Friday, July 8, 2011

Obama ♥ Iran: A Love Story, Chapter 2

I honestly don't have time to be writing all of these updates, but this one is just too good to pass up. Readers may recall our May 22 article, "Obama ♥ Iran: A Love Story," which highlighted the anti-U.S. backlash of pro-government Bahrainis following Obama's criticism of the post-February 14 crackdown during his much-hyped speech on the Middle East. (If you haven't seen it, you may wish to check it out just for the hilarious photoshops of Obama alone, such as the one to the left.)

Well, the Obama-bashing (and general U.S.-bashing) is now back in full swing, with similar hilarity ensuing. For those who visit regularly, you know that one of our favorite past-times here is to keep up to date with the musings of Al-Watan's anti-American rhetorician extraordinaire, Yusif Al Bin Khalil, whose long-running serial "Washington and the Sunna of Bahrain" has recently been spurned in favor of an even better and more subtly-titled series: "Ayatollah Obama and Bahrain." This column, which has run almost every day since June 26, includes the following variations:

26 June: "Ayatollah Obama and Bahrain: The Principle of Exporting the [American?] Revolution"
27 June: "Ayatollah Obama and Bahrain: Strategic Ignorance"
28 June: "Ayatollah Obama and Bahrain: The Saudi Neighborhood"
29 June: "Ayatollah Obama and Bahrain: The American [Naval] Base in Juffair"
30 June: "Ayatollah Obama and Bahrain: The Security Vacuum"
2 July: "Ayatollah Obama and Bahrain: Manufacturing Extremism in Manama"
3 July: "Ayatollah Obama and Bahrain: Washington's Instructions for al-Wifaq"
4 July: "Ayatollah Obama and Bahrain: We're Not Better than the Americans"
5 July: "Ayatollah Obama and Bahrain: [U.S. Operation] Dawn [in Fallujah] and [GCC Shield Operation] al-Faruq [in Bahrain]"
6 July: "Ayatollah Obama and Bahrain: Washington's Enemies"

The nice thing about these articles is that you don't even have to read them in order to figure out the main point. And if you read the title and still can't predict the rest of the argument, you need only read the first sentence. The last article titled "Washington's Enemies," for example, begins: "Does American President Barack Obama want the countries of the GCC to be the foremost enemies of the United States, historically-speaking?" Enough said.

Not surprisingly, such ravings have caught the attention of the U.S. Embassy, which has petitioned Bahrain's Information Affairs Agency (English here) to put an end to the "Ayatollah Obama" articles. But this effort is being resisted by the Bahraini Society of Journalists, which insists that Al Bin Khalil
did not defame either directly or indirectly the character of the [U.S.] president or degrade [him], but dealt objectively with [U.S.] foreign policy, which does not conflict with the freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution; nor [does it conflict with] the [Bahraini press law], which [i.e., freedom of the press] has been in place in the United States of America for a long time.
Now, Al Bin Khalil is striking back with a retort of his own, writing a new article today that mocks the Embassy's pressure. Titled "Dear Obama: This is How You Curb Freedom in Bahrain" (full English translation here, though not mine), the piece expresses "surprise" at
the stance of the U.S. Embassy in refusing freedom of expression in Bahrain; a freedom which we enjoy since the launch of the reform project by the King. This leads us to ask more questions about how serious Washington is about promoting/spreading freedom and reforms in Bahrain and the region?
And it ends with a "plea" and warning of sorts:
[I hope] you will understand my point of view and intervene to stop pressures of the U.S. Embassy on the freedom of expression in Bahrain. Meanwhile, I will start a new series monitoring and analyzing the roles played by the U.S. Embassy in Manama, to reach a deeper and a common understanding of the American-Bahraini relations to better serve our common interests.
Yet this Obama-Iran Love Story is not just about Yusif Al Bin Khalil. At a pro-government rally today in Busaiteen--a counter-point to al-Wifaq's festival in Karranah--one heard a similar tale of U.S. interference in Bahraini affairs, and more overt warnings about the consequences of this. National Unity Gathering leader Sh. 'Abd al-Latif Al Mahmud told listeners (full audio here) that, among other things, it is the United States that divided Bahrain into Sunnis and Shi'is, just as it had done in Iraq. And, he said,
If the regime is too weak to stand up to the US, they need to declare that so people can have their say.

