Dear Huffington Post Editor,
Please allow me the right of reply to John Lubbock (Research and Advocacy Officer to the Bahrain Center for Human Rights) article entitled “How Bahrain Lost the Propaganda War”. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-lubbock/bahrain-human-rights_b_2238023.html you published on 4th December 2012
I should state from the outset I am appalled that someone like lubbock who professes to represent a Human Rights organizations views matters of such concern with such disdain, as a propaganda war no less.
As I read Lubbocks article, a writer claiming to have extensive knowledge on Bahrain, I found it difficult to contain my anger. Here was a writer; a researcher, an academic, presenting information on the country neatly packaged in a manner that he claimed were fact. However, it was obvious to me in an instant that no wonder Lubbock could claim Bahrain had lost the propaganda war, when opportunists like him, lie, misinform and manipulate the truth, how could any government win such a battle, if it restricted itself to the truth. Lubbock was at least faithful to his title, his article was an exercise in propaganda.
His use of such a statement as “It is incredibly difficult to make an accurate estimate because of the lack of government accountability” should be read as a poor substitute for “I actually don’t know the full facts”
One might wonder how I can claim such high moral ground, to state that Lubbock is no more than a propagandist, a “spin doctor”. The very essence of Lubbock article is the issue of land ownership in Bahrain, a subject on which I have more than a passing interest; to quote Lubbock “the regime controls the real physical space of Bahrain's public places; the coastline is almost entirely privatized; the amount of land directly or indirectly owned by the ruling Al Khalifa family in Bahrain is thought to be at least 50 percent, if not significantly more, the BFH was bought for a dinar”.
Bold statements indeed from Lubbock but before we get onto those issues let me present my credentials. I am a British citizen who has lived and worked in Bahrain since 1984. Up until 2006 I worked as a Cadastral Surveyor at the Land Survey directorate at the Ministry of Housing. Cadastral Survey, for any that are unaware, is the process by which the legal description of a parcel or parcels of land and any conflicts or endorsements that may affect them is determined. One of the many survey tasks I undertook while at the survey directorate was the survey and investigation of the old Mina Manama port, which is now the site of the Bahrain Financial Harbour mentioned by Lubbock. It is my name on the metric Survey Certificate. In my professional capacity I undertook the “survey and investigation” of that case, thus before people make any further rash claims they should realize that Bahrain has a long history of registration, survey and documentation of title going back over a hundred years. Bahrain is not Africa or even the USA where land grabs are now an integral part of that countries history. The BFH case was no different to any other here. It involved an extensive ground survey and an investigation of all existing documentation. Such work is done irrespective of whether land is being inherited, sold, transferred or gifted. However like all Land Surveyors in Bahrain I take the ethics of our profession very seriously. Those ethics dictate that even though I have retired from the profession, I can say no more; other than to state; that which is claimed by Lubbock and published by others before, is inaccurate to a point bounding on libel.
The first systematic registration survey of registered title in Bahrain was an Agricultural Possessions Survey undertaken by the British Survey of India between 1927 and 1935. They produced what was known as the Cadastral Index Maps, these complemented the existing historic hand drawn urban and village plans. In the 1950’s with the advent of large scale mapping it became possible to correlate title to map location. Digital computerized topographical mapping started in Bahrain in 1978, followed in 1982 by the initiation of the digitization of the entire Bahrain cadastre, much earlier than in many a western country; its purpose to determine the location of all registered land parcels on a geographical basis. It must also be realized that a large percentage of Bahrain was then also open desert but despite that, was land subject to restrictions, encumbrances, endorsements and reservations such as the huge areas reserved for infrastructure and the exploration of oil and gas, archaeological sites, nature reserve and areas set aside for military purposes. These had also to be identified so as to leave and identify the balance, the undeveloped or government lands that could be then used for housing development. Today a very large percentage of Bahrain’s current housing stock and extensive housing developments around the country irrespective of location were built on lands so identified. Much was parceled up and gifted free to citizens by either the state or the crown, a process that continues today. A complete digital countrywide database now exists to correlate all development in Bahrain and it is an integral part of municipal planning and operational databases for all Ministries and their supporting agencies. Topographical and cadastral maps are fully integrated; they are the core, the back bone of the governments internationally acclaimed, award winning E-governance web project accessible to all citizens and expatriate residents of Bahrain.
The Ministry of Housing was also when I worked there the sole agency responsible for the development and building of Social housing schemes, with the first housing projects initiated in Isa Town in 1966 by the current Prime Minister when he was at the Municipal council. Bahrain was the first in the region to develop and provide social housing. Any occupier within a social housing scheme benefits from a government policy that limits the rent to be proportional to a persons’ income and irrespective of circumstance after a specific period enables them to apply for the deed of that property, as a gift from the state.
One problem that Bahrain now has to face up to is that such benevolence places an impossible burden on the governments’ current ability to provide a continuous stream of free parcels for gifts of land and to further acquire land for social housing schemes. A situation that is worsened by an exploding population and a lack of responsibility in people’s willingness to control family size but it is also a system that allows all adults irrespective of circumstance, the right to apply. It is a problem that drives today the minor industry of land reclamation as the government seeks to match and satisfy the demand and people’s expectations. At 65 kms long by barely 15 kms wide, Bahrain has no “Greenfield” sites to call on for future development; it is reliant solely on reclamation. Recently initiated projects to the north of Bahrain once completed will provide sufficient space for a further 42,000 housing units in a new town development on a completely new island.
