The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Ed Husain ❤ Bahrain's monarchy

CFR's Ed Husain, still defending the indefensible in The Prince and the Ayatollah:

In Bahrain, I was a guest of the king’s son, Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, who, in the context of the country’s current political climate, is a liberal’s liberal. Educated in Washington and Cambridge, England, the 42-year-old prince spoke about Britain’s constitutional monarchy, the dire need for political reform in his country, and his yearning for a political settlement with the opposition.

I bet he's computer-savvy and really cares about the environment, too. Reminds me of what was written about Bashar al-Assad, Gamal Mubarak, and Seif al-Islam al-Qadhafi a decade ago.

He appeared genuinely contrite about the excesses of the government in Bahrain, but also convinced that the opposition has no vision of how to improve matters. “The path to hell is paved with good intentions,” he said. Constantly, he referred to the need for “evolution” rather than “revolution.”

That's real deep stuff. What a visionary statesman! And I notice Husain is no longer talking about the "opposition" in quotation marks. What gives? Have they become more real?

And I love this line — poor Khalifas! 

The opposition wants the prime minister to resign, but neither the king nor the crown prince can dare ask a family elder to depart in ignominy.

It's so unfair that they are being asked that their family members, who invited an outside power to help repress citizens, be held accountable. And of course this is entirely about family dynamics and has nothing to do with the strong backing of the PM by Saudi Arabia or anything.

He also doesn't want Bahrain to be under any diplomatic pressure for its abuses:

It is crucial that Western nations help the country achieve this balance, and that they not provide diplomatic cover for rioters and clerics in the name of human rights and democracy.

Instead, they should be using every pressure point to strengthen the reformist strands within the monarchy in support of political change, equal rights for women and an end to the language of Shiite sectarianism in Bahrain. Negotiations around the political table are the only way forward in Bahrain.

But that can't include asking — for instance — for the PM who oversaw the worse of the repression to step down, right, because it would be too embarassing at the Khalifa family dinners? The other irony here is that the Bahraini state press has been full of anti-US attacks, often timed when the Obama administration is applying pressure... for genuine negotiations. See this informative blog post for examples.

And this bit is most disingenuous:

The demands of the opposition for an end to discrimination in government jobs and for greater political freedoms are valid. But calls for greater human rights must not be selective. Last year the opposition blocked bills that gave women equality and freedom in Bahrain because the ayatollahs opposed it, while the monarchy and Sunni parties supported it.

So the idea is that Bahraini women should have equality but still be subject to late-night arrests, detention, torture, etc. 

The most insidious thing about Husain's writing on Bahrain is this faux act he does of pretending no one understands anything about the place, the regional setting in which the conflict is happening, and his insinuation that the attention on human rights abuses has created a warped view of the situation. Of course the world understands the situation: the US basically endorsed the Saudi intervention, it's hardly raised by the EU, David Cameron gave a great welcome to the crown prince a few months ago, etc. 

The argument for a negotiated outcome is a strong one given the reality that the Khalifas' supporters will not allow them to fall. But even accounting for radicals in the opposition and Iranian influence (which is disputed), the terms Husain presents are essentially that the opposition has to agree to the Khalifas' terms, while the latter should be under no obligation to to yield or be held accountable. Ed Husain is taking the Khalifas' spin hook, line and sinker — and most surprising of all this appears to be genuine naiveté on his part. The sad thing is, the Khalifas — try as they might — could not buy that kind of PR.

[Thanks, PM]

Update: See also this response by Gregg Carlstrom at the recently revived Majlis, which adresses Husain's shallow analysis of the Bahrain opposition — or should that be "opposition"?

Update 2: Paul Mutter also weighs in.