Even by Bahrain standards, today was pretty eventful. In addition to widespread protests, police repression, and terrible GDN articles, there were the curious incidents of fallen fruit, foreign plots and road rage. This post details those incidents – not because they are linked, but because they all tell their own, interesting story.
Today a woman from Muharraq who alleged she was attacked by protesters stepped out of her vehicle and confronted the perpetrators. On her Twitter feed she states that her car was attacked with planks and stones. Full of rage, she got out of the car (whose radio was playing ahlan ya buu Salman – an homage to the Al Khalifas) and filmed herself berating the youths (Video clips here and here). Among the terms of insult were ‘sons of dogs’, ‘terrorists’, and ‘faggots’. She also yelled ‘ Down, down Isa Qassim’ (prominent Shia cleric deemed by many to be responsible for a rise in anti-police violence). The objects of her anger responded by dancing and showing the victory sign. Although some people found her actions to be deeply unpleasant, she also received a lot of support – as this excerpt from her Twitter feed demonstrates.
Such praise is perhaps not surprising when there are many people who believe that those who burn tyres and block roads are committing acts of terror. Indeed, the governments discourse of the uprising, which suggests protesters are either terrorists, rioters, foreign stooges, or religious nuts, has helped legitimize people’s recourse to vigililantiism – or at least harden hearts against state violence. It is not surprising that little is done about police brutality, as there are people out there who believe that victims of police violence fully deserve it. Furthermore, the disruption to many people’s daily lives caused by road blocks and tyre burning are helping to ground the government’s hyperbolic rhetoric in reality – even if the connection is tenuous.
Unfortunately, the government’s framing of the protests as acts of domestic terror or hooliganism limit the empathy felt by those who are seduced by such propaganda, for the rhetoric of terror provokes instinctive desires for protection and defence. This creates support for zero tolerance policing, and even zero tolerance citizenship, where citizens who support the status quo are protected by the state when they themselves police dissent by engaging in acts of vigilantiism. I do, for example, wonder whether a protester would so brazenly chant Down down with Hamad without at least protecting his/her identity. Remember that four Bahrainis were sentenced to prison for insulting King Hamad on Twitter. Also, two boys were imprisoned recently for mocking a Sunni cleric and filming it. Is shouting Down Down Isa Qassim and filming it also worthy of a prison sentence? I doubt it. I mean no one should be imprisoned for insulting a cleric, but that’s not the point. The point is, will the law deal with the two cases equally?
Today a video also emerged that shows two riot officers stealing fruit off a tree in the village of Duraz. Personally I find such footage quite interesting, as videos of the riot police usually show them engaged in their militaristic and repressive style of policing. You rarely see them doing something as human as eating. Such acts tend to undermine the cold, heartless facade created by the blue uniform, helmet and body armour. Anyway, what is interesting about them stealing the ‘Kanaar’ off a tree is that recently a migrant worker was fined 1BD and spent time in custody for doing the very same thing. Well, almost the same thing, the fruit he took had actually fallen from the tree. The court stated that under Islamic Law it was fine for someone to eat fallen fruit, so long as that person sought the permission from the owner. Although the court asked the farm owner if he would consider dropping the charges, he refused. The tragedy of the story was then compounded by Anwar Abdulrahman, editor-in-chief of the pro-gov paper Akhbar al-Khaleej, who suggested in an oped that the farm owner’s vindictiveness stemmed from a ‘ Molotov culture’ that bread hatred and inhumanity. Obviously blaming protesters for the universal suffering of all expats has become one of the regime’s favourite propaganda devices.
Whether or not anything will happen to those two riot policeman is uncertain, though if anyone in Duraz is missing two pieces of fruit, I suggest they get in touch with the MOI. You never know, the MOI might announce a ‘ probe’ or ‘ investigation’ into the case on their Twitter account.
