إميل نخلة: حين يذهب باحث في برنامج فولبرايت إلى البحرين

ترجمة مرآة البحرين

كوني الباحث الأول في برنامج البحوث في منحة فولبرايت في البحرين، أمضيت العام الدّراسي 1972-1973 أدرس إنشاء دولة البحرين الجديدة بعد أن حازت البلاد على استقلالها في العام 1971. أسرة آل خليفة السنية حكمت الغالبية الشيعية على مدى قرنين تقريبًا. قبل الاستقلال، كان آل خليفة خاضعين للحكومة البريطانية أو متأثرين بها. وعلى مدى السنين، خدم مسؤولون بريطانيون رفيعو المستوى، بمن في ذلك تشارلز بلجريف وإيان هندرسون، كمستشارين نافذين رفيعي المستوى لدى الأسرة الحاكمة وأداروا جهازي الشرطة والأمن الداخلي في البلاد.

حظيت بشرف رؤية كيفية إنشاء المجلس التأسيسي أو مجلس الشورى، وحضور جلساته المفتوحة كلها. ناقش المجلس الدّستور الجديد ووضع مسودة له كما أنشأ الهيكل الإداري للدولة. قابلت كل أعضاء المجلس، المنتخبين منهم وكذلك المعينين من قبل الأمير الشّيخ عيسى بن سلمان آل خليفة وأخيه رئيس الوزراء الشيخ خليفة. أعلن الأمير عن الدستور في العام 1973 لكن جُمِّد العمل به لاحقًا في العام 1975، أي خلال أقل من عامين. بعد ذلك، أصبح الأمير حمد بن عيسى آل خليفة، وهو الملك حاليًا، خلفًا لوالده الأمير الشّيخ عيسى. وبقي خليفة في منصبه كرئيس للوزراء، الأمر الذي يجعله رئيس الوزراء غير المنتخب صاحب أطول مدة خدمة في التاريخ الحديث في العالم.

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الكاتب: إميل نخلة

بعد وصولي إلى البحرين، زرت رئيس المجلس وطلبت منه إعطائي إذنًا لحضور كل الجلسات. وحيث إنه لم يكن يحيط علمًا ببرنامج فولبرايت، سألني عما كنت أخطط لفعله. أخبرته أني سأجري بحثًا، ومقابلات مع الناس، وأحلل السجلات، وبعدها أكتب. التفت إلى سكرتيرته وقال لها: “إنه يكتب، لا بد أنه صحافي، أعطه بطاقة صحافي”. وبذلك حضرت كل الجلسات المفتوحة في المجلس كـ “صحافي”! ومع تزايد سخونة النّقاشات داخل المجلس، وتفاعل وسائل الإعلام، ازداد قلق رئيس الوزراء. اتهمني بالتحدث على نحو وثيق جدًا مع أعضاء المجلس و”الإيحاء لهم بالأفكار”. اتصل بالسفير الأمريكي، المقيم في الكويت آنذاك، وهدد بالإعلان عن كوني “شخصًا غير مُرَحب به” وإنهاء إقامتي. وقد غضب بشكل خاص بعد أن طلبت إجراء مقابلة مع إيان هندرسون بخصوص الأمن الدّاخلي. قال لي هندرسون إنه عمل لصالح رئيس الوزراء وإنه لن يمنحني المقابلة من دون موافقته [رئيس الوزراء]. غني عن القول إن الأمر لم يحصل. لكني بقيت في البحرين!

وعلى سبيل الدعابة، بعد أن بدأت بحثي في مجلس الوزراء، طلبت في أحد الأيام عدة وثائق محددة. قيل لي: “انشالله بكره”. وبسذاجة، عدت “بكره” [في اليوم التالي] للحصول على الوثائق. ابتسم الشخص المسؤول وقال لي بتهذيب إن “بكره” لا تعني وقتًا محددًا! وحين رويت الأمر في اليوم التّالي لوزير الخارجية، الشيخ محمد بن مبارك آل خليفة، الذي كان مسؤولًا عن برنامجي في فولبرايت، ضحك وأرسل مذكرة إلى مجلس الوزراء يقول فيها: “لا تستخدموا “انشالله بكره” مع د. نخلة!”

وفي حين لم أستطع أبدًا مقابلة إيان هندرسون، سألت، وأنا على متن الطائرة مغادرًا البحرين، ضابط أمن بريطاني يجلس بجانبي، عن ضرب ابن صحافي. كان قد تناول بعض المشروب، فاعترف لي بحرية وروى لي القصة، وأخبرني أنه “نعم، نحن نجري الاستجواب، لكننا لا نمارس التّعذيب. المرتزقة العرب يقومون بذلك!”  وبكلمة “مرتزقة” كان يشير إلى المغتربين العرب الذين يعملون في قسمه.

