The Bahraini official was renowned for her stances against normalisation with the Israeli occupation.
Sheikha Mai bint Mohammed Al Khalifa has been dismissed from her post as president of the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities for refusing to shake hands with the ambassador of the Israeli regime.
The incident happened at the home of the United States envoy to Bahrain, Stephen Bundy, who hosted a funeral reception on 16 June to mark his father’s death.
A number of ambassadors and officials attended the funeral, including Sheikha Mai and the Israeli ambassador. Reports say the two were being introduced to one another when Sheikha Mai withdrew her hand.
She then left the house of the American ambassador and requested the embassy to refrain from publishing any photos of her at the funeral.
King of Bahrain Hamad bin Isa issued a decree on 21 July appointing Sheikh Khalifa bin Ahmed bin Abdullah Al Khalifa as the new head of the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities.
Sheikha Mai was visiting the Balkan countries and Albania at the time of the move, according to the official news agency.
The Sheikh Ibrahim Centre, which is also run by Sheikha Mai, hosted the Jewish historian and thinker Ilan Pappe on 30 November 30 last year, who believes that the desired future solution in Palestine is the abolition of the “racist” Zionist settlement colonisation of Palestine.
The symposium was considered “a blow” to the efforts of normalisation with the occupying regime.
Many flocked to Twitter to express support and solidarity for the Bahraini minister’s move.
One such user was Al Jazeera’s journalist Ghada Oueiss saying: “She refused to shake hands with the occupier, so the King of Bahrain dismissed her from her position. She lost her position and gained herself and the respect and love of people. Sheikha Mai bint Mohammed Al Khalifa, all respect to you.”
Another user described Sheikha Mai’s move as a “heroic stance”.
“She lost her position after refusing to shake hands with the ‘Israeli’ ambassador! But it earned her principles and the appreciation of millions,” another wrote.
“She did not lose her position, but the position has lost out on her,” a Twitter user said.
Expressing her appreciation for the pouring of support of love on social media, Sheikha Mai wrote: “From the heart, a thousand thanks for every message I received, only love protects and strengthens us”.
Normalisation with the occupying regime
Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates signed the Abraham Accords with the Zionist regime in 2020, cementing a solid and controversial normalisation of ties between the countries despite widespread condemnation of the move.
The establishing of ties is a break with decades-long Arab consensus to stand against Israel as long as it continues to attack and violate native Palestinians under occupation. It has also been condemned by Palestinian factions across the board who deem it to be a betrayal of their cause.
In early July, Saudi Civil Aviation Authority announced in a statement “the decision to open the kingdom’s airspace for all air carriers that meet the requirements of the authority for overflying.”
This was considered an apparent gesture by Saudi Arabia to exhibit openness towards Israel ahead of US President Joe Biden’s arrival in Jeddah in early July.
Earlier this month, Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani slammed Israel’s “politics of force” under which the Zionist state rejects concessions put forward by the Arab world.
“It is inappropriate for the Arabs to propose settlements, while Israel’s role is confined to rejecting them and increasing its intransigence whenever the Arabs make concessions. Just as Israel has a public opinion, we also have a public opinion in the Arab world,” said Sheikh Tamim at a summit in Jeddah, attended by US President Joe Biden.
The amir highlighted the importance of committing to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which was adopted by the GCC and stipulates that member states shall refrain from normalising with Israel until it fully withdraws from lands occupied in 1967.
Jordan, Egypt, Bahrain, Morocco and the UAE have already established diplomatic relations with Israel.
However, Qatar has repeatedly expressed its staunch refusal to normalise with Tel Aviv as long as it continues to violate international law in its illegal occupation of Palestinian lands.
“It should be noted that despite the violence of May 2021, the UAE, Bahrain, and others did not walk away from the accords,” Dr Clive Jones, professor of Regional Security at Durham University, told Doha News.
Moreover, we are seeing a deepening of those ties, notably between Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv but also, a more functional level between Israel and Saudi Arabia over air defence and radar ,” Dr Jones added.