There's been a fair amount of commentary on the Bahraini elections in the Arab media over the last few weeks. It isn't just al-Jazeera, of course - I watched a fairly lengthy report on al-Arabiya yesterday and there have been many essays throughout the Arab press. Some of the essays view it through the "rising Shia threat" lens, but the real debate seems to be over whether to view it as Egypt 2005 ("corrupt Arab regime manipulating elections to ensure its preferred outcome") or as Kuwait 2006 ("achieving some progress through the ballot box despite the obstacles"). And then there was an essay in yesterday's al-Quds al-Arabi, which described the Bahraini elections as "a model of reform in the American style": gerrymandering elections to a powerless Parliament in order to put on the appropriate show for foreign audiences. (Today's unsigned al-Quds editorial was more positive, highlighting that despite all its problems the election represented unprecedented democratic participation by Gulf standards.)
If nothing else, the Bahraini elections have proven galvanizing for young Bahraini political activists, who will perhaps build on this year's experiences and continue to push for a greater political role, more transparency and more accountability. And the elections have sparked another round of region-wide political debate about democracy and the possibilities for change. Just one more example of how the televised coverage and debate about Arab elections on al-Jazeera and its competitors can matter more than anything the United States does or says in shaping Arab attitudes towards democracy and reform.
And just one more example of a Bush screw-up, choosing to treat al Jazeera as an obstacle and refusing to recognize it as a legitimate and integral player in the process of Arab political reform.