What exactly is this “This is Bahrain” group? Who are they? And who gave them any authority to speak for and on behalf of us Bahrainis and the Bahraini government?
From what I could find, this group is an “initiative” emanating from The Federation of Expat Associations who lists Ms Betsy Mathieson as its secretary general. Ms Mathieson’s LinkedIn profile confirms that she is also This is Bahrain’s organiser. There is no independent website for either the Federation nor the Group in order for us to determine how they are financed and who their boards of directors are. The opaqueness surrounding these groups is one disturbing factor, of course.
The other, and as far as I’m concerned, much more nefarious activity undertaken by them is that they are jetting all over the world, holding conferences and talking on our behalf without any legal authority to do so. And now, they’re even supposedly signing memorandums of understanding with organisations like MEMRI, a partisan and deeply pro-Israeli research institute headed by ex-Israeli intelligence agencies’ personnel whose mission it seems is to translate the worst that Arab media publishes which it then sends out to opinion formers and decision makers in the Western world to increase anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiments.
The This is Bahrain group seem to have been given a completely free hand to do whatever they want, no oversight necessary, simply because they promised someone that they’re going to “improve” Bahrain’s reputation. If this is true, then we’ve reached a very sad state of affairs indeed. However, gullibility is of course soon exposed.
MEMRI in response to them supposedly signing a PR MoU with This is Bahrain said in a brief they’ve just released entitled “Bahrain And The Politics Of Deceit”:
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. But it is clear that the “This is Bahrain” roadshow is an attempt at public diplomacy embraced by the Manama government. 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.
Does this look like an improvement of Bahrain’s reputation? I would say it’s actually anything but. This is what you get when you use band aids to attempt to cure cancer. This is what you get when you trust a bunch of sycophants to try to burnish a tarnished reputation.
I hope that this incident will wake up whomever is providing Ms Mathieson and her groups the cover to operate that this is not the way to do things. People have wised up and are much more informed. Groups like these will do nothing but damage the remaining good graces that this country might still have.
What Bahrain desperately needs is staring it in the face and is so easily accomplished; what it needs is the political will and courage to have an encompassing comprehensive dialogue with the authority to enact its own resolutions. Those need to be put through a national referendum to receive the necessary public backing and to achieve the required consensus to get this country out of its self-imposed quagmire.
What we don’t need is equally as obvious. We don’t need groups of sycophants and social climbers running rough-shod around the world obfuscating our problems and prolonging our genuine quest to resolve them.