bahraini firm were arrested and subsequently released by Qatari authorities for straying into Qatari waters. (What is sad about this final point is that once again, we see migrant workers taking considerable risks while the local sponsor profits. The article mentions that the captain and crew of the vessel were fined, though whether or not they were reimbursed by the firm is not stated). Reclamation projects have led to a decline in the number of fishing communities in Bahrain.  It is also important to note that the upper house of parliament in Bahrain blocked a decision to declare to fashts (natural habitats) as protected reservations.

Rape, Booze and Torture: The Princes’ Diaries

Recently it was reported that British police threatened to taser a Bahraini prince for his drunken antics on a British Airways flight to Bahrain. Apparently the prince attempted to ‘storm the cockpit’ and complain to the captain about the poor service. Although the Daily Mail and the Sun are hardly the most credible news sources in Britain, they are probably more so than Bahrain’s Information Affairs Authority, who  claimed that the prince was neither drunk nor a prince. Instead they claimed that the man had had a bad reaction to medication, and attempted to enter the cockpit to speak to the captain after flight crew forbade him from flying (Note to self: should I ever miss work because of a hangover, try the medication excuse).

While most of us are prone to moments of excess, such brattish behavior is far more vulgar when carried out by members of the privileged classes. We expect more from ‘them’, and  it is only exemplary behavior on their part makes their wealth and power remotely palatable.  Unfortunately, it is often one rule for the elites, and another for everyone else.

Although headline-grabbing, the drunken antics of a prince pale in significance compared to alarming accusations leveled against Prince Nasser, the King of Bahrain’s son. He is accused by a number of opposition figures of actively carrying out torture during last year’s demonstrations. He is not, however, the first prince in Bahrain to be accused of abhorrent behavior, and it is interesting to delve into the history books to compare Nasser’s behavior with that of a ‘prince’ who lived 100 years ago. I am in fact, talking about the infamous Sheikh Abdulla bin Isa Al Khalifa, son of  Sheikh Isa bin Ali Al Khalifa, who ruled Bahrain from 1869 – 1923. Such a comparison highlights the historical grievances that many Bahrainis, and in particular the indigenous Baharna, have with the ruling Al-Khalifa family. This exercise is particularly useful when pro-government rhetoric and PR aims to remove any historical context from Bahrain’s politics, choosing instead to justify continued authoritarian rule by using terms like ‘new beginnings’, ‘both sides made mistakes’,  and ‘democracy takes time’.

His Highness Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa (born: 8 May 1987)

Bahraini activist Mohammed Hasan Jawad (Parweez) claims that Sheikh Nasser flogged, beat and kicked him and fellow prisoner Mohammed Habeeb al-Moqdad whilst they were detained in a Manama prison. Nasser was also criticized for launching a vindictive campaign against those Bahraini athletes who engaged in anti-government protests. Last year he tweeted that all athletes in detention should be given life imprisonment, a ludicrous statement for so many reasons,  not least because any rational person might suppose they deserve to be tried before sentencing in considered.  Nasser was also quoted as saying on Bahrain TV (the country’s state-run television channel)

“Anyone who called for the fall of the regime, may a wall fall on his head. Whether he is an athlete, socialite or politician — whatever he is — he will be held accountable . . . Bahrain is an island and there is nowhere to escape”.

In light of the severity of the accusations leveled against him, William Hague alluded to the fact that Prince Nasser would be closely assessed before being granted entry to the UK. Given that it would not be ‘proper’ to deny a visa to the son of the King of Bahrain – an important UK ally, it was highly unlikely that Prince Nasser would be denied entry.  This did not stop Nasser deleting all his tweets though (a futile act given most of them are archived and can be read here). Unsurprisingly, Nasser was granted a visa, and it was  reported that he was actually in the UK from about mid-June. 