And if the regime needs a third rally [the first two being at the al-Fatih Mosque], this time in front of the US embassy, the people are ready. If the US is threatening to withdraw its troops and the facilities it gives to Bahrain then to hell with these troops and facilities. We are ready to live in famine to protect our dignity.
The title of the Al-Watan article covering the event (English alternative here) offers an apt summary: "Al Mahmud: We Will Not Sell Our Nation [to the U.S.], and We Won't Give in to American Pressure."

In fact, though, all one need do to appreciate the tone and purpose of the event is to see its decorations, which include a 15-foot-wide banner directly behind the speakers' stage bearing the flags of "The Conspirators against the Arab Gulf": the U.S., al-Wifaq, Hizballah, and Iran, and the message: "Bahrain of the Al Khalifa: God Save Bahrain from Traitors."

What's that? You say you didn't realize they were all in cahoots? Well, get with the program! And read on.

In an interview with Egyptian journalists that he obviously didn't think anyone would bother watching or recording, the BDF Commander-in-Chief Marshall Khalifah bin Ahmad
confirmed that the events of Bahrain [i.e., the February uprising] was by all measures a conspiracy involving Iran with the support of the U.S., [which is] trying to draw a new [strategic] map [of the region] [as] revealed by Condoleezza Rice in hearings before Congress for approval of her 2005 appointment as secretary of state, when she talked about regime change in the Middle East [and] talked about the notion of ​"creative chaos."

He added: "More important than the differences between the U.S. and Iran are their wide-ranging common interests in various areas that take aim at the Arabs."
If this isn't crazy enough for you, a new 15-minute "documentary" is circulating through the Intertubes titled "The Economic Hitman," which purports to tell the story of the "Secret Plan to Overthrow the Bahraini Regime" orchestrated by--you guessed it--Amreeka. Narrated by the Stephen Hawking character from Family Guy, the video really is a see-it-to-believe-it situation.

The video's accusations side, the immediate cause of this resurgence in America-hating among Bahrain's pro-government folks is not obvious. Certainly, there have been reports of meetings between al-Wifaq and U.S. Embassy representatives, and al-Wifaq has made clear (as did this Financial Times story) that it was persuaded to participate in the National Dialogue only by the argument of the State Department that it would appear unreasonable and unwilling to compromise if it did not. But even this would only put the U.S. somewhere around a 3 on the Dick Cheney Scale of Meddling (where 10 equals Dick Cheney-esque levels of international interference).

It could be that the more hard-line elements of the regime are attempting to embarrass or question the tactics of the king and his barely-ruling faction. Hence, perhaps, Al Mahmud's suggestion that "If the regime is too weak to stand up to the US, they need to declare that so people can have their say." And so on. Whatever the case, this campaign would seem a short-sighted strategy, particularly given the failing health of the Saudi monarch as well as the crown prince and long-time defense minister Sultan bin 'Abd al-Aziz, who just days ago had yet another surgery in New York. (I guess the Saudis are not so mad about the U.S. stance in Egypt that they've stopped using our medical facilities.)

Certainly, the current Saudi generation has shown unwavering enthusiasm for the GCC military effort in Bahrain, but in a few short years they may well be consumed by internal royal matters (see this great Foreign Policy piece by Simon Henderson) and less worried about carrying out an interventionist regional policy. At which point the pro-government Bahraini dream of a permanent GCC base staffed by prospective new members Jordan, Morocco, and Egypt(?) will seem a long way off indeed. And, if an emboldened Iran were to seek to take advantage of a Saudi Arabia in political transition, a U.S. navy base in Juffair might start to sound not so bad.

