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Bahrain Propaganda 101: Bringing the "Right" Youth Delegation to Washington

Ebtisam Khalifa Bahar of Bahrain's Information Affairs Authority --- ostensibly in an "independent" youth delegation, organised by American PR firm Qorvis and sent to Washingon --- challenges activist Maryam Al-Khawaja

Justin Elliott of ProPublica tells another tale of the Bahraini regime's efforts at the correct presentation of the issues in the kingdom:

Earlier this month, a group of three young Bahrainis arrived in Washington to talk about reform in the small Persian Gulf nation, which has been rocked by Arab Spring protests for the last year. The delegation, including an NGO worker and a tech entrepreneur, both Western-educated, represented "the leading voice for change and reform" in Bahrain, as an email message from one of the group's representatives put it.

But these weren't leaders of the protest movement that has challenged the country's ruling Sunni monarchy. They were members of a "youth delegation" put together by a top American public relations firm, Qorvis, which has been working with Bahrain to shore up the country's image in the United States.

The youth delegation's modestly pro-reform message was mixed with sharp criticism of the opposition in Bahrain and complaints about negative media coverage in the U.S.....

To counter negative press, Bahrain has made a major public-relations push in the U.S., employing Qorvis and several other firms. The youth delegation dispatched to Washington, on the anniversary of the start of the protests, is the latest part of that effort.

In meetings and public appearances, the three-member Qorvis delegation has criticized opposition protesters as violent agitators.

"The message of this delegation was, things over here [in the U.S.] are portrayed so unfairly," said Cole Bockenfeld, an official with the Project on Middle East Democracy who met with the group in mid-February and has been critical of Bahrain's government. The delegation members said they "represent the silent majority that is very moderate but wants to see limited and stable reform."

The Qorvis-organized group also argued that youth coalitions involved with the opposition "are a fringe group of rioters and vandals," Bockenfeld said.

The Bahrainis in the delegation were all educated in either the United States or Canada, according to their bios. One member [Ehsan Ali Al-Kooheji] founded a tech company that develops web and mobile applications; another [Mariam Al-Mannai] works for the Bahrain branch of an NGO called Young Arab Leaders; and the third [Ebtisam Khalifa Bahar] is a media specialist for the government's Information Affairs Authority.

Qorvis did not respond to our requests for comment.

The firm's pitch, written by staffer Adam Croglia, framed the delegation as representing the pro-reform community in Bahrain....But the delegation instead seemed to focus on criticizing the opposition and decrying American media coverage.

Delegation members, for example, attended a panel discussion on Bahrain on Feb. 15 at Freedom House in Washington. In the Q&A after the initial discussion, delegation member Ebtisam Khalifa Bahar, who works for the Information Affairs Authority, said:

"I tell you this: The protesters are not peaceful. I know this because I live next to a village where I see it, smell it and hear it every single day. Molotov cocktail petrol bombs being thrown in front of my home, at my car. ... I do have the same grievances that they have. I do want better jobs. I do want better reform in the government."

Bahar then challenged an official on the panel from the Bahrain Center for Human Rights.

"I think you are betraying the Bahraini voice because you are omitting my voice. … I want my country back the way it was, before all this hoopla started."

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