Since the Arab Spring protests rocked the Middle East in 2010, a considerable amount of the region’s media coverage has been devoted to the protests’ repercussions and any lingering civil unrest within the Arab world.
Prince Nasser Bin Hamad Al Khalifa and the rest of Bahrain’s Royal Family have learned that their country is no exception. A vast majority of international media sources have spent the last few years magnifying the strained relations between Bahrain’s Sunni and Shia population.
I was given the opportunity to discuss this with Prince Nasser, who is the President of the Bahrain Olympic Committee as well as the commander for the Bahrain Royal Guard, when I participated in Bahrain’s International Youth Conference earlier this year. He told me that his country is doing everything it can to show the rest of the world the true character of Bahrain—one rich with diverse culture, business, and an ever-expanding hub for sports and entertainment.
“It’s every Bahraini’s responsibility to show the true image of Bahrain to the world as a peaceful, hospitable, and a stable nation,” Prince Nasser said. “Perceptions about the Gulf may be limited in the West, especially to people who don’t travel to the Middle East and rely more on mass media and internet for information. The government is also doing its part to reach out and promote the positive image of Bahrain to the world.”
This has continued despite the Bahrain Royal Family’s commitment to creating a government that represents all of its citizen’s beliefs. Salman AlJalahma, Bahrain’s media attaché based in Washington D.C., spoke on behalf of the Bahrain government about the country’s recent efforts to elect government officials with neutral alignment to all groups, religious or otherwise.
“It was clear that the government has appeased the most prevalent grievances in the country, creating a platform conducive for sustainable change,” AlJalahma said. “But the key thing is to remember that dialogue and reform is a continuous evolution.”
Bahrain deserves its due respect for making unprecedented strides towards national equality. Following the controversial uprisings resulting from the Arab Spring, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) went to work creating a list of recommendations for the Royal Family to implement in order to create a better system for citizens that hold contrary beliefs. As of this year, Bahrain had already successfully implemented nearly every single one of the BICI’s 26 recommendations.
Prince Nasser’s father, King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa, praised BICI and the Bahrain parliament for their efforts in creating positive change for their national community.
“It represents a part of our history of which we can all be proud,” King Hamad said. “The implementation of the recommendations reflects Bahrain’s commitment to reform in various fields,” His Majesty said. “Reform is an on-going process. Development is the path of life.”
Prince Nasser, who is 28 years old and also the Chairman of the Supreme Council for Youth and Sports, is one of the strongest advocates for Bahrain’s future generations. He was the inaugural speaker at the International Youth Conference, where 1,600 participants representing 32 nations participated in sessions that discussed finding opportunities and overcoming hardships from a young age. Reaching out to youths is particularly important for Bahrain, where 35 percent of the entire population is under the age of 25.
According to Prince Nasser, the conference is just one of many ways his family has invested in the future of their country. They’ve also implemented a detailed plan to develop and expand the Bahraini economy well past the next decade.
“For the past 10 years, Bahrain has seen a big jump which has a lot to do with the Bahrain Vision 2030,” Prince Nasser said. “This has provided a clear direction for the continued development of the Kingdom’s economy, which is a shared goal of building a better life for every Bahraini in terms of infrastructure, education, business, tourism, and more.”
Respondents of the most recent Arab Youth Survey cited a lack of jobs and opportunities as one of the greatest challenges facing youth in the Middle East today, and it may be the primary driving factor for young Arabs who join ISIS. Prince Nasser said that Bahrain Vision 2030 aims to alleviate this issue and put Bahrain’s accomplishments into the public eye.
“Bahrain is a small country compared to the rest of the world. In general, people tend to notice those that are big and well-known. Most of the time, what we read or see on television is contrary to what is really happening,” Prince Nasser said. “One has to come to Bahrain to really experience what we have to offer.”
The Bahrain International Circuit, which hosts the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix, is the first high-end motorsports facility in the Middle East. It also became the first high-end motorsports facility to receive the FIA Institute Centre of Excellence award for excellence in their safety and medical facilities. An accomplished tri-athlete himself, Prince Nasser spoke proudly of their country’s jump in the realm of sporting events.
“We are trying to enter and engage in different kinds of sports including local and international events. IRONMAN, Endurance Horse Racing, Bahrain Battle of Heroes, the Spartan Race, and more,” Prince Nasser said. “I have just been to South Africa for a triathlon, a sport which is very dear to me. I personally talk and train with the athletes and I hope that this has in some way inspired the young people of Bahrain.”
It was clear to me that Prince Nasser was passionate about more than just sports. He spoke with pride about his family, his citizens, and the future of his country. During my time in Bahrain, every citizen I spoke to held a deep admiration and respect for the prince and the rest of the Royal Family. Before I concluded our interview, I asked him how he managed to garner so much respect from a population that is supposedly at odds with its government.
“I think being true to our people and reaching out to them is the key. To gain respect, one has to show respect,” Prince Nasser said. “I am always at the forefront of events, shaking hands, and talking to people, no matter how tired I am as I want people to know that they can approach me.”
“The feedback that I get from them, I keep that, and I use it to become a better leader.”
The media plays an important role in how the masses perceive events. For Bahrain, and many other countries in the Middle East, stories of religious opposition have only fed the narrative of differences, rather than building towards a future of peaceful coexistence.
“Come to Bahrain and you will see the “real” side of it. Words are not enough to explain, they have to experience it,” Prince Nasser said. “It has become a melting pot for different nationalities. Bahrain is now truly cosmopolitan and I think this is what people keep coming back for.”