Bahrain’s Crown Prince, Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, was appointed Prime Minister on Wednesday following the death of his great-uncle, who has held the post since independence in 1971.
Prince Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, the longest-serving prime minister in the world, died at the age of 84 while receiving medical treatment in the United States, state media said.
Prince Khalifa was a controversial figure during his five decades in office, accused of resisting reform and cracking down on activists. He was also deeply unpopular with the Shiite population of the Sunni-ruled kingdom.
When Shiite-led protesters occupied Pearl Square in Manama for a month in 2011 before being evicted by Saudi-backed security forces, their main demand was for Prince Khalifa to resign.
His successor, who comes from a new generation of western trained golf guides, has instead tried to build bridges with opponents.
After studying in the USA and Great Britain – including a Masters degree from Cambridge University – he was First Deputy Prime Minister and Deputy Commander in Chief of the Bahrain Defense Force.
King Hamad issued a royal decree appointing his son chairman of the Council of Ministers with immediate effect, the Bahrain news agency said.
Prince Khalifa’s funeral will take place after his remains are brought home and only a limited number of relatives will be in attendance due to the novel restrictions imposed by the coronavirus.
The country will officially mourn for a week during which flags are hoisted at half mast. Government ministries and departments will be closed for three days.
According to the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, the leaders of the Gulf paid tribute to the long career of the veteran leader “which has shaped Bahrain’s recent history”.
– Targeted by protesters –
Prince Khalifa played a key role in Bahrain’s political and economic affairs, including preparing a referendum that paid the Shah of Iran’s claims to the tiny Gulf Archipelago.
He was born on November 24, 1935 and attended his father’s royal court with his older brother, Prince Issa, at the age of seven.
He was appointed chairman of the Council of State in 1970, the executive branch of the government that became the Council of Ministers after independence from Britain.
Before independence, he conducted difficult negotiations with the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, over the claims of Shiite Iran on Bahrain’s chain of islands.
A referendum to determine the future of the country led to an overwhelming vote for independence under the rule of the Sunni Al-Khalifa dynasty, despite the large Shiite population, the size of which is still contested by the government to this day.
For many years, Prince Khalifa strove to establish Bahrain as a regional financial center. In contrast to other Gulf states, the kingdom has only modest oil resources.
Working closely with his brother, the late Emir Sheikh Issa bin Salman Al-Khalifa, he preferred close ties to Washington.
Those relationships have grown and Bahrain now hosts the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet as one of Washington’s most trusted allies in the region.
– History of the Riots –
Political turmoil in Bahrain has eased since independence, but after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990 protests for democracy re-emerged, coupled with pressure from the United States and Britain.
The Shiite-led demonstrations intensified in 1994. The protesters called for the restoration of an elected parliament, the return of political exiles and a fairer distribution of wealth.
The riots, in which at least 38 people were killed, lasted until 1999 when King Hamad – the son of Sheikh Issa – ascended the throne and initiated reforms that made Bahrain a constitutional monarchy and reintroduced the elected parliament.
But the demonstrators were back on the streets in February 2011, orienting themselves on the uprisings of the Arab Spring. They called for a “real” constitutional monarchy with an elected prime minister to succeed Prince Khalifa.
Although the government suppressed the protests after a month, the country continues to face political repression and several opposition leaders are behind bars. At least 89 people were killed in the riots.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and posted from a syndicated feed.)