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Government admits the ineffectiveness of censorship

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With six international human rights organizations releasing stinging reports on the freedom of expression in the Arab world, Bahrain was not spared any of that wrath. And deservedly so for the thousands of websites which have been blocked over the past ten years, a campaign which has intensified especially over the last few years. The government remains unmoved by these criticisms for the large part; although I’ve noticed that two of my sites have mysteriously been unblocked over the last few weeks. “Just Bahraini” the anti-sectarian website I created in 2006 to offer a form of rapprochement is presently unblocked and the Bahraini blogs aggregator too has been unblocked. I look forward to restoring their content soon and bringing them back to life. This is probably as sign that the government has finally discovered that its blocking policy is ineffective and people’s determination to reach blocked content remains largely unhindered.

Bahraini human rights, health and social affairs minister Fatima AlbalooshiAnother admission of the ineffectiveness of that medieval policy comes from one of the darling ministers of the regime – and as she currently holds three huge portfolios: Social Affairs, Health and Human Rights, has been locally dubbed as Super-Woman or Super-Minister, and rightly so too. When the right honorable lady was interviewed in her Human Rights capacity regarding this particular subject, she issued forth the following priceless gem:

ولدى سؤالها عن المواقع المحجوبة، قالت وزيرة حقوق الإنسان والتنمية الاجتماعية فاطمة البلوشي، خلال لقاء مع منظمة حقوقية دولية إنها «ليست مشكلة… ويمكن استخدام البروكسي».

My translation: And when she was asked about the blocked websites, the Minister of Human Rights and Social Affairs responded during a meeting with an international human rights organisation by saying it’s not a problem… a proxy could be used [to gain access]” [source]

With that issuance, the right honorable lady has squarely killed two bulls with a single bullet; the first is her apparent lack of understanding of the Internet in general, and the second being her flippant admission that people do use proxies to gain access to blocked content; hence, admitting in print that censoring the Internet is useless and futile, and her government is wrong for doing so in the first place.

A friend commented on this situation thusly:

safybh: @mahmood they can use proxy is the new they can eat biscuits.

Indeed!

With ministers like the right honorable Ms Albalooshi, this country simply cannot go wrong.

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Destroying a Revolution

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One of the most important ways to “win” a revolution in this day and age is the effective use of media tools and keeping your struggle peaceful. That wins you supporters both locally and internationally who can exert pressure on the ruling regime to elicit positive change. The minute that this struggle morphs into violence, that platform of support dissipates and the chances of a successful conclusion to the struggle for change evaporates.

Peace Dove written in Arabic CalligraphyThe recent escalation of violence which was undoubtedly translated form Isa Qassim’s last Friday prayer sermon is very worrying and most definitely does not serve the cause. What it does do is play into the hands of the hard-liners in the regime, giving them a gift they have all but lost hope of receiving.

A respected cleric like Isa Qassim should have known better than to allow his passions to boil over and he should have also known that his words will be taken to heart and each will interpret them to suit their own ends, all of which resolves into more violence which will rob the people’s struggles of their efficacy as well as sympathy.

I do hope that he will take the opportunity in his next Friday sermon to address these issues and urge the youth to return to their peaceful means of protesting. In the long run, violence of any kind will not serve any purpose. Peaceful protests and the effective use of media are key to winning not only a battle, but a whole war.

I do fervently hope, that Silmiyya will return, and along with it, a more urgent sense to get this country over its current climate of hate and mistrust.

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Just how long will “Silmiyya” last?

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Not very long, I think.

After close to 60 people giving their lives up for their country in under a year, with this number set to rise, by all indications, with thousands dismissed for their jobs for no good reason, for hundreds still in prison just for expressing their opinions and for untold police brutality and daily reports of various levels of abuse levied on unarmed men, women and children, people will start to retaliate if for nothing but to defend themselves.

Zainab Al-Khawaja being bodily dragged by policewomanAnd now, they’ve received the approbation to do so… and to crush anyone who abuses or perpetrates violence against women.

This, my friends, is not just an angry Friday sermon by the leading religious cleric here, this is an indication of the impasse that this country has reached. Patience, has run out. The rhetoric from both sides has been ratcheted up and with the first anniversary of the “Bahraini Revolution” on Feb 14 approaching, things will only get uglier if sane men and women don’t halt this probable descent into the abyss of civil war. Then, no winner shall be declared and it will be too late for even sincere efforts to repair a shattered society.

What is needed now, right now, is an honest look at the root causes of discontent and effect real change without the drag of personal, tribal, sectarian or any other biases to cloud actions to redress the balance and put this country back on to its rightful path.

Time, though, won’t wait for half-hearted measures or more placatory gestures.

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Redressing the wronged employees

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In this country, over a thousand have been dismissed from their positions for doing nothing other than expressing their opinions. Quite a number were fired for simply being Shi’a. My head just cannot get around this. Disregard, for the moment, the fact the as many households have been disadvantaged directly due to this despicable practice, how on earth do those who have ordered this heinous crime to be committed and those who condoned such collective punishment dream of this helping their cause, let alone the country as a whole? And how can others expect that with just another stroke of the pen that the damage will be contained and things will go back to normal? How can they ever think that the poisoned and poisonous atmospheres which have been created ever be effective again without the root causes be addressed first?

Yes, the king has ordered those dismissed to be re-instated. Apart from the fact that his order being ignored initially, then very reluctantly implemented with various conditions and reservations attached, people who have gone back found that they were forced into different – sometimes menial – positions and they have had to accept and sign humiliating contracts and accept the loss of back-pay as well as rescind any labour or court cases they might have raised against their employers.

The question is: did those who’ve dreamt up this revengeful scheme ever think that they would be allowed to get away with it? Did they mistake the times we’re living in to be medieval with disconnected fiefdoms and whatever they as overlords wish shall be done with alacrity and without any consequences?

If they have – and it appears that some certainly did – then the life they’re living is an isolated one in their own minds, and is of their own making.

How can this mess be fixed now?

If the offered fixes follow the perennial methods which treat symptoms rather than the causes, then their efficacy will be wanting. Nothing other than addressing root causes will work; the legal employment structure must be re-examined especially in the public sector, and I suggest the heads of the Civil Service Bureau be relieved of their duties for not standing up for their employees in the first instance. Second, adequate compensation for the wrongful dismissals and for the trauma those actions have caused and most importantly those responsible for giving out those despicable orders and their attached witch-hunting committees must be held to account, publicly. They have done untold damage to this country and its society. As such, they must be penalized and made example of so that this abrogation of responsibility and revengeful and criminal behaviour is never allowed to happen again.

Resolution won’t happen until these matters are adequately and ethically addressed.

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The Multitasking Dhahrani

If there ever was a time for the Tim Allen grunt, this is most definitely it!

$9.5m mosque reconstruction deal is signed

Posted on » Thursday, December 29, 2011

Khalifa Aldhahrani striking a pose
A CONTRACT to rebuild the $9.5 million (BD3.6m) King Khalid bin Abdulaziz Al Saud Mosque on a 10,000sqm plot in Umm Al Hassam was signed yesterday at the Saudi Embassy in Bahrain.

Saudi Ambassador Abdul Mohsen bin Fahad Al Mark said the project reflects outstanding Bahrain-Saudi ties, strengthened thanks to the directives of the two countries’ wise leaderships.

He also praised the efforts of His Majesty King Hamad and the government to provide facilities for the project reflecting Saudi Arabia’s dedication in the service of Islam and Muslims.

He also reiterated Saudi Arabia’s keen interest to project the real image of Islam, as a religion of tolerance.

On the sidelines of the signing ceremony, Saudi Finance Ministry’s Ali Al Salman said his ministry would cover the costs of the reconstruction.

Work started yesterday and will last for 20 months. [GDN]

What the local rag conveniently does not mention, and is mentioned in Al-Wasat is that the company which has won that huge contract is none other than the one owned, actively managed and overseen by the effervescent three-time parliamentary speaker Khalifa Aldhahrani!

How the (*)^(*^%&($&(%*( is that not a conflict of interest?

Oh, sorry, that could be a reward for loyalty? Or maybe the contract is fairly won? Who were the competitors and where was this bid announced for general participation? nine point five million smackeroos! Just like that!

Now that’s a Bahraini success story isn’t it?

Just for the record, here are the parliamentarian’s responsibilities as outlined in the Parliamentary Bylaws as well as the chairman’s responsibilities [Arabic].

How Dhahrani’s personal representation in this deal (and others I’m sure) is not a slap in every single citizen’s face, is way beyond me. And I have no doubt that he’ll be “elected” again and again to continue to fill that seat until the day he finally dies.

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IAA dreaming?

Here’s a bit of news which does not add up:

Bahrain has been picked to host the headquarters for Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal’s new international Arabic news network despite months of unrest, according to the tiny Gulf kingdom’s media oversight authority.

Alwaleed’s channel, dubbed Alarab, will be based in the Bahraini capital Manama’s new Media City office complex, Sheik Fawaz bin Mohammed Al-Khalifa, a member of the Bahraini royal family and head of the country’s Information Affairs Authority, said in a statement late Tuesday.

The channel aims to focus “on the important shifts taking place across the Arab world, with an emphasis on freedom of speech and freedom of press,” Alwaleed said in September.[source]

The first huge question mark is that the IAA and the Ministry of Information have been a complete and utter failure at retaining such huge investments. They have chased out every single television channel which either have or wanted to establish itself in Bahrain. They have been instrumental in stifling freedoms of speech and have elevated that activity to an art form to be envied in the third world and beyond. None of the newspapers are free here and don’t get me started on the huge number of websites which have been blocked by their direct action, or if it’s not them – to give them their fair due – then it’s another arm of the government which has ordered the websites’ ban mostly through extra-judicial means. Even a service which can directly elevate the level of education in this country has been banned; try accessing the Google translation engine for instance. The end result is that this government has proven itself to be extremely hostile to any free speech.

So how can a supposed erudite, intelligent, iconic, uber-businessman who has been known to pick the right horse at the right time plonck potentially more than half a billion dollars to get such a news channel started? And how is he going to entrust the administration of his Rotana media empire to be run from a country which is and continuously has been at war with free speech?

Ok, leave that, how will the unfettered turbaned and bearded lot take to the parties, concerts and festivals which MUST be part of the deal in marketing Rotana and its products? Parliament – in its present form – and the nouvelles politiques a’la Almahmood an co will go ape-shit, and that’s putting it mildly.

Will the government actually allow such news and entertainment channels to exist and be free? I suspect that the news entity will be so curtailed that it will ultimately make the present Bahrain TV shine, and the black screens of censorship will make the other channels in the bouquet completely and utterly unwatchable. In fact, they will make test-bar screens more interesting.

The only reason I could fathom for Al-Waleed entrusting his millions to Bahrain without having iron-clad constitutional guarantees for hands-off non-molestation is that he’s in the game of losing money… and although a gambler he may be, stupid he most definitely is not.

So what gives?

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The Twitter Embassy

Two articles have been published over the past few days about the pioneer bloggers in this area of which I am privileged to be counted as one. The first article written by Sultan Al-Qassemi and the other published just today by Dr Mansoor Al-Jamri in his daily column in Al-Wasat newspaper in which he too asserted the role that these bloggers have played over the years in shaping self-expression and speech in the Arab world specifically.

While both should be thanked for their excellent articles and thoughts, I suggest that some attention should also be paid to the others who are shaping opinion on Twitter whose effect far outstrips that of many bloggers combined; those ladies and gentlemen are the politicians and other opinion formers who are normally not as approachable as they should be in real life, understandably so of course, their agendas and meeting schedules are probably filled for years to come, and in order to secure an appointment with them might take weeks to find that crack in those agendas where one might squeeze in. But in the Twitter world, they are as available and approachable as any other person simply because they choose to utilize those precious seconds between their appointments or from what little time they give themselves to relax in to dedicate to interacting with their countrymen and others around the world.

I’ve written about these people a few months ago – just days before the Bahraini revolt – in a “Twitter, or the Olive Branch” in which I identified a few of those I admire for their social media activities, chief amongst them are:

Twitter has become the activists’ best friend and confident. To me what’s as important, is the direct connection it offers to people who could actually effect change, and if they can’t at least they are veritable influencers in their spheres to move issues into resolution or focus timelines. Through Twitter and its 140 characters, people from all walks of life can directly communicate with influencers like our very own foreign minister, Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa, as they could too with US President Barak Obama, the US State Dept, the United Nations Secretary General, Carl Bildt, Kevin Rudd and the British Foreign Minister William Hague. Most of the ones listed above actually tweet themselves or are very aware of their channels, therefore, what better chance is there for us plebs to affect our circumstance by not only following, but engaging with these forces? I don’t think this state of affairs is going to last long, sadly. As Twitter and its influential tweeps bloom, it’s only natural to expect that the direct channels to wane.

Now that I think of what I have written then, the availability of these influencers is more important than ever. No matter how you view these people and regardless of whether you agree with them, their continued availability in Twitter especially is very welcome. The reason is as simple as why warring countries keep their embassies open in each other’s countries. How else could those warring countries even consider peaceful overtures if they can’t transmit them through those communications channels?

While I don’t suggest for a minute that Bahrain is at war, it is extremely important to understand – and yes, support, these influencers to stay within this open virtual space using their own names and positions in order for them to be much closer to a wider section of society. This does allow them to immediately understand the “street’s” feelings and hope that through this awareness, they will be in a better position to transmit those needs and feelings to those in power to influence them enough to effect change.

