The Bahraini Prime Minister dies at the age of 84

Dubai, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Bahrain’s Emir Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, one of the world’s longest-serving prime ministers who led the island nation’s government for decades and survived the 2011 Arab Spring protests that demanded his ouster over corruption allegations, has passed away. Wednesday. He was 84 years old.

The state-run Bahrain News Agency announced his death, saying he was receiving treatment at the Mayo Clinic in the United States, without further details. Mayo Clinic did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Prince Khalifa’s power and wealth can be seen everywhere in this small country off the coast of Saudi Arabia that includes the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet. For decades, his official portrait hung on the walls alongside the country’s ruler. He had his own island where he met foreign dignitaries, with a marina and a garden with peacocks and deer roaming its grounds.

The emir represented an older style of Gulf leadership, a style of granting patronage and privileges to support the Sunni Al Khalifa family. This method was challenged in the 2011 protests by the island’s Shia majority and others, who demonstrated against him due to the long-standing corruption allegations surrounding his rule.

Although his machinations have been less powerful and weaker in recent years, his machinations still gain attention in the kingdom as a new generation is now vying for power.

“Khalifa bin Salman is like an old guard with more than just age and seniority,” said Christine Smith Diwan, a senior resident researcher at the Washington-based Arab Gulf States Institute. “It represented an ancient social understanding rooted in royal privilege and expressed through personal patronage.”

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The Bahraini Royal Court announced official mourning for a week, with the burial approaching after the return of his body. State television broadcast recitation of Quranic verses showing the black and white image of the prince.

Prince Khalifa was born in the Al Khalifa dynasty that ruled Bahrain for more than two centuries, an island in the Persian Gulf whose Arabic name means “Bahrain”. The son of the former ruler of Bahrain, Sheikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, who ruled from 1942 to 1961, the Emir learned to rule alongside his father as the island remained a British protectorate.

Prince Khalifa’s brother, Sheikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa, assumed power in 1961 and served as monarch when Bahrain gained independence from Britain in 1971. Under an informal arrangement, Sheikh Isa assumed island diplomacy and ceremonial duties while Prince Khalifa ran the government and Economy.

The years that followed saw Bahrain rapidly develop as it sought to bypass its dependence on dwindling oil reserves. Manama at that time was what Dubai in the United Arab Emirates became a regional center for money, services and tourism. The opening of the King Fahd Causeway in 1986 gave the island nation its first land link with its wealthy and powerful neighbor, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and it also provided a haven for Westerners in the kingdom who wanted to enjoy Bahrain’s nightclubs and alcohol-filled beaches.

But Prince Khalifa has seen his name increasingly implicated in corruption allegations, such as a major foreign corruption case against aluminum producer Alcoa over the use of a London-based middleman to facilitate bribes to Bahraini officials. Alcoa agreed to pay $ 384 million in fines to the United States government to settle the case in 2014.

Likewise, the U.S. Embassy in Manama had its doubts about Prince Khalifa.

“I think Sheikh Khalifa is not entirely negative,” wrote former US ambassador Ronald E. Newman in a 2004 cable released by WikiLeaks. “While certainly corrupt, he built a lot of modern Bahrain.”

These allegations of corruption sparked outrage, especially among Bahrain’s Shi’a majority, who to this day still complain of discrimination by the government. In February 2011, protesters inspired by Arab Spring demonstrations across the Middle East filled the streets and occupied the Pearl Roundabout in the capital Manama to demand political reforms and a greater influence in the country’s future.

While some called for a constitutional monarchy, others lobbied for the long-ruling Prime Minister and other members of the Sunni royal family to be completely removed, including King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.

At one point during the height of the unrest in March 2011, thousands of protesters surrounded the prime minister’s office as officials gathered at home, demanding Prince Khalifa step down over allegations of corruption and her earlier lethal crackdown on demonstrations. The demonstrators also resorted to waving a single Bahraini dinar due to allegations that Prince Khalifa bought the land on which the Bahrain Financial Harbor development is located for only one dinar.

Robert Gates, the former US Defense Secretary under President Barack Obama, wrote in his diary that he urged the king at the time to force Prince Khalifa to leave the premiership, describing him as “hated by almost everyone, especially the Shiites.”

Bahraini officials quickly crushed the protests, with support from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. A government-sponsored report on protests and subsequent repression described security forces beating detainees and forcing them to kiss pictures of King Hamad and Prince Khalifa.

Low-level unrest continued in the years that followed, as Shiite protesters frequently clashed with riot police. Militant Shiite groups, which the government of Bahrain claim are receiving support from Iran, have planted bombs that have killed and injured many members of the country’s security forces.

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But while other hard-line members of the Al Khalifa family actively pushed for a confrontation with the Shiites, Prince Khalifa maintained contacts with those the government opposes. Even as his influence waned, he contacted Qatar’s ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, in 2019 during the blessed month of Ramadan even though Bahrain is one of four Arab countries boycotting Doha in a political row.

“Khalifa bin Salman can work with both Sunnis and Shiites, especially through his relationships with the Bahraini business community,” Diwan said. He brought the same personal approach into relations with the other Gulf monarchs, and was really uncomfortable with the new policy of violent attacks on the Qatari leadership.

Despite this, Prince Khalifa’s influence slowly waned as he faced unexplained health problems. He was transferred to hospital in November 2015, but was released later. He also traveled to Southeast Asia to make medical appointments. In late November 2019, he traveled to Germany to receive unannounced medical treatments, and was there for several months.

In September, a US Air Force C-17 flight hospital flew from Germany to Rochester, Minnesota, followed by a Bahraini royal plane. While US and Bahraini officials refused to comment on the flights, it came after America offered the same care to the ruling Emir of Kuwait just before his death.

Prince Khalifa is married and has three children, sons Ali and Salman and his daughter Lulwa. Another son, Muhammad, had previously died.


Associated Press writers Adam Shrek and Isabel Debre contributed to this report.

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