بحثي ضمن برنامج فولبرايت أدى إلى كتاب اسمه “البحرين: التنمية السياسية في مجتمع متطور”، والذي نُشِر في العام 1976. حُظِر الكتاب لعقود، أي على مدى ثلاثين عامًا، لكن منظمة بحرينية غير حكومية تمكنت من ترجمته إلى اللغة العربية وطباعته. ناشر الكتاب الأصلي أعاد نشره في العام 2011 في أعقاب بدء الربيع العربي، لأنه وجد أن المظالم التي تكلمت عنها في السّبعينيات ما تزال موجودة بعد مضي أربعين عامًا! برنامج فولبرايت في البحرين كان تجربة رائعة لي. كوّنت صداقات لمدى الحياة وتمتعت بإقامتي هناك على نحو كبير. ما تزال البحرين تشغل حيزًا دافئًا من قلبي. البحرينيون -سنة وشيعة- أرادوا دومًا أن يعيشوا بكرامة وسلام، ولكن بحرية أيضًا. ومن المشين أن لا تتمكن الأسرة الحاكمة من مشاركة السّلطة وتعزيز شرعيتها في أعين شعبها. على حكام آل خليفة أن يتعلموا درسًا مفاده أن القمع ليس أبدًا الإجابة على السلم الأهلي  والوئام الاجتماعي

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White Supremacy at the Water Cooler

By a Bahraini Woman

The one memory of my grandad connected to British-Bahrain relations always makes me laugh. It was tragicomic really.

He used to work the Bahrain Oil Compancy (BAPCO) in the 1950s or thereabouts,  which was a massive employer at the time. Ever defiant, he engaged in an act of resistance that shook the British establishment to the core.

He drank from a water cooler designated for British people only.

Following this transgression, he was promptly chased by a British guy from management,who also deployed security guards to chase after the errant water thief.

In what would become known in the family as the great escape, my granddad hid in one of toilet cubicles, standing on the actual toilet so they can couldn’t see his feet when they looked under the doors. He stayed there for an hour or two until they gave up, and then made his escape.

I am not sure when water coolers were ‘desegregated’, but there was a hierarchy. British first obviously, then Indians, then cattle class – the Bahrainis.

My Dad also worked at BAPCO, and said segregation was more an unspoken rule in his day. They didn’t specifically identify the classes, or who could go where, but they all knew.

Oh yeah, and apparently there was a rule where British female secretaries were banned from ‘befriending’ Bahrainis, especially males, and they would get fired if caught. I’m not sure of the specifics but that story always sticks with me.

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Thirsty Work: Oil workers at BAPCO

Face to Face with Ian Henderson at Heathrow Airport

by Sa’id Shehabi

The weather was cloudy when we arrived at the airport on Sunday morning on 22 July 2007. The place was full of travelers who wished to flee to other, less cloudy and rainy places. Indeed, Heathrow was packed. Airport officials were stopping people at the entrance to organize the travelers, asking them to wait in a large tent outside the terminal, until they could enter.

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Ian Henderson and Sa’id Shehabi, in a tent, at Heathrow

 

An old man with his wife were near me, their trolley full of baggage. Hang on, isn’t that  Ian Henderson, the man who has been torturing our youth for forty years? Then my daughter whispered in my ear, ‘I read on his luggage a tag saying, I.H. Henderson’. That confirmed it, that it was indeed an official of the Bahrain torture apparatus. Not only that, but the chief engineer of a policy of torture since coming to our country in April 1966. He whispered something to his wife. I gathered enough courage and approached him, asking the question,

‘Are you Ian Henderson?’.

‘Yes’, he replied.

I said, ‘do you recognise me?’

He said ‘You’re Sa’d Shehabi’.

I said, ‘It’s a strange turn of fate that a torturer and his victim end up in the same picture’

Henderson smiled a little, and I approached him and said: ‘Isn’t it about time you apologised to your victims?’

Henderson replied ‘I haven’t done anything wrong’.

I said, ‘ the whole world says that you have tortured innocent people, you only have to Google and type “Ian Henderson Bahrain” to see what has been written about you’

Henderson simply said ‘It doesn’t concern me what they write about me’.

I asked, ‘Do you have a special file on me?’

Henderson smiled, incdicating with his hands that the file was large.

I said, ‘What about in 1990, when you misled the British intelligence service and the Bahraini Minister of Interior, and convinced them that my friends and I were terrorists, and they locked us up’.

Henderson: ‘I don’t remember’. He paused, and then continued,’but you and your cohort were doing wrong, and working to undermine the reforms that we were working towards’.

‘What reforms are you talking about?’ I replied, ‘ I mean how many times have I proposed reforms. I am surprised a person like you comes from a democratic country, and has come to defend a tyrannical regime such as the Al Khalifa’

Henderson said, ‘I was working to solve the problems’.

I said, ‘by torture’.

Henderson and his wife were clearly keen to change the subject. His wife kept saying ‘change the subject’, and they made frequent references to the poor organization at the airport. ‘Why are we waiting here all the time? We might miss the plane’.

Then my daughter asked, ‘Is it not true that you practiced torture?’

