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Cablegate: Bahrain: Reinvigorating Public Diplomacy Through

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

Ref: SECSTATE 222516

1. Summary: Cultural and sports programs have great
potential to support mission goals, but the dearth of such
programs and the resources available to pursue them has
resulted in many missed opportunities. On numerous
occasions, we face a hostile public audience to U.S. foreign
policy. From a cultural standpoint however, there is a deep
appreciation for American society and culture. Cultural
programming allows us to reach much broader audiences, from
artists and intellectuals to university and high school age
students, and show them the United States in all its
dimensions, its diversity and openness, its creativity and
innovation. Sports programs, although used only recently in
Bahrain, have enormous potential for increasing our access
and interaction with youth audiences. A larger investment in
cultural and sports programs will give more depth to our
efforts to engage and have greater resonance across a broad
range of audiences.

2. An Arab-nationalist editor-in-chief switches gears from
a diatribe on U.S.-sponsored coups, to describe the founders
of the American republic as "intellectual and revolutionary
forbearers" of Arab-nationalism. An often anti-American
columnist is writing a book on the similarities between
American and Arab folk music, and is fascinated by Elvis
Presley and the 1950s Beat Generation. A cleric is
profoundly affected by the freedom, openness, and diversity
in American society he witnesses during an International
Visitor program on "Interfaith Dialogue" and opens an
interfaith dialogue in Bahrain.

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3. At almost every turn, one discovers an eagerness to
explore the "real America" within, even when there is
criticism of America as a "culturally hegemonic superpower."
We are missing valuable opportunities to advance mission
priorities in the field of cultural and sports programs.
From visual arts to Formula-One racing, these programs can
form the bridge across a gaping divide between the America
and the Middle East of the 21st century. The following are
responses to questions posed in paragraph four of reftel:

A. Cultural programs can cut across a number of mission
goals. Key to this success is facilitating people-to-people
connections in non-political environments.

- A recent visit by American Muslim Imam Yahya Hendi is an
excellent example of how a program can have a multiplier
effect and touch on a number of policy priorities, such as
democracy, counter terrorism, and mutual understanding.
Hendi engaged with youth, intellectuals, press, religious,
and political leaders. Engaging an audience that is often
difficult and sensitive for Americans to reach, religious
scholars, Hendi brought together Shia and Sunni clerics in
prayer and dialogue. In commentary, public appearances, and
various interaction captured by the press, "Imam Yahya" sent
a message on the importance of interfaith dialogue,
solidarity against extremism, and the state of Islam in
America. The messages reverberated through commentary and
in the words of those he encountered, generating immense
public interest and in the process advanced mission goals of
amplifying voices of tolerance, isolating extremism, and
engaging Muslim youth. Although this is not a cultural
program in a strict sense, U.S. Speakers remain a powerful
tool to engage foreign cultures.

- An earlier Citizen Ambassador visit by two top American
Educators illustrates how such programs can broaden exposure
to American ideals among target youth audiences. With
messages of youth and women's empowerment, the Citizen
Ambassadors were allowed nearly unfettered access to public
schools to meet with student leaders, high achievers, and
ordinary kids in groups large and small. This unprecedented
American presence in Bahrain's public schools helped forge
new relationships for the Embassy with school administrators
and classroom teachers resulting in multiple spin-off
programs and continued Embassy involvement in schools.

- Sports programs can offer an opportunity for the media to
refocus attention on to positive images of American
celebrities and heroes. Last year, post hosted a successful
Cultural Envoy program when Georgetown Basketball Players
Omari Faulkner and Courtland Freeman visited post. As in
the U.S., basketball and soccer are enjoyed by huge numbers
of non-elite youth in Bahrain, bringing resonance to
Faulkner and Freeman's messages of American values in
teamwork, diversity, and perseverance.

- Similarly, exchange programs that highlight cultural
connections have significant short and long-term impact, as
described above in the Summer 2005 IV program on interfaith

B. For maximum impact, cultural and sports programs must be
crafted to be as visually engaging as possible and
incorporate American-Bahraini interaction. These two
elements ensure high interest with our audiences and
encourage robust media coverage. For this reason,
performances are better than paper shows, visits by visual
artist and sports envoys are preferable to films about them
alone. Some examples:

- More programs on basketball and soccer will give us
deeper access to youth audiences we might not otherwise
reach. Bahrain is home to a Disabled Sports Society with an
extremely active wheelchair basketball program. A visit by
prominent disabled American athletes would be a chance to
show American diversity, ingenuity and appreciation for
people with disabilities, and build a lasting relationship
with local civil society.

- A visit or series of visits by an American theater
director or film producer could foster Bahraini independent
media in creative ways. The theater and independent film
communities produce some of the most interesting and sharp
social criticism in Bahrain. However, both are hamstrung in
their reach for mass appeal because of their lack of
technical proficiency. Such a visit, culminating in a
public performance or viewing, could simultaneously help to
build the production capacity of these groups while drawing
public attention to their work.

- A visual artist could hold an exhibit and conduct master
classes. NOTE: Post has requested an American Cultural
Specialist in Calligraphy to answer substantial interest in
that art form. There are significant artistic societies in
Manama we have limited access to.

- A folk musician could engage with traditional Arab folk
artists and with students in masters classes; an American
band director could rehearse American band classics with the
Bahrain Defense Force and Public Security Bands and conduct
them in a festival concert; Native American musicians could
perform at an opening of a paper show exhibit on Native
American Voices. Similarly, a Native American or African
American cultural figure could give life to the story of
Native American or Black History month.

C. Thankfully, there is a wide degree of operational
latitude for post to levy cultural programs in the kind of
people-to-people diplomacy that can win hearts and minds.
Budget limitations are the single largest barrier to
marshalling cultural programs in useful ways since the
highest impact programs often require substantial money for
travel and accommodations.

Another constraint is program flexibility in meeting the
diverse needs of public diplomacy in culturally, socially,
economically, and politically disparate contexts. For
example, it could be valuable to draw upon input from PAOs
in the field and in ECA for regional events like "American
Music Abroad", so we are selecting the right artists for the
most culturally appropriate audiences. Sometimes we end up
trying to put a square peg in a round hole.

4. COMMENT: In short, post welcomes the effort by ECA to
reinvigorate public diplomacy through cultural and sports
programs. We believe there is tremendous potential in this
area to "change the subject" when it comes to engaging an
often skeptical foreign policy audience, one that remains
appreciative and open to understanding the American
experience. We look forward to hearing more about the
future of this vital area of public diplomacy.


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