What's the Story behind the Bahrain Electronic Army? Crown Prince's 1st Test as Prime Minister

2020-12-08 - 6:08 p

Bahrain Mirror (Exclusive): In 2019, Abdulaziz Matar, an employee at the Cybercrime Department, posted an article on his Twitter page calling for the creation of an electronic army to defend Bahrain. He listed the advantages of this army, its objectives and how it works, pointing out that its soldiers are available and are only waiting for approval to start working.

He had just been released from custody after being accused of running the "Na'eb Ta'eb" account, specialized in attacking the late Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa for another rival wing of the family. Throughout the period following his release, he has been hinting in many of his posts that he and his team are no longer free to practice their favorite social media hobby for what they see as "countering media and cyber-attacks against the homeland".

But not anymore!

It seems that the party restraining them had once again set them free. The "Na'eb Ta'eb" account was only formally announced dead, but it was not taken to the grave; it was replaced by another with a new name, the Bahrain Electronic Army. "Thank God, the dream has finally come true... The Bahraini Electronic Army," this is how the editor Hadhifa Ibrahim, an employee at the Bahraini Al-Watan newspaper, owned by the rival ruling wing for which "Na'eb Ta'eb" account worked before it acquitted them all and blamed opposition parties abroad, announced the news.

In a video on October 31, former Bahrain TV presenter Mohammad Al-Bishri, also one of the accused in the "Na'eb Ta'eb" case, tells us more about the army's secrets weeks before its creation, which, in his words, is "multiple electronic armies, not one army." He explained they are "armies for follow-up and media monitoring, armies for tweets and comments, armies of writers, editors and newsmakers, armies of penetration, recruitment and attraction, armies for prevention and planning, and armies of qualified and back-up technical staff," adding that "all of this is in accordance with a mechanism of qualification and professional training with strategic objectives that go far beyond mere reactions."

So we're facing a re-release of the "Na'eb Ta'eb" team after someone gave them the green light. The Bahrain Electronic Army is indeed "Na'eb Ta'eb" but with minor modifications. The faces are the same, the party is the same and the language used is the same. However, contrary to what is portrayed as the purpose for establishing this army, which is to "defend Bahrain pursuant to a systematic, professional mechanism with a sincere national spirit," according to the first founding statement, the real purpose is only to respond to new challenges that the competing wings of the ruling family have set to confront each other.

Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman, who was the first target of "Na'eb Ta'eb" account passed away and is being succeeded by Sheikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa. It is no coincidence that this so-called electronic army is being launched, when it has not been two weeks since the beginning of the new prime minister's tenure.

Over the past years, dozens of tweeters have been interrogated at the cybercrime directorate and have been charged with fabricated accusations such as "creating terrorist cells" simply for participating in WhatsApp discussion groups such as "Al-Basta group". But when a team of boys says it created an "electronic army" to defend Bahrain alongside Bahrain's regular army, the Cybercrime Department stands silent. This says a lot about what awaits the new prime minister in his freshly launched reign.

In fact, there are two Gulf examples of how this type of electronic army, also called "electronic flies" works. A team was led by Saud Al-Qahtani, advisor to the Royal Court in Saudi Arabia, and another team led by Adhbi Fahed Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, former head of Kuwait's state security service, under the name "Al-Fentas group".

Al-Qahtani's team specialized in hunting down critics of the Saudi government and inciting against them to classify them under what has been known as the "blacklist", and then ended with the famous scandal that followed the assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The second team began its work by talking about a plot planned in Kuwait to overthrow its regime and corruption of the judiciary and leaking videos of officials in the state before it turned into chaos and it became clear who was behind it. It was revealed that the ones behind this were three individuals from the ruling family who were after power.

Saudi Arabia has paid a high price for Al-Qahtani's adventure. For months, the "blacklist" hashtag he launched to hunt down Twitter users has been a juicy topic in the Western press used to attack Saudi Arabia and additional evidence of the involvement of state officials in Khashoggi's murder. In the second case, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, the former Emir of Kuwait, put an end to the adventure of some members of his family and ordered their trial and sentenced them to prison.

The new prime minister, Sheikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, can learn a lot from many of these experiences on how to deal with the "Na'eb Ta'eb" team which is returning in the form of the Bahrain Electronic Army, or leave the family feuds play out and end up creating a "state within the state." He should know that it will not be long before he begins to sense that he himself is the second target of this e-army after the death of his uncle, the former prime minister.

Arabic Version