There is little hope that Prince Khalifa will be inspired by the retirement announcement of Pope Benedict. He is a relentless protector of his power, and the weak-willed King Hamad cannot be expected to act unless his own tenure is at risk. Hamad's deficiencies are not the most important impediment to serious reform. The Prime Minister is Riyadh's man, and it is often through him that Saudi Arabia pulls the strings in Manama. Indeed, Nakhleh refers to press reports alleging that the Saudis have sent another contingent of troops into Bahrain. Riyadh is allergic to any arrangement that allows the majority Shi'i Muslms of Bahrain to gain meaningful political voice in Bahrain. Whether second-term Obama is willing to press the point with Riyadh remains to be discovered, but past behavior is not promising at all.
As a minimum, the outrageous oppression of the majority Shi'i community in Bahrain deserves serious public attention by the White House and the State Department, which will upset the Saudis. Unless the U.S. is willing to buck Saudi's incapacitating influence in Bahrain, expect the dangers that Nakhleh identifies to grow.