Crisis in Bahrain tends to prompt a predictable response from the regime – the announcement of a foreign plot. Today was no exception, and only two days after the second anniversary of the 14th February uprising, the Ministry of the Interior announced that they had arrested 8 men who were part of a terror cell with links to Iran, Lebanon and Iraq. This comes almost a month after a Kuwaiti news portal claimed Qatari authorities had intercepted an Iranian boat smuggling weapons to Bahrain. (Qatar later denied the story.) Similarly, on 21st March 2011, about a month after widespread popular protest erupted in Bahrain, King Hamad announced that a foreign plot had been foiled with the aid of Saudi troops. A week later a Kuwaiti news site said that Qatari authorities had intercepted two Iranian ships carrying weapons to Bahrain.( Again, Qatar denied the story. ) On 12th November 2011, a few weeks before the release of the BICI report, the government reported that they had discovered another terror cell with links to Iran. The same happened the day before the National Assembly was dissolved in August 1975. About 30 people were arrested from the National Liberation Front and the People’s Front. Soon after, the weekly paper ‘ al-Mawaqif’ published an article claiming that a ship loaded with arms was intercepted as it headed towards Bahrain. Many of those arrested also had ‘ pamphlets ready for distribution’. The only difference about today’s ‘ plotters’ is that they are Shia rather than ‘left-wing’.
It is of course hard to know when the government are telling the truth, though given the lack of credible evidence about such plots it seems that a lot of it is just bullshit that serves to reinforce the government’s rhetoric about a foreign bogeyman intent on interfering in Bahrain’s sovereignty. Without constant scaremongering and reminders of this threat, it is hard to make Bahrainis turn against one another and call each other that overused and disgraceful term – ‘traitors’.
For those of you who don’t know, I have a clone. For the second time, Bahrain’s exemplary contribution to global journalism, ‘the Gulf Daily News’, has published a letter allegedly written by someone called Marc Owen Jones. While there are undoubtedly other Marc Owen Joneses out there, the chances of there being one who has the same background as me are very small. The first letter, pictured below, describes my not-so-alter ego as a ‘former longer-term resident of Bahrain who retains strong links with the kingdom’. He also ‘now lives in Britain’.
While the deliberately vague autobiographical details match my own, Marc Owen Jones II has the opposite political opinions to me. This piece lauds the king, makes generalisations about the opposition, demonises Al Wefaq, drools over the BICI, vilifies protesters, exaggerates reforms, and uses vomit-inducing phrases like ‘so-called protesters’. Although it is somewhat pathetic that someone should resort to using my name to mislead the predominantly expat readers of the GDN, I was relieved to find out that fake me won the ‘Star Letter’ award. Unfortunately, however, I won’t be able to claim the 25 dinars’ worth of Yateem Centre vouchers. If so, I could have bought a lifetime supply of trousers – with change to spare.
Initially I thought the above stunt was a one-off wind up, though today another letter appeared in the GDN, also under my name. This one is even more hilarious, complete with bizarre references to DeLoreans, Back to the Future and Dr. Who. Despite these overbearing attempts to appear endearing and authentic, the whole thing stinks of someone pretending to be a middle-aged Englishman, ( or Welshman for that matter). Some people have suggested his misuse of the subjunctive mood (stand instead of stands in the last paragraph) is indicative (pun intended?- ((lame grammar)) joke) of the writer’s poor grasp of English. It has also been suggested that the phrase ‘how sad to see’ is a construction more similar to التعجب used in Arabic. i.e. How wonderful is this article. ما أجمل هذا الكذب! . The author also uses the peculiar and rather obsolete word ‘RATCHETING’. I can safely say that I have never used this word in writing at any point in my life. Such odd words are a common feature of the GDN though, take a look at this letter for example, which uses the word CARBUNCLE. A personal favourite though is this letter, which is entitled CODSWALLOP!. Finally, to confirm my suspicion that most GDN letter writers think they are still living in Colonial India, how about ‘Jolly Spiffing’?
I doubt the author is British. He/she is more likely to be South Asian or Arab. I am, however, pretty sure that the author is not called Marc Owen Jones. Even the name Marc Owen Jones seems somewhat mundane alongside today’s other letter contributors, which include C. Dickens and Miss Moneypenny…
Anyhow, I think there are three possibilities that may have motivated this ‘hoax’.
1) Someone is just trying to wind me up
2) It is written by GDN staff out of revenge for my frequent trolling of the paper (In all fairness, this whole stunt proves that the GDN is pretty terrible).
3) Given that it smacks of propaganda, it is written by the GDN/PR company/random punter because they think my blog or tweets are read by expats, and the author(s) is(are) worried that expats might view my opinion as a credible source of information/opinion. If this is the case, then whoever is responsible for writing it is trying to use my name to fool expats into thinking that I unequivocally support the government.
Either way, this whole incidence illustrates how much of a joke the GDN is. They have already been sent a complaint about the first incident, though they seem unfazed. Let’s see if Marc Owen Jones II perseveres.