He did not like this.

Then I asked,’It would be brave if you did what the torturers in South Africa did, and admit what your role in the torture apparatus is, and apologised to your victims’.

Henderson said, ‘I haven’t done anything that deserves an apology’

I asked him, ‘who was it that tortured Saeed Al Iskafi and Noah, the latest martyrs of the Uprising?’

He said, ‘In these problems you have to expect casualties’.

I was really surprised as he didn’t express any emotions at all, or show any feelings of humanity towards the victims.

I said to him  ‘Aadil Flaifel is your best student, and he is accountable to you’.

Henderson said, ‘Adel Flaifel is a good man’.

I laughed scornfully.

Then Henderson asked me, ‘Why don’t you support the project of Shaykh Hamad and his policies’?

I said, ‘Would you support the person who went back on all his promises? Did he not cancel the legitimate constitution between the people of Bahrain and the Al Khalifa’.

He said, ‘There was an opportunity in front of you for political participation but your stance  prevented progress, and your movement failed’.

Then I said ‘You are extremely wrong. In truth you are the one who has failed, despite continued repression. Our movement succeeded against the past and present system. I look today and compare it with the situation forty years ago. Political movements have returned, and the opposition are galvanised against the ruling family, becoming united. This makes it possible to achieve real future change’.

Henderson said, ‘Naturalisation is good’.

I said, ‘Do you think that the security of Bahrain will be achieved by naturalizing those from areas in which Al Qaeda flourish, such as Syria, Jordan, Saudi, Yemen and Pakistan?

Then I said, ‘Where do you spend your time?’

Henderson said, ‘I was in the UK at the moment for two weeks for treatment, and my son lives in London. I am returning to Bahrain for two weeks, and then I am going to South Africa, where our other children live. I move between these three countries!’

I said to him, ‘The people will remain opposed to the regime until they achieve two things: recognition that the people of Bahrain are a real political partner, and an end to illegal political naturalisation that’s been happening since 1975’.

He said, ‘do you know how old I am’.

I said, ’78?’

He said, ’81 years, I’ve outlived a lot of security officers in my time, from Bill and Langdale, to Muqbil and Muhammad Mohsin, and seen many opportunities for reform’.

I said to him, ‘But you’ve served the Al Khalifa throughout your life, and you are the one who allows them to continue doing what they do, and allows our youth to fall at the hands of torturers. Are you not able to convince them about the value of freedom for citizens’.

He said, ‘The Al Khalifa do what they want and do not listen to what I say’.

After the meeting ended, and the remaining passengers entered the building, I recalled the noble verse, “And Moses said, Our Lord, indeed You have given Pharaoh and his establishment splendor and wealth in the worldly life, our Lord, that they may lead [men] astray from Your way. Our Lord, obliterate their wealth and harden their hearts so that they will not believe until they see the painful punishment’.[ Allah ] said, “Your supplication has been answered.” So remain on a right course and follow not the way of those who do not know.”

F1 Bahrain: F Stands for Forgotten Uprising

by John Ainger

Looking back, I think the only things I knew, or thought I knew, about Bahrain was that it used to be a British colony, it had a Saudi-style monarchy, was somewhere near Dubai, and that it hosted an annual Formula One Grand Prix.

I remember finding it strange that such a small, and seemingly insignificant country, would hold such a prestigious sporting event. When I was asked therefore, how much I knew about Bahrain, images of wealthy Arab men wearing the traditional Guthra (a white head covering with a black rope holding it in place), watching highly tuned motor vehicles whizz round a space-like circuit – an oasis in a scorching desert – were the first and only ones that appeared. I sweat at the thought…

And then I was introduced to my Bahraini colleague, Faten, who in turn introduced me to a documentary called “Shouting in the Dark”. (Scroll to the bottom to watch the documentary).

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During the Arab Spring, I was vaguely aware that some protests were taking place in Bahrain, but was most certainly not aware of their magnitude. I watched the documentary with feelings of disappointment, that as a keen follower of International Affairs, I should have been more aware of what was happening. I was also surprised that it had not been covered more by the British and global mainstream media. I felt deep levels of sympathy with the people of Bahrain – the people oppressed and imprisoned by the men who watch cars whizz around a race circuit in the middle of a desert.

I urge others to watch the documentary, to really gain a full understanding of the on-going human rights violations, and political persecution imposed on the citizens of Bahrain.

I hope that Bahrainis don’t give up on their struggle, and that we as international citizens will find it in ourselves to continue to seek out and help the struggles of the disenfranchised, even in the most isolated and forgotten corners of the world.

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The author, John Ainger, is a British Master graduate in media and politics from the University of Amsterdam.

Pakistanis in the Pecking Order

By Owais Arshad 

Some years ago I was consulting for a well-known Bahraini public sector enterprise which required me to sift through a large cache of its internal documents. Among the files, I discovered the organization’s internal compensation policy which neatly laid out differing salary structures based entirely on nationality.

