Total Pageviews

Monday, December 3, 2012

Bahrain\'s Embrace of Kim Kardashian

Video provided to news organizations by the promoters who brought Kim Kardashian to the opening of a milkshake shop at a mall in Bahrain on Saturday.

Bahrain's ongoing attempt to change the subject of international conversation about the kingdom away from its crackdown on dissent took an awkward turn over the weekend, when the nation's foreign minister posted a message on Twitter thanking the American celebrity Kim Kardashian for saying nice things about the country during a brief visit to open a milkshake shop.

The awkwardness stemmed from the fact that, as several people reminded the royal minister, he represents a Sunni Muslim monarchy with close ties to the conservative rulers of neighboring Saudi Arabia, while Ms. Kardashian notoriously “made her debut on the public stage in the form of a sex tape.”

Bahrainis opposed to Ms. Kardashian's visit to a local mall called The Walk on Saturday - either on religious grounds or as a distraction from the stifling of the protest movement that began in 2011 - were quick to point out the contradictions.

According to an Associated Press report, before Ms. Kardashian arrived at the milkshake shop, tear gas was fired at religious conservatives, one of whom was holding up a sign that read, “none of our customs and traditions allow us to receive stars of porn movies.”

The opposition activist Zainab Alkhawaja, who uses her @AngryArabiya Twitter feed to document the security crackdown in Bahrain for about 48,000 followers, scoffed at the words of praise from Ms. Kardashian, whose observations and endorsements are read by nearly 17 million users of the social network.

Video of the event at the milkshake shop, posted online by the owners of the chain who flew Ms. Kardashian to Bahrain, showed that most of the fans drawn to see her at the mall were young women and girls. According to a press release accompanying the footage, one unidentified fan, who perhaps has a career in brand management ahead of her, said, “Kim Kard ashian has thousands of fans in Bahrain. Not only is she beautiful, she is an icon of what a woman should be in the modern world. She is strong, independent and smart. She is a successful businesswoman and we love her for that.”

The video also shows that Ms. Kardashian was careful to thank the Hollywood promoter and milkshake magnate who brought her there, Sheeraz Hasan, by name. As Sara Yasin explained in a post on the visit for the Index on Censorship's blog, Uncut, Mr. Hasan and his business partner Paresh A. Shah, “appear to have an interesting relationship with Bahrain's royal family. According to their official website, the two were given a ‘mandate to source unique investment opportunities outside of Bahrain and developing infrastructure within Bahrain' after meeting with the royal family earlier this year.”

Ms. Yasin added: “Hasan and Shah traveled to Bahrain only weeks before the controversial Bahrain Grand Prix in April, with Hasan tweeting a photograph of himself with Shah and a pair of Rolexes the Bahraini royal family delivered to their plane. Hasan first made mention of their unique mandate in May, shortly after returning from the trip.”

Mr. Hasan's Twitter home page, which displays a photograph of him shaking hands with President Barack Obama, boasts that his company “has the authority to bring deals and investment opportunities from around the world to present directly to the Royal Families of Qatar and Bahrain.” On Monday, he posted an update explaining that he was still in Bahrain, working on the launch of a new venture called Bahrain.tv.

According to a promotional video for Bahrain.tv Mr. Has an urged his readers to watch, Ms. Kardashian's visit to the kingdom might have been something of a trial run for a more extended effort to shift news coverage away from protest marches, tear gas and the arrest of dissidents for posting critical messages on Twitter. The new site, it seems, will be devoted to “promoting Bahrain to the world,” in part by “bringing the word's biggest celebrities, sports stars and business icons to Bahrain.”