The Cable

Bahrain crown prince to visit Washington

Bahrain’s crown prince will arrive in Washington next week for an official visit as his country seeks to return to normalcy following the lifting of the emergency law earlier this week. Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa will meet with President Barack Obama and other senior U.S. officials, according to three sources with ...

AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images

Bahrain’s crown prince will arrive in Washington next week for an official visit as his country seeks to return to normalcy following the lifting of the emergency law earlier this week.

Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa will meet with President Barack Obama and other senior U.S. officials, according to three sources with knowledge of the visit. The crown prince is perceived to be one of the more liberal figures in the ruling regime, and he supports granting opposition groups a greater say in how the country is governed.

Bahrain lifted the state of emergency, which had been imposed in March following widespread protests against the ruling Khalifa family, on June 1. However, the government has continued to crack down on protesters — security forces fired bullets and tear gas to break up a demonstration near the capital of Manama on Friday.

Obama referred to Bahrain as a "longstanding partner" in his May 19 speech on U.S. policy toward the Arab revolutions, but also insisted that "mass arrests and brute force are at odds with the universal rights of Bahrain’s citizens" and criticized the government for destroying Shia mosques in the country. Bahrain is home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet — a factor that has caused the United States to temper its criticism of the government’s repressive techniques, which have included prosecuting doctors that treat injured protesters.

Nevertheless, the crown prince’s upcoming visit to Washington is just the latest sign that the unrest has not fractured the ruling family’s relationship with Western governments. The crown prince met with British officials, including Prime Minister David Cameron, in London two weeks ago. 

Following his meeting with British Foreign Minister William Hague, the crown prince said in a statement that he told British officials that the opposition’s rejection of a national dialogue had given "extremists the opportunity to pursue a campaign of divisive and increasingly violent disorder that necessitated the introduction of emergency laws to prevent a wide-scale sectarian clash."

It appears that Western institutions are willing to move forward based on the assumption that the worst is over for Bahrain. Today, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile reinstated the Formula One Grand Prix to Bahrain after it had been suspended following the outbreak of unrest in March – a decision that it said "reflects the spirit of reconciliation" in the kingdom.

Wayne White, a scholar at the Middle East Institute and a former State Department official, said that U.S. officials will likely focus on the role that the crown prince will play in the government’s proposed reconciliation process. "At present, his role is enigmatic: Is he a voice for restraint and reform within the government, or has he adopted a likewise conservative posture and allowed himself to be put forward in a more façade-like fashion?" White asked. "The White House will want to extract from him whether he — and more conservative senior regime players like the prime minister — are serious at this point about shifting away from harsh repression to something more palatable and less costly to the U.S."

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