Regardless of one’s qualification, or years of experience this pillar of the Bahraini economy, as a matter of stated policy, compensated British and Western expats more lucratively; provided them with more generous accommodations, as well as access to better educational opportunities for their children. Although hardly a revelation, it was nonetheless striking to see it documented so brazenly and a reminder of the island’s thin veneer of modernity. Bahrain remains a place where the quality of life is often dictated exclusively by the passport you hold.

For the Bahraini state, the ability to offer different terms to different nationalities also helps them utilize this segment of the population (close to 50% of the total) for their own political purposes. A well-fed, compliant, and powerful Western expatriate force, for instance, offers a crucial link to foreign powers that furnish the Kingdom with weapons, succour and international protection from condemnation of its excesses.

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A typical job advert for the Gulf

However, like a modern human zoo, each nationality serves its own utility. For most Pakistanis living in Bahrain this means accepting a trade-off: accepting job opportunities (many of which are illusory promises of financial security) that place them in a precarious position compared to the island’s Shi’a majority. This is because a large numbers of their fellow (Sunni) countrymen have been imported to swell the ranks of Bahrain’s armed forces and police and are used to quell any unrest that may erupt within the country. Naturally, this means that relations between the Pakistani community and the large Shi’a majority remain strained. During the most recent uprising, allusions to “mercenaries” were frequently made by the opposition.

Pakistanis also happen to constitute a significant proportion of the working class population of the Kingdom. As a result, they are subject to the same abuses that are often visited upon Indians, Filipinos, Nepalese, and Bangladeshis. This encompasses everything from outright exploitation, to physical as well as sexual abuse with little recourse to justice.

The case of the Pakistani community exemplifies the cynical genius of the Kingdom’s expatriate policy which is designed to buttress the government’s hold on the economy and security. The labourers provide a useful method to build a modern state on the cheap based on a system of legalized abuse. This also has the useful advantage of keeping wages depressed and helps to economically isolate the Shi’a majority who are then further tied to the largesse of the government.

Similarly, the presence of Pakistanis in the military and policing functions provides a force that will not hesitate to follow orders and, due to its lack of local character, guards the regime from being ousted by insurrection. They also serve as cheap cannon fodder – the lynching and burning of Pakistani policemen, for instance, do not impact Bahrain’s Sunni community, and allow them to sustain their aggressive security policies without any push back.

The existence and persistence of this well-defined passport hierarchy that trespasses on all aspects of a foreign worker’s life is hardly noticeable if one is placed in a favourable position within this configuration but bedevils life for those expatriates hailing from the Subcontinent, the Philippines or other developing countries. One can spend their entire career or childhood in Bahrain and never notice the systemic injustices that are institutionalized in the country.

A Right Royal Robbery: How Britain Helped the Al Khalifa Take a Quarter of Bahrain’s Wealth

This post is about how the British helped Bahrain’s ruling Al Khalifa family take over a quarter of Bahrain’s wealth over the past 80 years. In particular, it focuses on the years between 1925-70.  It also addresses some other interesting questions, such as the mystery of Abu Safah, and why the revenue allocated to the Ruling Family disappeared off the accounting books on two separate occasions. So before you wave a banner proclaiming support for the country’s wise and educated leadership, bear in mind that between the years of 1926 and 1970, Bahrain’s ruling family received about a quarter* of the nation’s wealth. In fact, the amount given to the ruling family per year was always the largest item of recurrent expenditure. Until 1941, the amount given to the Ruler and those on the Civil List was consistently greater than the the sum of all other expenditures. In other words, one family got more per year than the health sector, education sector, public protection dept etc combined. Although the amount they receive now is almost certainly less, it is no longer recorded on the budget sheets, so it is not subject to scrutiny. Such a lack of transparency is, as we shall see, nothing new.  Read on for an anger-inducing, yet interesting tale of greed and avarice.

How is money given to the ruling family? 

Traditionally, the Ruler and the ruling family of Bahrain were given money through payment to the civil list. This was a British-led reform that was designed to concentrate authority in the British-installed Shaykh Hamad. By making Shaykh Hamad the sole authority for distributing money (patronage) to members of his family, the British hoped this would incentivise good  behaviour. In his speech to a Majlis convened to announce Shaikh Hamad’s accession asthe Ruler of Bahrain, Political Resident S.G. Knox warned that those [Khalifas] who did not work in supporting Hamad would live on a

‘bare pittance for subsistence’, and those those who committed mischief would be ‘cut off absolutely and punished accordingly’.
This had notable impacts in the future. In 1929, for example, the Amir did not want to reduce Shaykh ʿAbd Allah’s payment from the civil list for fear he would cause trouble. The effectiveness of the Civil List in co-opting the Al Khalifa was evidenced in 1959, when in a private meeting with British official H.C.G. Lian, Khalifa bin Muhammad said that none of the Al Khalifa dared put a foot wrong because the Ruler
‘held the purse strings and could cut off an allowance when he pleased’.
This practice continued until then end of 1949, after which the ruler distributed money from his own allocation called the privy purse. Upon receiving its first oil royalties in 1935, the Bahrain government set up a system of administration as follows;

