Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A New U.S. Policy in Bahrain?

The following is an interesting and perceptive view posted today to the Gulf2K mailing list by Georgetown University's Jean-Francois Seznec, who agreed to let me post it here:
A few small facts and rumors may be pointing to a faint ray of hope at the end of a long tunnel in Bahrain.
  1. One of the Royal family members broke the rule of silence within the Al Khalifas in Bahrain and spoke to the Wall Street Journal of the rift in the family between the liberals and the “khawalites”. Although, there have been calls in the family to investigate to find out who this Sheikh may be, nothing has happened to this person, at least not yet. Furthermore, the more liberal Crown Prince has been promoted to Deputy PM.
  2. Sheikh Khalid bin Ali Al Khalifa, the Bahraini Minister of Justice was reported by the Kuwait News Agency to have announced a delay in the talks with the opposition on power sharing. The delay is certain, but the words “power sharing” are quite new and speak volumes ...
  3. At the same time, major changes have taken place in Saudi Arabia with Prince Muqrin bin AbdelAziz getting a major leg up to be the next in line after the very ill Prince Salman. Prince Muqrin is thought to be very close to King Abdullah and often seen to be quite liberal on social and economic issues. He is well educated and traveled.
  4. One observer mentioned on G2K and elsewhere that Prince Mita’eb bin Abdullah of Saudi Arabia sent his chief of staff to push the Bahraini leadership into accommodating some of the opposition’s demand.
  5. For the past few months there has been a mounting campaign in Washington by various NGOs, think tanks and within the diplomacy and the defense establishment to close the Navy base in Bahrain. The topic is hotly debated and arguments go from “the closure is impossible” to “it would be quite feasible”. Rightly or wrongly, it seems that the pro-closure arguments seem to be winning the day.
  6. It appears that the relationship between the US and the Bahraini authorities are at an all time low. There are credible rumors that the US Ambassador’s and the Navy base Admiral’s calls to the higher levels in Bahrain are not returned.
Taking all these facts together leads me to believe that the US has finally found a handle to influence the Bahraini Royal Family extremists, mentioned in the Wall Street Journal. This group, which has ruthlessly played the sectarian card, did manage to split the country and in a sense has made the majority of the population become highly susceptible to Iranian mingling. This may have been acceptable to the more conservative Saudis, but undoubtedly has gone against the previous policies of King Abdullah to make Islam in Saudi Arabia and in the Arab world inclusive of all sects and tendencies, where both Sunni’s and Shi’a can live in good intelligence.

The intervention in Bahrain by the Saudis and UAE took place at a time when King Abdullah was very ill. When he was not available to make policy in the early part of 2011, it seems that the Bahraini extremists made their case to the more conservative elements of the Saudi Royal family and won the day, getting the Saudis to make a strong gesture of support to the Al Khalifas in Bahrain and against any power sharing arrangement with the Shi’a opposition.

The facts/rumors mentioned above show that things might be changing. Most important, King Abdullah has been able to regain some strength. Many of his clear-cut decisions of the past few months show that he wants to establish his legacy on a strong footing. His push for including women in the Majlis asShura, the nomination of younger princes in position of power, and the naming of Prince Muqrin as Second Deputy PM are important. It seems, now, that he has put one of his sons in charge of the Bahrain policy, which could lead to an accommodation between the more reasonable elements of the Shi’a opposition in Bahrain and the more reasonable elements within the Al Khalifas, thereby shunting the "khawalites".

Also, the strong rumor of the US closing the large Navy base, which may be music to the ears of the Al Khalifa extremists, must be worrying the Saudis. It may be worth remembering that the base was not established in Bahrain to protect the Al Khalifas. It is there to defend Saudi Arabia. It was developed at the behest of the Saudis not the Bahrainis. Saudi Arabia cares greatly to have the base there as first line of defense against Iran. Should we close the base, transfer the command to the Qatar Air Base, the ships at sea and send a few thousand men/women back home, it will be perceived in the Gulf as weakening the Saudi defenses and the Saudi Royal Family.

