The fourth Nordic conference on Middle Eastern Studies:
The Middle East in globalizing world
Oslo, 13-16 August 1998

Contentious politics in Bahrain

From ethnic to national and vice versa

Abdulhadi Khalaf
University of Lund


Discovery of oil in Bahrain (1928-32) signalled a beginning of a new order that will gradually replace, but not eradicate, an older tribal order. [*] The latter was formed following 1783, when the Al-Khalifa clan and its allies from mainland Arabia, 'invaded' Bahrain. The 'conquest' was followed nine tumultuous decades before al-Khalifas were able to establish themselves as undisputed masters of the islands. [1]

In his History, al-Tajjer (1994) relates to the support given to the invading tribes by local Shia factions who were feuding with each other. Al-Khalifa clan was able to strengthen their grip over the conquered territory, particularly after 1870, through seizure of cultivated land and fisheries. These were distributed among different factions of the victorious alliance. The practice led, subsequently, to dividing the country into a network of small fiefdoms, moqata'at. Privileges and rights granted to each fief were extensive. Every such fief ' exercised his authority independently of the ruler... in his estate, which included several villages and hamlets and the cultivated land around them'. (Khuri, 1980:45). In his estate, a fief 'ruled as a sovereign. He collected taxes, claimed forced labor (sukhra), settled disputes, and defended the subjects of his estate against foreign intruders, even if these belonged to the ruling family itself'. (ibid. p.47). Other measures taken to maintain relative calm included co-optation of local Shia notables and appointing some of these as 'ministers' and tax collectors. [2]

The system of fiefdoms gave the 'conquest' two of its enduring consequences. First, it encouraged additional migration of al-Khalifa and other clans from mainland Arabia to settle in Bahrain. Some of these settlers have since left Bahrain voluntarily or by force. Other migrant clans including Sunnis from the Persian side of the gulf have replaced them. Ethnic backgrounds of these migrants, as well as circumstance of their settlement in Bahrain, contributed to making the 'conquest' a permanent one. Second, it contributed to defining distinct tribal, ethnic and confessional options of the regime, as well as defining its particular tributary character.

Through fiefdoms, al-Khalifas were able to retain nests of intermediaries, on both sides of the confessional divide. Continued prosperity of these intermediaries has been dependent on their continued loyalty and subordination. Fiefs did not themselves cultivate the land or attend fisheries. To administer their estates, they appointed Shia agents, wazir, to oversee the use of these lands and fisheries, collecting tributes, taxes and rents. ( Cf. Khuri 1980). These agents played a dual intermediary role: they were agents of 'exogenous' landlords; and, they were patrons of 'indigenous' peasants. In their latter role, they would intercede on behalf of 'their' peasants to 'their' fief to secure access to land for cultivation and water for irrigation. Vanquished local peasants were at the mercy of fiefs and their agents who have been free to use their labour and to impose various forms of taxes.

Although fiefdoms were abolished as a part of a series of reforms introduced by Britain (1914-32), folk tales, to this day, give vivid Shia peasants' accounts of their suffering at the hands of the al-Khalifa fiefs, their slaves, retainers and wazirs. Folk tales also tell, in so many revised versions, the meanings of being a vanquished. These tales are retrieved and reconstructed with appropriate dramatic elaboration, addition and deletion, and are used as instruments for ethnic mobilisation. Similar keen imagination has produced counter folk tales elaborating the heroics of the conquistadors and how they established their presence and rule. Ethnicity has been gradually entrenched as the dominant foundation for social organisation and contention although, obviously, ethnic divisions were not the only socially accepted criteria for social stratification in the country.

Within few decades after the 'conquest', Britain, the dominating power in the region at the time, recognised the al-Khalifa tribal order. On several occasions, Britain deployed its forces to quell internal clashes or ward off external foes of al-Khalifa. British support, particularly since 1869, will continue to be the major resource for the regime, for its protection, stability and prosperity. In similarity with many chiefs of other tribal orders in other parts of the Arabian side of the Gulf, the al-Khalifa signed, since the beginning of 19th century a series of agreements with Britain. These agreements recognised Pax Britannica on the one hand and the established tribal political formations, regimes, on the other.

However, unlike other the tribal regimes sanctioned by Britain, the al-Khalifa failed to assimilate within its subject population as did, for example, al-Sabah in Kuwait, al-Thani in Qatar and al-Qawassim in Ras al-Khaimah and Sharja. And, unlike these political formations, Bahrain did not develop into becoming a unified political entity nor did the Bahrainis develop into becoming a single people. Also, unlike other tribal political formations in the region, the al-Khalifas continue to jealously guard their identity/image as 'settlers-rulers'. However, their 'tribal' backgrounds and identity have not been static. To the dismay among their 'own pure bloods', and some of their 'anti-tribal' opponents, al-Khalifa tribal credentials have repeatedly been revised, with several additions and deletions, to suit vagaries of local and regional politics.

The 1783 conquest has become an occasion to commemorate in schoolbooks and official historical accounts. Conquest-related individuals and events will be celebrated in names given to public buildings and streets, in radio and television programmes, through poetry and song contests, as well as through official festivals and commemorations. In 1983, al-Khalifa celebrated the bi-centennial of the Conquest. All opposition groups condemned the highly bizarre commemorations, modelled after the USA bi-centennial, which were not joined by the Shia community. It has been an elaborate and extravagant affair that included festivals and academic symposia. Those ill-advised commemorations confirmed to many some of the worse charges against the ruling family. The most relevant of these, is the allegation that it continues to act as a conqueror that legitimates its rule by right of conquest.

I am aware that tribalism and tribal conquest are, obviously, not, in themselves, hinders to state building. Several examples from the region itself indicate that in spite of previous tribal feuds, tribal alliances and allegiances became possible and have actually encouraged moves towards state building. However, the al-Khalifa failure to assimilate within its subject population has lead them to consistently undermine every effort that could contribute to state- and nation building.

As settlers-conquerors, their rulership did not depend on the support, material, political or otherwise, of their subjects. As they relied on force to extract wealth, they continue to trumpet the fact that theirs is a rule based on right of conquest. This is another major difference between al-Khalifa's and other non-conquistador tribal regimes in the region. The al-Sabah ruling family in Kuwait, for example, has carved a different path for its relations with its subjects. Since it assumed its rulership position in 1752 and until the beginning of major oil production in 1946, the ruling family in Kuwait 'was dependent on large merchant families which offered financial and political support to the monarchy in return for a say in state affairs' (Hicks and al-Najjar, 1995). The situation in Bahrain was significantly different. Long before discovery of oil, merchants families of Bahrain, as well as tribal and communal notables have been dependant on the goodwill of al-Khalifa. On occasions, since mid- 1900, British direct military interventions were necessary for maintenance of these relations of dependency and to secure the very survival of the regime.

