Tag Archives journalism

Credibility, again, in the Arab Media

blogging the 4th Arab Media Forum in Dubai

The first plenary session dealt with journalistic credibility in the Arab world, and no surprises there: the panel was unanimous in condemning the state of credibility of the Arab media. We can go back to sleep now… especially that no resolutions were put forth on how to deal with this situation.

That didn’t stop Mohammed Jassim Al-Saqer (ex-managing editor of the Kuwaiti Al-Siyasah Al-Qabas newspaper) from ripping the media an old hole where he ranted about national TV channels overriding love with spending inordinate amounts of money and time in glorifying a country’s leaders rather than seeking to display and discuss the news. He also told us that western journalists take more pains investigating the story than their counterparts in the Arab world. For instance a western journalist (he didn’t specify who) has been calling him for more than 3 weeks trying to get the facts surrounding the Iraqis imprisoned in Kuwait for their attempt to murder George Bush Sr. While he says that Arab “investigative journalist” would finish his story in a couple of hours!

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed (Al-Arabiya’s GM) was more moderate in his criticism and suggested – in effect – that there are more than 200 television channels in the Arab world and it is easy enough for a viewer to just switch over to any of those channels rather than the national channels; moreover, if the viewer is multilingual, that choice is increased exponentially.

The real good thing about this session however was from the floor, where Dr. Sa’ad bin Tiflah Al-Ajmi – the ex-minister of information and academic in Kuwait – where he suggested that in order to increase credibility of the Arab media, a higher board or council or society should be established where journalists are only inducted within it when a journalist’s credibility is assured, and more importantly it should have some disciplinary teeth in order to ensure that journalists are taken to task by their own.

Another point he raised was that the majority of media-personnel are more concerned with making money (he didn’t use the term “mercenary” but he certainly implied it!) For this point specifically he was attacked by just about every person on the panel! That to me sounds like he put his finger directly on the wound.

No one during the session talked about the credibility of electronic media, although on the panel was the founder and chairman of Elaf, the Arabic news site. No one that is other than the dean of Arab journalists and the person who officially opened the forum Mr. Ghassan Twaini (editor in chief of Al Nahar newspaper), who has come out during question time very strongly for websites and described them as “complimentary elements” to the printed press, rather than what they are traditionally regarded as errant competitive nuisances.

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Freedom without security isn’t much of a freedom!

blogging the 4th Arab Media Forum in Dubai

This is the over-riding feeling at the “Status of Iraqi media” chaired by Jassim Al-Azzawi and included Faisal Al-Yasseri (founder and chairman of Al-Diyar television channel), Ismael Zayer (Managing Editor at Al-Sabah Al-Jadeed newspaper) and Adnan Hussain (the noted writer and long time Saddam-regime opponent writing for Asharq Al-Awsat in London) as panelists.

Although the session started later than advertised, once it got going the panelists shared with us some surprising facts about how they see the Iraqi media as they live it, day in and day out. The most surprising factor to me is their adaptability to a scene without rules was and is painful! Imagine Al-Yasseri chasing government organisations for 6 months to notify them of his intention to start a television channel (notification, mind you, not seeking approval) and the absence of laws was also a deterrant to “real” journalism as there is no press and publication law, according to Zayer, which he still vehemently opposes, but is now insisting on the establishment of a ‘code of ethics’ that would bind all journalists.

Another surprising factor is the plethora of media outlets there are in Iraq: according to them, there are 26 satellite television stations, 40 terrestrial television stations and more than 100 newspapers including just a few tabloids! Try to compare that with what the scene was like just a few years ago. But all is not very happy, the whole media industry is in a flux; newspapers, television and radio channels have become far too politically motivated, with no real disclosure on who owns what, but a person can certainly deduce where a particular publication or television station is leaning. Apart from their political stances, a number of media outlets are clearly sectarian, even to the extent of using derogatory terms in which to call one sect or another. Some even go to the extent of inciting violence, and here is the biggest surprise to me: Iraqis – according to the panelists anyway – detest Al-Jazeera! Al-Jazeera is scene as nothing more than a terrorist mouth-piece which unashamedly encourage the continuation of violence in Iraq through its twisted reporting and its programs. The very same method has been adopted by a number of sectarian stations, which – Al-Azzawi says – had there been any liability laws, the vast majority of journalists and media persons would probably be thrown in prison not to be seen again.