Thus, it would appear that the Saudis must push the Al Khalifas to abandon their policy of squashing the Shi’a majority to protect their own parochial interest. The Saudis would be motivated by the desire to limit the appeal of Iran on the Arab Shi’a of Bahrain and by the need to ensure that the US base stays in Bahrain. One can surmise that Prince Muqrin, a popular prince in the Kingdom and a man highly respected for his intellect in the West, and Prince Mita’eb a younger but also respected royal may have decided to implement a policy of pushing their poor royal cousins in Manama to come up with solutions to the crisis that go beyond hiring expensive PR consultants in Washington.

Another way and more US centric view of the situation is that finally, the US may have found a handle on pushing for change in Bahrain. By truly and credibly looking into the base closing, Washington can influence the Saudis to impose a credible change in Bahrain without having to negotiate with the unreliable and ideological Bahraini royal extremists. Should this be the case and should it work, it would show that the US diplomacy is more sophisticated than often given credit for.
And my response:
A few notes on what is a very perceptive analysis by Jean-Francois Seznec.
  1. It is widely assumed (and, having spoken at length to the author of the WSJ piece, I think the assumption is warranted) that the "leak" behind the story on Al Khalifa factionalism came from the crown prince's court, perhaps even Sh. Salman himself. That nothing has happened to the offending party may thus owe to his (official, at least) seniority vis-a-vis those behind the rumored "internal investigations," presumably the royal court minister and others among the Khawalid. Some even see the crown prince's surprise appointment to the position of "first deputy" PM in this light, i.e. as a reaffirmation of his authority against potential challengers. Of course, this interpretation raises questions of its own.
  2. The oft-cited distinction between well-intended "liberals" such as King Hamad and his son and obstructionist "conservatives," especially as it relates to the Khawalid, is not so clear as it might seem. As I describe in a forthcoming (June) article in the Journal of Arabian Studies, not only has the rise to power of the Khawalid branch of the Al Khalifa occurred exclusively under the reign of King Hamad, probably as a maneuver against his more powerful uncle the prime minister, but the Khawalid--among whom are the royal court minister, the defense minister, and the justice minister charged now with overseeing the ongoing national dialogue--continue to represent the king's closest advisers and in the former two cases personal friends of many decades. Thus, notwithstanding the clear anti-Shi'a orientations of the Khawalid and their role in creating and prolonging the post-uprising crisis, the notion that Bahrain's otherwise moderate rulers are being held hostage by this conservative faction is more than a bit problematic and, as critics often point out, smells of "good cop, bad cop."
  3. Unless one has considerable faith in the coercive ability both of al-Wifaq and the Bahraini government, the question still remains how any potential deal will be sold to the large proportion of Shi'is and, importantly, Sunnis who would reject any political compromise, whether because it disgraces the memory of the martyrs or, alternatively, constitutes an appeasement of terrorists. One must recall here that, independent of possible support from conservatives in Saudi Arabia, much of the power of the Khawalid, and the main reason they have achieved a level of influence disproportionate to their seniority in the ruling family, lies in their ability to mobilize Sunni public opinion--via inflammatory media such as the hard-line daily Al-Watan and direct sponsorship of Sunni groups--against the Shi'a-dominated opposition qua ostensive Iranian-backed fifth column. These networks, and the extreme political views they continue to sow, will not be undone easily. [On this see Update below.]
  4. Even as U.S.-Bahraini relations appear strained as a result perhaps of American pressure for substantive political progress, the British continue to move in the opposite direction. What will be the net effect? 
In the end, of course, the pressure point must be Saudi Arabia rather than Bahrain, where Seznec rightly points out inward-looking Al Khalifa will be happy to do away not only with the Fifth Fleet but the Formula 1 race and every other institution that invites foreign scrutiny and "interference." So, as I am no expert on royal politics there, I will simply hope that the positive indications mentioned do indeed suggest a shift in Saudi policy born of self-interest.
Update: Perhaps in view of a percieved change in the U.S. stance on Bahrain, earlier this week Sawsan al-Sha'ir threatened in Al-Watan the emergence of an "al-Qa'ida" in Bahrain if the U.S. were to "attempt to enable radical Shi'a groups" such as the dastardly al-Wifaq. See point 3 of my response above.