The oil royalty would be divided into third, one third going to the Privy Purse of the Ruler, on third to non-recurrent capital expenditure and the remaining third to be invested. (Annual Report, 1955, pg 4)

The amount of money received directly by the Ruler was dependent on how good the deal was between the Bahrain government and the Bahrain Petroleum Company (BAPCO). The better the revenue sharing between the company and the government, the better it was for the both the people and the ruling family. It is also worth noting that Charles Belgrave (Political Adviser to the Sheikh)  imposed a limit of 500,000 rupees on the Civil List back in 1930, though this became meaningless when the ruling family started receiving oil royalties.

In 1952 a new 50-50 oil deal was struck, and the government was to receive ’50 percent of the profits of Bahraini oil and duty on oil imported from Saudi Arabia through the pipeline.’ (Annual Report, 1956, pg 106). This increase stemmed from the fact neighboring countries such as Qatar were getting similar 50-50 deals.  However, due to the fact that Bahrain’s oil reserves were relatively limited, a new deal was struck in 1955. This guaranteed that the state (and the Ruler) would continue to get significant revenue from oil even when Bahrain’s own reserves were depleted .  In this new agreement, the government would receive 50 percent of the profits of any oil refined in Bahrain. In all cases, the ruler would personally receive 1/3rd of all the oil revenue accrued to the government. It is hard to determine to what extent the Ruler’s desire for more income motivated his decision to push for a better deal, though Shiekh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa (Bahrain’s ruler from 1942 – 1961) was keen to double production in 1952.

On December 26 the Ruler had a further long conversation with company officials, in which he began by saying that if they did not drill a test well in additional area (i.e. in the sea bed) within one, or at the most two, months he would take this area away from them including the area in dispute with Saudi Arabia. He also said they must double production in the main island. (Telegram no. 1062 to foreign Office, 1953)

The fact the Ruling Family were receiving a third of oil royalties meant they had a vested interest in extracting as much oil as possible, even though this was bad for the wells.

After decades of receiving exorbitant yet varying amounts of income, the 1973 constitution contained an article that sought to define the amount received by the Ruler. It states

 The Amir shall have an annual privy purse to be determined by a special Amiri decree. The privy purse may not be revised throughout the reign of the Amir, and shall thereafter be fixed by the law.

If one looks at the state budgets from 1974 onwards, it appears that this sum was fixed at 6 million Bahraini Dinars (BD) per annum. Given the massive increase in oil prices following 1973, the figured given to the privy purse represented 5.8 % of Bahrain’s total oil revenue in 1974 (al-Kuwari, 1978). The budgets from 1975 onwards  seem to show that the Ruler continued to receive the aforementioned amount of BD 6 million  per annum (the constitution does not actually state that the Ruler should stop receiving oil royalties, though one assumes this is the spirit of the article). Ironically, it appears that the figure of BD 6 million  per annum actually increased after the reforms of 2001.  As I said in my previous post

Ebrahim Sharif also noted that the amount allocated for the Civil List in 2001 was 8.5 million dinars, which represented an increase of 2.5 million from 6 million . This increased in 2002 to 9 million. On 2003, the amount allocated to those on the Civil List was no longer included on the annual financial report, which meant that Bahrain’s elected MP’s, whose responsibility it is to scrutinize the budget, can no longer scrutinize the amount of money given to royals.

Where did the money go? 

Despite the scandalous amounts of money going to the Ruling Family, there were even more nefarious developments towards the end of the 1950s. After going through the annual reports I noticed a change in how allocations for the privy purse were recorded.  I also discovered that  Ali Al Khalifa Al Kuwari (now a professor economics at the University of Qatar) discovered something similar in a study he carried out 1978. We have slightly different dates though. Al Kuwari (1978) writes

the government budgets after 1959 no longer show all revenue received by the state or its allocations. The budget, in fact, shows only two-thirds of the state’s oil revenue, while the remaining third is reserved for the ruler and allocated to him directly before budgeting

Although al-Kuwari says this practice occurred after 1959, there is a budget for 1962 that does mention the allocation to the privy purse. However, instead of listing one third of oil revenue to privy purse under ‘expenditure’, it simply states Oil Receipts: Less on third to the Privy Purse under ‘revenue’. The inconsistencies in recording the accounts between 1959 and 1962 can be seen in the following accounts.

Put simply, betwen 1962 and 1970, the government accounts do not list the amount of oil royalties going to the Ruler. The figure given for ‘Oil Receipts’ under ‘Revenue’ is actually two thirds of the total amount payable by oil companies to the State. There is little question about whether royalty payments stopped in 1962. According to a telegram sent from Shaikh Salman to the Chief Local Rep of BAPCO the royalty agreement was set to last until at least 1969, when it would presumably be subject to renewal.

