Indiscreet charm of Bahrain’s elections posters

October 9, 2010

When Younis Al Basheer put up his posters urging people to vote him in as their next municipal councilors, he had high hopes to attract their attention. He did not however anticipate that the posters would draw attention, but mainly sneering comments.

“When you make up your own mind and want to make a change” was the message on the poster in Muharraq, followed by a giant picture of the candidate and that of a tiger head.

Nobody understood the significance or purpose of the tiger and Younis did not explain it publicly, prompting people to make jokes.

“Maybe he wants to show that he is tough and ready to help his constituents,” one Muharraq resident said.

“Maybe he thinks of himself as Mowgli, the jungle boy that we had loved when we were younger,” Maysa Al Kooheji told thousands of people through her BlackBerry.

While none of the hundreds of the posters adorning Bahrain ahead of the parliamentary and municipal elections had images of animals, many carried pictures of mosques.

The posters by the Islamist parliament hopefuls clearly seek to rally support among their conservative constituents and to indicate how committed they are to Islamic values and preponderance of religion in their plans after they enter the lower chamber.

Salah Al Khaja running for a municipal council in Manama on the Islamic Menbar ticket did away with emotional pledges and preferred a visual message that used two pictures: his own in the foreground and that of the Qudhaibiya Mosque in the background. No direct and no promises. Tariq Al Shaikh, also running on behalf of the Islamic Menbar, had his picture and a picture of a mosque. Al Menbar, the offshoot of the Muslims Brotherhood, had seven members in the outgoing lower chamber and faces a fierce battle in Bahraini capital.

Adel Al Assoomi, an incumbent lawmaker, is their man to beat this year again in a saga that has last eight years.

The Islamic Menbar won in 2002 when parliamentary elections were held for the first time following a three-decade constitutional hiatus. However, Al Assoomi, an independent candidate, refused to be written off and made an impressive comeback in 2006 that saw him win the seat in the hotly contested constituency. An avid sports fan, he made sure that his victory was celebrated with great fanfare with elated constituents tossing him in the air.

His poster pays tribute to them. “We shall continue the march we have undertaken together”, the banner said with Adel’s large smiling face next to the message.

The Bin Rajabs, one running for parliament and the second for the municipal council went for a common poster that carried their juxtaposed pictures. The Manama poster informed constituents that their votes would be the launch of changes.

Al Wefaq, Bahrain’s largest society and the biggest bloc in the 2006-2010 lower chamber, opted for a dark blue colour and no message. All the posters had just the picture of the candidate, Al Wefaq’s logo and elections slogan about protecting Bahrain and a note to the constituents that he will be running in the parliamentary or municipal elections.

Al Wefaq has repeatedly said that it was confident that it would win the 18 parliamentary seats it is seeking, an air of certainty that did not need messages or pledges.

Ibrahim Shareef, like the other two candidates for Waad, Bahrain’s largest liberal society, used a large picture of himself and a short message “The Nation is a Trust”.

“This is rather meager for Waad,” said Mohammad Sultan, a Bahraini accountant. “True, they have their distinctive orange colour in the background, but there is nothing that could help to understand what they are aiming to do. We know that the poster cannot use up the election programme, but they could have done better by showing their some of their policy commitments. Not even the logo of the society was there,” he said.

Municipal hopeful Fatima Salman had a feminine touch. She chose three words as her slogan: Change, Urbanisation and Development. All three start with “T” in Arabic. Her picture, wearing a black headdress, takes up about one third of the tastefully coloured poster. If she wins, she will be the first woman in Bahrain to get elected to a municipal council.

Zahra Haram who wants to join the lower chamber has taken up a green theme for her poster and an emotional message: “I am one of you and I will hold your head high.” The pledge seemed to address concerns among conservatives that women, not used to political trappings and ambushes, could embarrass them, the ultimate humiliation for them.

Mariam Al Rouwaie, a decidedly determined woman candidate, has gone for a dark blue background, a large picture and the message that people’s votes help build the nation.

A nationally well-known woman for her activism for the sake of women’s rights, Mariam is confident that she will this time carry the seat.

She had earlier failed against Jassem Al Saeedi, an independent Salafi who had often waded into controversy for his harsh criticism of his fellow lawmakers.

Al Saeedi who represented his constituency in 2002 and 2006 is also confident that he will win again this year.

His poster carried an aerial picture of Riffa fort, the historic landscape in his constituency.

However, the landmark is dwarfed by his own large picture, with his famously luxuriant beard and with his glasses on his nose, looking ahead.

His “We look into the core” message did not carry ant details or explanations, prompting people to wonder about its true meaning.

“I have read it many times and tried to fathom what Al Saeedi wanted to convey, but I was invariably baffled,” Mahmood, a Bahraini from the constituency, said. “I wish he had opted for something less baffling and disorienting.”

Khalifa Al Dhahrani, the speaker of the lower chamber in the 2002-2006 and 2006-2010 terms and a member of the first parliament in 1973 and of the Shura Council that preceded the bicameral parliament in 2002, reminded his constituents that he had 20 years of parliament experience. His discreet smiling face and his white beard confirmed in him the fatherly figure that he had long projected.

In his poster, Abdullah Bin Houwail told his potential voters that his heart and his doors were wide open. His smiling picture takes up half of the poster.

Abdul Rahman Bu Mjaid, hoping to repeat his 2006 feat by prolonging his membership in the lower chamber, chose to highlight the importance of young people. He selected an action picture, extending his hand ahead.

In Manama, Ibrahim Janahi, smiling in his red-and-white chequered ghitra (headdress) said that he wanted the constituency to be distinguished, but gave no details about the kind of distinction.

Fouad Al Jalahma went for a large poster that could be moved around after it was mounted on a vehicle. He expressed his intention to help prepare the youth for a brighter future and offered a five-point programme.

Osama Al Tamimi, running in the Central Governorate, went one step further by adding a short biography to his programme with an overwhelming poster as a result.


Side bar: Comments from Mohammad Anas, a media advertising specialist-

“Honing a visual message is not easy, but I am really shocked by the quality of most of the posters.

Slogans are supposed to last in the brain, but in most of the cases here, the message is either dull, too general or too nuanced to have a genuine meaning. In some cases, there is no message at all.

Some of the candidates have severe, although airbrushed pictures that rule out easy approachablility or easiness to communicate.

Calls for change and need for action are good, but they do not seem to be followed by genuine policy commitments.

In fact, most of the messages are lost because of the overwhelming pictures of the candidates. The absence of white space on most of the posters is disheartening, and even where there is plenty of space, it is not white, so the eye does not rest and the mind cannot retain the poster easily.



About the author

Born August 3, 1960 in Monastir, Tunisia
Media career:
  • ABC News (Tunisia)
  • Bahrain Tribune
  • Gulf News
  • Bahrain Television News
Teaching career:
  • Monastir (Tunisia)
  • University of Bahrain
  • MA  Mass Communications, University of Leicester
  • BA  in English & US literature and studies, University of Tunis

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