Bahrain’s Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, one of the world’s longest-serving prime ministers who led his island nation’s government for decades and survived the 2011 Arab Spring protests that demanded his ouster over corruption allegations, died on Wednesday. He was 84.
Bahrain’s state-run news agency announced his death, saying he had been receiving treatment at the Mayo Clinic in the United States, without elaborating. The Mayo Clinic declined to comment.
Prince Khalifa’s power and wealth could be seen everywhere in this small nation off the coast of Saudi Arabia that is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet. His official portrait hung for decades on walls alongside the country’s ruler. He had his own private island where he met foreign dignitaries, complete with a marina and a park that had peacocks and gazelle roam its grounds.
The prince represented an older style of Gulf leadership, one that granted patronage and favors for support of the Sunni Al Khalifa family. That style would be challenged in the 2011 protests by the island’s Shiite majority and others, who demonstrated against him over long-running corruption allegations surrounding his rule.
Though less powerful and frailer in recent years, his machinations still drew attention in the kingdom as a new generation now jostles for power.
“Khalifa bin Salman represented the old guard in more ways than just age and seniority,” said Kristin Smith Diwan, a senior resident scholar at the Washington-based Arab Gulf States Institute. “He represented an old social understanding rooted in royal privilege and expressed through personal patronage.”
Bahrain’s Royal Court announced a week of official mourning, with a burial coming after the return of his body. State television aired a recitation of Quranic verses, showing a black-and-white image of the prince.
Late on Wednesday, Bahrain’s state-run news agency initially announced Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa would lead the Council of Ministers, typically the job of the island’s prime minister. It later updated its report to directly name the crown prince as prime minister, becoming only the country’s second premier since its 1971 independence.
The crown prince had been trying to strip away Prince Khalifa’s control of Bahrain’s economy for years prior, with the apparent approval of his father, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.
Prince Khalifa was born into the Al Khalifa dynasty that for more than two centuries has ruled Bahrain, an island in the Persian Gulf whose name in Arabic means the “two seas.” The son of Bahrain’s former ruler, Sheikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa who ruled from 1942 to 1961, the prince learned governance at his father’s side as the island remained a British protectorate.
Prince Khalifa’s brother, Sheikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa, took power in 1961 and served as monarch when Bahrain gained its independence from Britain in 1971. Under an informal arrangement, Sheikh Isa handled the island’s diplomacy and ceremonial duties while Prince Khalifa ran the government and economy.
The years that followed saw Bahrain develop rapidly as it sought to move beyond its dependence on dwindling oil reserves. Manama at that time served as what Dubai in the United Arab Emirates ultimately became, a regional financial, service and tourism hub. The opening of the King Fahd Causeway in 1986 gave the island nation its first land link with its rich and powerful neighbor, Saudi Arabia, and offered an escape for Westerners in the kingdom who wanted to enjoy Bahrain’s alcohol-soaked nightclubs and beaches.
But Prince Khalifa increasingly saw his name entangled in corruption allegations, such as a major foreign corruption practices case against aluminum producer Alcoa over using a London-based middleman to facilitate bribes for Bahraini officials. Alcoa agreed to pay $384 million in fines to the U.S. government to settle the case in 2014.
The U.S. Embassy in Manama similarly had its own suspicions about Prince Khalifa.
“I believe that Shaikh Khalifa is not wholly a negative influence,” former U.S. Ambassador Ronald E. Neumann wrote in a 2004 cable released by WikiLeaks. “While certainly corrupt he has built much of modern Bahrain.”
Those corruption allegations fueled discontent, particularly among Bahrain’s Shiite majority who still today complain of discrimination by the government. In February 2011, protesters inspired by Arab Spring demonstrations across the Mideast filled the streets and occupied the capital Manama’s Pearl Roundabout to demand political reforms and a greater say in the country’s future.
While some called for a constitutional monarchy, many others pressed for the removal of the long-ruling prime minister and other members of the Sunni royal family altogether, including King Hamad.
At one point during the height of the unrest in March 2011, thousands of protesters besieged the prime minister’s office while officials met inside, demanding that Prince Khalifa step down over corruption allegations and an earlier, deadly crackdown on the demonstrations. Protesters also took to waving one Bahraini dinar notes over allegations Prince Khalifa bought the land on which Bahrain’s Financial Harbour development sits for just a single dinar.
Robert Gates, a former U.S. secretary of defense under President Barack Obama, wrote in his memoirs that he urged the king at the time to force Prince Khalifa from the premiership, describing him as “disliked by nearly everyone but especially the Shia.”