Update 2: Speaking of U.S. policy on Bahrain, a friend notes this "international symposium" opening today in Bahrain featuring U.S. congressmen, British parliamentarians, John Bolton, John Bolton's mustache, and others. According to its website, the event "intends to examine institutional developments and political reforms in Bahrain. It will further examine the challenges of empowering diverse coalitions for democratic transition and stability in light of the geopolitics of the region." Translation: the symposium will explain why, due to the threat from Iran, Bahrain must balance reform with the need to avoid "empowering" non-"diverse coalitions" (sectarian groups) like the present Bahraini opposition.

Ostensibly sponsored by the University of Bahrain and the Bahrain-American Council, I am told the symposium is in fact but another project of the "think-tank" Derasat and its chairman Muhammad 'Abd al-Ghaffar.  Evidently my invitation was misplaced.

Update 3: This "article" in the Arab News should give you some flavor of the Bahrain International Symposium.

Monday, March 25, 2013

"Reformists" vs. "Conservatives": The Middle East's Good Cop, Bad Cop

The unusual public disclosure of royal factionalism and conflict in Bahrain witnessed a month ago in a front-page Wall Street Journal article has prompted a number of reactions and conspiracy theories.  Almost immediately, the ruling family was reported to have launched an "internal investigation" into the source of the "leak," focusing on the crown prince's court, the views expressed in the article most closely resembling the political positions and circumstances of Sh. Salman.

The court, on the other hand, not only denied any involvement but questioned the report itself.  One associate with whom I spoke said he doubted the WSJ reporter ever spoke to any senior royal at all and more likely fabricated the entire story.  (A quite unlikely possibility, as I've said before, having talked to the author at length.  He insists credibly that, far from intending to investigate the affairs of the Al Khalifa, he was in the country simply to cover the Manama Dialogue and was himself solicited by the "senior" figure(s) in question.)

Now, in the wake of Sh. Salman's appointment as "first deputy prime minister" on March 11, some are making the connection between this seemingly unprompted move and the WSJ article.  One line of argument, which I don't claim to understand completely, views the WSJ article as an exogenous catalyst leading to the crown prince's promotion, catching the ruling family by surprise and (for some reason) encouraging or necessitating the move.  (Perhaps to avoid the "internal investigation"? Again, I don't follow the thinking here.)

Another, more cogent version sees the WSJ article as preannouncing the appointment with a bit of Western-conceived and -directed PR, serving both to redefine Bahrain's underlying "problem"--not authoritarianism but a wily group of "conservatives" holding back the country's preferred moderate policies--and to signal that the ruling family is earnestly attempting to tackle it by promoting the cause of "reformists."  In first-person bullet point form:
  1. We, the Bahraini ruling family, are mostly "moderates" but have a few out-of-touch "conservatives"
  2. The conservatives now have "taken over" and are dictating policy
  3. If only we, the "moderates," could wrest power away from the "conservatives," things would be fine
  4. Just give us a bit more time to tackle the crazy conservatives!
  5. ???
  6. Profit!
Although the political convenience of such an argument is clear, and was duly pointed out upon publication of the WSJ article, still the present popularity of this "good cop, bad cop" routine did not strike me fully until I read in last week's New York Times an even better rendition by Jordan's King 'Abdullah.  (This is well in order as the Jordanian monarchy, especially the late King Husayn, has long served as an example to King Hamad.  It is widely supposed, for instance, that the idea for Bahrain's National Action Charter came from Jordan's own document/process of the same name.  Indeed, J.E. Peterson even suggests a link to the 2002 decision to transform Bahrain from an emirate into a kingdom. He writes, "Shaykh Hamad's example in these changes was King Husayn in Jordan and ... modelling himself as a king as well was the next logical step.")