These distinct features of the relation between the ruling family and its subordinate intermediaries explain why it did not feel obliged to 'share' with them its political and financial fortunes nor did it seek to purchase political consent. Hicks and al-Najjar (1995) note that around mid-1950s, a deal was struck between the ruling family in Kuwait and the large merchant families. The elements of this deal are simple. 'In return for ceding to the ruling family effective control over key areas of state policy making, initially the merchants, and over time other Kuwaitis, received payment. The merchants were the beneficiaries of state spending on domestic development contracts, of laws which excluded foreign competition or obliged foreign contractors to take on Kuwaiti partners, and of an understanding which minimised the family's involvement in Kuwaiti business'. (pp.186-7)

In Bahrain, the situation remained essentially intact in spite of considerable improvement through a series of reforms introduced by Britain during 1914-32. Some of the most profound of these reforms during the first decade of this century were enforced in spite of an active, and on occasions, violent, opposition by several powerful groups in the country including factions of the ruling family, tribal forces, the clergy, and the notables and merchant families. In order to pave the way for these reforms, the British, for whom Bahrain was a mere protectorate, used some drastic measures usually reserved for colonies. In 1923, for example, they used force to replace the then ruler, Issa bin Ali, by his son. In the process, some tribes were evacuated back to mainland Arabia; some senior religious clerics were banished, and many prominent merchants and senior members of notable families were forcibly sent to exile.

Those highhanded colonial measures, and subsequent reforms, put the country on the path of a hitherto unfinished dual processes of nation- and state building. Promises of oil discoveries as well as apprehension of the geopolitical consequences of Saudi-Wahabbi ambitions and Iranian claims may have accelerated British endeavours to establish and consolidate a new political order. The task of building 'a stable and relatively modern' was undertaken by a number of colonial administrators. The last of these, Sir Charles Belgrave who held his position from 1926-57, actually called his creation , 'the New Regime'.

On the local levels, a major factor in encouraging British to introduce their reforms has been the chronic instability in Bahrain. A source of instability may be found in various forms of resistance. These included violent acts, by impoverished peasants and pearl divers, main victims of the excesses of al-Khalifa fiefs and their local agents. 'Everyday forms of resistance', we are reminded by James Scott (1986) involve a number of direct and indirect actions including sabotage, deceit, pilfering, slander, arson, passive footdragging and non-compliance. Typically, these everyday forms of resistance are isolated retaliatory actions, short-lived, limited and unsustainable. While such actions, rarely result in major change, they are important fomenters of change. Eckstein notes (1989:8) 'they can, on occasions, undermine the legitimacy, stability and productivity of the system to the point that power elites feel the need to institute some significant reforms. [3]

No less profound was the banning two forms of forced labour: slavery and debt-peonage. The ruling family and its allies on both sides of the communal divide fiercely resisted both of these reforms. In addition to eliminating some of vile basis of injustice, the vigorously enforced ban made labour free to fill the expanding new economic ventures opened in the wake of the discovery of oil. Destitute pearl divers, peasants and freed slaves found themselves, for different reasons, thrown out of their traditional occupations. The luckier ones among them, and the most able bodied, were recruited by the oil company or by other new business ventures.

The period also gave birth to several enduring developments that contributed in their own different ways to define the contours of contentious politics in Bahrain as well as issues contended and participants involved.

The first of these developments was the emergence rudimentary form of government administration. The British were concerned with laying the foundations of a local administration to cope primarily with elementary duties of state such as maintaining public order, collecting taxes, and allocating accrued oil revenues and customs duties. Expansion of the nascent local administrative structures, (loosely termed, for the moment, as government) made it compete with the oil company and its offshoots over the limited supply of literate and semi-literate labour. For a relatively long time, labour market became 'ethnically blind'. Former slaves, landless peasants and former pearl divers found themselves working more or less side by side. Partly to meet the special requirements of the two large employers, modern schools were opened. These schools, as decreed by the British advisor, were largely bi-communal in spite of strong protests by the ruling family as well as by influential Sunni and Shia clerics. Recruited teachers, from Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria, were free from local ethnic sensitivities, and were the undisputed guardians of communal-blindness of the nascent educational system.

The second enduring development is the introduction, by the British, of various administrative arrangements that allocated substantial financial resources to the Amir and, through him, to the ruling family. Most important of these is allocating one-third of oil revenues to the Privy Purse. Further, land registration laws stipulated that all unclaimed or non-registered lands became 'Amiri Lands'. [4] Al-Naqeeb (1990:103), describing the general pattern of oil impact on tribal regimes on the Arabian side of the Gulf, notes that while 'distribution of petroleum revenue entails the creation of state machinery and institutions to distribute it among the inhabitants in the form of government expenditures...the first step always was the consolidation of the ruling families and their transformation into political institutions which owned the state'.

The third development, is the emergence of a stratum of entrepreneurs, middlemen, bureaucrats, and professionals who were recruited by the oil industry and the government from among the pearl merchant and other notable families of the main towns, Manama and Muharraq. Within few years, sons (and, on very limited scale, daughters) of notables merchant families would fill most senior and middle rank positions in the government sector. Many of them have also studied abroad, mostly in Arab universities in Baghdad, Beirut, Cairo and Damascus. Besides all other influences they acquired from staying and visiting these Arab metropolises, Bahraini university graduates, soon in the thousands, will also be the conduits for Arab nationalist and leftist ideas and organisations. These ideas included condemnation of 'sectarianism' and other traditional threats to 'national unity'.

The fourth development is the emergence of the first of several initial cracks in the wall that separated the communities that inhabit the country. For the first time, since 1783 conquest, the poor sections of both communities were able to work to side by side. The relatively modern work places and conditions that have been introduced by the Oil Company and its offshoots offered what will prove to be the learning grounds for communally blind labour militancy. [5]

Recent history of contentious politics in Bahrain, as I perceive it, is an outcome of the socio-political processes that were set in motion by these developments. It is, in part, a history of ongoing, yet faltering, processes of de-ethnification and nation- and state building. For in spite of the manifest zigzag in this history, its main feature is equally manifest: a tension between ethnic-based and national-based mobilisation. (I am aware of my ambiguous use of both terms. By 'ethnic', in Bahraini context, I refer to community-based solidarities which mobilises kinship, tribal and/or religious backgrounds and affiliations. My use of the term 'national' is more problematic as it refers, in Bahraini context, to at least two layers of identities: the Bahraini and the Arab). It is, in other words, a tension between the socio-political forces defending the status quo (plus minus) and the socio-political forces championing what has been referred to as enlightenment (plus minus). In Bahrain, according to Khuri (1980:198) 'this enlightenment meant rejecting sectarian politics, opposing colonial rule and the tribally controlled regime, and championing the cause of labour classes'. At the risk of oversimplification, the forces of status quo (plus minus) included the ruling family, the notables and the clerical establishment, while the forces of enlightenment (plus minus) most of the nascent business community, civil servants and workers.

In the following, I intend to discuss the relation between the faltering process of enlightenment and the social forces involved. Few examples are taken from different phases of recent history of contentious politics in Bahrain. While my account neglects some of the finer historical details, that may be of interest in other contexts, it illustrates my assertion that contentious politics in Bahrain have oscillated between two strategic options, the ethnic and the national. As we shall see, both sets of strategies have been viewed as legitimate and effective means for formation of political identities and as means for political mobilisation. In Bahrain, these identities have taken different shapes and assumed varying levels of importance following changes in perception of political opportunities, and of strategic options.

Vertical segmentation of society

Al-Khalifa rule persevered, partly through British support, including several incidents of direct military intervention, and partly through a rigidly enforced system of vertical segmentation that has been gradually expanded and refined into an effective instrument of power and of legitimacy of power. With vertical segmentation, I refer to maintaining a division of society and social institutions into a number of vertical parallels that are separated from each other through, mainly political, sanctions.

