On Bahrain

I am writing to express the concern which I and many people in Bahrain felt on reading a “special report” on Bahrain, by Joe Stork, published in your July-September 1996 issue. This report was full of misinformation and false accusations, it had no factual basis, and it presented no evidence to substantiate the accusations made. In view of the serious issues raised in the report and the misleading impression created, a response is necessary so that your readers may be accurately informed. The reality is that Bahrain has recently witnessed a campaign of disturbance orchestrated by foreign-backed terrorist groups. The “special report” is dismissive of this, but the true facts are that a serious conspiracy has been uncovered which reveals that the military wing of “Hizballah-Bahrain,” together with Iranian backing, has been plotting and acting to undermine Bahrain’s security and stability. Its ultimate aim is to overthrow Bahrain’s government and replace it with a pro-Iranian regime.

The crimes committed by the terrorists include murder, arson, the planting of bombs, and the destruction and looting of public and private property. These terrorist actions are a direct threat to and violation of the basic human rights of the Bahraini people. Acts of terrorism violate the people’s right to life, security and subsistence. These fundamental human rights are undermined when terrorists use bombs and manipulate adults as well as young children into breaking the law. Terrorism in any society is a threat to its economic and social well being as well as an obstacle to its political development.

The government of Bahrain, like any other government, will use all means available to it within the law to protect its citizens. As a member of the United Nations, Bahrain fully recognizes its responsibility to uphold fundamental human rights and freedoms in accordance with the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I believe that Bahrain will continue to receive the widespread international support it has been given for its determination to ensure continued peace and security in the country.

The groups behind the disturbances seek to undermine and threaten the cohesion of our society by creating divisions among the people of Bahrain. Furthermore, their ideology is one that would try to move Bahrain back many centuries. They would impose archaic rules and regulations that are completely contradictory to the continuing development of a modem society and to our relatively open and tolerant culture.

Bahrain has focused heavily on its economic and social development, so as to create a modem society able to provide a good standard of living and opportunities for its people. It now has one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world and the highest average individual spending power in the Arab world. According to the UN Human Development Report for 1996, gross domestic product per capita in Bahrain is more than the average for many industrial countries. Furthermore, this report ranked Bahrain first in the Arab world for its achievements in development. Bahrain is well known as a finance and banking center for the Middle East, and is rated in the top three freest economies in the world.

In addition to these achievements, the state of Bahrain has long maintained a reputation for having a peaceful and liberal society. The government of Bahrain aims to continue its successful economic, social and political development. According to the experience of other countries and experts in the field, development needs to occur in stages. Certain foundations must be established, and the changes implemented at a rate that can be absorbed by the people. The changes should also be acceptable within the cultural context of the people.

The people and the government of the state of Bahrain will persevere to continue this tradition, and will do everything possible in accordance with local and international law to prevent terrorist actions by extremist elements.

The “special report” on Bahrain is unjust to the people of Bahrain. The report offers only one side of the issue, and has no credible sources. The author’s objective seems to be to give a distorted and negative view of the situation in Bahrain. This is unfair by any standard, and particularly disappointing from a former editor.

I hope that if another report on Bahrain is written, the real human rights abusers are profiled in it. The abuses by the terrorist groups in Bahrain are all documented and have been confessed to, yet the author fails to mention them. I hope that this letter has succeeded in setting the record straight.

Muhammad Abdul Ghaffar
Bahrain Ambassador to the United States of America

Joe Stork Responds:

Ambassador Abdul Ghaffar’s letter does not identify a single instance to support his complaint that my article was “full of misinformation and false accusations.” The problem, it seems, is that I do not accept the Bahraini government’s reduction of all opposition to an Iranian-sponsored “terrorist” plot. If his government has uncovered “a serious conspiracy” in the name of Hizballah-Bahrain, it has failed to provide any evidence. I did indeed suggest that readers should be skeptical of uncorroborated confessions secured from detainees held incommunicado for weeks and months with no access to legal counsel. The ambassador does not help his case by attributing virtually all of the unrest of the last two years to the machinations of this group, a patently absurd charge.

The ambassador charges that I had “no credible sources” and that I “presented no evidence to substantiate” my critique. My evidence mainly consists of interviews with a wide spectrum of Bahrainis, some in exile but most living and working in Bahrain as professionals, intellectuals and business people, including some prominent citizens. Unfortunately, given the government’s penchant for arresting, or having dismissed from their jobs, persons who speak critically of conditions in Bahrain with Western media, and the government’s refusal to allow Human Rights Watch or other international human rights groups to conduct missions in the country, these persons were understandably reluctant to be cited by name.

I welcome the ambassador’s statement that “Bahrain fully recognizes its responsibility to uphold fundamental human rights and freedoms in accordance with the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration.” Allowing Bahrainis to publish critical views, to hold meetings, to have access to lawyers and family members if arrested, to return to Bahrain after being forcibly exiled — these and similar steps would go a long way toward bringing Bahrain into compliance with the documents the ambassador cites.

On Boys, Girls and the Veil

Having just read the review in the summer issue of your publication, I am interested in knowing, where I could get a copy of the film documentary produced by Yousry Nasrallah, On Boys, Girls, and the Veil. I am currently a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University in international public health, and, as an Egyptian, hoping to work in Egypt, I am very interested in the approach Nasrallah has taken on such a controversial issue. Please inform me as to where I could find this work. Thank you so much for your time and energy.

Patricia Mechael
Baltimore, Md.

The Editors Respond:

Nasrallah’s film is now available through August Light Productions, POB 420751, San Francisco, CA 94142-0751 (T/F 415-436-9809 E auglight@aol.com).

On Mouloud Mammeri

Paul Silverstein has made a useful contribution in his study of Berbers in France and Algeria in your summer issue on minorities in the Middle East (MER 200). While one might quibble with certain of his interpretations of the Berber question in Algerian politics, his basic point about Berber cultural movements operating in transnational space is well taken.

I should like, however, to correct one point regarding Mouloud Mammeri whom Silverstein identifies as a “Berber linguist and author living in Paris.” Mammeri was never an expatriate after Algerian independence. He was not “living in Paris” at the time he fought his campaign for Berber cultural rights on the ground in Algeria. My wife and I visited Mouloud Mammeri at his home in Algiers in the summer of 1980. He was under surveillance at the time and took considerable pleasure in shaking his police tail when he drove us to another part of town after our visit. Mammeri, who died in an auto accident in 1989, devoted his life and work to cultural pluralism in a country where it was not always easy to do so.

Robert Mortimer
Haverford, Pa.

Paul Silverstein Responds:

Mortimer’s letter is a touching memorial to a very important and influential scholar/intellectual whose loss was felt as a tragedy to Berbers and non-Berbers alike in France and Algeria. Very few people in the US are aware of his life and influence. Indeed, as Professor Mortimer discusses, Mammeri was primarily living in Algiers where he was director of the Centre for Archaeological, Prehistorical and Ethnological Research (unfortunately initialed in French CRAPE). But he spent quite a bit of his time in Paris, where he was simultaneously affiliated with the Maison de Science de l’Homme. For the lecture in question which set off the Berber Spring, he returned directly from a stay in Paris. It is no doubt this last fact which created the confusion and caused me to label him as “living in Paris.” I thank Professor Mortimer for the correction.

How to cite this article:

"Letters (Winter 1996)," Middle East Report 201 (Winter 1996).

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