In any case, not to be outdone by anonymous leaks from Crown Prince Salman, King 'Abdullah happily sat for an entire interview in which, as the article's headline notes, he "finds fault with everyone concerned," including most of his family.  First, though, he is introduced as just a simple, good-natured guy who wants to bring "British-style constitutional monarchy" to Jordan:
King Abdullah appears humbled and even fatigued by the many challenges he failed to foresee when he inherited the throne 14 years ago, describing himself before coronation as a “Forrest Gump” in the background of his father’s long reign. In contrast to his father, King Hussein, King Abdullah promises to move Jordan closer to a British-style constitutional monarchy, and thus to stay ahead of the Arab Spring wave.
But, alas!  King 'Abdullah can't act on his visionary platform for real democratic change on account of those damned "conservatives" in his own family and government:
“Members of my family don’t get it,” he said. “Look at some of my brothers. They believe that they’re princes, but my cousins are more princes than my brothers, and their in-laws are like — oh my God!” he continued.

“I’m always having to stop members of my family from putting lights on their guard cars,” he said. “I arrest members of my family and take their cars away from them and cut off their fuel rations and make them stop at traffic lights.” ...

He blamed his own government’s secret police for blocking his efforts at political reform. For example, he charged that the secret police had conspired with conservatives in the political elite to block his attempts to open up more representation in Parliament to Palestinians, who make up more than half of Jordan’s population. ...

The king was also frankly dismissive of the tribal leaders from the East Bank of the Jordan River who have traditionally formed his family’s base of support. “The old dinosaurs,” he called a group of East Bank tribal leaders, including a former prime minister, before a meeting with them in the town of Karak. “It’s all about, ‘I’ll vote for this guy because I am in his tribe,’ ” the king said of their political program. ...
Oh, those crazy "old dinosaurs!"--what with their trying to preserve an anachronistic form of political authority like tribal rule.  What will they think of next?: monarchical government based on reputed descent from the tribe of Bani Hashim?

That would be hilarious.

Returning back to Bahrain, we were afforded just yesterday another seeming example of the "good cop, bad cop" principle in action.  As described in this lengthy interview in The Independent, the president of Bahrain's main medical school, Tom Collins (no, not that Tom Collins) of the Medical University of Bahrain, made a dramatic public resignation yesterday following authorities' refusal to authorize a long-planned international conference on "medical ethics and dilemmas in situations of political discord or violence."  Certainly, the subject is a highly sensitive if highly appropriate one in the Bahrain context, so one could understand the government's reluctance to permit such an event.  But the interesting bit is that Collins says he received direct verbal backing from no less than the crown prince himself:
Professor Collins – whose resignation will take effect in June, just over half way through his tenureship of the medical university – said that he had met the Bahraini Crown Prince, Salman bin Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, in the company of an MSF [Doctors Without Borders] official. "He gave his verbal approval to myself and MSF," Professor Collins said. "This was in the late autumn of last year. He said: 'I want this conference to happen'. But the written permission never arrived."
And thus we arrive again at the only logical conclusion:
Bahrain's royal family is divided over how to respond to the majority Shia demand for more political power. Crown Prince Salman is a reformist – hence, presumably, his desire to hold the international conference on medical ethics – but others, under the influence of the Saudis, believe that no way should be opened to reform.
Now, the subject of hosting international medical conferences is not the most important issue facing Bahrain today; and it is eminently plausible that Crown Prince Salman did wish to host the event and was overruled by others in his family.  Yet one must see the problem here: so long as "conservative obstructionism" is a plausible excuse for the ultimate failure of any seemingly positive initiative in Bahrain (or elsewhere)--whether a discussion of medical ethics or, say, the ongoing national dialogue--then (1) partners in these initiatives can have but little faith in the true intentions and seriousness of their state collaborators or interlocutors; and (2) the larger project of substantive political reform is kept always just over the horizon as a long-term goal, with the more short-term imperative being the consolidation of "moderate" power and influence over against "conservative" opponents.

Importantly, this latter process is often understood as "necessitating" short-term illiberality in return (ostensibly) for long-term change.  "We would like to release the jailed opposition leaders," one might imagine Al Khalifa moderates explaining, "but that would only embolden the conservatives and their supporters in the population, setting back our larger cause of regaining moderate influence over the ruling family and society."  Or, circa 2002, "I, King Hamad, would really like to have a unicameral parliament with actual lawmaking powers--a genuine 'constitutional monarchy'--but entrenched conservatives like my uncle won't allow it, so if the opposition would just play along for a few decades until we moderates can get rid of him, that would be perfect." And so on.

