Bahrain’s opposition has a taste for ridiculously over-the-top slogans; often relishing in images of blood, massacres, apartheid and whatever other shocking buzz-words they have picked up.
With their failure to mobilize significant numbers of supporters over the past couple of years, opposition groups are increasingly reliant on periodic campaigns based around a single issue, with what they believe to be a catchy title.
Most of these campaigns have been sensibly ignored by the media. However, certain international human rights NGOs have proved very susceptible to these propaganda campaigns and Iranian media outlets have reliably trumpeted these campaigns as loudly as possible.
Here we look at some of the stranger and more melodramatic campaigns and slogans used by the opposition over recent years:
1 – “National debt catastrophe”
On 16 September 2015 Bahraini opposition figures embarked on a “national debt catastrophe” Twitter and social media campaign, blaming the authorities for rising levels of public debt. This ignored the fact that this financial situation is entirely their fault. The February 2011 unrest temporarily sent the economy into a sharp decline and set public finances into deficit.
The opposition unsuccessfully sought to bankrupt the authorities through general strikes, demonstrations which paralyzed major business zones for weeks on end, and consistent efforts to harm Bahrain’s reputation overseas.
This meant that when in 2015 oil revenues plunged, public finances were already stretched after the huge expenditure incurred after four years of seeking to address the damage done to Bahrain by the opposition’s irresponsible actions.
2 – “Massacre of scholarships”
During mid-2015 the Bahraini opposition started up a bizarre “massacre of scholarships” campaign, based on the allegations that Shia students were discriminated against in the allocation of overseas scholarships. The Education Ministry was quick to rebut the allegations, pointing out that acceptance was based on academic criteria and that Bahrainis of all sects have benefitted from the scheme. The campaign coincided with the announcement of exam grades and news of exceptional Shia and Sunni students gaining automatic entry to the scheme.
It remains unclear why the opposition thought that the issue of educational excellence had anything to do with “massacres”; or thought that this was an appropriate and proportional title for the issue concerned.
3 – “Enforced disappearances”
The latest opposition campaign in August 2015 and spearheaded by the BCHR and BYSHR sounds terrifying, but when you wade through the rhetoric of their report, “enforced disappearance” means nothing more than individuals being arrested on charges of engaging in violent acts and terrorism, and the families being unsure of their whereabouts for a few hours.
The establishment of the independent Ombudsman’s office to investigate all allegations of violations by the police, means that all allegations can be investigated quickly and effectively. The latest report goes into a lot of detail about investigations of the kind of cases cited by the BCHR, including occasions where police have been referred for disciplinary or criminal action.
The language of “enforced disappearances” is yet another example of the opposition being deliberately misleading in order to try and undermine the authorities.
4 – #Thank_you_Nasrallah
Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah has a strong track record of interfering in Bahraini affairsand he regularly comes out with bizarre comments seeking to incite violence andinstability. Hezbollah has trained many Bahraini militants and Al-Manar TV presents rolling coverage of pro-opposition propaganda. At the beginning of 2015, after Nasrallah’s latest bout of interference, many figures from the Bahraini opposition felt moved to strike up a #Thank_you_Nasrallah campaign (in Arabic) on Twitter.
Hassan Nasrallah has long been a popular figurehead for the opposition – No pre-2011 protest would be complete without giant banners of Nasrallah and Iran’s Ayatollahs.
5 – #BloodyF1
Each year at the time of the Bahrain Grand Prix, the opposition has tried to be creative, with endless slogans combining the words “blood” and “Formula One”. For example: “Stop, my blood is flowing” – “Race over blood” – “BloodyF1” and “The Grand Prix is killing us”. With each passing year the opposition has become less relevant and less visible during the Formula One events.
6 – “Silent genocide”
In noisy campaigns in 2010 and again during 2014 the opposition tried to politicize the issue of naturalization, making unsubstantiated and exaggerated claims that large numbers of people have been given Bahraini citizenship in order to change the demographic balance of the country. This has always been a sensitive issue. For much of the twentieth century, the vast majority of those naturalized were of Iranian origin; particularly as up to the mid-1920s Iranians in Bahrain were not recognized as a foreign ethnic group, so large numbers of those facing persecution and hardship in Iran migrated to Bahrain.
There is something very disturbing about the exploitation of the “genocide” tag, in a manner which cheapens the concept, in comparison with real genocides in Rwanda, the former-Yugoslavia, Cambodia and Darfur. The opposition has performed similar tricks with emotionally-loaded expressions like “Apartheid” and “ethnic cleansing”.
7 – #Wanted_for_justice
During late 2013, the so-called Bahrain Centre for Human Rights embarked on a “Wanted” campaign, displaying the personal details of numerous private individuals and making unsupported accusations about their involvement in human rights abuses. Many parties accused the BCHR of effectively embarking on a campaign inciting vigilante violence and the campaign prefigured an upsurge in attacks against specific individuals from the security forces, peaking in the killing of four policemen during March 2014.
8 – “Ask God for Martyrdom”
One of the most disturbing aspects of opposition propaganda has been the exploitation of children and their cult of martyrs. During opposition demonstrations, small children were exhorted to wear martyr headbands or be covered in fake blood for photo opportunities. Sometimes the slogans on these headbands or t-shirts – worn by children barely old enough to walk – were along the lines of “I will be the next martyr”.
The opposition stands accused of radicalizing and politicizing a generation of children too young to understand the issues they are protesting about. Pre-teens have been widely used in rioting activity for building barricades, preparing and transporting Molotov cocktails and other explosive materials, and being put in the front line in confrontational situations with the police, with the intention of putting the security forces in a morally challenging position.
9 – “Strike of Defiance”; “Volcanoes of Pride” & “Rebellion”
In imitation of 2011 protests in Egypt, Libya and Yemen; the opposition have tried to give catchy names to many of their gatherings, such as the 2013 “Dignity Strike” and the bizarrely-titled “Volcanoes of Pride” campaign later in the year, which amounted to a few scuffles with police.
Seeking to copy events of Egypt, the Bahraini opposition in 2013 tried to strike up a “Rebellion” (Tamarod) campaign. Despite around six months of preparation, the events that August were something of a farce. Demonstration locations where altered at the last minute because of low turnouts, conventional opposition groups seemed to keep changing their minds about whether or not they supported the Rebellion; and the security forces hardly needed to bother to turn out to manage the tiny groups which eventually gathered outside the US Embassy.
In spring 2015 the opposition chose “Strike of Defiance” as the label for a number of relatively-poorly events in protest at the trial of Al-Wefaq leader Ali Salman for inciting violence. More than anything, these small incidents showed how much momentum the protest movement had lost, and that the majority of former supporters had long since got on with their lives.
10 – No voting and no Dialogue
In November 2014 Al-Wefaq failed to enforce their boycott of the parliamentary elections and faced strong international criticism, including from the EU, for their obstruction of the democratic process. In the event, turn-out was solid, at around 55% across the country, with a majority of constituencies polling at between 60 and 90%.
The #No_Vote_BH Twitter hashtag was just one of the many rather unimaginative slogans with which the opposition unsuccessfully tried to persuade Bahrainis to stay away from the polls.
Since the beginning of the February 2011 unrest, the slogan “La hiwar hatta yasqut al-nadham” (no Dialogue until the regime falls) has been one of the foremost and most consistent slogans of the opposition – visible on banners, on walls, chanted at protests and used by opposition leaders. The opposition themselves have been unsure about this principle; entering and quitting National Dialogue talks on multiple occasions over the past few years. Thus, it is clear that the opposition see this as a piece of rhetoric which can galvanize supporters, but which has no prospect of taking place.