Sheikh Abdulla bin Isa Al Khalifa 

Sheikh Abdulla was the youngest son of Sheikh Isa bin Ali Al Khalifa, and not technically a prince since Bahrain had no king back then. Major Clive Kirkpatrick Daly ( Britain’s Political Agent in Bahrain from 1921 – 1926) made numerous notes pertaining to Sheikh Abdulla’s crimes. In 1921 Daly writes that ‘Bahrain is in a constant state of unrest owing to the Political intrigues of a small party under the leadership of Sheikh Abdulla’. He also provides a brief overview of the oppression carried out by the ruling family, which included ‘illegal seizure of property, wrongful imprisonment with cruelty, and political murders, for which no one has been brought to trial, and no effort made to enforce justice’. What is also interesting about Sheikh Abdulla is that, despite the accusations made against him, he later became a judge sitting on the court of appeal responsible for trying members of the HEC committee that threatened Al Khalifa hegemony in 1956.

Daly then writes a separate document detailing a selection of the crimes perpetrated by Abdulla. I have included a few of the reports (taken from the India Office’s records on Bahrain), as they make fascinating reading. Some are so outlandish – it feels like watching an episode of Bab al-Hara.

The Prostitute Scam

3. Shaik Abdulla keeps a prostitute named Masoodeh, a jewess whom he seduced, and who was for a time his mistress. He has had an arrangement with this woman whereby she lures young men of respectable families to her house. There they are raided by Abdulla’s fidawis [armed retainers] and sums of money are recovered from them under threats of exposure and imprisonment. A considerable sum of money is said to have been realised in this way.

Abdulla, Pimps, and Forced Sex

5. Sheikh Abdulla is ruler of the village of Jidhafs. His Wazir there one Abdulla bin Razi and his wife, act as procurers for Sheikh Abdulla. Several women have been compelled to visit Sheikh Abdulla  at the Wazir’s house. The daughter of Bin Marhun was abducted and kept there for some days, as also was the daughter of Syed Qasim. In each case the parents were threatened and as they would get not justice in any case, endeavoured to escape the ignomy of public exposure. These two girls have since been sent to Qatif each year when it is the season for Abdulla to visit Jidhafs.

12. The daughter of Bin Suweileh of Houreh was abducted by Sheikh Abdulla and subsequently turned adrift as a prostitute.

Land Grabs

8. A plot of land with some dwelling premises belonging to Abdul Rasool bin Haji Hussain of Sinabis had been seized without pretext by Sheikh Abdulla and given to one of his mistresses, who now lives there.

10. Shaikh Abdulla siezed the house of Haji Ahmed bin Shaaban in Sinabis on a false pretext, and still remains in it.

A Truly Tragic Tale of Kidnap, Extortion and Death

11. Sheikh Abdulla’s servants abducted a girl a native of Fars. her parents after searching for her for some time returned home and left behind one Muhammed Abdulla to continue the search. He discovered that she was being kept by Shaikh Abdulla. The latter then passed her on to an arab of Zallaq receiving Rs 400 (Rs = rupees). Muhammad Abdulla on behalf of the parents made efforts to recover the girl. He did so on payment of Rs 500 and on condition that he himself married her. She was pregnant and subsequently died in childbirth.

Abdulla’s Mother

21. Shaikh Abdulla sent for the daughter of one Ali Basri. Her parents refused to send her. Abdulla’s  Mother, who has recently assumed the title of Queen of Bahrain ordered the mother to send the girl at once or leave Bahrain. The girl was subsequently induced to marry one of Shaikh Abdull’s [sic] servant but has been put in one of Shaik  Abdulla’s houses and is kept as a mistress

22. Some men grazing camels belonging to the Rulers [sic] wife, recently seized a small boy outside a village and committed unnatural offences. The villagers protested and said they would complain to the “Queen”. When they did so, that lady imprisoned about 12 of the leaders and detained them in prison. She refused to send the case to the Qadhi [judge] and subsequently released them after payment of Rs 250.