The real question today, then, and one that must be on the mind of al-Wifaq and others in the opposition, is whether the same trick is in store for participants of the ongoing national dialogue.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Crown Prince Salman Appointed Managing First Deputy Prime Minister for Important and Serious Affairs

Not content with his current title of Field Marshal His Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Hamad bin 'Isa Al Khalifa, Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, Order of Shaikh ‘Isa bin Salman al-Khalifa Exceptional class, King Hamad Order of the Renaissance 1st class, the Order of Ahmad al-Fatih, the Order of Bahrain 1st class, Chancellor of the Exchequer, 1987 Manama High School State Volleyball Champion Runner-up, etc. etc.--not content with these mere trivialities, Bahrain yesterday announced Sh. Salman's appointment to the freshly-created position of First Deputy Prime Minister.  This brings to the nice round number of five Bahrain's prime ministers and/or deputy prime ministers.

Even if the timing was a surprise, a move of this sort was not entirely unforeseen in that it helps solve a number of short- and long-term problems both for Bahrain and for the crown prince specifically, most of them to do with inter-Al Khalifa politics.  In the first place, his elevation above the three current deputy prime ministers, none of which are particularly viable candidates to fill the eventual political void left by Khalifa bin Salman, suggests an answer to the thorny issue of succession surrounding the prime ministership.  Here I openly note the foresight of Emile Nakhleh, who anticipated precisely such an outcome some nine months ago in a lengthy e-mail conversation posted to this very blog.  He wrote,
I don’t think [current Deputy PM and long-time Foreign Minister Muhammad bin Mubarak] will be seriously considered for the PM position. I think the tension will be between Khalifa and his nephew Hamad. If Khalifa loses, which is a distinct possibility, I won't be surprised to see Hamad appoint his son the CP as the PM. Precedents of such an appointment are all around them in the neighboring emirates, including in Saudi Arabia. If such an appointment occurs, the Royal Court and the Military would be held in check. The King could also appoint Muhammad (presumably as an interim) to provide continuity and even gravitas. I imagine this path would ultimately lead to Salman taking over the PM slot, while of course remaining the CP. The familial old-age respect, which Hamad has accorded his uncle, would not necessarily extend to the Khawalids or other Khalifas, especially if they don't support the King.
Certainly, one can argue that the reports of the political death of Khalifa bin Salman, whose 43 years in the power have taught him a thing or two about inter-familial politics and coalition-building, are greatly exaggerated. Yet there is no denying that, at the very least, the crown prince has regained a decisive tool in his arsenal: a formal institutional role in politics with which to influence policy-making.

Since the post-uprising dismantling of the Economic Development Board, which once operated as a virtual shadow cabinet, Sh. Salman has been an executive without an institution.  Indeed, only recently I asked--not sarcastically--of one of his associates, "So, on a normal day, what does he actually DO?  Does he even have an office to GO to?"  Now, as first deputy primary minister, not only does he have a formal position in decision-making, but that position is overtly political rather than economic.  (Of course, his entire economic agenda was in a basic sense political, but we'll leave that for now.)  Leaving apart the question of Khalifa bin Salman's possible exit from politics, then, the CP's promotion solves the more short-term problem of how to transform the role of Al Khalifa moderates from outside observers/critics to political players in their own rite.  Having failed to erect a parallel cabinet, now the crown prince apparently will look to shape the work of the present one from within.

The appointment also has possible implications in the context of the ongoing dialogue process.  Namely, it may help clear up the hitherto vaguely-articulated issue of executive follow-up. As illustrated by the BICI report, the practical utility of such potentially transformative political initiatives is only as great as the government's will and/or ability to act upon their outcomes.  So, if or when Bahrain's political factions agree to substantive concessions, there must be some effective (and cooperative) institutional mechanisms through which to carry them out. 