Bahraini officials soon crushed the protests with the backing of troops from neighboring Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. A government-sponsored report into the protests and crackdown later 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, with Shiite protesters frequently clashing with riot police. Shiite militant groups, whom Bahrain’s government allege receive support from Iran, planted bombs that killed and wounded several members of the country’s security forces.
But while other hard-line members of the Al Khalifa family actively pushed for a confrontation with Shiites, Prince Khalifa maintained contacts with those the government opposed. Even with his influence waning, he called Qatar’s ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, in 2019 during the holy month of Ramadan despite Bahrain being one of four Arab nations boycotting Doha in a political dispute.
“Khalifa bin Salman could and did work with both Sunni and Shia, especially through his relations with Bahrain’s business community,” Diwan said. “He brought this same personalistic approach to relations with other Gulf monarchs, and was genuinely uncomfortable with the new politics exemplified by coarse attacks on the Qatari leadership.”
Slowly though, Prince Khalifa’s influence waned as he faced unexplained health problems. He was admitted to hospital in November 2015 but was later released. He also traveled to southeast Asia for medical appointments. In late November 2019, he traveled to Germany for undisclosed medical treatments, remaining there for months.
In September, a U.S. Air Force C-17 flying hospital flew from Germany to Rochester, Minnesota, following by a royal Bahraini aircraft. While U.S. and Bahraini officials declined to comment on the flights, it came just after America offered the same care to Kuwait’s ruling emir just before his death.
Prince Khalifa was married and has three surviving children, sons Ali and Salman and daughter Lulwa. Another son, Mohammed, died previously.
Two people were wounded Wednesday when an improvised explosive device targeted a ceremony of French, American, British, Italian and Greek officials commemorating the end of World War I at a cemetery in the Saudi city of Jiddah, according to official statements.
The ceremony was held at a cemetery for non-Muslim dead, French Foreign Ministry officials said.
“Such attacks on innocent people are shameful and entirely without justification,” said a joint statement issued by the embassies of the five countries in attendance. The group also acknowledged the work of Saudi first responders at the scene.
Hours after the attack, Saudi state-media quoted a local official acknowledging the attack and saying that a Greek consulate employee and Saudi security man were lightly wounded in the incident. The Saudi official said an investigation is underway.
Saudi state television also broadcast from outside the cemetery and stressed that the security situation was now “stable.”
Wednesday’s attack follows on the heels of a stabbing Oct. 29 that lightly wounded a guard at the French Consulate in the same city. The stabbing was carried out by a Saudi man, who was arrested. His motives remain unclear.
France has suffered two deadly attacks by foreign-born Muslims in the past month. A teacher was beheaded outside Paris for showing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad to his class for a debate on free expression, and three people were later killed in a church in the southern city of Nice.
The depictions of the prophet sparked protests and calls for boycotts of French products among some Muslims in the Middle East and South Asia. France has urged its citizens in Saudi Arabia and other Muslim-majority countries to be “on maximum alert” amid the heightened tensions.
Wednesday marked the 102nd anniversary of the armistice ending World War I and is commemorated in several European countries.
Nadia Chaaya, an official who represents French citizens living in Saudi Arabia, was at the ceremony when it came under attack. She told The Associated Press there were about 20 people of different nationalities in attendance, making it difficult to say whether French diplomats were specifically targeted.
She earlier told the French network BFM about the moment she heard an explosion as the consul general was near the end of his speech.
“At that moment we didn’t really understand, but we felt that we were the target because directly we saw the smoke and we were of course in panic mode,” she said. “We tried to understand, and we were most of all afraid to see if there was going to be a second wave.”
Jiddah, the Red Sea port city, saw its Ottoman troops surrender to the local troops backed by the British in 1916 amid the war. That sparked the start of the Kingdom of Hejaz, which later became part of Saudi Arabia’s founding in 1932.
Jiddah’s Non-Muslim Cemetery sits nears the city’s docks, hidden behind trees alongside a major thoroughfare in the city. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission shows just one soldier buried at the cemetery, Pvt. John Arthur Hogan, who died in June 1944.
Across France, which was particularly devastated by years of trench warfare in World War I, ceremonies were held Wednesday to mark the anniversary of the armistice but also to honor all those who have died for France, including during the Second World War and in current military operations abroad and at home, where troops are deployed to protect against terrorist attacks.
Diplomatic posts have been targeted in the past in Saudi Arabia. A 2004 armed assault on the U.S. Consulate in Jiddah blamed on al-Qaida killed five employees. In 2016, a suicide bomber blew himself up near that same U.S. Consulate, wounding two guards.
Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron has come under particular scrutiny among some Muslim leaders for his description of the caricatures of Prophet Muhammad as a protected cornerstone of free speech and France’s secular ideals. This has riled some Muslims who view the depictions as blasphemous and a form of hate speech.
Saudi Arabia’s monarch and top clerics are among those who have condemned the depictions, but top Saudi clerics have also called for calm and urged people to follow the prophet’s example of “mercy, justice, tolerance.”
King Salman is scheduled to deliver an annual address to the nation on Wednesday, laying out policy priorities for the coming year.
Saeb Erekat, a veteran peace negotiator and prominent international spokesman for the Palestinians for more than three decades, died on Tuesday, weeks after being infected by the coronavirus. He was 65.
The American-educated Erekat was involved in nearly every round of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians going back to the landmark Madrid conference in 1991. Over the years, he was a constant media presence. He tirelessly argued for a negotiated two-state solution to the decades-old conflict, defended the Palestinian leadership and blamed Israel — particularly hard-line leader Benjamin Netanyahu — for the failure to reach an agreement.
As a loyal aide to Palestinian leaders — first Yasser Arafat and then Mahmoud Abbas — Erekat clung to this strategy until his death, even as hopes for Palestinian statehood sank to new lows.
In the weeks leading up to his death in an Israeli hospital, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain had normalized ties with Israel, breaking with the long-held Arab position that a deal on Palestinian statehood must precede normalization. Abbas and members of his inner circle, including Erekat, found themselves internationally sidelined and deeply unpopular among Palestinians. And decades of unfettered Israeli settlement expansion had made a statehood deal based on the partition of territory increasingly unlikely.
Erekat died at the Hadassah Medical Center, the Israeli hospital where he was brought in critical condition last month. He had received a lung transplant in the U.S. in 2017 and was at especially high risk from the virus.
Abbas said Erekat’s death was a “great loss for Palestine and our people, and we feel deeply saddened by his loss, especially in light of these difficult circumstances facing the Palestinian cause.”
Abbas said flags will be flown at half-staff for three days. Erekat’s body was brought to a West Bank hospital and was to be laid to rest in Jericho on Wednesday.
Tributes poured in from world diplomats, including former Israeli and American peace negotiators.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Erekat “was dedicated to the peaceful pursuit of justice, dignity and the legitimate rights of Palestinians to self-determination, sovereignty and statehood.”
“No one believed in the possibility of a two-state solution as ardently as he did; no one fought for it with greater conviction & obstinacy,” tweeted Robert Malley, a senior adviser on the Middle East in the Obama administration.
Yossi Beilin, a former Israeli Cabinet minister and peace negotiator, called Erekat’s death “a big loss for those who believe in peace, both on the Palestinian side and the Israeli side.”
In the U.S., a statement from Joe Biden’s transition team said: “The President-elect sends his sincere condolences to Saeb Erekat’s family and to all who mourn. He recognized and respected Saeb as a powerful advocate for the Palestinian people.”
Erekat was born on April 28, 1955 in Jerusalem. He spent most of his life in the occupied West Bank town of Jericho, a palm-studded desert oasis about 30 minutes from Jerusalem. As a child in Jericho, he witnessed Palestinians fleeing to nearby Jordan during the 1967 war in which Israel captured the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.
In interviews, Erekat often spoke about life and his family in Jericho, as a way of explaining the impact of Israeli occupation to foreign viewers. His wit and grasp of colloquial American phrases made him popular with interviewers.
Erekat earned a BA and MA in international relations from San Francisco State University and later completed a doctorate at the University of Bradford in the U.K., where he focused on conflict resolution. Erekat also held U.S. citizenship.
When he returned to the West Bank he became a professor at An-Najah University in Nablus and an editor at the Al-Quds newspaper. A self-described pragmatist, he invited Israeli students to visit the university in the late 1980s and condemned violence on all sides.
He was nevertheless convicted of incitement by an Israeli military court in 1987 after troops raided the university and found an English-language newsletter he had authored in which he wrote that Palestinians must “reject and resist″ all forms of occupation.
Erekat insisted he was advocating peaceful resistance and not armed struggle, and he was later given an eight-month suspended sentence and fined $6,250. He later said the stiff penalty proved “the occupation is not working and they are really getting nervous.”
The first intifada, or Palestinian uprising, erupted later that year in the form of mass protests, general strikes and clashes with Israeli troops. That uprising, along with U.S. pressure on Israel, culminated in the Madrid conference, widely seen as the start of the Mideast peace process.
