Bahrain: A Tale of Two Cities…or Narratives

Tuesday, March 26, 2013
4:00 - 5:30 pm
Allison Dining Room (Taubman building, 5th floor)

Bahrain: A Tale of Two Cities…
or Narratives

a discussion with

Souad Mekhennet

Nieman Fellow '13 
Journalist and columnist for NYT, der Spiegel and German TV

Katrina Lantos Swett

Human Rights Scholar
Chair, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom 
Member, fact-finding delegation to Bahrain, Dec 2012

Salman AlJalahma

Media Attaché, Bahrain Embassy, Washington D.C. for the 
Information Affairs Authority of Bahrain 

moderated by

Charlie Clements

Executive Director, Carr Center for Human Rights Policy 

This event is co-sponsored by: The Middle East Initiative

Early in the morning of February 14, 2011 Bahrain’s Pearl Square, anchored by a towering monument to its pear-diving history, was transformed from a national symbol into a symbol of the fight for democracy and social justice that characterized the Arab spring. Tens of thousands of people who had poured into the square for rousing speeches and demands for constitutional change, were sleeping in tents when suddenly set upon by hundreds of heavily armed riot police officers firing tear gas and concussion grenades, leading to several deaths and many trampled, beaten or suffocated by the tear gas. The unrest escalated and spread resulting in dozens of deaths and property destruction including the demolition of Shiite mosques and other structures. It was ended by military intervention by Saudi Arabia. Subsequently the government stripped a number of dissidents of their citizenship and tried others, sentencing several to life in prison. Bahrain is country that is 70% Shiite Muslim, while its king and the elite are Sunni. It is also home port of the U.S. Fifth Fleet.

Two narratives dominate the debate between those either called reformists, dissidents, or terrorists and the government -- the government claims that Shiite activists dismiss the significant progress of reform and use violence to voice their disagreement, while the Shiites allege that the government of Bahrain has committed escalating human rights abuses and with Saudi Arabia’s support and U.S silence has chosen repression instead of reform.


Katrina Lantos Swett, J.D, Ph.D is the Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. In December 2012 she led a delegation to Bahrain to assess religious freedom conditions, particularly the government’s response to recommendations from the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, created following protests in which there were dozens of deaths and property destruction including the demolition of Shiite mosques and other structures. Dr. Swett is the eldest daughter of the late Congressman Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor to serve in Congress and the founder of the Congressional Caucus on Human Rights. Dr. Swett also serves as the President of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice.

Souad Mekhennet is a German reporter and columnist of Turkish and Moroccan descent who works for The New York Times, Der Spiegel and ZDF (German television). Since 9/11, she has covered conflicts and terrorist groups in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. Mekhennet helped report the “Inside the Jihad” series for the Times and has written several articles about Bahrain. She previously reported for The Washington Post and is the co-author of two books about Islam and terrorism, which were published in Germany. Mekhennet is currently the 2013 Barry Bingham Jr. Fellow at the Nieman Foundation at Harvard.

Salman AlJalahma was born and raised in Bahrain. He studied communications at Emerson College in Boston and joined Fortune Promoseven, the leading advertising agency in the Middle East and North African region. During the unrest in Bahrain, he joined the Foreign Media Team of the Information Affairs Authority in Bahrain. The Information Affairs Authority (IAA) is the government body in charge of the affairs of internal and external formal media in the kingdom, and supervises all media outlets, including newspapers, magazines, publications, radio and TV stations and websites. He currently serves as the Media Attaché at the Embassy of Bahrain in Washington D.C.