According to Zayer again, there are quite a number publications which are indirectly owned by the government or political parties; more importantly, these government organs channels funds and advertising revenue to their preferred papers and not just ignoring others who do not share their views, but create a number of hurdles to cripple those which fell out of their favours. One such tactic is the “partial shutdown of districts/marshal law” which not only restricts the ability of newspapers to be printed, but completely throttles distribution. Therefore, with no money coming in, publishers continue to be unsure if they can continue to produce such a newspaper.

That restriction is by no means the exclusive domain of government; however, again Zayer stresses that if for instance Al-Sadr or his people get aggrieved because of a written article, then you could forget distributing your paper into their controlled territories in Baghdad and the south; while if you tick off the sunni leaders, you could forget about distributing your paper in parts of Baghdad, Ramadi, Fallujah and Mosul.

The television landscape is not much different than newspapers, Al-Yasseri related to us that although on the books he has 291 employees at Al-Diyar television channel, he would get ecstatic if only 60 turn up for work! He is lucky that he does not have to resort to installing concrete defences around his station (which was the original Al-Jazeera headquarters in Baghdad previously) some of his employees paid with their lives reporting for the only live program he provides (the news): one reporter was killed in Fallujah by shooting, another got killed in Baghdad, and yet another was killed because it became known that he was carrying cash on him (US$13,000) to go buy a UPS for the station. Al-Yasseri believes that the last victim was murdered because someone at the station collaborating with outside criminal elements for the cash, this shows very clearly the lawlessness Iraq suffers from, and the disregard for human life there at the moment.

As to freedoms, it was agreed that although media is infinitely freer than it was in the previous era, there is no sense for that freedom if it is not coupled with a secure environment where a journalist continuously fears for his or her life. This was amply demonstrated by Adnan Hussain who read to us one of his regularly received death threats from Iraq from someone who took umbrage with Hussain’s criticism of Dr. Ja’afari, even though it should be noted that generally, when a journalist criticises someone, that criticism is not personal but most probably to the position he fills.

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A present to Ali Matter and his lot

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Shaikh Ali MattarLash and Mask KitYes, ladies and gentlemen, this is a special lash and mask kit I would like to present to our dear member of parliament Ali Mattar who suggested the very valid and totally workable solution to penalise errant journalists… WHIP THEIR ASS!

And of course Mattar is going to wear that mask while he’s doling out the lashings punishment (arabic).

Mattar of course backtracked on his brainfart and justified it by saying that he was just joking! Well, I never thought that this guy and the whole herd he belongs to have any sense of humour whatsoever. But I am obviously wrong so I fully and humbly and unambiguously apologise for my temerity.

At a time when he and his compatriots in this parliament should fight tooth and nail to increase civil rights, what we get is the continuous attempts by them to restrict them. When we look to them to develop the penal law and establish true correctional facilities, we get them proposing amputating limbs and chopping off heads to combat crime, when we want to encourage tourism, they blindly and willingly categorise any concert as satanist and entice simpletons to riot to force a closure of a concert, and the list goes on…

brainfart!A joke? Not by a long shot.

It is their secret wish to change this country into an Islamist Wahabi extremist state living more than 1,400 years in the past.

It is their secret wish to encourage and applaud suicide bombers and see innocent blood flow in the streets of Bahrain.

It is their secret wish to want to kill anyone who simply opposes their twisted and moronic thoughts and beliefs, using their brand of Islam as justification.

But they are no secrets at all! They have come out and declared all of these factors in the very parliament we voted for in 2002!

The only time we will see a smile on their mugs is when they achieve their version of Bahrainistan, only then will they be happy:

Taliban Afghani religious policeman lashing someone who is not in the mosque during prayer time.

Are we to continue to stand around and let these brain-dead jokers control our lives? Are these the kind of people we really want to get into parliament again?

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An historic day for our parliament

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Will they rise up to the challenge, or continue to disappoint?

Today they hold a special session to discuss and amend the Press Law which contains parts which necessitate imprisoning journalists for what they write.