Erekat was a prominent representative of Palestinians living inside the occupied territories at the time, but became a close aide to Arafat when the exiled Palestine Liberation Organization returned to the territories following the 1993 Oslo accords. In subsequent years he routinely served as Arafat’s translator, and was sometimes accused of editing his remarks to soften the rough edges of the guerrilla leader-turned-aspiring statesman.
Throughout the 1990s, Erekat was a frequent guest on CNN and other news programs, where he condemned violence on both sides but warned that the peace process was at risk of collapse because of Israel’s refusal to withdraw from the territories.
Then, as now, the Palestinians sought an independent state in east Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The Oslo accords were intended to pave the way for such a settlement, but the process stalled amid a wave of suicide bombings and other attacks by Palestinian militant groups and continued Israeli settlement construction and failure to keep pledges to turn over territory to Palestinian control.
Erekat was part of the Palestinian delegation at Camp David in 2000, when President Bill Clinton brought the two sides together for marathon talks aimed at reaching a final agreement. The talks ended inconclusively, and a few months later a second and far more violent intifada erupted.
By then Erekat had become a senior Palestinian official and was seen as a possible successor to Arafat, who died in a French hospital in 2004. He continued as a top aide to Abbas and served as a senior negotiator in sporadic peace efforts in the late 2000s.
“I am the most disadvantaged negotiator in the history of man,” he told a reporter in 2007, the year that the Islamic militant group Hamas seized control of Gaza from Abbas’ forces. “I have no army, no navy, no economy, my society is fragmented.”
Erekat resigned as chief negotiator in 2011 after a trove of documents was leaked to the pan-Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera showing the Palestinian leadership had offered major concessions in past peace talks. But Erekat remained a senior Palestinian official and a close adviser to Abbas, who later appointed him secretary-general of the PLO.
Israel and the Palestinians have not held substantive talks since Netanyahu — a hard-liner who opposes concessions to the Palestinians — took office in 2009.
While Erekat was welcomed in world capitals, he was more controversial in the West Bank, where he was seen as part of an elite clique detached from the public and clinging to an unrealistic goal.
He was a strident critic of President Donald Trump’s Mideast plan, which overwhelmingly favors Israel and would allow it to keep nearly all of east Jerusalem and up to 30% of the West Bank. He derisively said “real estate men” would never solve the conflict and accused Trump and Netanyahu of teaming up to “destroy the Palestinian national project.”
He authored an op-ed in the Washington Post opposing the plan and reiterating the same call to action he had been issuing for nearly three decades.
“The international community must decide: Either it stands on the right side of history with the independence of the state of Palestine living side by side, in peace and security, with the state of Israel on the 1967 border — or it agrees to tolerate an apartheid regime.”
Erekat is survived by his wife, two sons, twin daughters and eight grandchildren.
The United Arab Emirates announced on Saturday a major overhaul of the country’s Islamic personal laws, allowing unmarried couples to cohabitate, loosening alcohol restrictions and criminalizing so-called “honor killings.”
The broadening of personal freedoms reflects the changing profile of a country that has sought to bill itself as a Westernized destination for tourists, fortune-seekers and businesses despite its Islamic legal code that has previously triggered court cases against foreigners and outrage in their home countries, reports AP.
The reforms aim to boost the country’s economic and social standing and “consolidate the UAE’s principles of tolerance,” state-run WAM news agency reported.
The announcement follows a historic U.S.-brokered deal to normalize relations between the UAE and Israel, which is expected to bring an influx of Israeli tourists and investment.
The changes also reflect the efforts of the Emirates’ rulers to keep pace with a rapidly changing society at home.
“I could not be happier for these new laws that are progressive and proactive,” said Emirati filmmaker Abdallah Al Kaabi, whose art has tackled taboo topics like homosexual love and gender identity.
“2020 has been a tough and transformative year for the UAE,” he added.
Changes include scrapping penalties for alcohol consumption, sales and possession for those 21 and over. The government decrees behind the changes were announced on WAM and detailed in state-linked newspaper The National, which said they would take immediate effect.
Although liquor and beer is widely available in bars and clubs in the UAE’s luxuriant coastal cities, individuals previously needed a government-issued license to purchase, transport or have alcohol in their homes. The new rule would apparently allow Muslims who have been barred from obtaining licenses to drink alcoholic beverages freely.
Another amendment allows for “cohabitation of unmarried couples,” which has long been a crime in the UAE. Authorities, especially in the more freewheeling financial hub of Dubai, often looked the other way when it came to foreigners, but the threat of punishment still lingered. Attempted suicide, forbidden in Islamic law, would also be decriminalized, The National reported.
