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Military


Bahrain - Crown Prince H.H. Shaikh Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa

Bahrain's King appears to be working to ensure a smooth succession for the Crown Prince. After elevating the Crown Prince to Deputy Supreme Commander of the military and restructuring the chain-of-command, the King sided publicly with him against the Prime Minister on the issue of economic reform. Many in Bahrain had concluded the King has begun to gradually sideline the wily Prime Minister and his old-guard coterie.

On 11 November 2020 Bahrainís King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa named Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa as the new prime minister. Bahrain's late Prime Minister Sheikh bin Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa died earlier in the day at Mayo Clinic in the US. Prince Khalifa, the world's longest serving prime minister, died at the age of 84. He was born on November 24, 1935. The late prime minister assumed his post in 1970, just a year before Bahrainís independence in 1971.

Crown Prince H.H. Shaikh Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa was born on October 21, 1969. He completed his primary education in Bahrain, followed by higher studies abroad. H.H. obtained a Bachelor's degree in political science in 1992 from the American University in Washington, US. He then went on to obtain a Master's degree in history and philosophy from Cambridge, England, in 1994. Shaikh Salman was appointed Vice-Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Bahrain Centre for Studies and Research (BCSR) in 1992, then chairman in 1995. In 1995 he was also appointed Defense Under-Secretary. H.H. Shaikh Salman's various interests include the environment, culture, sports and education. Shaikh Salman is fluent in Arabic and English. He is married and has two sons and a daughter.

His Highness Shaikh Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa was appointed Crown Prince of the State of Bahrain by H.H. Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, Amir of the State of Bahrain, on March 9, 1999. The Cabinet held an extraordinary session at the Riffa Palace, during which H.H. Shaikh Salman was sworn in as Crown Prince.

Following a series of royal decrees that removed the Prime Minister and his loyalists from the military chain of command (reftel), King Hamad sided with the Crown Prince in a pointed exchange of letters made public on 15 January 2008. Economic Development Board (EDB) insiders reported that the Crown Prince spoke to the EDB Board of Directors on January 14 in his capacity as Chairman, and delivered stinging and thinly-veiled criticism of Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman. The Crown Prince reportedly complained angrily that disharmony and a lack of cooperation between the EDB and certain unnamed government ministries was unacceptable, citing three specific examples to make his point. The Crown Prince accused the Prime Minister of financing surrogates to undercut struggling national carrier Gulf Air, colluding with business leaders to diminish the effect of labor reforms, and negating the EDB's "one stop shop" for foreign investors by using the Cabinet to impose additional layers of bureaucracy.

In an open letter to his father published in local newspapers on 15 January 2008, the Crown Prince said that red tape in some government departments was responsible for blocking Bahrain's economic progress. In his response, published simultaneously, the King wrote that any Minister obstructing the EDB's economic reform efforts risked losing his job. The King also reiterated in his letter that the EDB (and by extension EDB's Chairman, the Crown Prince) remained the final authority on economic policy. The Prime Minister, thus outmaneuvered by the Crown Prince, did the only thing he could do and quickly issued a statement directing all Ministers to cooperate fully with the EDB.

The Crown Prince clearly viewed the episode as a victory. Most observers agree that the Crown Prince has scored some points against his uncle, the Prime Minister. The public nature of the King's exchange with the Crown Prince was significant for its rarity, and the King seemed to have decided that the time had come to begin moving the Prime Minister to the side. The exchange of letters was intended to incrementally decrease the Prime Minister's influence, as the Prime Minister was too old and too ingrained in the tribal means of maintaining stability to adapt to new ways of doing things. Many believed that the Crown Prince and his generation had earned the right to guide public policy, saying, "They're flying F-16s. I think they can handle it." The only other public exchange of letters by top-ranking GOB officials took place in 1975 when Prime Minister Khalifa complained to the then-Amir Isa that the Parliament had become unmanageable. Isa dissolved Parliament the next day.

Interestingly, the Crown Prince chose to make his move only after the Prime Minister's 13 January 2008 departure for an official visit to Thailand. Aside from the directive to support the EDB, the Prime Minister and his allies within the government remained uncharacteristically quiet in the wake of the King's letter, prompting some to suggest that he had been wrong-footed. Indeed, the Prime Minister extended his stay in Thailand several times, and remained there as of February 13.

In the final stroke of what some local observers have breathlessly called a bloodless coup, the Crown Prince announced 07 February 2008 the appointment of all of the cabinet's economic and technical ministers to the EDB Board of Directors, essentially annexing the Prime Minister's cabinet into his own, parallel government. In the course of five short weeks the Crown Prince, in public ways, asserted important new influence over both the military and over economic policy. These were fields in which he was already calling most of the shots, but the public confirmation of his leading role is important. He appeared now to be second only to his father, the King, when before many believed the Prime Minister was number two. The Prime Minister's ability to stymie economic reform and to influence military policy was diminished, but he remained a powerful figure within the government and the ruling family. The Prime Minister is an astute politician who understands well the intricacies of intra-family and tribal relationships. He remained a master at working a room, while his nephew the Crown Prince clearly lacked the common touch that goes so far in this still-traditional society. King Hamad may still need the Prime Minister to maintain consensus within the Al-Khalifa clan and, by extension, control the country. In many ways, the Prime Minister represents the last of the old lions, while the Crown Prince and his circle of technocrats are Bahrain's future. King Hamad finds himself between the two, understanding that reform is critical to Bahrain's success, but unable to turn his back on tradition and the stability it provided.