Vertical segmentation, in Bahrain, is maintained through mobilisation of tribal, confessional, and ethnic myths, through appropriate parts of communal histories, through co-optation as well as through actual use of physical force. Top dogs within each vertical segment are strong enough to keep order within their sphere but not enough to prevent the regime from intervening, directly or indirectly, whenever need arises. On an extreme end of the segmented system one finds the ruling family itself and chiefs of some of its tribal Sunni allies, while on the other extreme one would find the impoverished local Shia peasants. Foreigners, presently making more than one-third of the population, continue to be outside the system. Paradoxically, foreigners who live as temporary residents with virtually no other right than right to work, play important roles enabling the regime to maintain its hold on society.

Obviously, vertical segmentation between Sunni and Shia communities is the weightiest, but not the only, form of the system. Other criteria for social stratification operate separately or alongside confessional affiliation. In particular, wealth, kinship, as well as tribal and rural-urban backgrounds will persist and contribute, whenever mobilised, to strengthening segmentation of the socio-political order. In his seminal work, on Iraq, Hanna Batatu (1978) describes a more complex situation of a regional metropolis. Here too one finds several hierarchies that were simultaneously at work: hierarchies of religion, of wealth, of sect, of ethnic groups, status, and of power. 'Of course' writes Batatu's, ' there was a great coincidence between all these hierarchies; that is, those who stood, say, at the top in the scale of power tended also to stand at the top with respect to wealth or in terms of religious, sectarian, ethnic, or status affiliation'.

Effective manipulations of existing hierarchies, sustaining a suitable level of vertical segmentation, and pre-empting opportunities for horizontal, cross-hierarchy, interaction provided al-Khalifa, with a strategic asset to maintain its rule and a local source to legitimate that rule. Long before it assumed its control of modern sources of rent and extraction of wealth, al-Khalifa were able to monopolise use of force in the territory, mediate among tribal and confessional hierarchies, and impose their segmented co-existence. Al-Khalifa monopoly of use of force was legitimated through founding of Pax Britannica in the Gulf since the early decades of 19th century. Local tribes that challenged al-Khalifa status were, on occasions, severely dealt with by British military might. Reliance on readily available external sources of legitimacy of rule persists to this day and may explain al-Khalifa uncompromising refusal to solicit additional internal sources of legitimacy of their rule.

In an answer to the question, how do these ruling families in the Gulf emirates govern?, al-Naqeeb (1990:105-7) suggests that they 'govern by means of unofficial corporations and by manipulating with the social forces under new division of labour'. In this sense, a corporation means 'the corporate social forces which are allowed to express themselves within the ruling establishment, through appointed or assigned head of tribes and families'. Because they are unofficial, there is no formal body to represent these corporate social forces, They are represented, however, in various institutions of the state: the government, municipal and other local councils, and, in the army and police.

By al-Naqeeb count, there are six of these unofficial corporations in addition to the ruling family itself. These are:

  1. The tribal establishment: the tribal shaykhs with whom the government deals at the local level.
  2. The merchants: the big merchants and the heads of mercantile families. Along with their ordinarily being represented by the chambers of commerce and industry.
  3. The sectarian establishment: the heads of the religious sects, such as the Shi'ah, the Ibadites, the Sunnis, and the Zaidis.
  4. The religious establishment: the leaders of the religious movements, the mutawi'ah [...] and others.
  5. The middle classes: in view of the prevention of professional organizations from having union offices, the government deals with these classes on a family basis.
  6. The workers in those countries where there are workers from among the citizens, and those who have union organisations. (p. 106 )
Even if one assumes that there is no implied uniformity and durability in such a 'Gulf and Peninsula'-specific corporative system, one faces several other problems. Some of these are related to the similarities and dissimilarities among political formations in the region. While sharing a number of common features, state-society relations in the countries of the region differ considerably from each other and over time. Notwithstanding how one defines 'corporations', or under what historical circumstances they appear, they have not operated independently of ruler, the ruling family or from other social, economic and political actors within society. And, they have not been able to survive without the consent, if the active support, of ruler and other actors. The career of the Ikhwan in Saudi Arabia is one several illustrations of this point.

In Bahrain, the ups and downs in the careers of a number of tribal allies who aided al-Khalifa conquest illustrate the volatility of tribal alliances and the transitory nature of the rewards they produce. [6] A study of development of al-Khalifa regime, its relations with society in general and with social forces that make up the internal sources of its power does not support the existence of 'corporations' either as unofficial or semi-official bodies. I will elaborate this further.

Let me first clarify the meaning of 'al-Khalifa regime' as used in this paper. It denotes a despotic form of rule that has gradually evolved in the aftermath of British-designed political and economic reforms in the first decades of this century. While the ruling family is the firm foundation of the regime and its ultimate power base, actual exercise of power is centralised within regime's own ruling core. From 1926 until 1957, the ruling core consisted of the Amir himself (and his British advisor, Sir Charles Belgrave). From 1959 to 1971, the ruling core consisted of a troika, the Amir and his two brothers. Fierce family squabbles were resolved by the forced retirement, in 1971, of the youngest brother in the troika.

Existence of the ruling core is acknowledged in official communiqués, and in Bahraini media, as 'the political leadership'. Students of Arab modern politics will recognise the expression as a familiar euphemism in many one-party states. Since 1971, 'the political leadership', the ruling core, in Bahrain is made of a troika: the Amir, his brother Khalifa Bin Salman, the prime minister; and his son Hamad bin Isa, the crown prince. There are speculations, which I need not go into, on the role of the crown prince within the current troika. From time to time, it appears, he is excluded from the ruling core.

Relations between, as it were, the rank and file of the al-Khalifa and its ruling core have been formally managed, since 1932, through the 'Family Council'. On the eve of 1973 parliamentary elections, the Amir issued a formal decree re-structuring 'al-Khalifa Family Council'. According to that decree, the Council has become a formal organ of the state with an executive secretariat and a full time administrative offices headed by an al-Khalifa, ' with a rank of a minister'. Members of the board of the 'al-Khalifa Family Council' are appointed by the Amir as recognised representatives of various kinship lines and factional alliances within the family. Within its formal meetings the council attends to internal family disputes, particularly those related to appropriation of land, sale of real estate and other properties. Regardless of their rank, members of the ruling family are not allowed to refer these or other disputes to ordinary law courts. Further, they are not allowed to enter into any major transaction, particularly in real estate, without prior approval of the Council.

Regime's stability and effective rule depend on mobilisation of what Stinchcomb calls (1968) 'a nesting of reserve sources of power'. These reserves, whether made of internal or external sources, have enabled it to subdue society through effective use of strategies of penetration, fragmentation and marginalisation. All significant activities within society must be endorsed by the regime. In this sense, al-Khalifa regime corresponds to 'an autonomous state elite' (Mann, 1986:114). Through external and internal sources the regime is able of combining what Mann has called the 'despotic power' of pre-modern states and the 'infrastructural power' of the modern state. Despotic power of the state elite is seen in the 'range of actions that it takes without routine, institutionalised negotiation groups in society'. While infrastructural power is seen as the 'capacity of the state actually to penetrate civil society and to implement logistically political decisions throughout the realm' (ibid. p.113).