In a move to better “protect women’s rights,” the government said it also decided to get rid of laws defending “honor crimes,” a widely criticized tribal custom in which a male relative may evade prosecution for assaulting a woman seen as dishonoring a family. The punishment for a crime committed to eradicate a woman’s “shame,” for promiscuity or disobeying religious and cultural strictures, will now be the same for any other kind of assault.
In a country where expatriates outnumber citizens nearly nine to one, the amendments will permit foreigners to avoid Islamic Shariah courts on issues like marriage, divorce and inheritance.
Traditional Islamic values remain strong in the federation of seven desert sheikhdoms. The announcement said nothing of other behavior deemed insulting to local customs that has landed foreigners in jail in the past, such as acts of homosexuality, cross-dressing and public displays of affection.
The reforms come as skyscraper-studded Dubai gets ready to host the World Expo. The high-stakes event is planned to bring a flurry of commercial activity and some 25 million visitors to the country, after it was pushed back a year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
A decade-long U.N. arms embargo on Iran that barred it from purchasing foreign weapons like tanks and fighter jets expired Sunday as planned under its nuclear deal with world powers, despite objections from the United States, which insists the ban remains in place, reports AP.
While Iran says it plans no “buying spree,” it can now in theory purchase weapons to upgrade military armaments dating back to before its 1979 Islamic Revolution and sell its own locally produced gear abroad.
In practice, however, Iran’s economy remains crippled by broad-reaching U.S. sanctions, and other nations may avoid arms deals with Tehran for fear of American financial retaliation. The Trump administration has warned that any sales of weapons to Iran or exports from Iran will be penalized.
The Islamic Republic heralded the end of the arms embargo as “a momentous day for the international community ... in defiance of the U.S. regime’s effort.” The Trump administration, meanwhile, says the expiration is moot since it reimposed all U.N. sanctions on Iran, including the arms embargo, via a clause in the nuclear deal Trump withdrew from in 2018, a claim ignored by the rest of the world.
“Today’s normalization of Iran’s defense cooperation with the world is a win for the cause of multilateralism and peace and security in our region,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flatly rejected the expiration.
“The United States is prepared to use its domestic authorities to sanction any individual or entity that materially contributes to the supply, sale, or transfer of conventional arms to or from Iran, as well as those wto ho provide technical training, financial support and services, and other assistance related to these arms,” he said in a statement.
“For the past 10 years, countries have refrained from selling weapons to Iran under various U.N. measures,” Pompeo said. “Any country that now challenges this prohibition will be very clearly choosing to fuel conflict and tension over promoting peace and security.”
Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Dmitry Polyansky, responded to Pompeo with a tweet urging the U.S. to help Middle East peace by not provoking Iran. “And please change words ‘sanctions’ and ‘punishment’ in your vocabulary to ‘dialogue’ and ‘engagement’. That would help a lot! Make US respected again!”, he added.
Sunday’s expiration of the arms embargo was, in fact, the proximate cause for the U.S. decision last month to move forward with the so-called “snapback” of international sanctions in Iran. The Americans tried unsuccessfully to get the U.N. Security Council to extend the embargo but suffered a humiliating defeat when only one country on the 15-member panel supported it.
In response, the administration announced that it had invoked “snapback” — a mechanism provided for in the Security Council resolution that enshrined the nuclear deal that allows any participant in the accord to restore U.N. sanctions if they determine Iran is not complying with its terms. The rest of the council, however, rejected U.S. standing to trigger snapback, saying it had lost its right to do so when Trump pulled our of the deal.
The United Nations banned Iran from buying major foreign weapon systems in 2010 amid tensions over its nuclear program. An earlier embargo targeted Iranian arms exports.
The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency predicted in 2019 that if the embargo ended, Iran likely would try to purchase Russian Su-30 fighter jets, Yak-130 trainer aircraft and T-90 tanks. Tehran also may try to buy Russia’s S-400 anti-aircraft missile system and its Bastian coastal defense missile system, the DIA said. China also could sell Iran arms.
Iran long has been outmatched by U.S.-backed Gulf nations like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have purchased billions of dollars of advanced American weaponry. In response, Tehran turned toward developing locally made ballistic missiles.
Iran has blasted Gulf Arab purchases of U.S.-made defense equipment as “regrettably lucrative weapon deals” with some of those arms used in the ongoing war in Yemen. That conflict pits a Saudi-led coalition backing the country’s internationally recognized government against rebel forces backed by Iran.
The U.N. arms embargoes, however, did not stop Iran from sending weapons ranging from assault rifles to ballistic missiles to Yemen’s Houthi rebels. While Tehran denies arming the Houthis, Western governments and weapons experts repeatedly have linked Iranian arms to the rebels.