The islamists – as expected – are all for imprisoning the writer AND his managing editor who dares challenge any of their beliefs and crosses what they mark as a red line. Demanding respect by terror, but not stopping of course at denigrating God, religions, the Qur’an and the Prophets, but going further by criminalising anyone who dares question the Prophet’s (Mohammed) companions and wives, and as a nod to the Shi’as I guess, the Prophet’s progeny.

The penalty for this is a minimum prison sentence of 3 months to 1 year AND a fine the minimum of which is BD 5,000 to 10,000.

I’m not sure how they could reconcile this over the top punishments when (a) the king specifically said that he is completely against jailing journalists for their thoughts, and (b) the constitution which specifically says that punishment should be individual rather than several.

I’m not sure either how they could reconcile this with the two agreements the king has signed (but parliament didn’t pass yet) which deal with the political and human rights as detailed by the United Nations.

The thing is, reading the papers since last Tuesday, several political parties have changed their tune (read Al-Wasat and Al-Waqt of today for analysis) and most are not doing away with imprisonment and replacing that with heavy fines.

We await the outcome of these special sessions… I just hope that they look at this law as an important democratic tool to insure Bahrain’s progress going forth, rather than some known numbskulls translating it into ways to get their own back at the press and handcuff journalists from exposing corruption and reporting the truth.

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Sows ears and silk purses

What is it about us that we continue to feel the victim and then in order to do something about the situation we simply blame anyone but ourselves?

For two days at the Arab Thought Foundation’s Arab and World Media Conference in Dubai I’ve heard one speaker after another emphasize the fact that we are vilified by the western media, globally branded as terrorists, and have an image problem because we are misunderstood in the West, as if the major problem we have is image! It’s a good story though, one that helps us continue our denial of the rotten structural core on which we have built our societies: undemocratic and corrupt hereditary rule, archaic educational systems, intolerance, and the refusal to move to a secular society where religion is exclusively used to shape the moral fiber of society rather than use it to interfere in the running of modern countries or be used as a platform of self advancement to the detriment of whole societies.

When you listen to the various luminaries who took to the podiums I was left with my jaw hanging and kept asking myself if these people actually believe what they are talking about or are they simply consummate actors who recite their own marketing bumph by rote and making correct the old adage that if you tell a lie often enough you start to believe it yourself?

Luminaries like Amr Mousa, the secretary general of the Arab League seems to be convinced that what is happening now is a major Western conspiracy and just as happened to the Jews, the world will pay dearly for this current wrong.

Or the illustrious host of this event and the head of the Arab Thought Foundation, HRH Prince Khalid Al-Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud when he portrays ills faced as the effects of powerful adverse media portrayal of us as ogres, likening the situation as the “cat’s claws which rips at our hearts,” but conveniently forgetting his own various media investments within and without the Arab world.

Is there something missing here or is it more probable that my brain just cannot interpret the messages delivered? Conspiracies, hidden agendas and the West has it in for us. So what are the solutions proposed by these luminaries? Amr Mousa is demanding that our press must be “truthful and respectful,” failing to recognize that truth sometimes is anything but respectful. I would rather expose the truth even if it were ugly than be respectful and hide corruption for fear of losing face.

Mr. Mousa says that the “media is spreading lies about our culture and religion, about it habitually portraying the vast swathe of Muslims as terrorists thus wronging us just as they have the Jews in the past, and that they will pay the price, now or in the future for this wrong” but I fail to find these lies he’s talking about. Would it not have been better for the honoured gentleman to use his position as the secretary general of the Arab League to demand and push the spread of democracy in our countries?

So the lie continued, with striking comments from people I would have thought because of the material wealth they amassed would have much better intellect. HRH Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, one of the richest men in the world again emphasised that our problems are complex conspiracies levied against us by the West yet has no qualms of investing fully more than half of his portfolio in Western interests from TimeWarner to News Corp and everything in between. I guess to his mind his investment came to the rescue of us poor Muslims when he saw while on a visit to Paris that FOX television (one of his investments through News Corp) titled the video clips about the French riots as “Muslim Riots” which incensed him “as there were Christians rioting as well,” so he called his friend Rupert Murdoch (his words) “who was traveling between Asia and Australia at the time” as he informed us, and told him of the situation and explained that not all the rioters were Muslims hence the title is wrong and it is insulting. “Within half an hour the title changed to ‘French Riots’!” Needless to say he received warm applause. I’m afraid I didn’t contribute to the decibel levels with that one.