Finally, it must be noted the possible connection of yesterday's announcement to another very interesting story from the past week, namely this piece in the Financial Times claiming that Saudi Arabia, in particular new Minister of Interior Muhammad bin Nayf, is now backing political compromise in Bahrain.  A rash observer might conclude that the Saudis have perhaps weakened in their support for the prime minister--even offered him up to the dialogue gods in (much belated) recognition that continued instability in Bahrain and further hardening of sectarian identity throughout the region is perhaps not in the country's long-term interests. (In this regard see the following results of a recent Zogby poll.  Notice anything odd?)

Here we must pause to give credit once again to Emile Nakhleh, who duly predicted such a possibility in the same conversation quoted above, saying,
Now that Nayef is gone, Khalifa has lost a major supporter within the Saudi powerful hierarchy. I don't think Salman ibn Abd al-Aziz (new CP) or Ali ibn Abd al-Aziz (new MoI [since replaced by Muhammad bin Nayf]) have the same ideological affinity toward Khalifa or are as invested in having Bahrain become another "province" of Saudi Arabia. Since they are not as viscerally opposed to reform domestically, and hence tend to be closer to King Abdallah's position, they might not be as opposed to some sort of reform in Bahrain. Perhaps this is wishful thinking. 
Bravo, Emile, on your wishful thinking.

Although the FT story is rather weak on details, the notion of an increased Saudi role in pushing a political settlement in Bahrain would seem to find some evidence also in public opinion.  Part of this, of course, is the upcoming two-year anniversary of the invasion/brotherly aid by the GCC Peninsula Shield force, for which the February 14th people are planning a mass burning of King 'Abdallah photos (and throwback 'Abdallah/Bush photos for good measure).

Opposition boards are full of new and old stories regarding the role of Saudi, including an extended October 2012 interview with Matar Matar published in the online magazine Elaph, in which he is quoted as saying among other things, "Our problem isn't with Saudi Arabia"; "the Peninsula Shield never used force"; and "we support union between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain."  A tweet by another prominent activist that "Saudi Arabia isn't our enemy and never will be" also has received a lot of attention.

More revealing, however, are comments by political society leaders to the effect that it is "unacceptable" for any Bahraini political party to meet with or "visit the Saudi regime in Riyadh," which implies of course that it is believed that some are planning to do so or already have done.  Reports of flirtations between Saudi Arabia and al-Wifaq date to early last year, and I have heard from more than one person that the Saudis even envisioned a trip to Riyadh for 'Ali Salman in which the latter would publicly kiss the hand of the king.  One can imagine the outcome of those negotiations.

But let us return again to the crown prince's promotion, for the best part--reactions--we have yet to see.  All perhaps are predictable, but some are less boring than others.  Al-Wifaq, for example, quickly issued a statement "welcom[ing]" the step "as a interim measure for a specified period" while "stress[ing] that the political reform it [al-Wifaq] demands is to make the post of prime minister subject to direct or indirect election, rather than appointed." Hardline opposition movements such as Al-Wafa', on the other hand, condemned both the appointment as well as al-Wifaq's welcoming of the "criminal" Sh. Salman.

Judging by the reaction on forums, most ordinary Shi'a greeted the news with a sort of comic disbelief born of conflict-weariness best revealed in the following thread subject: "The crown prince is the Dinosaur's deputy!!!"  Sunni forum-goers, if equally shocked, generally were far less cavalier, with many reiterating that the crown prince is still the deputy of--and ultimately subordinate to--his great uncle rather than the reverse.  (See, e.g., one, two, three, four.)

More interesting yet were the reactions of Bahrain's newspapers.  The royal court-backed Al-Watan went the (unusual for it) moderate route of stressing consensus and unity, featuring on its cover two pictures of the ruling troika, including a huge congratulatory ad to the prime minister and crown prince sponsored by the Foreign Minister.  (Less congratulatory and more apologia and nostalgia is the editorial by Hisham al-Zayani.)  The message: the prime minister welcomes the crown prince in his new position, and supports the king in his wise and forward-looking initiative. Its message is so positive, in fact, that the Bahrain News Agency has since issued a poorly-written statement singling out the newspaper's laudatory coverage of the decree:
Al-Watan daily newspaper has hailed [King Hamad decree] ... and described the resolution as epoch-making and by all measures welcomed by the Kingdom of Bahrain ... as a major step which comes at a precise time and [represents] a progressive vision towards a different future for Bahrain. 

