Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of the start of the pro-democracy protest movement in the Kingdom of Bahrain. As demonstrators took to the streets to speak out against the government, police attacked protesters and detained a number of people, including American citizens Huwaida Arraf and Radhika Sainath. After media pressure forced their release, both Americans were forced to wear handcuffs during their entire flight to London. Despite the crackdown, Bahrain has not lost the support of its Western allies, including the United States. This is at least in part thanks to the fact that it has enlisted elite lobbying firms like Qorvis Communications to convince the American government and media that the monarchy’s intentions are good and that the protesters are led by violent criminals.
In order to commemorate the anniversary yesterday, Al Jazeera English’s The Stream hosted Bahraini activist Maryam Alkhawaja and Fahad AlBinali, a media attaché for the Bahraini Information Affairs Authority. Republic Report had a chance to field a question to AlBinali. We asked him about how his government was on the one hand claiming to be open to dialogue with protesters but also financing Qorvis Communications to smear protesters and praise the government:
JILANI: It’s interesting to me that the Bahraini government has paid elite lobbying firms like Qorvis Communications in Washington who have little experience in human rights or democracy to plant negative stories about protesters in the U.S. media. I mean, they’re paying $40,000 a month to Qorvis to do this. How is this consistent with promoting dialogue with protesters and promoting democracy?
ALBINALI: Well I don’t know about, uh, paying people to, uh, write negative stories about the, uh, protest movement. But I mean the government earlier Imran said it’s a form of deflecting, but nobody says that there aren’t you know legitimate demands and their aren’t concerns for reform. Nobody’s blaming you know an external source and saying we have no internal problems. The government has always been open to these concerns. And the invitation to dialogue and the reform initiatives that have been brought forward since February of last year have been plenty.
AlBinali’s dodge is laughable. The contract with Qorvis Communications is public record as required by American disclosure laws. Stories that were planted in the media through press releases by Qorvis Communications designed to smear protesters as violent criminals are easy to find throughout the internet.
The UK-based firm Bell-Pottinger suspended its contract with Bahrain in early 2011 as it became clear that the government was committing atrocities against protesters and lobbyists for the regime there came under fire. It appears that not only is the Bahraini government intent on continuing to use lobbying firms in the United States to maintain its support from Washington, but that it also has difficulty owning up to its use of these organizations.
Meanwhile, Qorvis Communications continues to brag about its ability to create astroturf narratives. On its “Grassroots” page, it boasts of having “built a network of more than 500 grassroots field operatives covering every state and district in the nation. These operatives, both Republicans and Democrats, have the knowledge, resources and contracts to deliver high-level and highly persuasive grassroots contact.”
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