Thursday, February 24, 2011

@ Pearl

Everyone's been talking about Pearl roundabout - this is where the protests began and where they remain. It is now an amazingly organized sit-in, as people have set up tents, food stalls have sprung up and the rather large roundabout which usually takes us towards the major shopping centres now resembles a carnival.

In an average week, I pass by this place at least twice, to attend various children's activities or to get to the shopping malls. Since the protests began, I hadn't ventured out that way. A couple of my friends had visited Bahrain's 'Tahrir square' over the last week out of curiosity more than anything and they told me that it was quite amazing. I couldn't imagine the transformation of this ordinary, run-of-the-mill intersection to a vibrant hive of political activity, so I decided that I had to see it with my very own eyes.

I ventured out this morning for a quick drive-by, I was amazed. People are peaceful. Pots of tea were being boiled on a makeshift gas stove, food was being cooked on one side whilst a man handed out flyers and bottles of water on another. Blasting out of a louspeaker was a woman's voice, making what I could only guess to be an impassioned speech about the cause. Traffic was running better than it ordinarily does as protesters took turns to assist with directing vehicles. I can now almost picture what Egypt's Tahrir square must have been like.

We've received notification from the British Embassy that another demonstration is scheduled for this afternoon and will go from the Pearl roundabout towards the Grand mosque. I'm not sure what the weekend ahead has in store. Hopefully resolution is on the way.

I took a couple of pics from my car, not particularly impressive photography, but worth sharing.

The Pearl that you see in the background of this pic is at the centre of the roundabout. Tents have been put up all around it:

The pic below is of a tea stall - there are photographs hanging in front of it, I think of people who died in earlier clashes:

This website and specifically, the article on Bahrain is worth a look:
Middle East Report

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Emotions are flying in the Middle East but it was business as usual in Bahrain. M went back to work, H went back to school. I was in two minds about sending her, not convinced that things had calmed down for good. But, after being cooped up in the house and in our compound for almost a week, we thought it might be good for her to get a bit of routine back. I told myself that if I got nervous, I would go and pick her up early but I managed to get through the morning without worrying about it.

Then last night, there was a huge pro-Government rally outside the largest place of worship in Bahrain, the Grand Mosque (Al Fateh Mosque - named after Ahmed Al-Fateh, the conqueror of Bahrain - ironic?). Today's Gulf Daily News (pro-Government newspaper) reports that there were 300,000 people there. I'm skeptical as that's about half the local population, but let's assume there were. Surprisingly, no international news coverage, nothing reported on CNN, BBC and Al Jazeera (no surprises that Libya was the main story there). I'm guessing pro-Government rallies are not as interesting as demonstrations that call for the Government to be overthrown?? Bahrain TV did report, but their coverge was like something out of the seventies, really grainy and sometimes black and white, with background music that sounded so much like the title song from 'I Dream of Genie', that I wouldn't have been surprised if Barbara Eden had popped out onto the screen.

Then today the school requested that we collect our kids earlier than usual and now we hear that the Anti-Government protests are going strong this afternoon and will be even more fervent tonight, as a prominent Shiite leader is set to return from self-imposed exile after it was decided by the ruling Monarchy that a long running terrorism case against him would be closed. I reckon Hell hath no fury like an exiled political leader returned, so I'm pretty certain that there's more noise to come.

But whatever happens, it does at least seem that the Monarchy is engaging with the protesters and dialogue has been opened. Whether the discussions go anywhere is anyone's guess. Protesters are apparently suspicious about any offers of reform as promises have been made in the past and few have come good.

A week of demonstrations comes at an economic cost too. The Bahrain Grand Prix scheduled for early March has been cancelled. I'm sure the Australian Grand Prix organisers are saying 'cha-ching' - Bahrain's loss is their gain as Melbourne Grand Prix will now be opening the F1 2011 season.

