Under the title “Bahrain’s uprising: resistance and repression in the Gulf” Durham University student Marc Owen Jones and a number of other Bahrain opposition apologists have expanded their repetitive and outdated arguments to the length of a full book. To save you the time of reading such a volume, here are a number of factors which should be considered:

Systematic bias

The authors of the various sections of this book read like a Who’s Who of the opposition, with figures like Ala’a Shehabi, Ibrahim Sharif and John Horne taking turns to file contributions. When only one point of view is represented and the subject matter is approached through the lens of “resistance and repression”, it is difficult to see how such as systematically one-sided account can add anything to people’s understanding of Bahrain.

Marc Owen Jones is himself a member of the pro-opposition Bahrain Watch. It is strange that an institution like Durham University would allow a PhD candidate to pursue such a fundamentally unbalanced and non-objective course of study as “the contemporary and historical use of repression in Bahrain”. Doesn’t such a piece of research determine the findings it will come up with in advance?

In fact Durham University, which also hosts other pro-opposition academics like Christopher Davidson, has had to defend itself after Wikileaks revealed dubious Iran-related funding and unorthodox ties with the Islamic Republic regime.

Many of the reviews of this book have themselves been written by pro-opposition figures, turning this into a major back-slapping exercise. In fact, on the Open Democracy website, Jones has cut out the middleman and written a glowing and exhaustive review of his own book – self-promotion taken to extremes.

Marc Owen Jones can be found every day on Twitter waging attacks on Bahrain and other GCC states.

“Forgotten uprising”

We are constantly told that Bahrain’s unrest has been “forgotten”, yet those making this claim refuse to ever stop talking about it. Does Jones really believe that the relatively small scale events in Bahrain during 2011 should still be gaining more coverage than catastrophic developments in Syria, Yemen, Libya and Iraq?

The only way we can make any sense of this claim is on the basis that most of the mainstream international media have long since stopped paying much attention to Marc Owen Jones and his fellow propagandists.

They also long-windedly talk up the significance of the Bahrain Government’s use of PR firms, as if this is something inherently abnormal; ignoring the fact that few results were ever seen from this alleged use of funds for PR.

The fact that this myth has been allowed to continue at all is testament to the opposition’s own slick and very well-funded PR offensive, with organizations like the Bahrain Islamic Freedom Movement in London well known to have accepted substantial amounts of money from Iran to conduct their affairs.

In fact, in the case of the co-author of this book – opposition activist Alaa al-Shehabi – her father was shown by the Evening Standard to have been on the payroll of the Iranian Embassy.

Human rights

Jones’ book has an interesting take on the opposition’s decision to heavily play the human rights card, characterizing it as a mistaken approach which allowed the “regime” to gain the upper hand. He acknowledges that the Government responded to human rights criticism, but said that these reforms just tended to “draw attention to the symptoms”. He calls this an attempt to “upgrade authoritarianism”.

The implication is that it didn’t matter how far the authorities went on the path of reform, human rights and democratization – if this didn’t automatically allow the opposition to take power, then Jones and his friends at Bahrain Watch were uninterested.

Baharna vs. the regime

Several opposition sympathizers have tried to portray the Bahrain unrest as a conflict between the “indigenous Baharna” and an alien ruling regime. Marc Owen Jones describes “a ‘culture of revenge’, whereby the Al Khalifa regime, untempered by restraint and galvanised by Saudi reactionism, reasserted their feudal dominance over the indigenous Baharna population”.

In the real world, this theory has no applicability. Bahrain’s society is made up of a broad number of components. “Baharna” is a loose term, often used to differentiate Bahraini Shia from the “Ajam” Shia of Iranian origin. There is often also confusion about the Hawala, many of whom have lived in Bahrain for many centuries, but are Sunni Arabs who for a long period of history resided on the Persian coast of the Arabian Gulf. 

Bahrain has been a mix of Sunnis and Shia throughout most of the Islamic period, reflected in the fact that in the 1941 census the population was approximately equally divided into Sunni and Shia. The truth is that the population cannot be divided into an “oppressed” majority and a repressive ruling class as Jones seeks to portray. 

This in itself is buying in to the sectarian narrative of the opposition which has followed the Islamic Republic of Iran’s formula of politicizing the Shia sect in order to legitimize its attempts to seize power.

Postcolonialism

Jones initially claimed that the authors did not want to “embark on a postcolonial polemic”, before embarking on several lengthy and tedious postcolonial polemics”. 

Jones effectively blames everything which occurred in nineteenth and twentieth century Bahrain on the British, and saw British diplomats as being behind every decision and every crisis.

More recent British attempts to support Bahraini human rights reforms are inevitably seen in the same context, as part of some complex PR stunt. As is the case throughout this book, when a decision is taken in advance to squeeze everything into the context of repression and postcolonialism, the result is that every action, event and statement is twisted in a manner which allows it to fit this narrative. 

Once you have grasped this point, it becomes obvious what an exercise in futility reading this book is.

One thought on “Resistance & Repression: Flaws in Marc Owen Jones’ analysis

  1. I think Marc Owen Jones is right about the opposition’s focus on human rights in the sense that if the government gets it right on human rights the opposition has nowhere to go. It’s a briar patch and Owen Jones can see it.

    But if the opposition took Owen Jones’ advice and moved their focus to politics there’s the risk that their own political agenda could come under scrutiny. Virtually everything the hard line opposition does is to avoid any discussion of its own politics hence the use of human rights fronts, democracy talk and editing out of any reference to political Islamic. It’s at the very core of their politics.

    Western academics, human rights activists and most journalists have so far played along with the dualist strategy and assiduously avoided any mention of the Islamist background to the opposition. If, as Owen Jones suggests, the opposition switched its focus to politics rather than human rights they could do this without too many problems – but only if they get the same soft soap political coverage from the same academics, human rights activists and journalists ie they’re presented primarily as ‘pro-democracy activists’.

    The soft soap coverage from western sympathisers is great for them but it comes at a price: they can’t break out beyond their tiny numbers of core supporters in the West. What they need to do is get wider coverage in order to mobilise mainstream politicians, civil servants etc to support them but wider coverage comes with the risk that journalists who don’t share Owen Jones’ agenda actually reporting on their politics. That’s the last thing they want especially with current political trends in the West. You can call it the Islamists’ paradox.

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