Bahrain: ‘Who ate the power of the poor? The Prime Minister’

Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, the Prime Minister of Bahrain, died on 11 November after half a century in power.

He took office one year before Bahrain gained independence from the British, in 1971, and was one of the longest serving Prime Ministers in the world.

Uncle of the current King, Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, he was considered one of the hardliners in the al-Khalifa family and was close to the al-Saud ruling family in Saudi Arabia.

In 2011 during the so-called “Arab Spring,” under the guise of a Gulf Cooperation Council force, the Saudi Arabian military crossed the 12-mile bridge to Bahrain, it’s only land border, and assisted in crushing the uprising.

Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa was a terrorising figure in Bahrain, with many people too scared to utter his name when discussing corruption and the increasing political repression. He was known locally as Mr. 50/50, as he reportedly took up to a 50 percent cut from all commercial deals.

During the uprising, protestors congregated around the Financial Harbour in Bahrain with one Dinar notes – the amount he allegedly purchased the land for that the development is located on.

In 2004, Ronald E. Neumann, former US Ambassador to Bahrain, wrote about the Prime Minister in a cable released by Wikileaks, saying “While certainly corrupt, he has built much of modern Bahrain.”

In 2004, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, currently serving life in prison, spoke publicly about the poverty and inequality in Bahrain, blaming it on the policies and corruption of Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa.

Naming a senior member of the ruling family in this way was crossing a well understood red-line.

Al-Khawaja was arrested and the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, the human rights organisation he founded, was banned and forced to take its work underground.

There were protests for al-Khawaja’s release with chants of: “Who ate the power of the poor? None other than the Prime Minister.”

After the 2011 uprising, al-Khawaja was sentenced to life imprisonment. His daughter Maryam al-Khawaja alleges that the reason why her father was tortured so severely after his arrest, was not released in 2012 and continues to reside in prison, is because of Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa’s personal vendetta against him.

Former US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, wrote in his memoir that he had once advised the King to remove the Prime Minister from Office, as he was “disliked by nearly everyone but especially the Shia.”

Photo: ChintoBoy via wikimedia commons

“While certainly corrupt, he has built much of modern Bahrain”

During Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa’s time as Prime Minister, British colonial officer, Ian Henderson, known in the country as ‘The Butcher of Bahrain,’ ran the notorious Security and Intelligence Service (SIS).

The SIS was the main organ of the systematic torture taking place within the country. Between 1975 and 1999, at least 37 Bahrainis were killed by the police, 15 in police custody having believed to be tortured. Henderson retired and left Bahrain in 1998.

Bahrain’s relationship with the UK has a long history, and the island was a British protectorate before gaining independence.

Upon Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa’s death, the UK’s Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, released a statement, writing: “As a friend of the UK, HRH Prince Khalifa exemplified the deep and close relationship between our two countries and people, a historic relationship that will continue to be a positive force for cooperation and partnership into the future.”

Meanwhile, the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) recently reported that 18 people have been arrested, including a 16-year old girl and 14-year old boy, due to social media posts made regarding Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa’s death.

Go to for more information about how you can support Bahraini activists and political prisoners against repression.

*** This article is a reprint from Middle East Solidarity magazine issue 15. Download your pdf of the current issue here. Scroll down for previous issues. During the Covid-19 crisis we are suspending our print publications temporarily, but you can help support our work by making a donation for your copy below. Click to take out an annual solidarity subscription. ***

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