Sawsan Al Shaer is one of Bahrain’s most prominent journalist. She promotes social and political awareness through her columns, most famous of which have been under the title “Final Say” published by Pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat and Bahrain’s Al-Watan. She also presented a political television program on Bahrain TV under the same title.
Moreover, Al Shaer is also considered one of the most followed writer on social media in Bahrain, boasting 176,000 followers on Twitter. She has received multiple national and international awards like the Medal of Aptitude she received from Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa and was named the recipient of Arab Women’s Award for Community Awareness in Bahrain and the Gulf region.
She is the co-author of “Bahrain – story of the political conflict from 1904 to 1956” published in 2000.
Al Shaer played a focal role in establishing a number of civil society organizations, as a member of the founding board of the Bahrain Child Development Society, the Consumer Protection Society, the Journalist Society and the Al Rahma Centre for Mental Retardation. She was a receipient of Bahrain's National Award for Patriotic Work by Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa in 2009.
In a wide ranging interview, Al Shaer tells Al Arabiya her thoughts on media, politics and society in her home country Bahrain and the wider Gulf region.
Al Arabiya: Do you see it as necessary for a country to have a regulatory body in order to achieve media freedom?
There is no freedom without systemization; otherwise, it is an utter chaos that infringes on others’ rights. All freedoms are regulated so as not to trespass and encroach others space and rights.
Hard news is inextricably tied to accuracy and veracity, contrary to opinion articles where you benefit from more looseness and less regulating rules.
Al Arabiya: Currently there are numerous media platforms which grants whoever a means to broadcast and promote their viewpoints. In your opinion, which is the most effective: an article published in an official newspaper or an outlawed article published on Twitter?
The article that is banned from the publication will gain more traction, in part, because it is more appealing, but not necessarily more influential.
Al Arabiya: Some time ago, Al-Wefaq Society was shut down in Bahrain. Do you support dissolving religious political associations? What reforms are needed for such associations to coexist in a country like Bahrain?
Formation of political associations or parties based on religious and sectarian tenets are banned according to the constitution and the law of Political Associations in Bahrain. What happened was that Al-Wefaq, and some other religious associations, were formed and granted licenses before the law was enacted. In fact, following the issuance of the law, these associations should have been halted and requested to overhaul their status, which was not the case with Al-Wefaq and therefore became a costly error, both legally and politically, that saddled the society.
In countries with ethnic and religious diversity country like Bahrain, parties must be devoid of sectarian or religious characters in order to be inclusive and accessible to all citizens without discrimination. By-and-large, religious freedom is a constitutionally protected right for all.
Al Arabiya: How can one TV channel in Bahrain counter 40 Iranian television channels that is financially supported by a $60 million budget aimed at viewers in the kingdom? Is our media well behind to be influenced by events?
By providing the accurate information, wide opinions and free debates, we can fill a big gap. Otherwise, these channels will manipulate the space to foment and stir up havoc. The extent of our influence depends on how quickly we react and the amount of free debate we make available on our channels. As to answer the last part of your question, yes, we are well behind.
Al Arabiya: Following the Islamic revolution in Iran in the 1980s, new idioms emerged, such as extremism, al-Qaeda, Islamists, dissidents, dissidents, etc. These then crossed the borders into the Arab Gulf region which was lived in peaceful religious coexistence until then. Was our state of affairs motivated by this revolution?
Certainly, it is one of other major factors behind the conversion of plain religious discrepancies to violent extremism that endorses the carrying of arms cumulated these sectarian conflicts in more than one Arab country.
Al Arabiya: Currently, there are scores of human rights organizations in Bahrain. Who founded them? What are the objectives behind them?
There is steady growth in civil society institutions in Bahrain, with 600 civil society organizations, in a country with a population that is less than 600,000 inhabitants. The state has facilitated the licensing of civic activities, hand in hand with granting political rights to its citizens.
Bahraini citizens have exercised their rights to vote and run for legislative and municipal councils, as well as establishment of trade unions and special federations, in addition to formation of human rights organizations. But some of the associations strayed from their objectives and began having their own political agendas. They slowly formed soft powers to create chaos and spread it across our region, as well as playing a focal role in bolstering the upheaval that prevailed in the Arab region dubbed as the “Arab spring".
Al Arabiya: You are a supporter of “Operation Decisive Storm” since it was launched two years ago. How do you gauge the operation now?
My position remains unchanged and I’m dignified and content with my stance. The operation is an awakening storm that was formed to halt an Iranian sectarian movement. Iran conspicuously boasted of reaching Sanaa via the Houthi militias, an endeavor aborted by Operation Decisive Storm, which obliged not Iran only, but the whole globe to see us in a different way.
Al Arabiya: How do you see the future of the Gulf States? With Trump’s administration do you see any entrenching a Gulf-American rapprochement?
Well, I can foresee the highest degree of coordination at the security and diplomatic levels and I hope that coordination will be extended to reach economic prospects. As for US-Gulf relations in the next four years, the relation will be chimed perfectly at a record level of consensus. We need to remind ourselves, it can be one term of four years only.
*A version of this interview was originally published in Arabic on AlArabiya.net.