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

Arab League Delays Forming Joint Force

Delay grows out of one of original obstacles facing pan-Arab force, analysts say: 'They may agree on the principle, but they continue to argue about how to implement the project' More

Pakistan Demands Afghanistan Protect Its Kabul Mission, Staff

Officials in Islamabad say Afghan agents are harassing Pakistani embassy personnel, particularly those living outside of mission’s compound More

US Survey: Trump Lead Grows in Republican Presidential Contest

Quinnipiac University poll shows brash billionaire real estate mogul with 28 percent support among Republican voters 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.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs