GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

Family Name:
First Name:
Title of Paper:
Who is Bahraini? Bahrain Television and the Quest of Defining “Bahraini-ism”
Paper Proposal Text :
One of the many aspects of state building is creating a national identity that grants legitimacy to the state. This national identity often attempts to connect the contemporary modern to an imagined past heritage. This creates several challenges for the modern states of the Arabian Peninsula. Their relatively recent introduction to the list of nation-states means that they are perhaps still trying to formulate their national narratives. These states contend that each of them is unique enough to be considered a state with borders and a unique set of traditions and history.
The states of the Gulf were not created as a consequence of colonial struggle. Saudi Arabia was never colonized, Oman has been an independent state since the 1400s and the other states were simply British protectorates and not colonies. Therefore, these states did not achieve self-determination by overcoming a brutal colonial history or a struggle with foreign powers. These states simply emerged as modern day sheikhdoms, governed by ruling families. Therefore, the narrative of the state is often derived from a tribal past in a way that somehow contradicts the essence of the modern state.
Bahrain, arguably, presents one of the more challenging attempts at creating a national identity. Its demographic diversity along with a continuous struggle between the state and the citizens weaken a state-sanctioned national narrative that portrays the state as a homogenous entity. Therefore, a state-driven project of building a national identity in the Gulf and especially in Bahrain, though very thorough and elaborative, cannot be considered effective or successful due to apparent gap between the narrative accepted by the state and the one accepted by the people.
State television remains a major instrument that is often mobilized in the process of identity formation in Bahrain. This is evident in the content of Ramadan television series, especially those of a folkloric nature, topics tackled in talk shows, national song genres as well as advertisements and video montages broadcasted on national television. All of these tools contribute towards the creation of a Bahraini national narrative that is accepted by the state.
This process becomes more apparent during times of crisis. National television tries to assert the homogeneity and unity of the state, but is faced with a complicated dilemma. On the one hand, the national narrative tries to project a state that is united, but it still needs to pinpoint enemies that are undermining this national narrative. This is where the complication arises. By trying to create a threat to the state, national media falls in the trap, accidentally or intentionally, of demonizing a significant segment of the national population. Therefore, the tools mobilized by national television to assert a certain national narrative end up being the same tools that further augment the division in the national fabric.
This paper is going to analyze the pattern of national representation and identity formation processes conducted by the state’s main television network, Bahrain television, over the course of the past couple of decades. This paper is also going to pay special attention to how national television in Bahrain tackled the most recent crisis. This paper is going to argue that not only is the national narrative projected through Bahrain television is often derived from an imagined tribal heritage that is exclusively Sunni, but also that in times of crisis the national narrative used by BTV becomes more of a divisional tool that illuminates the failure of the national project of identity formation among the Bahraini public.