Not so long ago I wrote about a billboard displaying the faces of the Royal Three (King, Prime Minister and Crown Prince). In response, Bugs asked:
I have a question don’t you guys get disgusted every time you see these clowns every where you go ?
I shall withold my opinion on whether they are "clowns", however I do get tired of seeing their mugs and hearing their names everywhere. I would guess that many of us who have lived here for a while have become numbed to it all and don't really think twice about it now. But when you stop to notice, you realize that its everywhere, everywhere.
Let's see. We've already talked about the billboards that line the streets every year for a few weeks before and after National Day. I also mentioned in passing how the portraits of the Three hang in all government buildings and many private buildings all year round. But there's more. The local media is filled with their pictures and stories about them -- far more than actually constitutes news. The front page of most of the local papers will have at least one story (usually more) about them. It might read something like this:
Prime Minister Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa hailed the success of the country's economic policies and paid tribute to His Majesty King Hamad bin Salman Al Khalifa for introducing the successful reforms package. The Prime Minister highlighted the undisputed facts that Bahrain is the most economically and technologically advanced country in the universe and has a human rights record second to none. This was confirmed by the high ranking achieved by the country on some list compiled by an independent international organization that wouldn't be able to find Bahrain on a map,... blah blah
If you flip to the sports pages in the back you get more of the same. Typically, something like this:
The endurance horce race organized by the Bahrain Royal Equestrian and Endurance Federation (BREEF) was once again won by Federation president, Shaikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa... rhubarb rhubarb...
The broadcast media is the same but worse since it is entirely under the control of the government. So this is what a typical news bulletin on the radio starts off with:
His Excellency Shaikh Wudeva bin Whoever Al Khalifa, undersecretary of the Directorate of Notmuch, sent a cable of good wishes to His Excellency Shaikh Joe bin Bloggs Al Khalifa congratulating him on learning how to tie his shoelaces. Shaikh Joe sent a cable of good wishes back to Shaikh Wudeva thanking him for the cable of good wishes, etc etc.
But recall that Shaikhs Wudeva and Joe probably have their offices right next to each other yet they still insist on sending a "cable of good wishes". To be honest I'm not even sure what they mean by this so-called "cable". Couldn't they just use e-mail now instead? Hmm... maybe it would sound a bit wierd.. "an e-mail of good wishes".
TV is quite similar to radio, but they actually show video of the Shaikh with his accompanying entourage as they visit different places and are greeted by everyone.
But wait! That's not all. Each of our 20 dinar banknotes features a portrait of the King. It used to be a picture of the Bab al-Bahrain, but they replaced it with our monarch after it was found that conterfeit copies of that note were in circulation.
And how about this. Go and get your phone directory and open up the blue section just before the white pages. You will find that there are eight whole pages that list the names and phone numbers of the members of the royal family. No not just the members who have a public office, but anyone who is part of the royal family. The section is aptly titled "Royal Family Names".
And how about some more billboards? If you've been driving through the Seef area this past week then you've surely seen all the billboards thanking the PM for supporting the Chamber of Commerce and the construction of its new headquarters. I counted 18 (yes, eighteen) of such billboards situated around the new site. Most of them have been attributed to the Chamber of Commerce, but it seems that some of the individual members wanted to make sure that they get recognized also, so they got separate ones done in their own name
So what the hell is going on? Obviously, the royal family can't take all of the blame for this, because it doesn't have direct control over all of the instances I've listed above. I would guess that those billboards that are sponsored by businesses are probably a means of getting cheap advertising. And then there is also the bum-lick factor which both businesses and government institutions would want to make use of to further their organizations or personal careers. Even if some of them don't feel they need to suck up, they probably feel pressured to join in so that they aren't the odd ones out. And on the side of the family itself, it seems as though they quite happily approve of, or encourage, such public displays of support. As the country inevitably moves towards democracy, the only way that the royal family can secure its position in the future is if it has public support to stay on. But I very much doubt that those billboards and the like do anything to increase their popularity.
So we have this environment set up that is highly conducive to public displays of bum-licking. Okay, Bahrain is by no means an exception as many of our neighbours, and other developing countries around the world suffer from this same problem (much worse in some places). And I can't really expect things in Bahrain to have changed overnight as soon as the reforms were introduced. So why am I wasting my (and your) time with this issue? Well unless people begin to express disapproval of public bum-licking the situation will never change. So this is my part.