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.