The rebellion in Bahrain is particularly difficult for the traditional media to cover. There are widely divergent versions of the same events so sussing out a truthful narrative requires knowledge of the historical context and a lot of time on the ground.
While the revolution has involved a significant percentage of the population the absolute number of deaths is small. In this year of revolutions, the experts have been spread thin and Bahrain has been easy to ignore. The monarchy took advantage of this weakness and successfully shaped the story with traditional blunt tools of collective punishment, violence, censorship, and limiting access for journalists. It also employed the subtler arts of hiring PR firms, commissioning a self-effacing report, discussing a system and process for reform, flooding twitter with pro-monarchy tweets, and telling taxi drivers not to complain when talking with journalists. This skillful use of a reform-minded human rights vernacular while continuing the systematic real world policies of repression isn’t new but in Bahrain it has been carried out with particular tact.
The BICI report was thorough and detailed, but in leaving out specific names of abusers few were held responsible for their actions. The reform process has been on the monarchy’s terms and at the monarchy’s plodding speed–slowed by bureaucracy. The position of the government shouldn’t be oversimplified, there are reform-minded individuals within the government pushing against conservative individuals, but most of that discussion is hidden from the public eye and from public input. And, as most foreign influence and moneyed interests are behind keeping the status-quo, the reformers’ struggle is a lopsided fight.
Unfortunately, I see something more sinister as most western media have been building up the revolution in Syria for the last few months while almost completely ignoring Bahrain. If the Bahraini government had to become more representative it would have friendlier relations with Iran and weaken America and Saudi Arabia’s positions. Of course, the rebellion that even fewer people are talking about is the eastern region of Saudi Arabia where security forces are continuing a violent crack-down on the region’s Shia majority. These photos were originally for article in TIME.