Bahrain, energy market and media: a meeting with Rashid Al-Hamer and Sara Najeeb

An overview photograph of the Bahrain Bay project, a commercial real estate development on the northern coastline of Manama (Credits: Droodkin, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Volume 20 Issue 10
Author: Silvia Boltuc

The Kingdom of Bahrain, led by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, is a Middle Eastern island country situated in the Persian Gulf between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, lying 124 nautical miles from Iran. Bahrain is the only GCC state with a Shia majority population led by the Sunni Government of the Al Khalifa ruling family.

The small country has a strategic role in the Gulf area, as confirmed by its international and regional alliances. Bahrein is part of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and has long-standing ties with the United States. In 2002, the United States designated the Kingdom as a “major non-NATO ally”. In 2015, Manama joined the Saudi Arabia-led military action in Yemen.[1] In 2019, Bahrain hosted a U.S.-led maritime mission (International Maritime Security Construct, IMSC) to protect shipping in the Gulf, following accusations against Iran of threatening its security.[2] Furthermore, in September 2020, Manama signed the Abraham Accords to normalise relations with Israel. In February 2022, Bahrain and Israel signed a security cooperation agreement, and Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett became the first Israeli leader to visit Bahrain.

Cooperation between Italy and Bahrain in the energy field

On June 13th, 2022, Electricity and Water Affairs Minister Wael bin Nasser Al Mubarak received the Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Program (UNPD) in Bahrain, Firas Gharaibeh. The parties discussed and analysed plans and projects for renewable energy and energy efficiency.[3] Bahrain has strived to complete its economic diversification, although the oil and natural gas sectors remain a robust component of the national economy.

Due to its energy resources, Italy has sought economic and diplomatic partnerships with Bahrain to diversify its oil and natural gas imports. During our official visit to Muscat, the capital of Oman, to attend the 31st World Congress of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ),[4] we had the opportunity to discuss contemporary Bahrein with Rashid Al-Hamer, the Secretary-General of the Bahrain Journalists Association and editor-in-chief of the online daily newspaper Al-Ayam, and Sara Najeeb, board member and Head of the Media Committee of the Bahrain Journalists Association. Talking about Italy – Bahrain relations, Rashid Al-Hamer underlined that:

“Bahrain and Italy relations are progressing very well. In February 2020, we inaugurated the Embassy of the Kingdom of Bahrain in Rome. We have direct flights from Bahrain to Milan and Rome. Thanks to Eni’s activities, there is a strong relationship in the oil fields. We look for further business and venture relations with Italy.”

In May 2019, ENI signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the country’s National Oil and Gas Authority which aims to pursue future exploration activities in Block 1, the largely unexplored offshore area in the northern territorial waters.[5] Furthermore, in February 2020, ENI signed a new MoU to consolidate its presence in the country’s energy sector. The agreement will extend the collaboration between ENI and the Tatweer Petroleum company in mutual interest, including renewable energy, the supply of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and exploration activities. As for LNG, the collaboration will be geared towards a more sustainable and efficient energy mix to meet Bahrain’s future energy needs.[6]

In January 2021, the National Oil and Gas Authority of the Kingdom of Bahrain NOGA and ENI Rewind, the environmental company of ENI, signed an agreement to collaborate in the promotion of joint initiatives aimed at the management, efficient recovery and reuse of water, soil and waste in the country, in line with the objectives of the UN 2030 Agenda for sustainable development.[7]

Silvia Boltuc, SpecialEurasia Managing Director, and Rashid Al-Hamer, the Secretary-General of the Bahrain Journalists Association and editor-in-chief of the online daily newspaper Al-Ayam (Credits: SpecialEurasia)

Bahrain’s cooperation with Oman

Recently, according to King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, Bahrain stressed the country’s commitment and support for the Yemeni Presidential Leadership Council and its efforts to regain power and control in Yemen and achieve peace, stability and security. The King of Bahrain also welcomed extending the humanitarian truce in Yemen announced by the United Nations.[8] Looking at the regional dynamics, since 2015, Manama has supported and cooperated with Riyadh in the war in Yemen. As noted during our stay in Oman, even though Muscat and Manama have different approaches to regional geopolitics, especially in the war in Yemen, the two countries have friendly and productive relations. Rashid Al-Hamer confirmed this positive trend, stressing that:

“Relations between Oman and Bahrain are solid. We have decades of trade, family, cultural relations, and exchange students. We are here to support our Omani brothers who have taken this conference to another level.”

Sara Najeeb, board member and Head of the Media Committee of the Bahrain Journalists Association, echoed Al-Hamer, saying that the two countries have:

“Strong historical relations with Oman because of the common historical past, family and diplomatic relations. Moreover, we have a significant trade turnover and just inaugurated the Association of Friendship Oman Bahrain”.