Although even here we notice that Khalifa bin Salman's name appears first and in larger font, still Al-Watan's message clearly is more conciliatory than that of the two papers closely affiliated with the prime minister--Akhbar al-Khaleej and its English sister paper Gulf Daily News, whose covers we see below:

Conspicuous below the GDN's main headline is an ominous quotation from the prime minister, who "warned against attempts to make Bahrain 'a platform for political adventure' by dragging it into sedition and conflicts and undermining its security and stability." While this "political adventure" could also possibly refer to rumors that dialogue participants are discussing the issue of a popular referendum to approve political reforms (Al-Watan has a lengthier discussion of the PM's remarks here), it is difficult not to connect the two stories given the context.

Finally, then, we come to the front page of Akhbar al-Khaleej, which just so happens to be running a half-page advertisement featuring an imposing image of the prime minister. Imagine that.

Update: In an article whose conclusions I don't necessarily agree with, Simon Henderson offers some additional details regarding the rumored Saudi "involvement" in brokering Bahrain's fragile political truce, though he stops short of connecting this explicitly to the crown prince's appointment to first deputy PM. He writes,
Currently, Riyadh is pressuring both sides, urging the Bahraini royals to make concessions and the main Shiite opposition coalition ... to be reasonable in its demands. On March 8, the Financial Times reported that an unidentified "Saudi politician" ... had been in direct, informal contact with al-Wefaq. The official in question is believed to be an advisor to Prince Mitab bin Abdullah, one of the king's sons and commander of the Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG), whose paramilitary forces formed the bulk of the Saudi contingent that intervened in Bahrain in 2011.
He also links to this neat interactive Google map maintained by the U.S. Embassy in Bahrain that I had not seen before.  It shows the areas "off-limits" to staff, with details on protests, planned protests, police activity, and so on.

Update 2: Seeing my mention of our earlier conversation, Emile Nakhleh has written to pass along this (Arabic-language) interview with the Bahrain Mirror on the subject of the crown prince's appointment.  The A partial English transcript is:
I was mildly encouraged by two recent developments ...: the appointment of Crown Prince Salman as Principal Deputy Prime Minister; and the potential change in the Saudi position toward Bahrain. ...

I see Salman's appointment as a potential first step toward relieving Khalifa of his position as Prime Minister. If this is the case, King Hamad seems to have re-asserted his power position within the ruling family, especially toward the power grab by the Khawalids. Their recent anger at the Wall Street Journal article on rifts within the ruling family and demands that the King investigate where the leaks came from--presumably from the Crown Prince's office--seem to have been overtaken by Salman's appointment as Principal Deputy Prime Minister. For the sake of Bahrain, I hope this is a correct judgment.

On the second point, Muhammad bin Nayef (MBN), Saudi Arabia's Interior Minister, is more pragmatic than his father and values the Kingdom's relations with the West. Unlike his late father, MBN is less overtly ideological and, in the Saudi context, more liberal than his father. My meeting with him several years back before he became Interior Minister confirmed those qualities. I think he and some Western policymakers in London and Washington seem to believe that if Al-Khalifa rulers are to stay in power, they must begin to implement the five suggestions I made in my recent op-ed ("Obama and Bahrain: How to Save Al-Khalifa Rule").
Update 3: Another "the U.S. should threaten to remove the Fifth Fleet from Bahrain" story. And the quote of the day from a Human Rights Watch article describing a recent meeting with officials in Bahrain:
In late February, my colleagues and I visited Bahrain. At an Interior Ministry meeting attended by – among others – the former Miami police chief John Timoney, who is advising the government, the new police commander, Brig. Tariq Hassan, gave a power point presentation. He highlighted the establishment of an ombudsman office, and enhanced police training (while also touting Bahrain’s support for women’s right to vote and women in Parliament).