No longer welcome in Bahrain

It appears that I am no longer welcome in Bahrain, from which I departed Sunday night.  To its credit, the establishment in Bahrain did not make problems for me when during my stay I criticized the Bahrain News Agency for having twisted some of my words and fabricated others.  What they did not find acceptable, however — as indicated by a series of unpleasant e-mails which I have been receiving — was a 15-minute radio segment which I filed at the end of my trip.

Some context is necessary.

Among the stories I was working on was a larger report on drug addiction and rehabilitation in the region during this period of turmoil, on behalf of an online magazine called The Fix.  By way of an Egyptian psychiatrist whom I had profiled previously, I made contact in Bahrain with a remarkable man named Basim Jasim al-Abbad.  Shi’ite by background and secular in orientation, Basim has created and now manages a recovery program for addicts inside the Bahraini prison system, and a halfway house for those whom he can persuade the authorities to release (several hundred to date).  To be clear, Basim’s work inside the prisons does not involve the sections designated for political prisoners, where the greatest human rights abuses have been perpetrated, but rather the areas where common criminals are held.  That said, some of the young men who participated in the 2011-12 demonstrations and were tortured have found their way into Basim’s care at the halfway house, where I had the chance to spend some time.

The reason I am sharing this information is that Basim expressed concern during our time together that my reporting about his work would somehow cause him trouble.  I made it clear to him that I think he’s a hero for what he does, and that in my view the fact the government facilitates his work is a credit to the kingdom.  Establishment figures with whom I was in contact knew that I was working on this story and did not attempt to discourage me from doing so.

Another reason why Basim is a hero is that he does his work in the prisons despite the harsh disapproval of family members who feel that a person who cooperates with the interior ministry for whatever reason is a traitor.  Basim has judged the value of the work he does to be far greater than the pain of his loved ones’ reproach.  I think that the likes of Basim are the greatest hope for any polarized society — whether in Bahrain or anywhere else.

During my visit to the halfway house, a former political prisoner named Zuhayr who is on his way to recovery from a drug problem showed me what had been done to him while in prison by removing his shirt.  I had asked him, “Did they beat you around a little in there?”  He said, “Of course.  Doctors.  An operation.”  I’ll never forget what I saw along his back.  He did not mince words about his intention to return to “politics” after his departure from the halfway house.  Naturally, to omit this aspect of the situation would be whitewashing.

Anyhow, I incorporated some of the audio material from the reporting — including portions of on-the-record interviews with Basim and Zuhayr — into my weekly Moroccan radio broadcast (Arabic), along with sound from two prominent political figures on opposite sides of the spectrum and a civil society activist.  From my perspective, the report is abundantly careful in acknowledging the claims of rivaling points of view in the Bahraini political divide.

Various e-mails I have received over the past two days are indicative of an establishment in denial.  One suggested that drugs had been given to Zuhayr by a foreign power in order to induce him to participate in the demonstrations.  Another faulted the broadcast for even mentioning the terms “Shi’i” and “Sunni,” and questioned whether there is a Shi’i majority in Bahrain to begin with.  And of course, there was the assertion that my report was a new example of the “international media”‘s baseless targeting of Bahrain.  Most disturbing about the correspondence is that it is a response not to a black-and-white assault on the Bahraini government, but rather to a report that actually found some grounds to be hopeful about elements within the Bahraini interior ministry.

So, I’m writing this in order to put readers of English on notice that this happened, and to express my hope that Basim will continue to do his admirable work, unhindered by anybody, for years and years to come.


  1. Dr. Hanan J Al-Said says

    Dear Readers

    in response to Joseph’s article ‘No Longer Welcome in Bahrain’. I personally know Bassim Jassim because of his untiring work with addicts in his half way house in Bahrain. The amount of energy this man has is amazing and admirable. He is tough and he gives tough love which is necessary when dealing with the disease of addiction. I have observed his unconditional love and care for these young men and women that are struggling the disease of addiction. As a psychotherapist, I have spent time with Bassim and his team in Bahrain and I just wish that there were more people like him in the world. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than going and spending time a this special house with the young people recovering there, when all else seemed hopeless. What is apparent is the the sense of hope, where all hope was lost, faith and an indescribable sense of peace. May he continue this great work and may it spread throughout the gulf states.

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