Is this all we have to contribute? Force change by ownership rather than go for the root causes? But wait, there are more gems, Al-Waleed is not done yet, when the conversation turned to the Iraq situation, he was aghast that they now have some 12 TV channels and over 200 publications, “why is that?” he asked, “I was talking to Shaikh Ghazi (Al-Yawer, vice-president of Iraq who was sitting next to him in the front row with other dignitaries) and told him that they do not need all of these channels, what they need now is just one TV channel and one newspaper so that they can consolidate their message to the people.” Sorry prince, I don’t agree with you on this one either. To me, the more information available to the public, the better decisions are arrived at in times of peace and war. I am sure he values good information from various sources for his own investments?

Unfortunately these views are prevalent across the board, in the Citizen Journalism session, Nik Gowing, the BBC reporter, was completely incensed that even the word journalism can be so much as associated with blogs and internet media! He discredits the whole blogging phenomenon as “real news” comes from news organisations and blogs completely lack credibility. While his view does have some validity, I was dismayed to hear such a known personality irresponsibly generalise.

In the same session he should have commented on Al-Arabiyya’s own head of their internet portal who related a story that the channel was sued by a company they featured in one of their online articles because of a detrimental comment posted on the article, he was arguing that web sites should not be held liable for comments entered, a point of view I completely agree with. However, he conveniently disregarded the fact that the poster of the comment was anonymous, and more importantly that they have a policy of physically screening every single comment before it being released as a post by a webmaster’s direct action. He only admitted these facts when questioned by myself. Now wouldn’t you think that in this situation they are fully liable? They should certainly be. Had the anonymous comment been published instantaneously without their intervention then I would have accepted that it isn’t their problem, but physically reading a comment and then actively posting it made it their own point of view, hence liability is valid. So who is more of a credible Mr. Gowing? The “real news organisation” or a blogger? The consensus of opinion after that session was that he must be feeling the end is near for “traditional news companies” and that his job is at risk, the unfortunate thing is that his views were agreed with by the other members of the press in the session, but fortunately not all.

Overall the Citizen Journalism session was actually quite good, it was moderated by Samar Fatany, a radio talk show host in Jeddah and wife of Khaled Al-Maeena, the editor-in-chief of Arab News. I particularly enjoyed the tirades against traditional media unleashed by Danny Schechter of mediachannel.org

One of the most interactive sessions I thoroughly enjoyed attending because it was packed with information and personal experiences in a field I know little about was “What’s next for radio,” on that panel was Daoud Kuttab of ammannet.net who has risen in my eyes as a hero due to his various fights for media freedoms in Jordan, Palestine and Israel, for the free training of radio and internet audio journalists and his various contributions to the technology of internet radio in our area, he was joined by Loren Jenkins of NPR, Hasan Muawad the director of Panorama & MBC FM and Ahmed Al-Rikabi the dynamic owner/operator of Radio Dijla, a new talk radio which is now ranked number 2 in Iraq who shared his personal experiences and funny stories of doing live talk radio in the war-torn country, and how people took to his style of radio and how he struggles to this day in getting his hosts to not take sides or voice their own personal opinions on subjects being talked about. Radio Dijla went on satellite last week!

Because of the amount of shop talks and seminars, the organisers decided to cancel the Blogging Clinic, only to re-instated in another slot during the second day, but unfortunately by that time either people made other plans or they simply were no longer interested! We only had a few people come up to talk about blogging technicalities (how to etc) including Dr. Mohammed Al-Rumaihi a lecturer and journalist, John Gage VP and Chief Researcher at Sun Microsystems, and Dr. J. K. Jain of Jain TV Group in India. This workshop was hosted by both Eric Case and myself and it was fun. I hope that next year they will have this particular session expanded and maybe amalgamated with the Citizen Journalism session which fortunately Eric Case was on its panel as well.

I was pretty disappointed that none of the Emirates based bloggers dropped by for a chat.