Loyalty to the regime of divergent, and among themselves conflicting, forces have been maintained through an elaborate segmented system of intermediary patrons. On the top of the segmented pyramid of patrons stands the Amir himself, as a supreme patron. As noted, he owes his position to several British-devised schemes including the allocation of one-third of oil revenues to the Privy Purse. Land registration ordinances of the 1920s, another British-devised reform, transformed all non-registered and non-claimed lands into 'Amiri Lands'. Some of these unclaimed real estates were transferred as awkaf property to the Council of the ruling family. Oil revenues, rents, real estate as well as other investments, make it possible to allocate a monthly stipend for each of 2500-3000 members of the ruling family according to an elaborate classification.

In his dual role as the head of a tribal hierarchy and as the head of a regime, the Amir together with other members of the ruling core, hold considerable powers over the remaining two-thirds oil revenues and over other public resources. The ruling core has an unrestricted discretion that can enhance or weaken the influence enjoyed by intermediary patrons. From these resources, it disburses gratuities and favours in form of employment, cash, and plots of land. Official media, particularly after the dissolution of parliament, refers to every new project be it a huge infra structural project or a visit to a school, as an Amiri gratuity, makrama. More recently, the list of Amiri gratuities also included the symbolic release of political detainees. While an intervention by an intermediary is required for some of these gratuities, many other categories of gratuities not require such an intervention. With and without the help of various intermediary patrons, the ruling core has been able to exercise the art of 'negatively privileging' and 'positively privileging' his subjects.

Strategies adopted by the regime strongly discouraged the development of collective bodies that, by virtue of composition or history can make its own claims on the regime. An extreme form of these claims may be aspiring to share political power with the ruling core. It has been repeatedly established that the regime prefers to deal with society through selected intermediaries, but only on temporary basis. An intermediary may be an individual or a collective, modern, or traditional. On occasions members of the ruling family itself assume intermediary roles. At various moments, a current list of acceptable intermediaries may include a notable person, a clan, a family, a network of professionals, a social club, and so on. A common basic feature of these intermediaries is that each of them acknowledges its own subordination to the regime. Even when approved as an intermediary, none is granted the exclusive right to represent the segment of population on whose behalf it seeks to mediate. The ruling core has consistently and decisively prevented the evolution of any of these intermediaries as a permanent and formal arrangement whether a collective or a corporation. Moreover, it has also consistently and decisively pre-empted any co-operation across vertical confines among these intermediaries.

Intermediaries have been, and still are, important component of the regime as they make up the major part of its internal reserve sources of power. As reserve sources, they are retained in such a fashion as to be available whenever the regime feels the need of support to overcome an opposition or pre-empt its growth. Intermediaries are consistently prevented from becoming power centres themselves. They are consistently also discouraged from making claims on the regime as collectives. They are encouraged to intercede on behalf of individuals who, within conditions segmented plurality, are counted as their clients. On their part, individuals are encouraged not to depend on a single intermediary but rather seek the mediation of different intermediaries on different issues. This goes some considerable distance beyond the usual system of rotation where a regime routinely and rotatively selects patrons from among its subordinate social elites.

Sustaining vertical segmentation of society has proven itself a useful form of social organisation and, hitherto, an effective vehicle for rule. As shown during the oil-boom years, the regime has effectively used the resources at its disposal to create new intermediaries, retire some old ones and revive others. Intermediaries are made up, vertically, of tribal, religious, confessional groups as well as according to wealth, kinship or residential areas. As local reserve sources for legitimacy of power, competing intermediaries reinforce the regime policies, including preserving segmentation of society. Individually these intermediaries have always been exchangeable, and, at times, even dispensable. As an institution, however, they provide a certain limitation on the exercise of power. It does so not as much because of its own strength but rather, to paraphrase Stinchcomb, because the exercise of power is dependent on its being backed up. Even an appearance of being backed up by a relevant source of power, serves the regime through encouraging other, external as well as internal, sources of power to provide their own backing and support.

In spite of the generally acknowledged value of intermediaries as a source of power and of legitimacy of power, their influence on the actual exercise of power is marginal. A powerful internal security apparatus has provided a more direct sustenance to the regime. Moreover, recent developments indicate that the regime will continue to maintain political marginality of its intermediaries and to continue its heavy reliance on external sources.

Since 1869, 'special relations' with Britain provided the regime with a decisive source of legitimacy. Britain's motives to what seems to be a wholehearted support al-Khalifa may be have been its apprehension of the geopolitical consequences of Saudi ambitions, Iranian claims, and, later, as part of its region-wide actions to restrain the growth of Arab national liberation movement. As an external source of power, Britain warded off external threats and helped the regime suppress its internal opposition. For more than a century, but especially since discovery of oil, British might, including military force, was ready at hand to rescue al-Khalifa from attacks its opponents whether these were tribal, confessional, or nationalists.

Pre-eminence of external sources of legitimacy of power, over internal ones, persisted even after Bahrain gained its independence and ended the treaty of 'special relations' with Britain in 1971. Gradually, Britain role was taken over by USA whose Fifth Fleet's HQs is located in Bahrain. Additional external reserve sources of power and of legitimacy of power are provided by sister regimes, members of the Gulf Co-operation Council.

With its solid and relatively intact ruling core, and with its internal and external sources of power readily available, the regime has been able of sustaining vertical segmentation of society as well as being able of sustaining its own survival. It has also been able of effectively retaining its monopoly of political and economic powers, and to guard its multiple roles as a lawmaker and law enforcer, a referee as well as being a party and claimant of rights.

An unfinished business (I)

The earliest serious and still enduring challenge to ethnic politics in Bahrain emerged through the National Union Committee, NUC. The Committee was formed in 1954 after a series of inter-communal disturbances that claimed casualties on sides of the communal divide. Young nationalist men who mobilised against 'evils of the status quo' formed the committee. They saw sectarianism' as the main obstacles in the struggle for a better life. Like their peers in other parts of the Arab region, Bahraini nationalist considered national unity of all Bahrainis as the first requirement for their liberation and as a step towards liberation of the Arab nation. The enlightenment project, to paraphrase Khuri (1980), was based on mobilising 'national' forces to challenge an alliance of forces defending the status quo. Their attacks were directed on the broad front of forces that maintained sectarian politics, colonial rule and the tribally controlled regime.

The NUC utilised the press and the, then existing, social networks to mobilise the public around a nationalist political platform. Its first communiqué outlined its demands to include an elected legislative assembly; modern penal code and civil law; reform of the judiciary; a constitutional court; and the legalisation of labour unions and professional associations. (For full text see al-Baker 1960). Moreover, NUC mobilisation for 'national unity, against colonialism and local reactionary allies' fitted the spirit of the time of most of Arab region. In many respects, NUC mobilisation strategies benefited from the atmosphere of revolutionary optimism that wrapped the whole Arab region from Morocco to Oman. A revolutionary optimism that was confirmed daily by news of successes against colonial domination in other Arab countries including Egypt, whose radio stations were tirelessly transmitting revolutionary messages. Within its first few months, the NUC was transformed into, what appeared to be, a formidable force capable of challenging the British and the ruling family and its local allies on both sides of the communal divide.

In spite of the highly ceremonial presence of one senior Shia clergy in its steering committee, the NUC failed to mobilise the clergy on both sides of the communal divide. The organisation, however, challenged Shia and Sunni clerics exclusive control of their respective mosques and other religious spaces by appropriating these locales to hold its political meetings. Reflecting the spirit of the time, most of those meetings were pointedly anti-sectarian.