Update: Al Bin Khalil's latest offering is now online. He seems to have followed through on his promise to Obama to "monitor[] and analyz[e] the roles played by the U.S. Embassy in Manama." The new article is titled "Backbone of the Embassy: Israelis in Manama." And his Twitter post announcing the new piece is even more explicit: "Who is it that runs the American Embassy in Manama: Washington or Tel Aviv?"

The story now is also beginning to get a bit of English coverage. The indispensable Habib Toumi at the Gulf News has written a good overview, including the official response of the Embassy to Al Bin Khalil's charges that he is being muzzled.

Update 2: The Bahrain Mirror (its recent false report about al-Wifaq leaving the dialogue notwithstanding) has an article today that purports to give further details about the organized anti-U.S. Embassy campaign of which Al Bin Khalil's Al-Watan column forms but one part.

Update 3: Al Bin Khalil's newest offering: "Why Don't We Reject the New American Ambassador [to Bahrain]?"--i.e., career FSO and former ambassador to Yemen Thomas Krajeski.

As one of his Twitter followers says of the piece, "Al Bin Khalil presents in his article important reasons to reject the new American ambassador in Bahrain, who will not serve to strengthen relations but to intervene even more in local affairs."


  1. I have to say im very interested to say how all this American-Iranian alliance rhetoric plays out in the end , needless to say the only assured result is that the GOB will wind up one day in very embarrassing situation with the United States :) .

  2. A more important question is "is the anti-American sentiment coming from the pro's enough to make the American government switch sides"?

  3. Sometimes it's hard for me to tell if the pro-gov't folks are trolling or they actually believe those conspiracies.

    @Anon above me: Very unlikely, US government acts more upon their interests rather than how people view them.

  4. "We understand that the IAA took a sovereign decision to enforce Bahraini Press and publication laws, and we recommend that individuals and organisations who have concerns take up the matter with the agency involved," US Embassy public affairs officer Rachel Graaf said in a statement.

    "The US has a long and distinguished history of defending the rights of individuals around the world to express their opinions, even when those opinions are critical of the US or its policies."

  5. "If the regime is too weak to stand up to the US, they need to declare that so people can have their say." is nothing but a veiled threat by the Salfi & Wahabi factions which always enjoyed support but is gaining some unusual strength amongst the Sunni's in Bahrain since the February uprising.

    Al Mahmoud just fell short of reminding US of what happened on one September 11 day.

    I very much doubt the GOB is too keen or supportive of Al Mahmoud rhetoric, but frankly the fragile & ambivalent ruler would not like to upset the little but precious support he has with Al Mahmoud lot , hence giving him freedom to criticize.

  6. The latest comments of Minister of Defense about collusion of US and Iran, and before that several well publicized comments by Minster of Foreign Affairs and last but least the interview of BBC Arabic with Minster of Justice , highlighted for me the distinct lack of intelligence , logic , rationale, diplomacy and restraint from these Bahraini government officials.

    Tackling turmoil and conflicts at a national level of the magnitude that is happening in Bahrain requires conflict management and resolution skills that is gained by experience and education which none of the three minsters who , not very surprising belong to Al Khalifa tribe, possess or attained.

    It is a great shame for this tiny country with arguably the highest percentage of educated population in the Arab World and a country with large number of skilled professionals, academics and entrepreneurs.

  7. @ObamaHussainBH الشيخ أوباما بن حسين

    علم الولايات المتحدة يتكون من 13 خط ، 12 منها تدل على المذهب الاثنى عشري، والخط الأخير يدل على نظرية ولاية الفقيه #Bahrain!/ObamaHussainBH/status/88912690801684480

  8. haha

    "The U.S. flag has 13 stripes, 12 for Twelver Shi'ism and the final one for wilayat al-faqih."

    I think I remember that from history class actually.