Abbas Al-Morshed: Why does Ruling Family Insist on Governing the State Unilaterally?

2022-03-08 - 5:16 p

The changes currently taking place in Bahrain, despite their seriousness and direct impact on shaping the identity of the future political system, are in no way linked to popular participation in decision-making, as well as partnership in shaping the identity of the political system that is supposed to lead the next phase.

What makes the ruling family take the risk individually and in an exclusionary manner to the fullest extent? More precisely, why does the ruling family insist that none of the components of society take part in managing state affairs? In more clear terms, why does the ruling family prefer to absent the spirit of the modern state, and keep the central patriarchal image instead of that of democracy and integrated citizenship?

There have been several proposed approaches; the first is that the ruling family in Bahrain is a part of a geographically integrated, politically united and economically cooperative Gulf system. This means that the ruling family in Bahrain is not allowed to get out of the framework, which the center of that Gulf unity sets, namely Saudi Arabia, which sees in the spirit of the modern state a ghost that must be uprooted and fought, and that the best option for the ruling families in the Gulf is to maintain the old ways of political governance. What reinforces this option is the UAE's inclination towards this anti-democratic and political Islamic area.

Any political change must be acceptable to both Saudi Arabia and the UAE in particular. Since the spirit of the modern state is the demand of the Bahraini opposition forces, which is their imagined future, it is not expected that the ruling family in Bahrain sacrifices its major system for the benefit of the opposition components, even if their voice got louder, as the military repression machine was and will be vigilant and fierce in dealing with any action against the already drawn image of the identity of the political system.

According to this approach, the ruling family has no great fears to face. It only faces fears related to the poverty of the state and its bankruptcy as a result of greed and corruption, or in terms of the rise of the political opposition force, which the regime believes has been taught a lesson in repression. The partnership the system is working on is with Gulf units, the wealthiest and most  influential within the international system. Such an approach may give a partial and coherent explanation, especially as the Bahraini ruling family is immersed in implementing the wishes and aspirations of the ruling families in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

The UAE sees Bahrain as a backyard through which it implements the work, which the ruling families in Saudi Arabia and the Emirates will not do, as was the case with the recent Qatari/Gulf dispute and the role played by the ruling family in Bahrain in this dispute, to an extent that the UAE and Saudi Arabia restored relations with Qatar, while relations with Bahrain remained suspended, even though it has been more than 2 years since the Al-Ula Summit.

This may explain the preferences of the security approach inside Bahrain and may give a clear picture of the realistic limits of the political reform demanded by the opposition. However, this approach lacks compatibility with the laws of societal change,which despite beginning slowly and roughly, has become over time to play the role of an alternative to the old system. In the end, this Gulf unit remains an imagined unit marred by dangerous differences among themselves. It is imaginary to an extent that it has only witnessed 4 decades, thus, the bet on its continuation remains under study.

There is a huge difference between the continuation of the ruling families in a monopolizing patriarchal authority in gulf societies, and saying that these ruling families live in a political unit capable of curbing the course of change, especially if the international elements controlling the affairs of the region believe that political changes must be faster and more clear. Hence, the imaginary Gulf unit becomes marginalized and we go back to looking for a promising narrative for the future of governance in Bahrain.

The second approach that can give more realistic interpretations is the shake-up and instability of the national identity of the ruling families, and therefore the lack of confidence in any political project that may restore or change the form of the hierarchy of power. We are to face something similar to the life instinct that drives the ruling families to resist a political demise and its risks.

Perhaps this approach can bring us closer to examining the gap between the ruling family in Bahrain and the political components of the opposition, in particular, and how it is based on mistrust and constant questioning of the opposition's intentions, not only as a political group, but as an existential danger that the ruling family sees as surrounding its security and power. 

In light of this approach, it is possible to understand the ambiguous relationship revealed by the Abraham Accords and resorting to Israel in order to obtain at least two things, the first of which is the addition of external security protection along with the vast arsenal of military alliances that the ruling family in Bahrain believes will exempt it from any internal political entitlement, and the second is seeking to end the opposition's strength and work to tame it politically so that it ends up accepting the ceilings of the ruling families by putting them at the crossroads, either through increasing normalization or reducing the ceiling of political reform required in accordance with the interests and dominance of the ruling family.

According to this approach, the Gulf economic support is a lever no more, especially if we know that the acquisition of wealth and the absence of financial control over Bahrain's economic revenues is a guarantee to face the dangers of monopoly and unilateralism in power, which means that the ruling family in Bahrain is not yet aware of the seriousness of this course and the political preference which it has adhered to and that before the end, it will bring more tension in political dealings which these guarantees are not enough to pay for.

Writer and researcher from Bahrain

Arabic Version