News / Middle East

Facebook Becomes Divisive in Bahrain

A Bahrain woman looks at pictures of victims of the February 14 uprising, displayed at an exhibition during a gathering held by the Al Fateh Youth Union in Isa Town, south of Manama, Bahrain, July 28, 2011
A Bahrain woman looks at pictures of victims of the February 14 uprising, displayed at an exhibition during a gathering held by the Al Fateh Youth Union in Isa Town, south of Manama, Bahrain, July 28, 2011

It has been six months since anti-government protests inspired by the successful uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt first erupted in Bahrain. And as in Egypt, many Bahrainis used social media Internet sites such as Facebook to help organize the protests. The Bahraini government is now using Facebook, too - apparently to track down and arrest the protesters.

It is questionable whether the Arab Spring ever would have amounted to much without social media on the Internet. In most cases, as more and more frustrated youths turned to their computers to express their discontent, an increasing number of people left their homes to publicly demand change.

The term “Facebook Revolution” was coined after the successful ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. And in Bahrain, the social networking site also played a role in encouraging people to participate in the nation’s “Day of Rage” protests on February 14, and in the pro-democracy demonstrations that followed.

Manama’s Pearl Roundabout traffic circle quickly became Bahrain’s own version of Cairo's Tahrir Square, where protesters, made up of mostly Shi’ite Muslims, set up camp and pushed for reform.

Unlike in Egypt, however, the demands of the Bahrainis were never met. The Sunni government, with military help from neighboring Gulf States, quelled the uprising and afterwards, reportedly used access to social media to help identify and punish those who spoke out.

Rights groups say that more than 1,000 opposition supporters have been arrested since the crackdown began. Today, many Bahrainis say they are apprehensive about using social media.

A recent documentary aired on the al-Jazeera television network describes how one Facebook page helped single out a 20-year-old Shi’ite woman who allegedly was arrested and tortured. Visitors to the page were told to reveal her name and workplace on it "and let the government take care of the rest."

Another page displayed photos of other demonstrators that would be checked off once a person was detained by authorities.

According to Abdulnabi Alekry, chairman of the Bahrain Transparency Society, the government's use of social media to help identify opponents has pushed the country’s Sunnis and Shi’ites further and further apart.

"It is causing a lot of damage to the national unity and it is causing even suspicion between people who work together or live together or are in the same society or club. It is a source of concern," said Alekry.

Shi’ites are said to account for about 70 percent of Bahrain’s population and say they are treated like second-class citizens by the ruling Sunni minority. They have been demanding more equality, a more representative government and a new constitution.

But many agree that the situation is worse now than before the protests began.

One Bahraini who wished to have her identity kept secret and asked to go by the initials S.B., said the problems of some people have been made worse by using social media.

"I’m working with students who got expelled - over 100 in different institutes, who were all expelled and had their scholarships pulled for Facebook updates and Blackberry [smartphone] messages. Most of these Facebook statuses were screenshots taken from their friends and handed in to the investigative committees," she said.

S.B. also said many people now living in Bahrain are finding it difficult to trust anyone.

"Most Shi’ites I know have removed all Sunnis [from their social media accounts] and vice versa. I have myself… there is no explaining the feeling when someone who you consider your best friend joins a Facebook page like “together to unmask the Shi’ite traitors.” It’s like the world you had before, all of this has ended and it was all a lie anyway," she said.

Bahrain is not the only nation said to be using social media to track down dissidents. Syrian security forces also have been accused of using sites like Facebook and Twitter to identify activists and find out with whom they have been corresponding.

Carrington Malin, managing director of Dubai-based Spot On Public Relations, said it is a trend that is likely to continue.

"Certainly at the beginning of the Arab Spring many governments in the region were quite dismissive of social media and the online conversations, and today there is a lot more focus on monitoring public sentiment online, and in some cases, even monitoring individuals who authorities believe are associated with political activity," said Malin.

But despite the risk of surveillance, Nancy Messieh, Middle East editor at The Next Web, said most anti-regime activists in the region will continue to use social media as a vital tool in their fight for freedom.

"Even if you look at the extent that people will go to, away from [outside of] social media, like what we are seeing in Syria at the moment, they know the consequences, they know what they’re getting themselves into and they’re still willing to do it, and I think even with social media it is exactly the same thing. If this is a tool that they can use, they’re going to use it, despite the risks," said Messieh.

And so, apparently, will the government of Bahrain.

You May Like

Arrested Football Officials Come Mainly From the Americas

US Justice Department alleges defendants participated in 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through corruption of international soccer More

Video Kenyans Lament Al-Shabab's Recruitment of Youths

VOA travels to Isiolo, where residents share their fears, struggles to get loved ones back from Somalia-based militant group More

This US Epidemic Keeps Getting Worse

One in 4 Americans suffers from this condition More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensionsi
X
May 26, 2015 11:11 PM
When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.

VOA Blogs