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Bahrain sacks royal family member over Israel envoy snub

Shaikha Mai Bint Mohammed Al-Khalifa [Wikipedia]
Shaikha Mai Bint Mohammed Al-Khalifa [Wikipedia]

A senior Bahraini official and member of the ruling Al-Khalifa family has been dismissed for refusing to shake hands with the Israeli ambassador to the country.

Shaikha Mai Bint Mohammed Al-Khalifa, who is the President of the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities was reportedly sacked by order of King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa according to a report on Friday by Rai Al-Youm.

Mai is said to have refused to shake hands with Eitan Na'eh, Israel's ambassador to Manama, during a funeral service for the father of US ambassador Steven C Bondy last month.

She also reportedly left the funeral service upon learning of Na'eh's presence and requested that the US embassy should not publish any pictures of her attending the event.

Bahraini sources have revealed that the king did not wait for Mai to return from her official visit in Albania to dismiss her. She was swiftly replaced by Khalifa bin Ahmed bin Abdullah Al Khalifa.

"The government wishes to emphasize that the former president of the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities, Shaikha Mai bint Mohammed Al Khalifa, served in government for over 20 years with distinction," the Bahraini government's spokesperson said in a statement issued in response to the report.

READ: Public support for normalising ties with Israel declines sharply in Gulf

"Wide-ranging changes announced this week within a number of government bodies follow on from the largest cabinet reshuffle in the Kingdom's history," the statement continued.

"Updates to leadership positions within public sector bodies should not be misinterpreted."

Sheikha Mai's refusal to shake hands with Na'eh is a "true reflection of the Bahraini people's genuine stance in support of Palestinians," said Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qasem in a statement in on Saturday.

According to Al-Mayadeen, Shaikha Mai also opposed plans aimed at the "Judaization" of Old Manama neighbourhoods, such as Bab Al-Bahrain in the central business district of the city, and Al-Mutanabbi Avenue.

The Bahraini royal family member has been described as a "controversial figure", who has worked as an official for over 20 years. She has previously served as the Bahraini information minister, the first woman to hold the office in addition to Bahrain's culture minister.

On 30 November last year, Shaikha Mai hosted Israeli historian and activist Ilan Pappé at the Sheikh Ibrahim Center. Pappé has previously written about "the ethnic cleansing of Palestine", and is opposed to the ongoing occupation of Palestine.

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