Refusal by Sunni as well as Shia clerics to take part in overt political confrontations with the regime have been and, to a large extent, still is, a prominent feature of local politics. In Bahrain, writes Khuri (1980) ' 'tribalism' as a form of social organization and religionism as a political force reinforce each other'. (p.241). In an attempt to split national consensus, the regime encouraged some Shia notables, merchants and religious leaders to form an exclusively Shia organisation. The National Convention Committee, NCC, was formed, in 1955, with two branches, one for Shia Arabs and one for Shia of Iranian descent. On orders issued by the NUC, people boycotted religious centres patronised by leaders of the breakaway organisations. To this day, four decade after those centres were pronounced as 'dens of treason' in 1955, those boycott orders are still respected

De-ethnification of contentious politics has been a major objective of the enlightenment project, such as perceived in mid-1950 by the NUC. It remains as one of its enduring legacies. NUC strategy of de-ethnification involved campaigns exposing sectarianism as a regressive phenomenon and as a moral degeneration, as well as being a divisive tool manipulated by British colonialism and its local allies. The strategy also involved presenting national and secular politics a viable project, to establish its legitimacy by linking it to currents of modernity and revolutionary optimism sweeping the rest of the Arab region.

While it was historically significant, the de-ethnification project has never acquired approval from social forces powerful enough to enforce it. For, although gradually gaining grounds, the emergent social forces advocating the enlightenment project remained predominantly among the underdogs. Resistance to de-ethnification came from all forces that benefited from the status quo. These would represent the 'evils of status quo' and 'enemies of the people': tribal rule, 'feudal' privileges, and religion-mongers. Fierce resistance came from the ruling family, the notables, and the clergy on both sides of the communal divide. Throughout the past five decades, those advocating non-sectarian political discourse have been discredited by any combination of charges that range from being promiscuous atheists who have no regard for the society's traditions and morals, to being duped (and/or paid) agents of an external power. Yet, Bahraini opposition remained since 1954, to use a cliché, dominated by nationalist and secular rhetoric. It embraced most tendencies of Arab nationalist and leftist movements during the past three decades.

As a movement, the NUC lasted for less than two years. Following riots in support of Egypt defending itself against the tripartite invasion of 1956, the British decided to put an end to the NUC challenge to their presence in Bahrain. The NUC and its offshoots were declared illegal. Its leaders were arrested, tried and imprisoned. Some fled the country while others were forcibly deported. The presence of British military units all over the country enforced the gravity of the situation and gave the people their first taste of a State of Emergency that will last for the next two decades. In spite of its short history, NUC left a legacy that persists to these days.

NUC 's success in mobilising the public has also introduced two significant organisational changes. These, in due time, would challenge the authority of the NUC and would subsequently outlive it. Political developments of 1953-56 brought about two historically significant innovations. The first is the formation of the General Trade Union, GTU, and the second is the emergence of a radical flank within the movement that NUC led.

The GTU massive membership attested to general mood of the period. Abdulrahman al-Baker, (1965:478-8) who served for some time as the General Secretary of the NUC, reports that the GTU was able to recruit 14000 Bahraini workers in its first three months. This is a major feat by all counts. The strength of the union was further tested during the election of representatives of workers to the tripartite commission entrusted to draw up the first 'Labour Code'. The NUC/GTU candidates won the elections, while their opponents, backed by the government, received only some 600 votes out of the 18,000 votes cast. (al-Baker, 1960). NUC leadership may have seen labour unionisation as just another instrument for national, anti-sectarian mobilisation. However, the seeds, as it were, of non-sectarian labour militancy have been sown and will become persistent features of contentious politics in the country during the coming decades.

NUC was equally successful in launching other bi-communal ventures. Following a strike by taxi drivers, the NUC initiated the establishment of Co-operative Compensation Fund, as co-operative insurance venture for and by taxi and buss drivers. The Fund helped break the monopoly of British insurance companies. Until it was dissolved three years ago, as part of a reportedly World Bank inspired re-structuring programme, the Fund was a major insurance company in the country.

Another historically significant development was the emergence a radical offshoot from within the NUC. This was made up of a number of underground cells of radical activists NUC, who saw the organisation as too timid in its tactics and not enough revolutionary in its goals. The emergence of the radical flank within the NUC may explain the urgency of formation of GTU (al-Falaki,1955). [7] It may also be due to the influence of Iraqi and Iranian militants who took refuge in Bahrain in the early 1950s. Most of these cadres came with extensive experiences in underground work in political and cultural environments that are more complex than the ones prevailing in Bahrain at the time. They were also political cadres experienced in underground struggle in harsher conditions than those prevailing in Bahrain at the time were. With considerable assistance from these refugees, small groups of local would-be communists and Arab nationalists formed their first underground cells under the shadow of the NUC. In the next two decades, these organisations have not only adopt Nub's agenda of enlightenment, but went farther on.

While suffering from several handicaps including being forced to work clandestinely, the emergent radical groups enjoyed some considerable advantages. To begin with, they were freed from having to follow NUC deference to 'ethnic etiquette' or strictly observing an ethnic balance in its composition and leadership. [8] They, also, have been able to start from the national consensus established by the NUC. Indeed, the enlightenment project of the 1950s was extended further to include issues that are more radical that NUC founders have envisaged. In time, these shifted under the influence of the expansive revolutionary visions of the Arab national liberation movement. Being underground also enabled these organisations to survive loss of cadres either as a result of political and police repression or because of social attrition.

The ranks of the underground were continuously rejuvenated through recruitment of young Bahrainis enrolled in universities abroad particularly in Arab countries and, since 1961, in the USSR and other socialist countries. Each year, hundreds of new young Bahraini students were being exposed to the new ideas and political debates that flowed in the Arab region. Branches of the National Union of Bahraini Student, NUBS, abroad, were led by Communists, Baathist, and Popular Front or by coalition of these. Bahraini students unions became an extension of the underground, and as such, adhered to its intentional and demonstrative irreverence to 'sectarian etiquette'. Conflicts and intrigues within these unions were not motivated by other reasons than keeping an ethnic balance. This may explain, albeit partly, why has the underground, of all shapes and colours, to extend its student activities to include students enrolled in religious universities, mainly al-Azhar and al-Najaf. Like their elders, students enrolled at these seminaries eluded all attempts of to drag them into non-sectarian, anti-colonial nationalist activities.

In Bahrain itself, sporadic riots continued throughout the next decade. However, the ban on political activity was not seriously and openly challenged until 1965. What has since been known as the ' intifadat Mars' was sparked by then the dismissal of hundreds of workers by the oil company. Underground cells of the National Liberation Front, NLF, and the Arab National Movement, ANM, [9] instituted themselves as leaders of the struggle against British rule and for a more equitable social order (Ali, 1980:46-7; al-Shihabi, 1996:266-76). The duration of 1965 'intifada' and its violent character underlined the widening gap between all major sections of the population on the one hand and the British and the ruling family on the other. Ability of the underground opposition to stage several labour and student strikes from March to June, confirmed its mobilisation skills, but also the depth spread of discontent in the country. Moreover, the opposition ability, on its own, to stage a countrywide general strike, re-affirmed its radical nationalist agenda.

