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Bahrain's One-Woman Democracy


Bahraini ambassador to the U.S. (Photo: AP)

Tired of hearing about the deadly repression of pro-democracy demonstrators by the Bahraini regime? Treat yourself to the recent Haaretz profile of Houda Ezra Ebrahim Nonoo, Bahrain’s ambassador to the U.S.

Written by Natasha Mozgovaya, the profile begins:

The appointment of Houda Ezra Ebrahim Nonoo (46), the first female Ambassador from Bahrain and the first Jewish Ambassador of an Arab country in Washington, was praised by U.S. diplomats when it was revealed recently in one of the Wikileaks cables.”

Sticklers for grammar might be surprised to learn that no one knew who Bahrain’s ambassador was until it was revealed by Wikileaks. Undeterred, Mozgovaya plows ahead:

One of Bahrain’s 36 Jews, Nonoo told the ‘Moment’ magazine, a national magazine dedicated to Jewish politics, religion and culture founded in 1975 by Elie Wiesel, that she never experienced religious prejudice in her home country. ‘I had a normal Jewish upbringing. I was born into Judaism. It’s no different from growing up like a Jew in America. It’s my religion.’”

Bahrain’s hundreds of thousands of Muslims may of course be excused for not mistaking the 200-year-old Khalifa family rule as a tolerant milieu, especially when unarmed protesters are being shot at point-blank range by Bahraini police. As for Nonoo, Mozgovaya informs us that she “promotes Bahrain’s image as a country in which women ‘have a choice’ whether to cover themselves or to drive (and since 2002, to vote, although there is only one woman elected to the Parliament).”

In fact, by the end of the profile it appears that the current problem is not murderous repression in Bahrain but rather inherent sexism in the U.S. media and among attendees of “festive events.” Mozgovaya’s concluding paragraph reads:

Yet Nonoo is still often mistaken for the Ambassador’s wife at festive events – and in a recent CNN report on the clashes in Bahrain, in which her rare statement was mentioned, they referred to the Bahraini Ambassador as ‘he.’”

A perusal of the CNN report in question reveals that Nonoo is indeed referred to as a male and that his rare statement confirms the Bahraini “clashes” merely constitute a Shia-Sunni conflict—the line being peddled in order to avert democracy. “He” also denies that his compatriots have been subjected to live ammunition and claims that only 8 canisters of tear gas have been used against crowds. It is not clear why 8 is the magically permissible number, or why Bahraini health care professionals are conspiring against Mr. Nonoo’s claims.

As for other gender-related ambassadorial trials, Mozgovaya notes that “Nonoo referred to the buzz following her appointment in 2008 with slight annoyance: ‘The headlines were ‘Jewish Female’, they forgot I was Bahraini.”

“They” might well be forgiven.



  1. Belén Fernández says:

    P.S. The synopsis at the top of the profile is:
    “One of Bahrain’s 36 Jews, Nonoo says she has never been discriminated against in her country, where woman [sic] are allowed to vote, choose to wear a headscarf and even drive.”
    Does Haaretz realize that women are allowed to “even drive” in many places, such as Iran?

    • GuiltyFeat says:

      Sounds like lazy subbing to me, but given that the interviewee directly mentions driving, it’s not too out there.

      Also, Haaretz readers can be forgiven for being curious about a country where universal suffrage has a long a proud tradition dating all the way back to 2002.

  2. slk says:

    Bahrain is automatically compared with Saudi Arabia–just across the 25 year old causeway–where women cannot drive, but a lone woman flies under the aegis of billionaire private A380 owning Prince Waleed:


    There is an old tradition of sending “politically correct” ambassadors to DC (two of Pakistan’s ambassadors were Christian and Parsi, and before they were declared non-Muslims an Ahmadi was ambassador to UN). Next perhaps they’ll find a black, gay, Christian woman to front for the Khalifa family business in DC. Though, she’ll have to be careful about what she wears:


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