Abdulla’s Uncle Khalid

19. Another sources [sic] revenue of this member (Sheikh Khalid) is to demand labour from the Shaih subjects during the period of 7th – 10th of Muharram, during which time it is forbidden by their religion to work. If they decline, as they must do a cash fine in lieu is realised.

Interestingly, Charles Belgrave (Personal and Financial Advisor to both Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and his son Salman from 1926 – 1957) described Abdulla in entirely different terms. Belgrave writes of Abdulla;

He was handsome, always well dressed, witty and shrewd. He was a man of the world, with a keen sense of humour and a roving eye.

While it is highly doubtful that Belgrave was ignorant of Abdulla’s exploits, the difference between his and Daly’s accounts are on a par with the differing perceptions we see in Bahrain today. No doubt many believe that the King’s son is incapable of carrying out such atrocious acts, yet such naivety is often dangerous, for it presupposes that such behaviors are not the actions of modern men, but simply those of fictional princes or historical caricatures

Some Closing Observations

Abdulla never faced any sort of justice for the crimes he was accused of, and it is naive to believe that Prince Nasser Al-Khalifa will be investigated by the Bahrain authorities. On the contrary, the Al Khalifas and the ruling elite have enjoyed immunity through their tenure as the ruling family. They have repeatedly engineered strategies to keep themselves and their allies out of prison, including the National Safety Law, Royal Decree 56, the State Security Law and the BICI report.

The role of the British and now American protection should also not be underestimated. Even Major Daly acknowledged the detriments of Bahrain’s deal with the British government, which allowed the Al Khalifas to terrorise the population with little or no consequence. In 1921, Daly writes

It is said to me that, if we extend our protection to the Bahrain government, so that it is immune from outside danger, we should use our influence effectually, in order that the inhabitants be not unduly oppressed, and that they should have a reasonably efficient Government in comparison with other Arab states. ‘Failing this’, I am asked, ‘Why do you not remove the British protection, then we should at least have the redress usually resorted to by Arabs. We should appeal to another Arab ruler to take over our country and treat us better.’

Ninety years on, Toby Craig Jones writes

Most importantly, its (the American base) presence enables regional allies to act recklessly. Saudi Arabia would almost certainly not have sent its troops into neighboring Bahrain – a sovereign country – if the Saudi and Bahraini leaderships did not assume they were protected by their patrons in the U.S. military.

The purpose of this comparison was to vividly highlight erroneous assumption that ‘modernity’  brings with it an improvement in things like human rights, compassion and justice. It is patently evident that many things have not changed, and even more obvious that Bahrain’s elite have escaped justice for centuries. The fact we are inundated with rhetoric such as ‘reform’ and ‘moving forward’ belies the continued existence of the one common variable in Bahrain’s unrest – the refusal of many within the Al Khalifa family to relinquish their hold on the nation’s power and wealth.

What’s more, the British and Americans have, through direct or indirect means, continued to offer support for a regime whose legitimacy is in tatters. Even now, John Yates (former assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police) and John Timoney (former head of Miami Police) are attempting to offer a fig leaf of legitimacy to a police force who are, in many ways,  a modern day incarnation of the fidawis.

Addressing or investigating the crimes of the Al Khalifas would threaten the fundamental logic of their existence, which is to protect the integrity of the tribe from outside incursion. This tribal logic will always resist a fair and just legal system, for rule of law is inevitably subverted when it threatens to harm the interests the Al Khalifas. Obviously I am not saying all Al Khalifas are criminals, but when they are, what are the odds of justice being done?

Finally, it is interesting to see that Daly saw the Al Khalifas themselves to be among the main sources of unrest in Bahrain. He even stated that the oppression carried out by Sheikh Abdulla and his cronies to be tantamount to ‘terrorism’. I do wonder then, what Daly would think if he was alive today? Would he be so quick to call those throwing Molotov cocktails terrorists and thugs, or would he see their resistance as an understandable reaction to a legacy of injustice?

*The President’s Office actually made a legal complaint against the Guardian  after they published an article highlighting the accusations against Prince Nasser).