In the past substantive areas were reclaimed particularly in the northern section of the main island and around the islands that were once Muharraq Arad Hidd Asrey and Sitra by filling in the extensive intertidal subqua, mudflats and very shallow rock shelves that surrounds these islands. This made such work relatively easy and inexpensive. Much of Bahrain’s industrial areas including the port and the airport have been developed on land previously part of these intertidal areas. With such a shallow foreshore good beaches in Bahrain have always, due to the islands geology and topography been a rarity, had to be created.
Returning to John Lubbock, his ramblings and “propaganda war”, I think it valid to ask why he chose to start with a quote from the diaries of Sir Charles Belgrave especially one taken completely out of context unless he had propaganda or some other malicious intent in mind. To the casual observer or someone new to Bahrain, the only noteworthy Sheikh Isa or person of that name they most certainly would be familiar with in a historic context, would be the late Emir, Sheikh Isa bin Salman, the father of the reigning monarch King Hamad. At this point we need to stop and do some maths; Belgrave left in 1956; the late Emir Sheikh Isa was born on June 3, 1933, a time frame of twenty years “previous” is mentioned. It is immediately apparent therefore that the quotation relates not to the Sheikh Isa of the modern era but to a different preceding Sheikh Isa. Dig a little deeper and it becomes immediately obvious that the story relates to the turn of the previous century, a time when Europeans empires still ruled the world, a time prior to 1923 when the only previous ruling Sheikh Isa - “Isa Bin Ali Al Khalifa” at the age of 75, had handed over power to his son Sheikh Hamad. The same Sheikh Hamad that had recruited Belgrave as his personal assistant in 1926. Incidentally Belgrave was not the colonial officer in Bahrain since the British administered the countries external affairs from India through a political agent.
I should point out that I did not have to go to the National Museum public library to research these facts from the copies it holds, I have my own; the most easily accessible “banned” book in Bahrain.
Mr. Editor, I am not a journalist or academic but do feel it necessary to state that Lubbock throughout his article resorts to using misinformation and innuendo, even hearsay to make his point to such a degree that as the article progresses it ceases to be propaganda, it becomes a joke. As a lay person is it really necessary for me to remind him, a researcher and academic that when writing about countries where he claims native peoples have been “historically and ideologically disenfranchised” he need look no closer that his own UK roots and his own ancestors (Lubbock) opposition to Irish Home Rule or to the Americas, Australia or Africa. Has he never heard of aborigines or indigenous peoples?
From ignoring the fact that the Bahrain penal code of 1976 post independence was not the first, that it replaced one of 1955, which every child here knows is pre independence, to simple things like trying to gain political brownie points over the proposed redevelopment of Bab Al Bahrain gate. An area barely 60 meters square squashed between the main post office and the Bahrain Gate building. Lubbock is blind to his own ignorance, to the fact that this existing old 1920's landmark already has an ornamental fountain, a swimming pool, as the central feature on its small traffic island. Does Lubbock think we the residents of Bahrain, live in a vacuum, and have no knowledge of the countries history, its culture or of day-to-day events? Events that happen on our very own doorsteps, that involve us on a daily basis and that we agree with his version of “we the people” as being the correct one. No sir we don’t, Bahrain is a country where there are a very large number of people, ready if given a chance by the media, to dispute Lubbocks and others rather biased and warped version of reality.
What is happening here in Bahrain certainly is not tribal government versus the people, the reality is; it is the people supporting government versus rampant ethnic nepotism that the media pass off "as the people" pigeon-holed neatly as the opposition. A review of the names of the activists involved, claimed to be independently representing the opposition should, I would have thought, have been sufficient, enough evidence for any traditionally trained professional objective journalist, to have raised an eyebrow or two, and dig a little deeper.
Lubbock brushes aside people more knowledgeable than him as apologists, but when his research does not extend beyond editable wikipedia, when he reduces Human Rights to simple tools of a propagandist, it is a sad day for those of us that believe democracy has a future in Bahrain which is not that defined by the sectarian theocracy Lubbock has aligned himself with even if they are in the guise of a Human Rights society.
More about the Author
Since leaving the Ministry of Housing in 2006, Howard continues to work in Bahrain as a consultant mostly on issues relating to UNHABITAT, sustainable growth and the environment. Beside this professional experience he has I think also a unique intimacy with the land and the open spaces of Bahrain few in the country, in fact the world are likely to match. As Bahrain’s resident bird watcher; there is not a corner of this country that he has not cast his binoculars over. Beside a few books on Bahrain and its birds, he worked on the Planet Earth series as a consultant with the BBC natural history film unit and has even been interviewed by Alphonso Von Marsh when he worked with CNN (Marsh broke the story of Saddam Hussein’s capture while on assignment in Iraq in December 2003). Howard has an extensive web Page available at the following address. http://www.hawar-islands.com/blog/index.php a photo blog dedicated to the Birds of Bahrain and the wildlife of its Islands.