2019 Roundup: Royal Courts War: From Public Conflict of Gov’t Wings to Accusing Opposition and Criminalizing Follow and Retweet
2020-01-17 - 9:31 am
Bahrain Mirror (2019 Roundup): The unannounced truce between the Royal Court and the Prime Minister's Court didn't last long. The dispute that was publicly managed on social media outlets and that lasted for 3 months (from February until April 2018), and ended with the arrest of Mohammad Al-Shorouqi as well as others over charges of managing the "Na'eb Ta'eb" Twitter account, seems to emerge again but in another fashion.
The visit paid by the PM Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa to Sayed Abdullah Al-Ghuraifi's house and the phone call he made with the Emir of Qatar to congratulate him on the month of Ramadan amid a Gulf boycott of Doha irritated the Royal Court that started a wide campaign with Sayed Abdullah Al-Ghuraifi as a headline, but in reality targeting the PM.
For its part, the Prime Minister's Court rushed to mobilize its followers and supporters on social media. The "Na'eb Ta'eb" account which the PM's royal court controlled after Al-Shorouqi's arrest and which turned into another platform supportive of Khalifa bin Salman resumed action quickly. It explicitly accused Royal Court Minister Khalid bin Ahmed of attempting to overthrow Khalifa bin Salman and replace him with the king's pampered son (Nasser bin Hamad). Meanwhile, others like lawyer Abdullah Al-Hachem and Abir Al-Jalal denounced this media campaign that didn't seem to be ending anytime soon.
It was apparent that last year it all started with the creation of the "Na'eb Ta'eb" account that published secret conversations of the Council of Ministers Court Undersecretary Ibrahim Al-Dosari and figures such as then MP Anas Bu Hendi as well as director of media affairs in the PM's court Mohammad Al-Mahmeed, in which they talked about scandals concerning MPs, including the then Speaker of Parliament Ahmed Al-Mulla and other conversations about Ahmed Atiyatallah and the Royal Court.
Although Al-Dosari deleted his account on social media, the publishing of these conversations was followed by a lawsuit raised by MP Khalid Al-Shaer and Jamal Bu Hassan against Anas Bu Hendi and Ibrahim Al-Dosari, along with the establishment of a parliamentary committee assigned to investigate Al-Dosari's ownership of Al-Reem center.
It didn't stop here, as they dismissed Bu Hendi from preaching at Al-Ghatam Mosque in Riffa. All of this happened while "Na'eb Ta'eb" continued to post dozens of tweets pointing accusations at Khalifa bin Salman and attacking the team working with him, from the most senior officials in the court to less influential figures like active Twitter user Abir Al-Jalal.
The PM broke his silence and publicly attacked the anti-cybercrimes directorate, accused it of spreading sedition and defended Ibrahim Al-Dosari, whom he had granted Al-Reem center land plot and said that the parliamentary investigation committee was illegally established.
Disputes became worse between the two courts. The PM refused to receive Speaker of Parliament Ahmed Al-Mulla, while Mohammad Khalid who is considered to be linked to the PM accused his sons of running the Na'eb Ta'eb account.
The disputes ended with the PM's victory. The Minister of Interior interfered to stop the dispute on social media. The Ministry of Interior's statement was followed with a statement announcing the arrest of a group accused of managing the "Na'eb Ta'eb" account (one of them is an employee at the cybercrime directorate). The names and photos of the arrested were published on the Interior Ministry's website. The Ministry then arrested Mohammed Khalid's son as he attempted to leave the country and accused him later of abusing social media outlets.
Khalifa bin Salman continued reaping his gains. Editor-in-chief of Al-Watan newspaper Yousif Al-Binkhalil was convicted of slandering Anas Bu Hendi, while the political isolation reached Khalid Al-Shaer who was prevented from running in the 2018 Parliamentary elections after heading a campaign against the PM's wing in 2014.
Arguments between the two courts continued indirectly. The issue of the ownership of the Arad land plot by the son of royal court minister sparked public outrage. The campaign against the construction of a mall was led by tweeters supportive of the PM's court who were later summoned and threatened.
This time things seemed to be different. The "Na'eb Ta'eb" account, which was being controlled by the PM's court, after those accused of managing it were arrested, says that the royal court will appoint a press editor at four local newspapers (Al-Ayam, Al-Bilad, Akhbar Al-Khaleej and Al-Watan) to monitor news published about the PM. Meanwhile, work was being done in the next stage to marginalize Khalifa bin Salman.
The account claimed that Khalid bin Ahmed and his brother Marshal Khalifa bin Ahmed were working with their team to showcase Nasser bin Hamad (king's son) so that he would later become the replacement of Khalifa bin Salman as Premier.
All of this can be understood naturally within the scope of what was known of the conflict between the wings of government, but what was not consistent with all of the above is what happened later. In order to stop this public war in the media, they shifted the course of this conflict which was now handled by foreign parties. It seemed clear that this shift came for the purpose of protecting the involved parties and covering up for those managing them.
On May 20, the Director-General of Anti-corruption and Economic and Electronic Security claimed that the "offensive" accounts are being run by foreign sources from Iran, Qatar, Iraq and European countries, in addition to fugitives who were convicted in absentia. It accused human rights activists Yousif Al-Muhafda and Hassan Al-Sitri of forming an e-network of accounts that manage a number of accounts on social media outlets including Na'eb Ta'eb, Al-Khawalid, Khalid MOA and others.
A few days later, the Ministry said via a tweet (both in Arabic and English) on its official Twitter account: "Those who follow inciting accounts that promote sedition and circulate their posts will be held legally accountable," adding that "countering inciting social media accounts that promote sedition is a national duty and part of the community partnership to protect the security and safety of the nation."
Acquitting the courts of any blame regarding the conflict and steering it towards the opposition, gave the Interior Ministry the green light to seize the opportunity to strike against the largest number of anti-government accounts. After accusing Al-Muhafda and Radi of managing the Na'eb Ta'eb account, journalist Adel Marzouq was then accused of "spreading sedition" due to the opinions he published via his Twitter account. "Adel Marzouq's account is managed from outside Bahrain and aims at spreading sedition between the components of Bahraini society and legal actions are being taken against him and against anyone who promotes his suspicious messages," it said.
Earlier, the King of Bahrain directed the security services to tighten their security grip on social media. In the presence of the Shura Council President and the MPs, he stressed: "We have directed in this regard the competent security services to put a strict end to this misuse since there is no place among us for those who break the law."
These measures were soon applied against a number of non-opposition tweeters as well, such as journalist Ibrahim Al-Sheikh who was arrested in April and was soon released by the PM. His column in Akhbar Al-Khaleej newspaper disappeared afterwards and he stopped writing. This was also the case of Muslim Brotherhood MP Mohammad Khalid who appeared in a videotaped message, directly after his release from a two-day detention, announcing the closure of his Twitter account.
After the Arad Land conflict, a number of loyalist tweeters, who objected to the transfer of a state land plot to private ownership, i.e. to the royal court minister's son, and the construction of a mall on it, were summoned. After the project was suspended, lawyer Abdullah Hashem, who was the spearhead against the project, was taken into custody and then later released.