Prince Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa of Bahrain, the world’s longest-serving prime minister, who had served since independence in 1971, died on Wednesday at the age of 84, state media reported.
Prince Khalifa was a controversial figure during his long time in power – and deeply unpopular with the Shia population of the Sunni-dominated state.
When Shiite protesters occupied Pearl Square in Manama for a month before being ousted by Saudi-backed security forces in 2011, their main demand was Khalifa’s exit.
He played an important role in Bahrain’s political and economic affairs for more than three decades during which the stage was set for a referendum that paid off the Shah’s demands on Iran on the small Gulf Islands.
But surrounded by accusations of opposing political reforms and activist tightening, the prime minister kept a low profile in March 1999 after his nephew Raja Hamad ascended to the throne.
Bahrain’s official news agency said Prince Khalifa died in Mayo Clinic hospital in the United States.
The burial ceremony will take place after their remains have been brought home, and the ceremony will be limited to a “specific number” of relatives, in accordance with coronovirus restrictions.
The country will organize a week of official mourning, during which the flag will be hoisted at half mast. Government ministries and departments will remain closed for three days.
Born on November 24, 1935, Khalifa began attending his father’s royal court at the age of seven, along with his older brother, Prince Insa.
He was appointed head of the Council of State in 1970, the executive branch of government that became the Council of Ministers after independence from Britain.
He had difficult talks with the Shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, before independence over the claims of the Shiite islands of Iran.
A referendum to determine Bahrain’s future led to an overwhelming vote for independence under the rule of the Sunni al-Khalifa dynasty, despite the large Shiite population – whose size was contested by the government at this day.
After independence, Sheikh Khalifa’s government faced strong opposition from left-wing political groups seeking to legalize unions, resulting in large-scale arrests.
In 1972, elections were held for a Constituent Assembly, which drafted Bahrain’s first constitution the following year.
The first legislative elections were held in December 1973, but Sheikh Khalifa’s government dissolved the chamber in August 1975 because it prohibited the state government from passing a state security law granting broad rights without arrest or detention. I did.
Political unrest escalated again in the early 1980s, and in late 1981 the government announced that it had foiled an Iranian-backed coup attempt.
Prince Khalifa has tried for many years to make Bahrain a regional financial center. Unlike other Gulf states, the state has only minor oil resources.
Working closely with his brother, the late Amir Sheikh Issa bin Salman al-Khalifa, he maintained close ties with Washington.
Since then relations have grown steadily, with Bahrain now home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, one of Washington’s most trusted allies in the region.
History of the troubles
After Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Bahrain saw further pro-democracy protests under pressure from the United States and Great Britain.
Shiite-led protests intensified in 1994, with protesters calling for the restoration of an elected parliament, the return of political exile and a more equitable distribution of wealth.
The unrest, which claimed at least 38 lives, lasted until 1999, when King Hamad ascended to the throne, was initially wealthy and introduced reforms that turned Bahrain into a constitutional monarchy and elected parliament in 2002. Restored.
But the demonstrators were back on the road in February 2011, siding with the provocation of the Arab Spring, demanding a “real” constitutional monarchy with an elected leader to replace the caliphate.
Although the government pacified the protests after a month, the country continues to face political repression, with many opposition leaders behind bars. At least 89 people have been killed in the unrest.
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and posted from a syndicated feed.)