Labour actions, particularly strike reached another peak in 1968 when they affected practically every major and medium size employer. However, the announcement in 1968 of the imminent British withdrawal from the region helped to maintain calm for sometime.

While short on dramatic elements, the three years period between Britain's announcement of its East of Suez strategy and the end of its special relations with Bahrain has been eventful. During 1968-71, the regime accelerated efforts to modernise its administrative apparatus to meet the impending tasks of statehood. One of significant efforts has been the formation of Bahrain Defence Force, BDF. It soon became apparent that this force will be charged with several duties in addition to defence of the realm. Besides its role in helping the police in maintaining law and order, the BDF helps maintain 'balance of forces' within the ruling family. It also provided the regime with an additional space to reward loyal allies with employment and status. Intermediary patrons, on both sides of the communal divide, made use of these new opportunities. [10]

Preparations for Britain's withdrawal included finding a resolution to Iran's claim to Bahrain. In the ensuing tense period of consultation, the ruling family became interested in maintaining the 'cohesive national character of the country and the people of Bahrain, to learn from the past in order to build a national future, above sectarian interests'. The ruling core made many undertakings and promises to representative of various groups and interests. In order to encourage them to oppose of Iranian claims, contradictory promises were generously given to all: from conservative Sunni and Shia cleric and notables, to leading intellectuals and known advocates of the 'enlightenment project' including former prominent members of the NUC.

A parallel development confirmed the conciliatory path that contentious politics in Bahrain seem to have taken. Britain encouraged its Gulf protectorates, including Bahrain, to establish a federation. Negotiations failed partly because of Bahraini delegates insisted on reaching an agreement that binds federal institutions to reflect the will of the people. Bahrain proposed a system of 'proportional representation' as the most suitable mechanism to make the voice of peoples of the federated-to-be sheikhdoms heard. Bahrain insisted also that such a proportional representation should be reached through direct elections. [11] After failing to convince its intended partners of these principles, or of its democratic intentions, Bahrain stayed out of the Gulf federation plans.

For a very short period in modern history of Bahrain, there was a national consensus. For the first time since 1783, there exist some reasonable foundations for such a consensus between the regime and its allies on the one hand and most of its opponents on the other. Repudiating Iranian claims to Bahrain, and infusing a 'people's role' in the federation plans showed an appreciation of the 'people' as a political asset. Both required credible level of national consensus.

In hindsight, it is apparent that the regime was pursuing two parallel strategies. First, a strategy for maintaining the status quo, while introducing reforms without threatening the privileges of any of its traditional beneficiaries; and, second, a strategy state- and nation-building on the general principles of enlightenment albeit through rigidly controlled political and economic changes. The two seemingly contradictory strategies reflected in part the inconclusive resolution of disagreement on the issue within the ruling family itself, between its own conservative and moderate factions. They may also have been reflections of different undertakings given to different constituencies while mobilising the people against Iranian claims.

Leaders of the NUC, living in exile since 1956, were allowed to return the country. Security measures were noticeably relaxed and the economy seems prospering. With grants from rulers of other Arab Gulf states, particularly Kuwait and Abu Dhabi, additional development projects, including major housing projects, were launched. Expanding government and public sectors created new jobs as well as opportunities for promotion. [12] The process allowed the ruling core to incorporate several additional intermediaries, thus confirming its position as a supreme patron while expanding its support base. On the other side, Shia clerical establishment obtained several concessions [13] including licensing the formation of 'charitable associations'. However, the friendliest section within the Shia clerical establishment received the most coveted prize, a license to publish a weekly magazine.

'The constitutional experiment'

On August 15, 1971, when Bahrain was declared independent, the future seemed promising. In view of official public statements, and the not so-public promises, many Bahrainis hoped that with independence the nationification project will be elevated from its contested space into becoming an issue of state. Except for some protestations from underground groups, declaration of independence was generally seen as a threshold to the realisation of the enlightenment project. There have been many indications that the regime was beginning to reconcile with its 'enlightened' adversaries, and particularly with regards to their visions of national integration and state building. The rest of NUC leadership still living in exile were allowed to return to the country and were publicly welcomed by the Amir and senior members of the ruling family. Although the British-composed national anthem and the British-designed flag survived the historic transformation to 'independence', other symbols of statehood were introduced with the appropriate fanfare. More to the point, the country's name acquired a prefix denoting its statehood. And Bahrainis, according to their new passports, were literally promoted from 'subjects' to 'citizens'.

The country seemed at the onset of a transition from an ethnically segmented formation to a nation. Such a transition would have entailed, according to Anthony D. Smith, (1996) setting in motion several related processes and movements. 'These include a movement of peripheral ethnic groups from their subordinated accommodation and passivity to an active, assertive participants in a politicised community; a universal recognition of the 'homeland', of the state which is consolidated through transforming ethnic members into legal citizens and conferring on each common civil, social and political rights and obligations; through economic integration all members of the homeland; as well as through e-educating them in national values, myths and memories'.

However, the regime seems to have decided to move in the opposite direction while maintaining an air of ambivalent search for a suitable course to take. As subsequent developments confirm, the regime and its allies actually believed that political integration and state building could be ventured without eradicating traditional solidarities and the patronage system. While such hopes may be attempts 'to escape from history', they may also be seen as strategic options based on the rationale that integration and state building could 'involve processes such as tutelage, incorporation, institutional manipulation, and co-option as well as reconciliation'. Nazih Ayoubi (1995:183) writes that '[m]any kinds of state-group relationships can exist within integration, which may be achieved not by surrendering traditional (kin or spatial) relationships, but in fact employing them. A tolerable level of communalism, 'segmented pluralism', clientalism and patronage, as well as 'populism' may all work as integrative devices'.

Euphoric expectations were frustrated by the inability of the ruling core to deliver more than additional promises and simple rhetoric. Barely nine months old as an independent state, the country was thrown into another 'intifadat mars'. The 1972 'March uprising' was the culmination of various actions organised by an alliance of underground groups who formed the Constitutive Committee of Bahraini Workers and Professionals Union, CCBWPU. Its demands included improvement of labour laws, freedom of associations, including legalisation of labour unions, and the release of political prisoners. In the spirit of its new post-independence image, the regime sought to negotiate. Following the collapse of negotiations, the CCBWPU organised several mass protests including strikes and demonstration. Swift actions by the police and anti-riot squads as well as the Bahrain Defence Force managed to brought the 'uprising' to an end. Most known leaders of the uprising were detained.

The regime emerged victorious. Yet, made several conciliatory undertakings that confirms its post-independence dual strategy. These included, a public undertaking to speed moves towards drafting the country's first constitution, which would guarantee the freedom of association. Within months, the regime actually took steps towards fulfilling these undertakings, and more. Looking into various details, and anecdotes, the ruling core reached during this short period its optimal levels in combining the despotic powers of pre-modern states and the 'infrastructural power' of the modern state.

A partially elected Constituent Assembly, of males only, debated and adopted a draft constitution. The 1973 constitution was a compromise. It appeased advocates of the two parallel strategies within the regime. A strategy that mobilises the regime's despotic powers for maintaining the status quo (plus some reforms), and another strategy that mobilises the regime's infrastructural power' and seeks to incorporate principles of enlightenment (minus some reforms).

