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Tuesday, September 29, 2015
MEMRI: Bahrain And The Politics Of Deceit {PR visit to MEMRI)

MEMRI Daily Brief - September 29, 2015
Bahrain And The Politics Of Deceit
By: Alberto M. Fernandez*

Recently we at MEMRI hosted a delegation from the Kingdom of Bahrain at our
main offices in Washington, D.C. Briefing visitors is a regular thing we do
and the Bahraini group came the same week as a delegation of international
students from a major American university and another one from one of
uniformed service schools.

The Bahrain delegation was different. Ostensibly a private group, it came
accompanied by a camera crew and photographer from the Bahrain state media
and a handler from the Bahrain government. Although most Bahraini are Shi'a
Muslims, the delegation was assembled to give an impression of remarkable
diversity and included a Hindu priest, an Anglican cleric, a Coptic priest
and a handful of actual Bahrainis among a mostly expat crew.

The meeting proceeded as these sessions tend to do, with MEMRI explaining
our work of translation and analysis of the voices and images of the region
and how we see the multiple crises and challenges affecting the region. The
comments of "This is Bahrain," which is what the group calls itself in the
form of its leader, an expat lady businesswoman, were a bit…odd. Instead of
a dialogue about serious matters — say, for example, the challenge of Salafi
jihadist extremism (the most prominent ISIS cleric is a Bahraini[1]) or of
Iranian subversion in the Gulf, or of the challenges of sectarianism — we
heard a potted public relations song and dance guaranteed to deceive only
the unwary.

"Did you know that Bahrain has, unlike the United States, generous maternity
leave?" Or that the King subsidizes Shi'a Ashura celebrations and is
building the largest Cathedral in the Arabian Peninsula? One could only
recall how miserable third world dictatorships like Cuba boast of their
healthcare to distract attention from their lack of basic freedoms or how
Russian President Putin recently inaugurated a giant mosque in Moscow in
order to try to present a certain message through a projection of religious

As the meeting ended, the expat lady leader mentioned in passing the idea of
signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). We responded diplomatically
that this is something that can be talked about in the future, particularly
about what exactly would such a MoU possibly be about. MEMRI has no MoUs
with any governments and is an independent research institute.

Imagine our surprise the next day when we saw public remarks from this expat
businesswoman that MEMRI had signed a MoU with Bahrain![2] An idea suddenly
raised by one individual is transmogrified into a signed document? A photo
from the same MEMRI meeting was used to illustrate the supposed signing of
still another MoU, this time with a Washington D.C. synagogue.[3] It is not
clear whether that was also an imaginary signing or perhaps it was an
imaginary synagogue.

Despite our complaints to the organizers of this visit, and to the media in
Bahrain that has carried this false story, it has slowly spread. From the
regime-controlled media in Manama, the item was featured in the popular
Middle East news aggregator, Al-Bawaba.[4] It was perhaps inevitable that
the false story was now picked up by Middle East Eye, a UK-based outfit
supposedly connected to the Muslim Brotherhood.[5] Respected UAE commentator
Khalaf Al-Habtoor dubbed it "one of the Muslim Brotherhood's UK-based
propaganda rags."[6]

It would be easy to chalk this farcical incident up to the frantic efforts
of an expat businesswoman clumsily and dishonestly trying to correct the
extremely negative image of her adopted homeland.[7] But it is clear that
the "This is Bahrain" roadshow is an attempt at public diplomacy embraced by
the Manama government.[8] The problem it reveals is a larger one not limited
to this particular island kingdom in the Middle East.

The crisis of authority in the Middle East, the great shaking and unraveling
in the Middle East supposedly unleashed by the Arab Spring but actually long
in coming has terrified dynasties to their core. The rise of the Islamic
State, the increased tempo of Iranian-supported military action and
terrorism, and the seemingly near complete abdication by the United States
of its leading role in the region have all worked on the calculations of
existing regimes. Elites rally around authority in such times.

Gone are, in all too many cases, the faltering steps at much needed reform
and openness. Regimes feel threatened existentially and intimately and
respond, not by prioritizing reform or change, but by increasing repression
and, in the world of the media, by making the lie and the gap between
reality and the truth greater rather than lesser. This is a dangerous,
high-stakes, short-term, and even reckless strategy, in Bahrain and beyond.

*Alberto M. Fernandez is Vice President of MEMRI.

[1] http://mirror.no-ip.org/news/20325.html

[2] http://www.gdnonline.com/Details/25019

[3] http://www.dt.bh/viewNews.php?ppId=6213&TYPE=Posts&pid=55&MNU=18&SUB=




[7] https://www.hrw.org/middle-east/n-africa/bahrain


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