US Press Ought to Know Better About Bahrain

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It has become something of a fashion in the western media to criticize and denigrate the oil-rich Gulf Arab countries and the tendency is to shoot them from the shoulders of the so-called NGOs and human rights organizations. One wonders if this is so because these welfare states failed their critics by not succumbing to the winds of Arab Spring which began in Tunisia in 2011. What else would explain the attitude of the western Press in continuously misrepresenting facts on the ground in the face of documentary evidence contrary to their assertions?

Take the case of Bahrain. Here is a tiny island kingdom which, in the face of overwhelming odds, tried its best to come to grips with the troubles which started in February 2011. Once the volatile situation had been brought under control there were serious efforts on the part of the government to rebuild the social fabric.

This included the setting up of independent bodies to address complaints related to any human rights violations; compensation fund that delivered over $26 million to those affected by the unrest; rebuilding places of worship and reinstatement of dismissed workers among many other conciliatory actions corroborated by a recent US State Department report.

And this was all done transparently, following the submission of an independent inquiry report by a panel of international judges and experts whose recommendations – which many other countries would have dismissed as unpalatable – were implemented in their entirely in letter and spirit. The report itself, which was in part critical of the government, was put on a website and the progress of the implementation of the recommendations duly recorded.

But even if a government can curb the disruptive and violent activities carried out by the followers of an opposition group, it cannot control the mindset of the opposition groups operating in a country. And this is what resulted in some disastrous consequences for the social and democratic fabric of Bahrain.

The agenda of the opposition groups all along has been to ensure the democratic movement launched at the beginning of the 21st century by the King through his reforms project does not succeed. Thus, in the wake of the troubles there were numerous official attempts to rope the opposition leaders into holding a national dialogue to sort out the various national issues but the latter never took these attempts seriously and left the negotiating table on facetious and frivolous grounds at the behest of their Iran-based handlers in order to embarrass the government.

Bahrain National Dialogue.
Bahrain National Dialogue.

In fact the National Dialogue was rejected by some opposition members as they equated dialogue with defeat! And the 2014 general election was derailed by them out of fear their participation would take the wind out of the tensions they were struggling to uphold.

To this end, Secretary-General of Al Wefaq National Islamic Society Shaikh Ali Salman – currently in jail serving a nine-year term for anti-national activities – announced a boycott of the elections, and threatened expulsion from the society of any member who tried to run as an independent. This was further endorsed by Ayatollah Isa Qassim – whose citizenship has since been revoked by Bahrain, also for anti-national activities – who he issued a fatwa or religious edict urging people to support the boycott. Violent attacks were organised on the houses of candidates who defied him.

As the Bahraini ambassador in the US asserted last week, “Throughout the past few years, hardliners have encouraged citizens, particularly youth, to defy laws and use violence as a means. With security exercising maximum self-restraint to support efforts in rebuilding trust, there have been no fatalities as a result of polices’ action in over two years. In the same time span, six officers and a 72-year old farmer have lost their lives.”

Indeed violence may have subsided over the years since 2011 but there has never been a zero-violence month. Only last week, a bomb was detonated that killed a woman driving a car and injured her three children. And yet, the western Press looks at only one side of the coin – the NGOs and the human rights outfits operating out of Bahrain and made up of opposition-propped experts. It is time the mainstream Press made an objective assessment on their own and also spoke to the government spokesmen.

Brij Sharma is an Indian journalist and editor based in Bahrain. Brij tells us the interesting stories we don’t usually hear from the middle east country.