Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Announcing: Al-Watan Wednesdays

A recent Al-Watan article quotes al-Asalah MP 'Abd al-Halim Murad: "[U.S. Ambassador to Bahrain Thomas] Krajeski is either a Wifaqi or the ambassador for Tehran!"

Now that I've finished with several recent writing commitments and have a bit more time to spend updating here, I thought it would be nice to begin the summer vacation by introducing a new segment I like to call "Al-Watan Wednesday." This will be, as you might imagine, a weekly article from the Arabic-language Bahraini daily Al-Watan, which in addition to being a veritable mouthpiece of the Royal Court is more generally serious business whether in print or Internet form. In the words of a bad local rap group from near my hometown that weirdos in high school used to listen to, Al-Watan "is dominated, but never imitated; though others perpetrate it, but still we regulate it." Yea, that's right.

In fact, the timing of this new segment is fortuitous. For it has been recently reported that soon to be announced as new editor-in-chief of the newspaper is none other than long-time friend of the blog and current Al-Watan anti-American extraordinaire Yusif Al Bin Khalil. For the uninitiated, Al Bin Khalil is perhaps best known for his month-long series last summer "Ayatollah Obama and Bahrain," whose cogency was matched only by its subtlety. Eventually, the U.S. Embassy grew tired of the bit and pressured Bahrain's media authority to put an end to the articles, but not before Ayatollah Obama's nefarious plan to Shi'atize Bahrain was made bare for all to see.

So congrats, then, to Yusif Al Bin Khalil. The U.S. should be pleased to know what the Royal Court of its "staunchest Gulf ally" thinks of it. (Hint: see the article at the top of the post.)

Of course, one might therefore ask why I should choose to give any attention--much less an entire day of the week--to Al-Watan and its decidedly one-sided pseudo-journalism. Actually the reasons are many:
  1. Al-Watan exemplifies the phrase "It'd be funny if it weren't so sad." And often in its coverage the funny is so strong as to overshadow the sad, which is no small thing. As one of the main principles of this site is not to take itself too seriously, Al-Watan is a kindred spirit insofar as one suspects that, deep down, its writers cannot take themselves too seriously either. (On the other hand, the site's post-uprising English-language version of the website is premised clearly on the idea that if only Western audiences had linguistic access to its insights, surely they would become converts to the Royal Court's position.)

  2. Better than any other publication, Al-Watan reflects the views of a particular faction in Bahraini politics whose stature and importance continues to augment in the post-uprising period. This is, broadly speaking, that of the Royal Court and by association Defense Minister Field Marshal Khalifa bin Ahmad, brother of Royal Court Minister Khalid bin Ahmad (known together as the khawalid).

  3. Further, to the extent that the khawalid are also seen as backing at least in part Sunni political groups--including both established societies as well as the new, post-February movements--Al-Watan also offers insights into the political demands and arguments of Bahraini Sunnis. The regular columnist Hisham al-Zayani is a clear partisan of Sahwat al-Fatih, for example, while Faysal al-Shaykh often writes from the perspective of the National Unity Gathering.

  4. Finally, since the paper's soon-to-be editor-in-chief Al Bin Khalil recently became a follower of this site, it's perhaps only fair that we reciprocate:

Now some sixteen months removed from February 2011, it should be clear the prospects for genuine political change in Bahrain are and will be determined not by the traditional Shi'a and secular opposition but by the posture adopted by ordinary Sunni citizens. If fear of association with or manipulation by the Shi'a-led opposition continues to dissuade average Sunnis from being forceful in their political demands, then the state has little cause for worry. Only if Sunnis overcome their phobia of being made tools of Iran will Bahrain achieve the type of cross-societal popular pressure necessary to force the ruling family's hand.

With this in mind I conclude with the today's Al-Watan article, a reply by Faysal al-Shaykh to King Hamad's forceful cabinet speech of two days ago in which, inter alia, he reaffirmed the state's commitment to political reform as represented in the 2001 National Action Charter; rejected foreign mediation of the present political conflict; repeated the warning to al-Wifaq and 'Isa Qasim over the latter's alleged promotion of violence via sermons; and so on. In "The messages of Hamad bin Isa and our message to His Majesty,"* Faysal al-Shaykh responds to each of the king's main points by noting the contradiction between these stated goals and the government's actions heretofore in practice. He writes,
On Monday, June 25, 2012, His Majesty the king addressed many clear and direct messages when he presided over the cabinet meeting yesterday with His Highness the Prime Minister sitting on his right. His Majesty’s messages are supposed to shed light on the aspects of the coming phase and be taken as a framework of action by state institutions. What we listened to was not a common speech as it bears between its lines key issues that echo the wishes and demands of loyal citizens at this critical juncture in Bahrain’s history. ...

The first message was addressed to the Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs and Endowments urging it to prevent the misuse of religious rostrums and take more rigorous measures to preserve its sublime mission. This leads us to wonder about the measures that need to be taken in the future against those who exploit religious platforms to incite people’s hatred of the state and disgust against members of other sects. We stress the need for such measures because we have already witnessed a certain inadequacy and laxity in dealing with those who used religious rostrums to fight the state and polarize society. We saw no measures taken against those who incited murder and issued calls to crush security men. Today, concerned state institutions bear a heavier responsibility to adequately respond to the calls of loyal citizens and civil society institutions especially after His Majesty the king, himself, commands them to enforce the law. Till next Friday, which has turned into a day of incitement, we will wait and see. ...

Finally, it mustn’t elude us to highlight His Majesty’s emphasis on citizens’ welfare, which is the ultimate goal of reform and development. His Majesty stressed the need for the government to do its utmost in this regard. He also urged the legislative power to play a more effective role by constantly cooperating with the executive power. As we stress the need to place citizens’ welfare on top of all priorities, we would also like to convey low-income and ordinary people’s messages directly to His Majesty the king concerning many unresolved issues and worries such as the housing problem and the rising cost of living.

People need more facilities and services which can be achieved when officials fulfill their duties appropriately, come in close contact with people and keep abreast their worries. Unfortunately, despite the clear and constant directives of His Majesty and His Highness the Prime Minister to officials to open their doors to citizens, some of them still obstruct people’s access to their doors. Such officials are the real setback to development and the achievement of citizens’ interests. Therefore, we still need to appoint the right persons in the right places.

In response to His Majesty’s optimistic and promising address which asserts the leadership’s constancy in defending Bahrain, we stress the unaffected and undiminished loyalty of faithful citizens to their land and leadership. We assert that this relationship is based on mutual trust, candidness, constructive criticism and true love away from hypocrisy and hollow flattery.
*Note in following links to Al-Watan that its English-language website is currently undergoing some sort of horrible reconstruction and may or may not require Netscape Communicator 5.0 to render properly.

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