As winter has turned to a democratic spring in the Arab world, the Kingdom of Bahrain has found itself swept up in the region wide protests. Protesters in the country, largely composed of the nation’s Shiite majority, took to the streets in February to call on King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, a member of country’s Sunni minority, to institute a constitutional monarchy. The peaceful protests were met with an initial crackdown as protesters were swept out from their encampment in the capital’s Pearl Square by an armed police force.
After attempts at discussions, and a brief détente, between the protesters and the government, the King decided to reach out to the Saudi monarchy, a Sunni ruling class in a country with a sizeable Shiite minority, to send their military into Bahrain to end the protests. The King framed the ensuing crackdown in sectarian terms, blaming Shiite Iranian agents for fomenting rebellion in the island kingdom. What has followed has been a brutal crackdown largely captured on YouTube for the world to see.
While the world may watch the murder of unarmed protesters on YouTube, Bahrain is hiring a U.S. PR team to spin events to their benefit. Last Tuesday, day after Saudi troops entered Bahrain to repress protests calling for a constitutional monarchy, a new foreign agent registered for the government of Bahrain. (Update: The contract between Potomac Square Group and Bahrain was signed on February 17, not March 15. This pre-dates the Saudi incursion into Bahrain.) Potomac Square Group, run by former journalist Chris Cooper, registered to do PR work for the Bahraini government at the most controversial moment in the country’s recent history.
Cooper is a former Wall Street Journal national and foreign correspondent. The Potomac Square Group is a new firm formed in February of this year and incorporated in Delaware. A LinkedIn profile lists Cooper’s work history as well as a description of his work at the Potomac Square Group, which currently does not have a web presence, “Founding parter of a public affairs boutique. Clients include a foreign government seeking help in dealing with an internal crisis.”
The Potomac Square Group’s work for Bahrain is set by a monthly contract worth $20,000 that client can choose to renew after the first month.
While the Potomac Square Group is the most recent registrant for Bahrain, they are not the country’s only PR firm in the United States. Qorvis Communications, one of Washington’s biggest PR firms, inked a deal with the island kingdom last year. The firm offered the kingdom’s most recent spin on the protest crackdown in a press release highlighting statements made by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, while omitting her statement that the government was “on the wrong track.”
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton today emphasized the commitment of the United States toward Bahrain and her hope for the success of the National Dialogue in the island kingdom. She also affirmed the “sovereign right” of Bahrain to invite security forces from allied countries, and stated that the U.S. shared the goals of the GCC regarding Bahrain.
Since the uprising in Bahrain began, Bahrain’s Crown Prince has called on all parties to engage in a dialogue to reconcile differences. Secretary Clinton said the goal of the United States is “a credible political process that can address the legitimate aspirations of all the people of Bahrain.”
Ambassador Houda Nonoo appreciated the Secretary’s comments that dialogue should unfold in a peaceful, positive atmosphere that ensures that students can go to school, businesses can operate and people can undertake their normal daily activities. Said Ambassador Nonoo, “The government of Bahrain has consistently maintained that differences should be resolved peacefully around the negotiating table, but unfortunately, the opposition has not responded to this offer and instead has chosen to continue along the path of violence and disruption of normal life in Bahrain. It is my government’s belief that wisdom will prevail among the opposition and they will come to the negotiating table to resolve all differences peacefully.”
Qorvis’ work with Bahrain began a month before an election in the country, which featured the arrest of prominent Shiite clerics and a very favorable outcome for the ruling family.
The United States has long had good relations with Bahrain. The Navy’s Fifth Fleet is currently stationed in Bahrain and the two countries have formed close economic ties.
Qorvis is not only contracted with Bahrain, but with the Saudi government as well. The company’s representation of the Saudi monarchy was controversial when they signed the contract in 2002. After the 9/11 attacks and revelations that Saudi money flowed to Al Qaeda, the global terror network that executed the attacks, the contract to spin U.S. media and policy makers for the Saudi monarchy was not met well. Three of Qorvis’ partners quit in protest.
Recently, Qorvis’ work for Saudi Arabia has involved providing advice, preparing press releases, and helping the nation connect to social media. The company’s foreign agent statement from last fall states that Qorvis worked to assist “with developing content for the YouTube and Twitter pages.”