On December 2021, His Excellency Eng. Rida bin Juma Al Saleh, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OCCI), affirmed that Oman would have jointly established an investment company with Bahrain with a capital of 10 million with Muscat as its headquarters. Manama was interested in investing in projects of Oman Vision 2040.[9]

Cooperation between the Kingdom and the Sultanate also covers other fields. In May 2022, the Omani Shura Council and the Bahraini Council of Representatives signed an agreement to enhance joint parliamentary cooperation.[10]

Silvia Boltuc, SpecialEursia Managing Director, Sara Najeeb, board member and Head of the Media Committee of the Bahrain Journalists Association (Credits: SpecialEurasia)

Media in Bahrain

Bahrain has exploited new media communication and telecommunication opportunities offered by new and modern technologies. For instance, the country has one of the most significant internet penetration rates in the Arab world, with more than 1.71 million internet users, or 99% of the population.[11] According to international NGOs and Western analysts, Bahrain Government manages the primary television and radio networks. Although newspapers are privately owned, Western analysts believe that private media in Bahrain have a pro-government stance in their editorials.[12]

Rashid Al-Hamer discussed with SpecialEurasia the media situation in Bahrain, highlighting that:

“It is vital to stress the rule of journalism in our world today because it is the pillar of democracy since it brings democracy. The security of journalists who work in war zones is essential. We should work to guarantee their safety and the possibility for them to access sources and information. We also focus on youth empowerment because we have a new generation of journalists who need skills training from older generations. Women empowerment is also an important topic to discuss. Today in Bahrain, we focus on giving women the right opportunities to work in media and journalism.”

In this regard, Sara Najeeb confirmed:

“We do not have a gender gap in Bahrain. Women and men face the same problems and challenges.”

At the IFJ’s World Congress occasion, Sara Najeeb expressed the need to deepen and discuss several issues related to the Middle East. Addressing the killing of Shireen Abu Aqleh, the Palestinian journalist working for Aljazeera, she affirmed:

“What happened to Shireen might be defined as a criminal act that influenced the world of journalism, media, and all human beings. When we learned about the killing, we published a press release. Also, the Bahrain Government condemned this homicide. We want to establish proper tools and practices to guarantee journalists’ security wherever they work”.

Sources

[1] US Department of State (2022) US Relations with Bahrain. Link: https://www.state.gov/u-s-relations-with-bahrain/.

[2] Arab News (2019) Maritime coalition launched to protect Gulf shipping after Iran attacks. Link: https://www.arabnews.com/node/1580576/middle-east .

[3] F.K.N. (2022) Electricity Minister reviews renewable energy plans with UNDP representative, Bahrain News Agency. Link: https://www.bna.bh/en/ElectricityMinisterreviewsrenewableenergyplanswithUNDPrepresentative.aspx?cms=q8FmFJgiscL2fwIzON1%2bDtxeXeWLilVJg535CBMI9aI%3d.

[4] SpecialEurasia (2022) SpecialEurasia attends the 31st World Congress of the International Federation of Journalists in Oman. Link: https://www.specialeurasia.com/2022/05/31/specialeurasia-ifj-media-oman/.

[5] ENI (2019) Eni firma un Exploration e Production Sharing Agreement per il Blocco 1 nell’offshore del Bahrein. Link: https://www.eni.com/it-IT/media/comunicati-stampa/2019/05/eni-firma-un-exploration-e-production-sharing-agreement-per-il-blocco-1-nelloffshore-del-bahrein.html.

[6] Hydrocarbons Technology (2020) Eni signs MoU with Tatweer Petroleum to collaborate in energy sector. Link: https://www.hydrocarbons-technology.com/news/eni-signs-mou-bahrain-tatweer-petroleum/.

[7] ENI (2021) Le nostre attività in Bahrain. Link: https://www.eni.com/it-IT/eni-nel-mondo/medio-oriente/bahrain.html .

[8] The Daily Tribune New of Bahrain (2022) HM King Hamad Welcomes Yemeni Truce, Leadership Council. Link: https://www.newsofbahrain.com/bahrain/81743.html.

[9] The Arabian Stories (2021) Oman-Bahrain Investment Holding Company with a capital of OMR 10 million formed. Link: https://www.thearabianstories.com/2021/12/04/oman-bahrain-investment-holding-company-with-a-capital-of-omr-10-million-formed/

[10] Times of Oman (2022) Oman, Bahrain sign agreement to enhance joint parliamentary cooperation. Link: https://timesofoman.com/article/117388-oman-bahrain-sign-agreement-to-enhance-joint-parliamentary-cooperation

[11] Datareportal (2021) Digital 2021: Bahrain. Link: https://datareportal.com/reports/digital-2021-bahrain.

[12] BBC (2019) Bahrain profile – media. Link: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-14541053.