By omitting the amounts paid to the privy purse, reading the financial reports is very misleading. For example, in his review of 1968 Head of Finance Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa writes;

Educational and health services accounted for the largest single items of recurrent expenditure during the financial year and together they amounted to almost half the total expenditure incurred.

In actual fact, the largest single item of recurrent expenditure that year was the amount given to the Ruling family. To put it in perspective, the payment to the privy purse in 1968 was BD 4,035,287. The amount allocated to education was BD 2,934,521. The ruling family therefore received almost twice the second highest item of recurrent expenditure. Check out the financial statement below.

Despite Charles Belgrave’s fairly frequent attempts to limit the amount of money given to the ruling family, he seemed to capitulate in 1933

…I should be failing in my duty if I did not take this opportunity of stating that it is my considered opinion that the finances of Bahrain will never be on a satisfactory footing unless the Civil List is made to correspond, to a certain extent, to the actual revenue, increasing and decreasing according to the income of the State…the fluctuations of revenue have not proportionally affected the Civil List//I also wish to point out that it is impossible for me myself to persuade the Ruler and his relations to accept a further reduction. In a letter I wrote to the Political agent some years ago, I explained that owing to my position and work here it was extremely difficult for me to coerce H.E. Shaikh Hamad into agreeing to a course which he strongly disliked. To endeavour to do so would jeopardise my relations with him. (Annual report 1351, pg 7)

20 years later, the acting Political Agent of Bahrain J.E.R. Little echoed, somewhat dryly, Belgrave’s sentiments.

In 1955 it is expected that payments to the Privy Purse will amount to Rs. 13,400,00 or roughly 1 million sterling. Inevitably the payment of such sums to the Ruling Family will continue to be the subject of criticism locally, and it is no doubt due to his awareness of this fact that 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.

Given the disturbances of 1956, it was perhaps prudent of the Ruler to donate some of his ‘personal’ wealth to public protection. It is also ironic that the Ruler is ‘donating’ the nation’s wealth back to the country.

The Abu Safah Question 

Under a treaty agreed with Saudi Arabia in 1958, Bahrain currently takes half the net revenue from the sale of oil from the Abu Safah Field. Most sources seem to state that this agreement was concluded in 1972, though apparently production started in 1966. Furthermore, an agreement between the governments of Saudi and Bahrain regarding ‘matters of policy  connected with the field was was made in 1965’ (Shaikh Khalifah bin Sulman, Annual Report 1965, pg 3). According to Al Kuwari (1978), oil revenues from Abu Safa were allocated to the Ruler of Bahrain’s Privy Purse between 1966 and 1972.  He makes this assumption based on on the following reasons

1) Since the government of Bahrain’s budgets, especially thsoe of 1966-1970, met their deficits by drawing from the reserve fund, it is difficult to beleive that all the revenue coming from the Abu Safah field was allocated to the reserve.

2) During the period 1960-1970, although the government of Bahrain’s annual reports (statement of revenue and expenditure) gave all the information affecting the reserve fund account (for example the setting up of a special account in 1960, the loss resulting from the sterling devaluation in 1967, and all withdrawals fromt his acocunt to meet the budget deficits), nothign at all is mentioned about the BAhrains tate’s half share of the Abu Safah Oil revenue.

3) All attempt sot get an explanation of this matter from officials in Bahrain have failed, in spite of their valuable help in providing other information. Since 1966, the government of Bahrain Annual Reports and all the official publications, as far as i known, seem to ignore the Abu Safah field before 1974.

4) All oil revenues received by the state and not appearing in the budget were allocated to the privy purse of the ruler. Therefore, on the basis of this assumption, the state oil revenue and the actual budgets, allows a reassessment of Bahrain’s public revenue and expenditure in a form which will enable an examination of the allocation of the Bahrain state oil revenue.

If al-Kuwari is correct, then this represents a significant scandal in Bahrain’s history. It would certainly not be an implausible occurrence. Given that no officials were able to give satisfactory explanations, it seems unlikely that the 1972 agreement was a retroactive one, and that moneys received in 1974  (the year revenues from Abu Safah first appeared in the state budget) included profits that had accrued between and 1966 and 1972. If anyone knows more, please enlighten me. (Although I don’t have access to the 1974 budget, the 1975 one can be viewed here). If funds from Abu Safah were going to the privy purse, the money involved would probably be huge. In 1975, Abu Safah was generating BD 50 million for the Bahrain government, only about BD 10 million less than was being generated by BAPCO.

So how much do the ruling family get?

