A picture of Bahraini King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa decorates a tank as armed forces secure Manama's Pearl Square on March 19, 2011 Photograph: Getty Images
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Why is former Met police commander John Yates working for the brutal Bahraini regime?

Yates is defending a blood-stained Middle East tyranny.

Oh dear. What happened to John Yates? How did a suave, sophisticated, liberal British policeman, once tipped for the top job in the Metropolitan Police, end up shilling for a vicious Middle East dictator who shoots, teargasses and tortures unarmed protesters?

“Yates of the Yard”, as he became known during his pursuit of Tony Blair over the cash-for-peerages scandal, was appointed by the king of Bahrain to oversee reform of the country’s security forces late last year.

This was the very same King of Bahrain, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, who had turned those security forces on his own people when the Arab Spring reached the country’s capital on 14 February, 2011. Protesters had arrived in Manama’s Pearl Square to demand greater political freedom and greater equality for the Shia majority. More than 30 people were killed in the crackdown that followed.

Opposition groups say that Yates, who quit the Met over the phone-hacking scandal, was hired to give the ruling al-Khalifa family a veneer of respectability – and he does seem to have taken to his new role with relish. In February, Yates told the Telegraph that the turmoil in Bahrain wasn’t the result of “organised protests” but “vandalism, rioting on the streets”.

Earlier this month, with human-rights groups calling for the forthcoming Bahrain grand prix to be cancelled, Yates intervened to urge teams to travel to the Gulf kingdom, suggesting that he and his family felt safer in Manama than in London. In a leaked letter, dated 11 April, Yates admitted that there were “nightly skirmishes” but claimed that these were “overplayed” by social media sites sympathetic to the opposition. “I feel completely safe,” he wrote. “Indeed, safer than I have often felt in London.”

Of course, if you’re in charge of security and policing for a brutal, unelected dictator, you do tend to feel quite safe.

Until, that is, the inevitable revolution comes. Then they’re often strung up from the nearest lamppost. If, and let’s cross our fingers here, Bahrain’s al-Khalifah ends up going the way of Tunisia’s Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Yates might well find himself desperately trying to book a seat on the first flight out of Manama.

The former Met commander is a disgrace. To cosy up to News International is one thing; to defend and dissemble on behalf of a blood-stained Middle East tyranny quite another. If Yates really believes Bahrain is “safe” and that the protesters are “vandals”, then perhaps he should venture out of his plush, air-conditioned office inside of the interior ministry in Manama and go and speak with the family of 22-year-old Ahmed Ismail, who bled to death last month after being shot by government loyalists at a rally. Or with the parents of 15-year-old Sayed Hashim, who bled to death on New Year’s Eve after being hit in the neck by a tear gas canister.

Yates was appointed to his post in December 2011; according to a recent report by the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, there have been at least 30 documented cases between November 2011 and March 2012 where Bahrainis have died after confrontations with police or security forces. So much for his “reforms”. Yates of theYard has failed. Again.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Why is Germany so obsessed with Hamlet?

From 18th century philosophers to present day audiences, Germans just can’t get enough of the Dane.

On 22 November Lars Eidinger took to the stage in Berlin to play Hamlet for the 250th time in a production running since 2008 that shows no sign of ending. Hardly a year goes by in Germany without at least one new notable German-language production of the play. Germany’s love of Shakespeare is well known, but why the obsession with this particular tragedy?

A description of the current production on the Berlin theatre’s website gives us a clue. “With its central paradox of the incapacitated protagonist,” we read, “Hamlet remains today a valid analysis of the intellectual dilemma between complex thinking and political action.”

Germany has long been home to great debate about the relative values of thought and action and the ideal balance between them. It was a dilemma that consumed German thinkers as far back as the 18th century, who soon realised that Hamlet was the perfect vehicle for exploring it. Is our nation of poets and thinkers condemned to the same existence as Hamlet, they asked, plagued by indecision and inaction?

Concern that “Germany is Hamlet” reached its peak in 1848 when the revolution that would have unified the German nation failed. We hesitated for too long, came the woeful cry.

But just 23 years later, unification did come. An 1877 American edition of the play was dedicated to the German people, “whose recent history has proved once for all that ‘Germany is not Hamlet’.” Surely Germany could finally be released from the burden of identifying with this ditherer?

Yet the obsession did not end and Hamlet remained a key reference point for discussing the actions (or inaction) of the German state and its members.

The years of division between 1949 and 1989 spawned some highly politicised productions. The 1970s West German Hamlet was shown as powerless to affect his corrupt society, reflecting the experiences of intellectuals and theatre directors who failed to influence the politics of the 1960s revolutions.

Later productions were only a little less gloomy. The Hamlet that appeared on stage in Hamburg in 1986 was a middle-aged intellectual who wore glasses and carried a well-thumbed notebook. “Hamlet knows everything”, the director noted in the margin of his script. This production showed a tentative return to a belief in the value of thought, even in a society where individuals are unable to exert influence through action.

East German interpretations of Hamlet were unsurprisingly very different. In his speech at the 1964 Shakespeare festival, Cultural Minister Alexander Abusch praised Hamlet’s socialist ideals and lambasted the corrupt society that prevented him carrying them out. In our socialist utopia, he declared, we can succeed where Hamlet failed. His socialist ideals can finally be put into action.

Not everyone agreed with the party line. One production staged the same year – and banned after just 12 performances – showed Hamlet lurching between outbursts of extreme brutality and abstract philosophising. This was no socialist hero or even just a man plagued by indecision – this Hamlet was unhinged.

The obsession with the play has not slackened in reunified Germany. But, just as in the previous decades, the frequent revival of this old, familiar play does not signal a retreat in German theatre from innovative drama. In fact, the nation’s changing role has sparked an exciting new phase in the depiction of the dithering protagonist.

In a radical 2005 production in Munich, director Lars-Ole Walburg incorporated quotations from George W Bush and Michael Moore and references to the Rwandan genocide and the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York. Surrounded by television screens showing popular entertainment shows, Walburg’s Hamlet ignored these and engaged instead with real issues, watching programmes on Pearl Harbour and the Iraq War.

Yet he does little, and when he acts, it is with horrifying brutality. We should think hard about difficult issues, this production tells us, but acting on them is impossible – they are just too big and complex.

To think and not to act, however, is useless in today’s Germany, which plays such a key political, financial and military role on the European and global stages.

In 2010, Angela Merkel was directly criticised by the German press for behaving “like Hamlet”, hesitating too long in her handling of the Greek crisis. A book about the chancellor by journalist Nikolaus Blome, published in 2013, is entitled The Artist of Procrastination (a pun on the German word for “magician”) and has Merkel’s trademark indecision at its centre.

The bold actions of the German government in the last few months have shocked many. While the rest of Europe has dithered on the Euro and refugee crises, Merkel has acted. It remains to be seen whether 2015 is a blip in German history, like one of Hamlet’s brief moments of action in the midst of his philosophising. It is also currently unclear whether Germany’s actions have been reckless or the result of careful thought.

The next German Hamlets to appear on stage will undoubtedly engage with recent political events. Will they be able to proclaim at last that “Germany is not Hamlet”? Only time will tell.