Listening to lifelong regime toadies belatedly call for the seizure of Mubarak’s assets or calibrate the precise moment when it’s safe to demand the overthrow of the strongman you’ve happily served all your life, I’m reminded of the Hakim of Bahrain’s visit to London for the Queen’s Coronation in 1953. Late in the evening, at the end of the banquet, the diminutive Sheikh Salman came upon the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, sitting at the bottom of a staircase, and attempted to ingratiate himself with a view to winning support for some land claim Bahrain had against Qatar. It had been a bibulous night and Sir Winston was in no mood to discuss the fine points of Arabian territorial disputes.
“Tell him,” the PM instructed David Weir, Britain’s Political Resident in Bahrain and “gentleman in attendance” to the non-English-speaking Hakim, “tell him that we never desert our friends.” Pause. “Unless we have to.”