Between the years of 1926 and 1970, the Ruling Family of Bahrain have accrued a huge amount of wealth.  The following tables illustrates some interesting statistics, not least that the ruling family were allocated about a quarter of all revenue between the years of 1925 and 1970. Between the years of 1925 and 1937, the Ruling Family received about half of Bahrain’s total revenue. If that’s not daylight robbery, than I’m not sure what is. There are also some graphs for added pizzazz. ( Figures from 1965 – 1970 are written in Bahraini Dinars, whereas those between 1925 – 1964 are written in Rupees)

Concluding remarks 

Although some questions still remained unanswered (such as why were privy purse payments removed from the budget, and what happened at Abu Safah?) what is clear is this – one family has accrued about a quarter of Bahrain’s revenue between 1925 and 1970. This percentage decreased significantly between 1974 and 2001, after the privy purse allocation was reduced to BD 6 million  per annum.  It is also important to bear in mind that those in the ruling family still receive money from the privy purse in addition to monies received from their normal jobs. This was something Belgrave noted in 1928

this amount (Civil List) does not include salaries which are paid to various Shaikhs, in addition to their allowances, who occupy positions in the govt such as Magistrates, Presidents of Courts, Amirs Etc. These payments are included under other headings, Protection, Judicial etc. (pg 76)

In addition to this, the wealth that has accrued to the Al Khalifa family over the years has allowed them to secure lucrative land deals, property investments  and monopolies. The legacy of their privilege moves beyond an annual stipend, and one can only imagine the extent of the personal fortunes enjoyed by many members of the family. Thus 25% is probably a conservative estimate.

It is also interesting to note how history repeats itself. See the following chronology

Anyway, my closing thought is simple. Ebrahim Sharif – a man who has continually highlighted this greed and corruption – currently languishes in jail on bogus charges.  On the other hand, some people glorify a ruling elite who have been bleeding the country dry for centuries.

*Update: When I posted this yesterday I stated that the Al Khalifas had taken a third, and not a quarter of the nation’s wealth. My error was perhaps understandable, as I was calculating percentages from 1959 -1960 using the revenue figure that did not include the extra third missing off the oil receipts. I was therefore using a much lower figure for the revenue than I should have been using.

Notes.

1) Prior to 1955, the government accounts were produced according to the Hijry calendar.

2) I am not an economist, financier or accountant, but I think the methodology here is fairly sound. I used the same one adopted by Charles Belgrave when he was tallying up what percent of total annual revenue went to the Al Khalifas. After cross checking my results with his, we arrived at the same figures in all cases except for 1345. The reason being Belgrave used different figures for the total amount of annual revenue. There were two sets of figures for 1345, and I chose to use the most recent ones. It is also important to note that I used the summary of revenue and expenditure, as opposed to the budget. This gives a more accurate of picture of what was spent and received. The only exception is 1962, where there was no statement of revenue and expenditure, only a budget.

An Illusion of Friendship Shattered

by an Anonymous Bahraini

I have Bahraini and British blood, and have lived in both countries and I love both of them. Since I was a kid,  I was always finding in newspapers and magazines articles about how England is celebrating with the tiny island of Bahrain. At first I thought England took over Bahrain for years and years, and now realize that they made mistakes in the past but that they want a better future for the Kingdom.

Then came the Arab spring and most of us were happy, changes were coming and we were shouting for freedom. I thought the British government would  respond due to their strong relationship, but they decided to keep quiet at the start. I then found out not only that they were supporting the Bahraini government in all there bloody actions, but that they are also supporting Bahrain and Saudi forces with armored vehicles and some weapons including assault rifles, explosives, pistols, naval guns and sniper rifles. All this by signing a $66 million with Bahrain for military and dual-use exports !

Now this is an aspect of the relationship you won’t read about much in our newspapers.

After 2011, I Lost Everything

by Mike Diboll

Beachy Head, East Sussex, December 2012: the body would be smashed open as it hit the crags as it plummeted, white cliffs stained blood-red against the gunmetal sea and leaden sky. The pounding waves would merely flush away the mess. The phone rings:

‘It’s Richard from Time to Talk … How are you feeling today?’

Is this some kind of tracking app?, I wonder.

‘Where are you?’

‘Beachy Head … It’s okay, there’s someone with me, I’m just going for a walk ….’

Still the waves crash and flush: as with the Brighton express that cuts through Mid Sussex stations at full speed, ending this way would be to stop the pain, not a cry for help.

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The author, Mike Diboll, with his wife Miranda at Beachy Head, where the call took place

December 2008, Jidd Hafs Maternity Hospital, Bahrain. My daughter’s a day old. Just outside the hospital white-helmeted mercenary-police in riot gear confront a small group of shabaab in this most Baharna of neighbourhoods.

My wife asks for something from my 4X4, I leave the ward to fetch. Something’s wrong. My eyes, my throat, burn. An ecstasy of fumbling: a CS gas canister or two over the hospital’s perimeter wall. My mucus membranes choke off my throat, I stagger back to the ward. My daughter’s not in her cot.

‘Where is she?’

‘In an incubator ….’ The jidd hafsy nurse senses my panic. ‘We always put the babies there when the gas comes into the hospital … it’s just routine ….’

Two years, three months later I’ll see entire villages carpet-gassed, houses and shops invisible in a thick fog of CS.