In view of freedoms it guaranties and in terms of civil and human right it recognises, 1973 constitution is a remarkable document. (See: Articles 4-29). However, while the it guarantees rights and freedoms of citizens, it consistently constrains practice of rights with an undefined stipulation: 'in accordance with law'. This also explains the constitution's remarkable definition of citizen both male and female, thus granting equal rights. However, the conditional 'in accordance with law' granted the regime considerable powers of discretion which resulted in excluding women from participation in the nascent democratic experiment. Laws and regulations pertaining to election procedures redefined 'citizen' and restricted it to males, above 21 years old for voters and above 30 years old for candidates. Protests, including several organised protests by women organisations, did not shake up the anti-female consensus.

Important pillars of the regime, including the ruling family itself, have yet to make their final preferences known. Indeed, as Khuri notes (1983:342-3) the two most important actors on the side status quo, the ruling family and the Shia clerical establishment, did not directly and formally participate in the electoral politics. It may be, as Khuri suggests, that both considered their authority above politics. Both did not want to subject its authority to testing through election or, even, having this authority confirmed through elections. However, the ruling family and the clerical establishment have supported their own candidates. Several of these candidates received the combined support of the regime and clerics.

An additional reason for their rejection of electoral politics may lies in their understanding of implications of these politics. In a process of transition from ethnically segmented social order into a civic nation, the ruling family and clerical establishment stand to loose most. In addition to being the parties that benefit most from the status quo, their legitimacy rests, in part, on the durability of that system. Both have had serious causes to be concerned. At worse, they saw electoral politics as an initial part in a process of transformation of members of subordinated groups, ethnic and women, into legal citizens and conferring on each common civil, social and political rights and obligations. This may explain why the ruling family and the clerical establishment stood firmly against including women in the heavily restrained democratisation process.

During the ensuing election campaign for the National Assembly (parliament), various political forces took part, including communists and religionists. In some constituencies, the two competed fiercely against each other. While religionists had a clear advantage through use of their own weekly publication, all candidates made extensive use of religious meeting places as well as religious discourse. However, neither ethnicity nor piety was the prime electoral issue. Indeed, in spite of charges of atheism, godlessness and promiscuity, some leftist and independent candidates defeated religionist candidates. [14] Moreover, election results indicated another social demarcation whose significance would be underlined in the years to come. Leftists won in the urban areas while the religionists won in Shia rural areas. Independent (later to be known loosely as the 'centre') were elected by voters in both rural and urban areas, defeating some religionists and leftists respectively.

The 30 males elected to the National Assembly in 1973 represented 'all' different political trends prevailing in the country at the time. ( A cautionary note must be made here in view of the fact that women were excluded from participation in the election. In spite of their protest made by several women organisations, elections procedural laws defined 'citizen' eligible to vote as males over above 21 years of age). Post election euphoria confirmed the generally held belief that it was a major victory for Bahraini political opposition in all its shades. A leftist bloc of eight and a religionist bloc of six were discernible. [15] It was obvious from the very first day of their life as 'representatives of the people', that animosity between the religionists and the leftists was irreconcilable. The 'independents', for example, made most of the situation through being on good terms with the regime as well as with their leftist and religionist colleagues. They were systematically exchanging voting favours among themselves, with the government, and with the religionists and leftist blocs. The situation seemed, particularly, pleasing to the regime.

For, regardless of post election euphoria, the real balance of forces inside the parliament was clearly in favour of the regime. This is partly due to a constitutional stipulation that all fourteen ministers were ex officio full members of the parliament. Such a voting block proved to be impenetrable. In addition, the government made an effective use, at least during the first year, of the leftists-religionist rivalry and the eagerness of independent parliamentarians to offer themselves as intermediary patrons. [16] The whole arrangement, it seemed, suited the regime and was in line with its dual strategy.

Debates during 1972 sessions of the Constituent Assembly and during sessions held in the first year National Assembly, affirmed the existence of a common, if unwritten, understanding on the limits of the ongoing 'process of political participation'. Besides the ruling core itself, other participants to this common understanding included Shia clerical establishment, the notable families, and retired former activists of the NUC. Process of 'political participation', Bahraini euphemism for democracy, seemed destined to guarding 'segmented pluralism' as a firm and viable basis for state-building and for the development of state institutions. This consensus did not last. As members of different blocs confronted each other, compromised and co-operated on political issues and procedural matters, they also started reaching an understanding on how to overcome the limitations of their mandate and the constitutional constraints put on their institution. Two additional, and extra-parliamentary, factors may have helped bringing closer to each other members of different blocs, particularly the religionist and the leftists.

The first relates to the impatience of the ruling core with the unfolding developments and its fear from its consequences. Full of expectations at the start of the oil boom, it became increasingly impatient with the intrusive role of the parliament. While it was still meagre in early 1974, the oil boom promised to free the regime from some of its undertakings and particularly the need to court the emergent forces represented in the parliament. Within less than six months of the parliamentary experiment, 'representatives of the people' found themselves treated with haughtiness reserved for middle-rank government employees. Soon also disappeared the subtle distinctions in deference between the self-restrained cleric parliamentarians and their irreligious colleagues, some of whom are hardened ex-political prisoners.

The other relates to reactions by members of the National Assembly to extra-parliamentary activities. In spite of their apparently irreconcilable ideological differences, religionists and leftists shared the same social constituency: workers, and lower middle class and novice professionals. Actions by these groups in form of strikes, petitions, representations and demonstrations were channelled, often simultaneously, through both blocs. Gradually, parliamentary debates showed a growing space for co-operation between these two blocs as well as with several independent members. In spite of their growing pragmatism and willingness to exchange voting favours, religionist and leftist parliamentarian were not able to compromise on several causes célèbre. These included parliamentary motions by leftists in favour of proclaiming 1st of May as an official holiday, and by religionists in favour of enforced separation of the sexes in public places.

Debates concerning both motions echoed parts of the debates in the rest of the Arab region between modernists and traditionalists (or, westernised vs. authentic) and involved the much of its discursive arsenal. Those vigorous, and many time heated, debates reflected an emerging consciousness of the limits of 'segmented pluralism' and of that other options are both feasible and viable.

Gradually, as it were, an awareness has emerged among participants that they are competing within a single common national space and that they shared a number of interests. Once more, the main characteristics of contentious politics shifted to be national, or at least, non-communal. It seemed that another realistic opportunity has presented itself to re-start what Balibar (1996) calls 'delayed nationalisation of society' and to build a national consensus, beyond the ethnic interests and corporate mandate. From the regime's side of the chamber, those few modest steps of co-operation between the religionists and leftists foretold of a realistic prospect that the clerical establishment was beginning to loose its grip over most of its young and more radical protégés within the National Assembly.

'In modern times', writes Ishtiaq Ahmed (1998:160), 'creating a coherent nation of a given cultural mix therefore requires both conscious ideological propaganda and political policy as well as the more general efforts at economic and political development which are expected to create conditions facilitating the expansion of equal opportunities to all citizens. Both types of processes, however, proceed in the context of existing cultural heritage, class structure, internal power distribution and external linkages of various groups present in the society'. Forces of the regime, particularly the ruling family and the clerical establishment were not committed to such a nationification project. Indeed, both have actively mobilised their considerable resources forces against the implementation of such a project. Both were required to make 'sacrifices' without, some of which seemed threatening to their very existence of regime, as they know it.

