Bahrain’s Crown Prince, Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, has been appointed first deputy Prime Minister (PM), a move viewed as a sign that the royal family is looking to bolster efforts to negotiate an end to an uprising that has lasted over two years.
The appointment comes just a few weeks into a renewed dialogue between the government and opposition groups and amid pressure from Bahrain’s GCC neighbours to find a political solution to the continued unrest.
It also puts Sheikh Salman back at the heart of Bahraini politics after having kept a low profile since his attempts at negotiating with opposition groups during the peak of pro-democracy demonstrations in March 2011 collapsed. Those talks fell apart as opposition groups continued to demand more concessions from the government, which responded by sending in troops to clear protesters and imposed a curfew to stop demonstrations.
The ruling Sunni Al-Khalifa family has been divided since then about how to deal with the uprising. The Crown Prince has been the most high-profile advocate of continuing dialogue with Shia groups. A hardline faction which includes Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa and royal court minister Khalid bin Ahmad bin Salman al-Khalifa, have been loath to grant concessions to protesters and have advocated a continued tough response to protests.
Clashes between Shia youths and security forces continue to take place on a regular basis. Concerns are rising about the ability of formal political opposition groups like Al-Wefaq, the largest Shia political society, to get any deal agreed with the government to also appease those young protesters. “If Wefaq agree a deal with the government we will still stay on the streets,” says one young demonstrator.
The crown prince will join four other deputy PMs and have responsibility for the development and performance of government bodies. Observers say the appointment will institutionalise his role within the government.