Sunday, June 05, 2005
There is only one serious Bahraini academic who has attempted to write and publish papers studying the socio-political situation in Bahrain, and that is Abdulhadi Khalaf (2005, 2002, 1998), sociology Professor in Lund University, Sweden. You can find his most relevant papers here:
Since Dr Khalaf is a regular reader of this blog, I hope that he would partake in this discussion and elaborate on certain concepts related in the above articles, which may help each of us concerned with the political situation in
These concepts are that of ‘vertical segmentation’. Sustaining vertical segmentation of society has proven a useful form of social organisation and, hitherto, an effective vehicle for rule. He also contends that contentious politics is the result of the tension between two socio-political forces in
“One of the immediate consequences of its control of rent and its circulation is making loyalty to the royal family a social as well as a political imperative. Unlike other society/state situations, what can be observed in the Gulf monarchies is shaped by two characteristic features of the state. The first is that the state is the ruling family, in other words more just an instrument of the ruling families. Rather, there is a distinct intertwining of state and the ruling families in a relation of indistinguishable organic unity. The second is that the state/ruling family is off-limits for all other social actors.
In its turn, the state promotes levels of dependency by citizens on its agencies, its welfare services and other facilities. Within this relation of dependency, a citizen becomes “disinclined to act economically or politically on his own behalf, let alone seriously criticise the state”.
Citizens, including merchants, entrepreneurs and business people, become more pre-occupied with attempts to access the rent circuit than reaching to build productive efficiency.”
Specifically on recent developments in
“Recent history of contentious politics in
[…] is 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 over-simplification, 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.” Bahrain
“Moves towards constitutional order in 1973-5 and since 2001 have not contravened the concentration of power…
While the ruling family may have wanted on both occasions to acquire constitutional legitimacy, it did not accept the formal and informal political, administrative, and judicial consequences of that legitimacy. The price seemed simply too high…There are some factors to add to this.
First, the ruling core has continued to exercise full control over all major sources of surplus appropriation. This unrestricted control has enabled it to continue steering the major economic and political actors, play them against each other and affirm their dependence on its goodwill. All other classes and social strata lack solid economic capabilities outside the orbit of the regime. All of them are dependent on the regime’s economic ventures and the political goodwill of its ruling core for their survival and prosperity.
Second, neither 1973 nor 2001 constitutions provide for mechanisms to separate the regime and its ruling core from government. The ruling family’s core continues to lead executive and administrative organs as well as other institutions of the state such as the judiciary, the military and the security forces. In spite of constitutional stipulations, all organs of state continue to be extensions of formal and informal powers of the ruling core.
Third, resources at the disposal of the regime, the docility of its social base, and regional and international support, have enabled it to embark on a massive reconstructive operation. These resources have enabled the regime to dismiss totally calls for a return to constitutional rule. Moreover, to the dismay of increasingly demoralised opponents, the regime has actually been able to initiate a modernisation process of its institutions, or to borrow an expression, with rather than against tribalism and communalism. “
Strategies of control
Byman and Green describe six strategies of control that ruling families in the Gulf employ. These are:
1) use of aggressive security services to monitor, and at times suppress, opposition;
2) cooptation of dissidents and potential dissidents through extensive use of largesse; dissidence is also contained through control of the media via subsi-dies and direct funding or the threat to suspend publication and not so much through formal censorship;
3) creating divisions within communities and fragmenting any political opposition;
4) cunning and ideological flexibility which helps appease local critics and off-set outside meddling;
5) pseudo-participation using appointed and partially representative majlis to provide for discussion and input into decision-making; and,
6) accommodative diplomacy and the use of aid to placate foreign adversaries.
A very insightful concept explored is the idea of 'vertical segmentation of society' (maintaining a division of society and social institutions into a number of vertical parallels that are separated from each other through, mainly political, sanctions), as one of the main factors preserving the Al-Khalifa rule in
Vertical segmentation, in
, 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. Bahrain
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.
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.
Oil, particularly since the oil boom of the mid-1970s, provides sufficient resources to continue recruiting additional, potential, intermediaries from nearly every social background. The entrepreneurial sector, for example, which was a major beneficiary of oil-boom investments, provided the ruling families with a new, and relatively modern, source of intermediaries. Advancement within this sector has been personal and based on political loyalty and acumen, rather than tribal or sectarian proximity to the regime. Project contracts, big and small, have been awarded largely for political loyalty. Those entrepreneurs whose loyalties were in doubt simply lost their access to contracts. Being in the good books of the ruling core and other senior members of the ruling family adds some considerable push to a business venture. Regular attendance to the weekly majlis, court, of any of these potentates, or preferably all, provides as strong a guarantee as any bank credit.
Political reforms in
The most interesting of the papers I found, was the one on the King’s Dilemma, if you're going to read just one, i'd recommend that one. In it Khalaf evaluates and analyses the situation solely from the King’s perspective, the ‘astute tactician’, how the novice king cohabitates with his uncle who remains the strongman in the country, as the longest serving Prime Minister in history. Unfortunately I cannot copy and paste off this paper for some reason, so I leave it up to you to peruse and discuss. He touches on the weakness of the secular left, the mutual mistrust and the internal squabbles of the ruling family that are fuelled by political reforms that would challenge tribal privileges. Extremely insightful exposition, ends with the question : “how far needs a non-democratic ruler move on the path of political reforms before realising the reform process is becoming futile or even counter-productive?” He cites the important point right at the end, “Mutual mistrust is a serioius threat to any future collaborative attempts to rebuild bridges between the regime and its opponents. Second the corrosive effects of past decades of misrule, mismanagement of resources and violations of human rights, makes current reforms appear temporary and unsustainable”.