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Bahrain Propaganda 101: What's the Latest from Regime's PR Firm Qorvis (Whitaker)

Brian Whitaker offers a summary on his Al-Bab blog --- and we will have even more on Friday:

February has been a busy month for Qorvis, the American public relations firm hired at $480,000 a year to spruce up Bahrain's tarnished image.

For starters, there was the usual round of "good news" press releases to be churned out highlighting the kingdom's tolerance, its culture, its charitable work and, of course, its economic progress:

Bahrain's Ambassador to the United States Emphasizes Religious Freedom in Speech to Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church (Feb 25)

Bahraini Schools Stress Tolerance (Feb 23)

Seventh Annual Spring of Culture Festival in Bahrain Draws International Artists (Feb 21)

Bahrain's ALBA to Expand Production Capacity by 2015 (Feb 19)

Bahrainis Send Donations of Humanitarian Aid to War-Torn Syria (Feb 17)

Bahrain's Ambassador to the United States Hails Bilateral Ties, Emphasizes Progress of Reform in Speech to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs (Feb 14)

Bahrain's Ambassador to the U.S. Houda Nonoo Launches Official Blog (Feb 14)

Competitive Investment Rates Draw Logistics Provider to Bahrain (Feb 11)

New Hospital Gives Bahrainis Better Access to Services (Feb 7)

New Training Programs Encourage Bahraini Employment (Feb 1)

Bahrain's ambassador to the US, Houda Nonoo, also launched a blog. Is she writing it herself, I wonder – or does Qorvis give her a hand? Either way, it certainly gushes:

"Bahrain’s wonderful story has been told for centuries and in many chapters. While we all embrace our important past, we look more to the stories of tomorrow to keep Bahrain progressive, peaceful and a worthy companion to our friends around the world.

"Through this blog, I will endeavor to provide insight and thought to what is happening today in Bahrain and share my country’s journey to enact political reform, to provide economic opportunity and to engender a sense of national unity. This will let us communicate directly with the American people and others who wish an unvarnished, accurate report on what is taking place in Bahrain, the US’s longtime friend and strongest ally in the Middle East."

Last Thursday, Ambassador Nonoo gave a talk to Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church in Washington about Bahrain's "superlative record in preserving religious freedom " (according to Qorvis's press release):

"Bahrain is a free and open society. Women are fully empowered members of society. Although Bahrain is a Muslim country, religious minorities – including Christians, Jews, Hindus and Baha'i – enjoy full freedom of worship," Ambassador Nonoo said. "Today, next to mosques, Bahrain is home to 19 registered churches, a synagogue, Hindu temples and many other places of worship."

All very nice, but that's a bit different from what the US State Department said in its most recent report about religious freedom in Bahrain:

  • The constitution does not explicitly protect freedom of religion but does provide for freedom of worship ... however, in practice, the Sunni Muslim citizen population enjoyed favoured status, and the Shia population faced discrimination.

  • During the reporting period there were reports of mass arrests of Shia activists, including clerics, with some allegations of torture, censorship of religious sermons, and the revocation of citizenship of a prominent Shia religious leader and his family -- although later restored. 

  • Construction of places of worship required approvals from a number of national-level entities, as well as municipal entities. 

  • According to several non-Muslim religious groups, the Ministry of Social Development's (MOSD) restrictions on contact with "foreign" entities caused significant operational difficulties for some churches and other groups.

  • Only a few Shia citizens held significant posts in the defense and internal security forces ...

  • Shia citizens were underrepresented in the Ministry of Education ...

  • Holding a religious meeting without a permit was illegal; however, during the reporting period there were no reports of the government denying religious groups a permit to gather.

  • The government funded, monitored, and exercised control over official Muslim religious institutions, including Shia and Sunni mosques, religious community centers, Shia and Sunni religious endowments, and the religious courts ...

  • Some anti-Jewish political commentary and editorial cartoons appeared, usually linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, without government response.

Meanwhile on Twitter, Matt Lauer, the "passport carrying truth teller" who heads Qorvis's Bahrain operation, continues to recommend suitable reading material. One is an item in the Sacramento Bee which turns out to be a word-for-word reproductionof a Qorvis press release. 

Another is an article by Morgan Roach on the Heritage Network's website headed "The many faces of Bahrain's opposition movement". It ends with Bahrain/Qorvis's standard PR line:

Too often, outside observers who have called Bahrain’s reforms “cosmetic” are too eager to leap to the defense of the opposition without fully considering its many faces. Bahrain’s government is far from perfect, but then again, so is the opposition.

A new tactic this month, reported by the non-profit news organisation ProPublica, was to organise a visit to Washington by three young Bahrainis who were supposedly representing "the leading voice for change and reform" in Bahrain.

According to ProPublica, though, they were actually members of a "youth delegation" put together by Qorvis and their "modestly pro-reform message was mixed with sharp criticism of the opposition in Bahrain and complaints about negative media coverage in the US".

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