Back to the main conference, I don’t think I was more disappointed than suffering through Saad Al-Hariri’s session. The guy is a moron. I’m sorry if I sound harsh, but there is not other way of describing him. Okay, a naïve moron then. I have no idea how he acquired the title “shaikh.” To me he was simply a deer in headlights, he didn’t answer a single question coherently and he is most certainly not as charismatic as his father was whom I hold in very high respect for what he did to his country and his active role in supporting hundreds of Lebanese students through generous scholarships. This guy is a rich kid reveling in his daddy’s shadow in the full knowledge that he will never be able to fill his father’s shoes.

This also demonstrates another problem we have in our world: the cult of personality. We continuously run after egos that we create ourselves for people who do not deserve them. I don’t know if it was because people expected a lot more of Al-Hariri, or because of the tens of thousands of Lebanese in the UAE, or his wrongful elevation to a “leader” position, but the hall was packed with adoring and fawning fans. I should have known better and attended a fruitful workshop rather than sit and suffer his dirge.

Two main sessions however shone much more than any other and were worth attending the conference just for those alone, the first was the results of a conference by the Aspen Institute which hosted quite a number of the leading journalists in the region and they talked about steps to get both sides, the West and the East, to better understand each others’ points of view and work toward nonprejudicial reporting of news and being careful with generic labels applied. They also arrived at a conclusion that Arabs and Muslims must start facing facts rather than continue to wallow in fiction and modernise their institutions and even ideology to be more cognizant of the current day and age. The speaker I enjoyed most listening to here is Hussain Shobokshi (who got himself fired from his job for possibly this article (and maybe these comments as well) who asserted that Arabs and Muslims must remove their “silk gloves” and deal with issues objectively, rather than continue to blame “the other.”

The other session was the only one that was broadcast live on Al-Arabiyya TV where Dr. Saad Al-Ajmi, former minister of information in Kuwait. Dr. Al-Ajmi started by saying that although the theme of the conference is “Getting it Right,” “We got it Wrong!” He said that our governments put far too much weight on the issue of “our image in the West” and does not go after the root causes of our problems, chief amongst which is the over-zealous pandering to the Islamists by appearing more pious and more Islamist than Islamist extremists themselves, rather than drawing a line between religion and the state and putting these Islamists in their place. He contends that governments should certainly be Muslim but Islam should not influence the political aspects of running a modern country. I did contribute to the decibel level of the clapping for this one!

The thing I really missed is not seeing any Bahraini journalist there covering this important conference. I was assured that many have been invited but no one bothered to attend. This is such a shame as their attendance could have enriched their experience and through whom the results of this conference could have been adequately conveyed to their readership.

This is the first ever conference of this sort that I attended and is a far cry from the various technology conferences I participate in. It was thrilling to rub shoulders and talk with intellectuals like Edward Walker the president and CEO of the Middle East Institute, Frank Gardener, Geoffrey Cowan, Dean of USC Annenberg School, USC, John Clippinger who is the Senior Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society Harvard Law School, John Gage, the very enthusiastic and inspirational chief researcher and VP of Sun Microsystems, Loren Jenkins, Senior foreign editor at National Public Radio, Khaled Al-Maeena the editor-in-chief of Arab News, Pat Mitchel the president and CEO of the Public Broadcasting Service, Ahmed Al-Rikabi of Radio Dijla, Daoud Kubbab of ammannet.net, Dr. Mohammed Al-Rumaihi, Eric Case of Blogger, and Jacquelyn Johnstone from the Office of Middle East Partnership Initiative at the State Dept in the USA, Danial Gabra the VP of media relations at UPI and of course the dynamo himself, Hamad Al-Ammari, the conference coordinator who did a fantastic job bringing all of these people together.

This is an excellent organisation through which we can start to correct our position in the world by fostering forces of honest self-examination. It is high time that we pulled our heads from the sand and through more courageous efforts of organisations like the ATF identify and correct our shortcomings without having to continuously blame “the other” for our ills.

We alone are masters of our destiny.

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Big Brothers stop Big Brother Arabia

This from Reuters:

MANAMA (Reuters) – An Arab television channel said on Monday it was temporarily pulling the plug on its Arabic version of the hit reality show Big Brother after charges of indecency.

But an official of the MBC satellite channel said it would relaunch the show from outside Bahrain, where it was produced. Protesters in the conservative Gulf Arab state had said showing unmarried people living together offended Islam.

“There are many (locations) where it could be produced. We are looking at possible schedules,” the official said.