Therefore, to me, I must confess my utter disgust to witness some who fancy themselves as “activists” use this space to destroy such an important bridge which could be used for helping the whole country by working as a pack to attack someone like our foreign minister amongst other influencers in government. The ethics of democracy and discussion which they are calling for day and night should be respected and as such, these stupid attacks must stop. They are only doing possibly irreversible harm to their own cause. I am relatively sure; however, that Shaikh Khalid and hopefully others in his position understand that these attacks are mounted by simpletons who do not represent the people who do want to take this country to a better, more equitable platform to be enjoyed by all.

Understand that I’m not calling for handling these public figures with kid-gloves, far from it, they can take much more than what has been levied so far I suspect, but ethics must be respected in order to portray grievances in a sphere on which some action can be taken, rather than because of crudeness, legitimate causes be discarded and discredited.

I admire Shaikh Khalid for having the required thick skin to ignore these attacks and doing the astute political thing of not engaging with them. How long he will stay to take that kind of abuse is another matter altogether; for had it been me I would have probably escaped Twitter and closed my account a long time ago. He, I know, is better than me and is with a wider and more tolerant heart.

My friends, temper your attacks and choose your battles wisely. Refrain from childish attacks on the very bridge who can help your cause. The last thing we want at this important juncture in our country’s history is to continue to shout at each other, rather than find the platform to engage and talk to each other to fix the situation and move forward.

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Toward understanding Bahrain’s events

Dr Mansoor Al-Jamri is interviewed by Al-Hurra TV in which he reflects on the events in Bahrain over the past year, discusses the Bassiouni report and the political and social situation which contributed to these events. He also suggests ways in which this situation could be resolved.

Well worth watching to give you a real perspective in 44 minutes and 53 seconds.

Dr Mansoor Al-Jamri's interview with Al-Hurra TV about the events in Bahrain

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GCC WHAT?

Saudi King Abdullah called for the formation of a Gulf union in response to growing threats, as rulers of the wealthy Arab GCC met on Monday against a backdrop of regional turmoil and fears over Iran.

“I ask today that we move from a phase of cooperation to a phase of union within a single entity,” said the Saudi king, addressing his counterparts at the opening of the annual Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Riyadh.

He did not elaborate on what form such a union might take, or any proposed steps to create it.
“You must realise that our security and stability are threatened and we need to live up to our responsibilities,” said King Abdullah. [source]

With all due respect, ehm, we see an above-the-fold headline in all the papers today stating that the GCC Currency, something that was supposed to be in the works for some 25 years and was supposed to be enacted in 2000, then in 2010 and now completely off the table and now you talk of a full fledged GCC Union? (previous link in Arabic, but have a look at this quick search and prepare for an enviable head-spin!)

Well, I’m normally an optimist, but in this case and based on precedent, you will forgive me for not holding my breath.

What else will this GCC summit come out with I wonder?

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Systematic Torture in Bahrain continues with impunity

For those denialists who maintain that the BICI report is nothing but something to paper over the cracks temporarily so that the status quo is not ultimately disturbed, have a look at this. Maybe if you have a few atoms of humanity left in you, it might help you remove that veil off your conscience and see things for what they are:

This incident – amongst hundreds of others currently being meted out to the majority of villages in this country – should be independently investigated and the officers implicated and their masters who are doing nothing to stop this must be made to account for their actions and be punished. The government who oversees this situation should be summarily dismissed of course and with haste. Nothing else would do if that illusive “new page” is to become a reality.

There is not doubt in my mind that torture and inhumane treatment of citizens is systematic in this country. How can trust be re-established if this situation is not correctly addressed? How can the willing to co-exist happen? And having a truth and reconciliation effort with this background is completely ludicrous and inconceivable.

You had the initiative when the BICI report was first released. You slept on it and created unneeded committees ill-advisedly, now we see the value of these actions and delays.

You want unity? Then have the strength and courage to stare people in the eye and enact real reforms that will bring accountability to every single position in government regardless of tribal and familial relationships.

Who’s listening though? It certainly quite evident at this very moment that the blood of those punished citizens simply for demanding their rights does not come into any consideration.


Update 1112171357: Marc Owen Jones has an excellent analysis and shows this event from five different camera angles which leave absolutely no shred of doubt as to what happened:

http://www.marcowenjones.byethost2.com/?p=446

Update 2: Due to the outcry over this incident, the Ministry of Interior has reported through its Twitter account that it has suspended some officers involved in this incident and mounting an investigation. I demanded in a return tweet that all of those implicated must have their names and ranks be declared in order for them to serve as an example of what not to do to their ranks.

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