The media seems to be drawn to Syria rather than more subtle political situations and Bahrain’s revolution has been going on for over a year and a half now, with few tangible victories against the monarchy.
The situation certainly is an interesting one. Bahrain’s cultural situation stands at a dangerous point; the Sunni elite have been challenged by the more numerous Shi’ite population (who make up 70% of the Bahraini population) in an attempt to gain more control of their own politics in true ‘Arab Spring’ style. Most people might be in agreement that this is a positive step towards democracy in the Middle East, but other outcomes are possible.
If the Shi’ites are successful it would potentially leave the door open for different foreign influence over an island right on the Saudi coast for Iran in particular. Since its deployment in the region the US Fleet has been and still is a thorn in the side of Iranian naval dominance in the Persian Gulf, but with a friendly Shi’ite government on the island the base could be removed.
However, a Shi’ite government doesn’t necessarily mean an Iran-friendly government. A revolution in Bahrain could also bring motivation for similar actions on the Saudi mainland (as has been seen from the Shi’ites in the Eastern Saudi oil provinces recently). If such a revolution in Saudi Arabia was successful and the monarchy was removed, politics in the entire Middle East could face a complete overhaul.
This is indeed a very intriguing political, cultural and strategic story, but why so little coverage?
The fact that the Bahraini situation is not particularly explosive, especially in comparison to Syria, is a major factor; one has only to read any news article on Syria to see this. The media seems to be drawn to Syria rather than more subtle political situations and the Bahraini uprising has been going on for over a year and a half now, with few tangible victories against the monarchy. As for a military option, as was seen in Libya, such a decision would be disastrous for diplomatic missions between the West and the Persian Gulf, removing the US naval base from Bahrain and creating an opening for Iranian naval dominance in the Gulf. It has probably become boring to British news networks, and therefore not mainstream news-worthy.
The likelihood of Bahraini Shi’ite success could also be a factor, as before the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) were deployed on the island the revolution was looking promising. With the massacre at the Pearl Roundabout, the revolution’s resolve was strengthened, and the relatively small Bahraini military would have been hard-pressed to prevent a large and well motivated revolution. The GCC Peninsula Shield forces not only secured Bahrain’s population-control forces but also added to the already foreign-dominated military forces available to the Bahraini monarchy. The ‘foreign’ members of the Bahraini military would not likely be morally challenged by harming Bahraini citizens, useful in extreme law and order situations.
The Bahraini control of the media must also influence its lack of press coverage, preventing many western journalists from getting out as much visual information on this as has been seen in Syria even a year after the revolution started. It would also be very difficult for the Bahraini protesters to gain and utilise international support for their cause, leading to morale or funding issues.
Against these odds then, it would seem the revolution’s victory is insurmountable, unsupportable and uninteresting. Bahrain’s only hope is if the Saud family’s reign is ended by a similar movement in Saudi Arabia, which at this point does not look likely given the lack of success in the Eastern provinces.
Assad’s character would also appeal to the mainstream news companies rather than the Bahraini situation. As consumers, the British especially are intrigued by such a man who defends a completely immoral position with see-through lies and trying to avoid the issue; such extreme actions even contributed to Kofi Annan’s surprise resignation last week. Bahrain’s relatively uneventful history adds to this. Syria’s parts in the many Arab-Israeli conflicts, its influential position in Lebanon, ties with Hezbollah and Hafez al-Assad’s own repressive nature have built Syria into a ‘Middle Eastern country to watch’. Bahrain, on the other hand, only experienced a revolution in 1981 allegedly backed by Iran and has since only seen significant newsprint in the West during F1 competition protests.
There is an argument that Syria’s appeal is down to the fact that its present result has gone against that of most other Arab revolutions. The Egyptian, Tunisian and Libyan revolutions had ended with victory for the revolting populations, whereas in Syria they are still left with the majority of the Syrian military to deal with before Assad is wrenched from power, creating an interesting and ongoing situation on which to report. But Bahrain’s revolution is in the same position, albeit against more difficult odds. Whilst the Syrian revolutionary movements have received defecting Syrian forces (most recently now including Assad’s Prime Minister), no such thing has happened in Bahrain, at least not on a large enough scale. The Bahrainis still face a well-equipped and experienced (not to mention foreign) civilian-pacification force.
There are various reasons for this lack of news coverage, but it is a combination of the facts that the Bahrainis likely face an unwinnable fight and that there is little foreign news access, whilst the Syrian revolution provides the news corporations with an exciting war (both in terms of footage and because the rebels have a good chance of winning) with the ridiculous character provided by Assad. Once the Syrian crisis is over or the Bahraini revolutionaries begin to get a good military footing, we may see a change in front-page Middle East stories.