The Bahraini Royals seem to be in damage control. I was impressed by the interview given by the Crown Prince to CNN. He came across as sincere and ariculate. I've posted it below:

There are a number from both sides of the political spectrum who are saying that it's not about sectarianism. It's about everyone being just 'Bahraini' - nothing more, nothing less. Reminds me of an (ongoing) recently re-ignited debate in Australia about multiculturalism and the fact that it's important to celebrate differences, but in the end, to be united under one national banner.

Please note - I'm not taking sides on this political issue. This is not an issue that concerns me or any other expat. This is an issue for the Bahraini people. I am merely providing commentary as an expat, about what I see and hear, and piecing it all together for all at home.

Below, a picture of a rally on the main highway near Pearl roundabout, 22 February (this photograph was taken by a friend):

Friday, February 18, 2011


Temperatures are rising in Bahrain. Not just outside, but inside people's hearts and minds too.

On Valentines Day, love was far from people's minds as a group of anti-government protesters set up camp at Bahrain's most prominent landmark and biggest intersection, Pearl roundabout. A fortnight before they took place, there were rumours that they would, but nobody took them seriously, "As if anything would happen in Bahrain" some said, and "Bahrain doesn't have the numbers for Tahrir square."

But something did happen, pitting Bahraini against Bahraini protests have impassioned the Nation, attracted international news coveragae and have caused us expatriates to feel somewhat unsettled about the long term stability of this country.

To explain the nature of the protests in basic terms: Bahrain has a population of 1 million, just over half are Bahraini citizens, the remainder are expats, like us, living and working Bahrain. Out of those Bahraini citizens 70% are Shiite Muslims but the ruling Party are Sunni Muslims and Bahrain being a Kingdom, the Monarchy (Khalifas) are Sunni too. At the heart of the uprising is the Shiite/Sunni divide. The Shiite citizens feel that they are marginilized and that they do not enjoy as many rights as the Sunni citizens (ie, they are under-represented in Parliament). By and large, it would be true to say that they do not enjoy a strong socio economic position. The grievances in Bahrain are very different to those that anti-government demonstraters in Egypt were protesting about. Yes, perhaps protesters here were inspired by their fellow Arabs, but it would be wrong to compare them. It would also be wrong to compare Bahrain to any of its other neighbours, this Island is not as rich as others in the Gulf. Long ago it was a wealthy outpost for pearling and fishing, its economy has now shifted to oil (which it doesn't have much of) banking and construction.

The two Islamic sects have had little difficulty co-existing and I would say that the community here is generally stable and peaceful. Of course, there have been incidents in the past, particularly in the 90s. More recently, small-scale anti-government protests have gone under the radar, barely rating a mention in the daily newspapers. To the US as well, Bahrain is a strategic military base and has been a model of stability and reform (because of the referendum that was held in 2002 regarding changes to the Constitution). It has been put forward as an example for other Arab nations.

So this civil discontent comes as a surprise - to everyone. The protesters are disillusioned enough with the regime to demand change, more rights, effective representation and some have risked (and lost) their lives in the process.

Bahrain has been in a state of unrest for four days now. At first we thought it would last a day or two, but now we are not sure how or when things will get better. Over the last couple of days we stepped out to our local shops and ran a few errands, we felt safe but there was a sense of urgency in the air as everyone seemed to be stocking up on essentials, supermarket shelves were near empty. H is on mid-term break at the moment, so she has been home and has no clue about what's going on. We are hearing helicopters flying above and this evening my heart jumped when I heard gunshots. I've never heard a gunshot in my life but I knew one when I heard one. One shot was followed by three or four more. Scary.

Funerals are taking place, the wounded are being taken to a public hospital that is pretty much up the road from us. Many are camped outside the hospital to make sure that the wounded and casualties are treated. Doctors are not able to keep up with treating the wounded, Al Jazeera News reports as I type this. Meanwhile we're burrowed up at home, baby with an ear infection suddenly doesn't sound so bad.

Hopefully I've made sense, typed this quickly. Signing off from Bahrain with a heavy heart tonight. Hoping that things will improve, sooner rather than later.