The rupture between the clerical establishment on the one hand and several of its parliamentary protégés and their supporter on the other will become more visible following a number of compromises and joint ventures it reached with other parliamentary blocs. One of these joint motions led to the near unanimous rejection by the National Assembly of the 'State Security Decree of 1974'. The decree was presented as a measure in battle against communism and communist-inspired disorder. Several formulations in the first article of the decree are made to appeal to conservative religious sensibilities, including criminalising ' dissemination of heretical principles'. [17] Members of the National Assembly were subjected to pressures from various groups and interests. And it took them nearly eight months of hard bargaining, in and outside the parliament, to reach a common stand rejecting the decree. Representatives of the religionist, leftist and independent blocs felt strong enough to issue an ultimatum to the government to abrogate its decree. [18]

From the viewpoint of the regime, it was let down by the clerical establishment's failure to deliver the votes of its parliamentary protégés. Probably more serious was its failure to contain the ambitions of members of the religionist bloc who began to see themselves more as representatives of the 'whole people' than as representatives of a confessional community. Having failed to break the overwhelming parliamentary majority, the Amir of Bahrain issued another decree, dissolving the parliament itself. The short-lived parliamentary experiment did not transform the regime into a state and did not confirm the nominal transformation of subjects, (the males) into citizens. In fact, the process led instead to the intensification, to follow Pogo (1990), of its character as a regime. [19] Process of regime intensification was accelerated further during the subsequent decade under the fall outs of the oil boom.

Most students of the period agree with the insightful observation made by Khuri (1980:11) on the fate Bahraini parliament. 'The dissolution of the parliament in Bahrain' he writes, 'was basically intended to contain the increasing power of the opposition that the foundation of the parliament itself had helped to create and strengthen'. From regime perspective the dissolution was a necessary measure to pre-empt the political consequences of an emerging alliance, albeit tactical, between the religionist and leftist parliamentary blocs. Most immediate of these consequences is 'paralysing the parliament and altering the power balance to the disadvantage of the ruling family' (p.232). However, such an alliance, once sustained, would have profound consequences including restricting the capacity of the regime to sustain institutionalisation of tribalism and sectarianism. In spite of its fragility, an alliance between religionists and leftists have shown that it is a serious historical threat to tribal and sectarian forces and their roles as parts of the nest of reserve sources for regime's political power and legitimacy of that power.

Khuri (1980) discusses two additional factors. First, the inherent contradiction between 'tribally controlled government and the system of representation' and, second, the regional considerations which would not favour that 'Bahrain, the little islands... alone institute democracy while other states and principalities in the Gulf and Arabia continue to be ruled by tribally based governments'. (p.232)

Khuri is, of course, correct in pointing to the contradiction between these two forms of social organisation and of rule. However, it is difficult to see any of the two forms, to use Khuri's own words, as 'undifferentiated whole, a petrified social system'. Indeed, tribalism in Bahrain, in similarity with sectarianism, is continuously reconstructed. Both are continuously combined and intermingled with other phenomena. Tribalism, alone, cannot provide explanation for the strategic choices taken by the regime and its core during the past three four decades.

Tribalism of al-Khalifa is largely a political instrument that has been mobilised and de-mobilised for the political ends of the regime and particularly its own core. A glaring example is the High Noon-style shoot-out, in May 1978, between the Prime Minister and his younger brother Mohammed, in the middle of commercial area in Manama. ( From 1959 to 1971, Mohammad, was 'President of Police and Public Security'). Their tripartite conflict continues to this date and has, through the years, acquired several dimensions. As I will illustrate, later, This conflict is not new or unique within the ruling family. In similarity with other ruling families in the region, al-Khalifa has its considerable history on bloody in-fighting involving political ambitions, greed, or, at times, simple sibling jealousies.

A consistent feature of strategies adopted by the current ruling core is discouraging the development of institutions that can make claims on the regime. Instead, it has consistently preferred to deal with society through selected intermediaries. Relations between the regime and its intermediaries have several features. First, an intermediary is not a permanently secure status but a recurring role that does not entail an exclusive right to represent a particular segment of the population. Second, by virtue of their roles as appointees of the regime, intermediaries are not allowed to make claims on the regime, or to aspire to becoming power centres. Third, the regime reserves to itself the right to approve each intervention by an intermediary

Shifts of preferences may be illustrated with examples from other areas. One such area is distribution of Amiri gratuities, particularly the size and location of plots of land, houses or construction subsidies, granted to loyal subjects. While there is a heavy representation of al-Khalifa among recipients of such gratuities, most population categories are represented.

Another area that illustrates shifts in regime preferences is the more sensitive 'grants of citizenship'. Here, too, regime preferences have included tribal, sectarian and other accredited intermediaries. Unlike plots of lands, which can only by granted by the Amir himself, grants of citizenship can actually be bestowed by any of any member of the ruling core. Following a seven decades old tradition, grants of citizenship became a tested instrument for balancing population mix. With the help of en mass naturalisation a demographic balance is maintained among various groups: Shia and Sunni; 'pure' Arabs and other Arabs; local Shia; other Arab and non-Arab Shia. Beneficiaries of citizenship gratuities over the past few decades have included new migrants with diverse backgrounds, tribal and non-tribal, Arabs and non-Arabs, the very rich and the not so rich, the as well as Sunni and Shia. On balance, it seems that while some groups received more than others did, the regime has not excluded any specific group from receiving its gratuities, [20] Being a gratuity, this type of citizenship and the rights it infers may also be revoked, partially or totally. According to constitution (Article 17:B), revocation of citizenship of a 'naturalised' person is not permitted 'except in accordance with law'. Even after receiving a citizenship as gratuity, 'naturalised citizens' must be on their guard and are constantly required to be on the good books of the regime, its ruling core and its security services. There are several statuary examples of 'high and mighty' that have allegedly been stripped of their citizenship after falling out of favour.

Plots of land, senior positions in government or public institutions, citizenship, or other gratuities also serve as a means to maintain loyalty of various intermediaries who are encouraged to intervene on behalf of prospective beneficiaries. More profoundly, gratuities whether given directly or through intermediaries provide a relatively abundant source of political sanctions to sustain vertical segmentation of society.

I have repeatedly suggested that the regime and particularly its ruling core, are not fanatically tribalist, or for that matter, sectarian. This is not to say that the adjective, 'tribal' is incorrect prefix to some aspects of the regime and some of its policies. After all, the regime has invested considerable energy and other resources to formulate a credible tribalist image for itself. Tribalism remains an important strategic option for mobilisation some local and some regional sources of power and legitimacy. It is also an important and readily available criterion for selecting among potential intermediaries. Tribalism, however, is merely one of several other instruments for mobilisation and one of several other criteria for selecting intermediaries. A consistent feature of the regime, since 1959 when the current ruling core assumed power in the country, has been the occasional movements of its 'preferences' away from 'tribalism' in favour of other, more appropriate, criteria. There are any numbers of examples to illustrate this assertion. An early indication that the ruling core is ready to discard some of tribal 'obligations' in the interest of survival of the regime. I have already mentioned, the unceremonious dumping of the youngest brother in the then ruling troika. In 1974, the regime took another 'untribal' action through the unprecedented forced resignation of minister of justice, a senior al-Khalifa, in order to appease leftist protesters. [21] Moreover, lists of political detainees, from 1956 to 1994, included 'representatives' of all population categories, including a visible presence of political activists who hail from 'authentic tribal Arabs'.

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