The human rights defender and President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights Nabeel Rajab, has been active on Twitter since March 2009. Last July, Forbes Magazine classified Rajab as the second most active Twitter user in Bahrain and the 43rd at the Arab World level. At that time, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister, Sheikh Khaled Al Khalifa surpassed Rajab with a few thousands followers. However, Rajab is considered today the most active Twitter user in Bahrain with more than 86 thousands followers from all over the world. Rajab feels that this is a great responsibility that has been put upon his own shoulders when Twitter was not his specialty and job, for he used to write reports and make phonecalls to the international organizations. Rajab started specifying several hours within his daily program for Twitter.
The liberal opposition and other non-opposing political forces used to complain that the Islamic forces could make use of mosques and worship houses that allowed them to address large crowds. However, these forces can’t complain anymore today due to the new media that has broken this rule and opened the door to any one and any party to address everyone and reach the greatest number of people if they deliver good speeches and have a language that attracts people.
Describing Twitter capacities, Rajab said, “a 20-year-old youth with an excellent speech can easily address 20 or 30 thousands persons; all the forces have become equal in this aspect.”
Rajab considers that the social media; Twitter, in particular, is the Arab Spring’s horizon. All the previous international revolutions missed this characteristic, although the international support and other characteristics might have been present, the revolutions yet missed the social media whose role accelerated. The social media has become the one that organizes and leads the people in these revolutions.
Before Twitter existed, Rajab used to tell people to travel outside Bahrain in order to meet foreigners and get to know their discourse. Now, via Twitter one can do this without the need to leave Bahrain. Thus, Rajab started calling people to go beyond the “Forums” to the wider horizon that includes Sunnis, Shiites, Christians, Arabs, Foreigners, Nationals, Muslims and all orientations. In this way, each one can see the other’s orientations to get opened to other schools’ and ideologies, approaches and references; the thing that rationalizes the discourse quality and decreases the hardline tone.
Rajab believes that going to a bigger community and a wider horizon has become a necessity, “I was sure that dialogues and people’s conversations on Twitter will develop the discourse, thinking and consequently the work of the opposition.”
“What did I start doing?” Rajab says that, being the main news sources coming from inside Bahrain or published outside, he opened a personal account on Twitter and another one for Bahrain Center for Human Rights. In addition, he organized with his friends to call on people to use this excellent mechanism and make use of it.
“How do we attract people to Facebook and Twitter?” Rajab says, “I decided not to publish news in the Forums, instead I post them on Facebook and Twitter only.” News was spread among people that Rajab posted on Facebook or Twitter that someone hit him or arrested him, at that time he discovered that hundreds of people started creating their own accounts on Facebook and Twitter.
“I deliver all the important news on twitter and I make people know that I have only tweeted them there,” Rajab states. This action made hundreds of people rush to create their own accounts on Facebook and Twitter on a daily basis until they become tens of thousands. This has distinguished the Bahraini society from all the societies; it is more active today in engaging and making use of the social media, regularly trending on Twitter and Facebook, in political matters.
Nabeel Rajab is the one of the oldest political and human rights activists on Twitter. He says that some of his old members in his family did not even have computers, yet they bought them just to access Twitter and follow the news after the stir caused it had caused. Nabeel urged people to convince their families and direct their knowledge to open accounts in twitter and start working and following “through this action you have attracted all the community groups, including the old people and the isolated traders, to this open horizon,” Rajab announces.
Rajab’s Twitter…Breaks the Taboo
Rajab says, “A new task was assigned to me, an effective and stimulating task.” To him, this task is a problem since it is a part of his effective job that needs time and good management. The government is monitoring Rajab’s work and people are following him, including audience, people living abroad, Western embassies and the press agencies that formally quote from his Twitter account any statement, saying or comments he posts. “A new method we didn’t even think about.” Some embassies translate Rajab’s tweets, being political stances, and transfer them to their countries’ foreign ministries. Rajab’s tweets are classified as the “Top Tweets” in #Bahrain.
“The army, Ministry of Interior and intelligence; they are following me,” Rajab states, adding, “Some of those whom I talked about their arrest on Twitter were directly released.” In the national safety days, Rajab was the only one who used to post a list about the arrested that daily talks about their arrest conditions. It was easy to contact Rajab who used to talk about everyone with no fear. He also talked about his arrest, beating and several hours of detention.
Western authors who write about Bahrain contact Rajab and ask him to post their articles and report’s links on Twitter in order to make them more interactive, make people read them, be a motive for people, convince their newspapers that the subject is read in terms of the “retweets” and readings and that it is successful. Many people look for news and reports about Bahrain in newspapers and websites and interact with them, Nabeel Rajab makes getting this an easy task and prepares everything for these people in one place; his account alone is a publishing and distributing agency.
Nabeel Rajab is one of the few figures to have defined themselves on Twitter. He announced that he is going to participate in 14th February event and called on people to do so. This added a kind of credibility and reality to 14th February movement; Rajab publically calls for protesting. He backs the protest calls organized by youth groups, “I tried to be an incubator that adopts, supports and strengthens these protests.”
Nabeel Rajab confirms that he is same person on Twitter and among people; he is a on his nature, on Twitter and elsewhere. According to him, being on his nature gives no chance to anyone, the authority in particular, to extort him one day for any action he has done or said in a non-public speech. “What I say in my public speeches is the same thing I write in my tweets or during closed or open-door meetings, including the jokes I make.” All Rajab’s tweets, even his jokes, are retweeted hundreds of times. Some of his sarcastic dialogues are gathered in a photo and published as satire.
“I clearly criticize people if I believe that their words or orientations are wrong,” Rajab declares, adding, “I don’t work to satisfy anyone because he is an affiliate to the opposition or my follower, for instance. If any of them had a sectarian discourse, I directly tell him and if he repeated this action I “Block” him whether being a Shiite or Sunni. I even blocked hundreds.”
When Rajab sometimes writes a piece of information and realizes later on that it is an unconfirmed or a wrong one, he withdraws it and directly apologizes. Rajab is called for summons for the true and confirmed information which he only spread since the beginning of the suppression campaign unhesitantly and with no fear. At that time, CNN published a report about Rajab “A trial for a tweet: Maybe it is the first in the world”.
It was him who posted the Martyr Ali Saqer’s photo from inside the morgue after the regime tortured him to death in prison. Thousands of people were afraid and stopped posting on Twitter and other social media and maybe even deactivated their accounts. The government publically charged Rajab with fabrication, but a BBC reporter was there to disclose the truth and consequently the regime drew back.
Nabeel receives a lot of death threats on Twitter from known people, yet the government raises no finger against them. One of those who threatened him was the Colonel and ex-torturer, Adel Fleifel. Besides, a lot of campaigns were organized against Rajab, such as “I am not Nabeel Rajab”, but he never stops. He is the one who broke all the constraints of that stage through twitter and broke people’s fear too.