“This decision aims to avoid exposing MBC and its programs to accusations that it offends Arab values, customs and morals, because we consider MBC to be first and foremost a channel that belongs to the Arab world,” the popular Saudi-owned channel said in a statement.

Several hundred Islamists chanting “Stop Sin Brother! No to indecency!” protested in Bahrain on Friday against the show, which they deemed un-Islamic.

Some members of Bahrain’s parliament demanded to question Information Minister Nabeel al-Hamer about Big Brother.

“We are an Islamic country with our own traditions. This program spoils the morals of our sons,” MP Jasim al-Saeedi said.

Yousef Nooh, a doctor, said: “The show was not acceptable, but it’s strange to stop it, because it is an internationally accepted program.”

The Big Brother formula, in which participants are filmed 24 hours a day, has been copied around the world and draws large audiences.

The program, aired across the Arab world by MBC, had raised eyebrows despite efforts to take into account Muslim sensitivities. Separate living and sleeping quarters for male and female participants were introduced, as well as a prayer room.

“This type of show is no more a challenge or social problem than most films and television serials shown on all channels, in fact it is more faithful in showing reality than the movies and soaps,”the MBC statement said.

The Arab world’s first reality TV experiment, a dating show called Al Hawa Sawa (On Air Together), survived its three-month stint, ending earlier on Monday. It was aired from less conservative Lebanon.

So they get to have their way again. Now it is time for the silent majority to show that they are against these self-styled ‘big brothers’ of our society and wrench it back from them before all is lost.

Let’s recap:
1. Adel Al-Moawdah (salafi/wahabi) riles against Nancy Ajram in parliament, people heed his advice and riot, 10 people are awaiting prison sentences and of course he disassociates himself from the instigation of the riots completely.

2. Adel Al-Moawdah and his block (Al-Saidi, Mohammed Khalid, Ali Mattar (salafis/wahabis) and the rest of the Islamists in parliament) again protest against a television show, this time Big Brother Arabia, the three of them organise protests just after their Friday sermons, march to the Big Brother production location, get publicity, and a few hours ago they once again get their way. No rioters this time, however they were censured severely by their colleagues Abdulnabi Salman and Farid Ghazi (both MPs) where they indirectly cautioned them that they (Islamists) shouldn’t use extra-parliamentary means to get their way, especially if there are instruments within the parliamentary system to show their grievance and their objections.

Once again the honourable Adel Al-Moawdah waves the flag of Ministerial interrogation and questioning in parliament of the Information Minister in regards to Big Brother.

3. Al-Saidi (salafi/wahabi) proposes that ALL areas of public life, starting with schools should be segregated. “It only takes building a few more buildings in the university compound for the girls or erecting fences between the genders!” What’s the big deal? He just threw hundreds of years of psychology in the toilet and flushed it, after heavy use by the honourable gentleman.

4. Abdulla Al-A’ali (shi’a cleric) proposes as a solution to “prevent possible vice” banning Bahrainis from entering hotels in the country. He’s laughed at in parliament by his own colleagues.

5. Al-Saidi (salafi/wahabi) is “extremely worried” about “our girls” living abroad to attend university by themselves in foreign land where he “can’t keep an eye on them, and they are open to subversion in the western culture.” He proposes to not allow girls to study outside of Bahrain.

6. I can FULLY envisage the cancellation of Formula One in Bahrain AT THE LAST MINUTE due to these “Big Brothers” because it encompasses all of the above and “it will subvert our ‘youth’ into speeding”

God have mercy.

Do the moderates continue to sit in their armchairs while these despots take over our lives? Do we still allow them to control every aspect of it? And can we accept to live in an Orwellian version of Bahrain even worst than the “security law” era because these people are genuinely “afraid for us in front of God and by their actions want to keep us from sin and debauchery?”

If we don’t do something concrete to let these people, the parliament and the government to hear our voice, then all is really lost.

Is this the democracy that we envisage and want for Bahrain? Ruled by religion, especially a closed and blind interpretation as has been forced down our throats by these people?

George Orwell, we’re catching up with you, it only took 55 years, lightspeed in this area of the world!

Welcome to mini-Iran and Taliban’s Afghanistan rolled into one. A place which used to be called Bahrain.

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