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The author with his daughter

A Comparative Literature class, University of Bahrain, January 2009. We’re doing Irish stories of 1916. One of the brightest students makes connections between Ireland then, Bahrain now, and Britain. Walking out to my car a Man in White stops me.

‘Don’t listen to her. If you know what’s good for you, you won’t let her be disruptive again. She supports Khomeini, her whole family does. We’re watching them. I’d keep your distance.’

Bahrain Teachers College, October 2009: ‘Where’s Hussein?’ The student’s missed three classes.

‘Don’t worry where Hussein is’, the senior academic mercenary tells me, ‘he’s the authorities’ problem now, not ours. Make sure his name’s taken off the records.’

Bahrain Teachers College, 11th March 2011. I refuse to leave with the mercenary-educators. I must bear witness. I was in the middle of a class. At the height of the Bahrain Revolution: unarmed protestors have had their brains blown out. Students, predominantly female undergraduates, predominantly education, humanities and social sciences students, have begun a peaceful protest. Peaceful but assertive. They are attacked by baltajiyya: regime-loyalist vigilante gangs who seemed to have turned up on campus by pre-arrangement, police and military out of uniform, sectarian street gangs, jihadist fanatics, gym-bunnies anxious to flex their muscles. They brutalise the students. The male students try to form a protective ring. The thugs brandish swords, spears, clubs, chains. Heads split, blood spills. Students’ fathers, brothers, uncles turn up to rescue them form their ordeal. The ‘police’ arrive, riot guns, CS, baton rounds, birdshot. Then the military, helicopters, live fire. I run and hide … pools of congealing blood, scattered handbags and women’s shoes, wrecked vehicles. Higher education has been murdered in Bahrain. The counter-revolution has begun. Soon Saudi tanks will snuff out the occupations of public space. The villages will face a defensive rear-guard action against the juggernaut that wants to crush them. This will last years.

My last days in Bahrain: an automatic weapon poked in my face by jumpy teenage Saudi soldiers blocking the road along which I used to take my son to school; being stopped and questioned near my home by a pick-up truck full of loyalist thugs; the nauseating celebrations of ‘expat’ (British immigrant) former friends who now reject me; surveillance of my electronic communications.

I arrive in my native UK having lost everything. My children and partner having lost everything. Refugees in effect, apart from our crucial possession of a UK passport. I am broken, traumatised, I’ve lost savings, a job, a career, friends, a home. Aged seven as of 2016 my daughter is persona non-grata on account of her name.

‘We’re watching them.’

November 2012. Someone at Job Centre Plus has suggested – ordered – me to take a role as a Christmas Santa.

Iain Duncan Smith opines that the unemployed are unemployed because of the moral choices they have made. Tell me about it.

Hayhaat minnaa al-dhilla – not for us humiliation: death has started to seem a happier prospect.

In moments of anger I say that Bahrain has made me mad, made me suicidal. But this is unfair. Bahrain is dear to me, and Bahrain’s people.

The waves wash and flush away the human remains. But I have a plan. Later, in some ethnographic research, undertaken when I’m more well, but not cured, former students tell me of the psychological traumatisation that was a deliberate aspect of the counter-revolution. The Saudi-led and British-supported counter-revolution.

Bahrain didn’t make me mad, or even the nastly little quasi-colonial family-state regime that currently rules it. I’m tougher than that.

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The author, in Bahrain during ‘better days’

No, it was coming back to Britain that pushed me to the brink of that cliff, to the edge of that platform. I felt like a witness to a rape or a murder. I had to tell the world what I’d seen, felt. But the powers of this world denied it. It never happened. I wandered, going slowly crazy until, like the Ancient Mariner, I’d stop strangers and try to tell my tale: ‘Off, grey-haired loon!’

Britain sent me mad. The knowledge of the depth of Britain’s complicity with this protestor-shooting, child-gassing, student-disappearing regime.

Britain’s 200 years, not of ‘friendship, but of Colonialism and Oppression in Bahrain. The suffocating blanket tear-gas-fog of its PR machine. Britain’s Northern Ireland in the Middle East.

But, though wounded, I have survived.

Others have not.

The struggle continues.

Ourselves alone.

Samood!

The Assassination Attempt on Shaykh Hamad: A Very British Cover Up?

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.

A year working with a Bahraini news team

by Kirby Welcker

During my year abroad in London I worked with a Bahraini team at a news agency. It was the first time I had met someone from Bahrain and soon learned a lot about what is going on in their country. Even though I had read a lot about the Arab Spring- it was the first time I learned about scale of brutalities going on in Bahrain. I couldn’t believe that nobody was talking about these injustices, especially in the country I lived in that has such strong ties to it. It really says a lot about the biased foreign policy debate we are confronted with on a daily basis.

This fight between the people and the regime needs the attention it deserves. Too many people have sacrificed too much for rights that we here in Europe take for granted. I adore and respect the perseverance and dedication of the Bahraini people who I hope one day will have their voices heard.