Interesting Times

May you live in interesting times, they said. They should come to Bahrain to see, feel, taste and live these times, no other time can possibly be more interesting!

What confusion? what diatribe? what conflict? what emotion? what conspiracies? what double-crossing? what finger-pointing? what fights! We have had and are having all of these on a daily basis since March 1999. Six years now and it has not abated, on the contrary if anything all of these increased and that is not waning.

I can’t remember a month passing by since then where we didn’t have some sort of demonstration about something or other. I can’t remember a year without an arrest or two that polarised the society, nor do I remember a month passing by without our ham-fisted parliamentarians doing yet another faux pas, or indeed the government completely missing the mark and misreading the psyche of its own subjects.

What more interesting times do you possibly want? It can’t get better than this!

What? You want a break? Wait until you’re comfortably 6-feet under. While you’re alive enjoy these happenings and embrace them as well. Stop bitching about the government not doing what you want them to do, stop lambasting the parliament for not doing their job, or the ineffectiveness and stooginess of its chairman. Get out and demonstrate!

Even though a lot of people only see the “dark” side of this, to me this is democracy in progress. This is how it is, democracy is not a flower and nice walks on the beach. Its processes are ugly, forceful and life-changing. This is what is happening on these shores and I for one am proud of it and hope that these give and take scenarios would continue until peaceful resolutions are arrived at to end the current stalemate.

In the latest developments, Al-Wefaq, the leader of the boycotting societies for instance, are planning a huge demonstration in Sitra tomorrow afternoon where they expect some 100,000 participants to take part. A lot of spanking new Bahraini flags will be distributed to wave around. The idea is to show the government that yes, they are patriotic and they hold no allegiance to any “external” forces. The Wefaq leader has categorically said that the only banner allowed at this demonstration is the Bahraini flag. No pictures of foreigners and no Hizb-Allah yellow flags either. Just Bahraini flags.

They also hope to show the authorities that they too can organise a demonstration like Lebanon and effect change. What authority is going to stand against the demands of 1/4th of its people? And by waving only the kingdom’s flag no-one can doubt their patriotism. Right?

Maybe.

The situations in Lebanon and Bahrain can never be compared. In Lebanon the demonstrations were spontaneous where the whole society participated, regardless of sect or religion. In tomorrow’s demonstration I am sure we will see that the vast majority of demonstrators are in fact from the shi’a community, tainting the demonstration as a sectarian event rather than representative of the whole Bahraini society.

I would also have preferred it had Al-Wefaq exercised democratic principals and not sanctioned banners like the following in various places in Bahrain. The banner advertises the venue (Sitra), the time (1530) and the date (March 25th, 2005) which is fine, however the thing I don’t agree with is their statement that “it is your nationalistic duty to attend”, that to me is trying to force people to show up and not leaving it up to the individual to decide.

banner telling people to participate in a demonstration in Bahrain

There is no doubt that Al-Wefaq is certainly the largest political party we have, unfortunately it caters almost exclusively to the Shi’a population and doesn’t seem to care to expand its reach beyond that demographic. I feel it is their responsibility to work very hard at integrating the whole society in their organisation in much larger numbers. This would give it a lot more credibility. I fully realise however that this is easier said than done because the Bahraini society has become extremely sectarian, as witnessed in the very parliament that should work for the whole of Bahrain: shi’a, sunni, baha’i, druze, christian, jew and hindu.

I personally don’t know what is going on within Al-Wefaq, however it seems that they’re suffering from divisions within their ranks with at least a couple of splinter movements one going the route of moderation (Dr. Nezar Al-Baharna) and the other demanding more aggressive civil disobedience activities (Hassan Mushaimi’) and I’m no longer sure what their platform is.

Sure they’re exerting pressure on the government and there is always their democratic option of once again boycotting the forthcoming elections, but shouldn’t they exert their energies on expanding their reach? Wouldn’t that make them more representative or are they happy with their make-up?

When fully knowing that this week Bahrain will host quite a number of people from all over the world attending the Formula 1 race next weekend, and when some 390 million pairs of eyes will be affixed to Bahrain during the F1 weekend, why would they want to rock the boat once again? Is there really no other avenue open to them to show their grievances and seek resolutions at any other times? Or is it because of the F1 event they are taking the conscious opportunity to demonstrate to the world that we do have political disagreements, thus force the government’s hands into concessions?

Although I recognise their inalienable right to peacefully demonstrate any time they wish, I personally see this as the height of folly. This has the potential of scuppering a lot of investments or at least once again dent our business environment’s reputation thus chasing more money out of the kingdom.

It is as if Al-Wefaq is the biggest advertising agency for Dubai!


update March 25th, 2005 @ 2150: pictures are begining to surface on various websites and unofficial figures put the numbers at 120,000. Click the picture for more…

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27 Comments
  • 7alaylia
    24 March 2005

    Interesting Times

    Mahmood writes “Stop bitching about the government not doing what you want them to do, stop lambasting the parliament for not doing their job, or the ineffectiveness and stooginess of its chairman. Get out and demonstrate!”

    Yes! Spot on! Demonstrate and vote! I hate those who complain and do nothing about it. I have been active in many causes since I was a kid. I have always voted. I have marched in this country and all over Europe! Take advantage of the freedom and make your voice known!

    It would be interesting to know why they pick the date that they did. Keep us updated!

  • anonymous
    24 March 2005

    Interesting Times

    I second Malik.. Please keep us udpdated..
    We don’t get enough news from Bahrain in our local papers (or yours for that matter!)

    Thanks to Bahraini blogs for keeping us informed.. Yours and Chan’ad’s are on my favorites’ list.

    Shurouq
    Kuwait
    (I lost my password. Help!)

  • anonymous
    24 March 2005

    Interesting Times

    Oh.. One more thing.
    Your optimism is contagious 🙂

    Shurouq

  • kategirl
    24 March 2005

    Interesting Times

    Al Wefaq is a Shia Islamist group which makes no attempt to pretend it is something more pluralistic. Although it would be nice if they were to reach out to other communities, it is not something that I expect will happen anytime in the near future. So it’s hard for me to really blame them (on a certain level obviously).

    But as I noted in a [url=http://chanadbahraini.blogspot.com/2005/03/where-is-everyone-else.html]recent post[/url] on my blog, I really think that the “non-religionist” political societies have hugely underperformed. They are the ones from whom I would expect to hear calls to overcome sectarian differences… but instead they seem to be standing by idly, watching Al Wefaq steal the show. Even though the NDA has been deeply involved in the constitutional reforms dialogue, their name is no where to be seen when it comes this huge protest being planned for tomorrow.

    It must be said that Wefaq has done a great job of supporting the “right” issues. Maybe if the NDA and other groups were to be more active in supporting these issues people would have more of a choice,.. and they might even see the value of discarding the sectarian/religionist card. But right now Wefaq seems to be the only one that really cares about the 2006 elections.

    And regarding the banner shown in the photo, I was actually quite relieved when I read it. Because earlier today I heard some people saying that attending the protest is a “religious duty”… so much better that the sign says “national duty”. However, you probably know by now that I dislike nationalism almost as much as I dislike religionism… anyhoo..

  • Alireza
    24 March 2005

    Re: Interesting Times

    That’s a really interesting post on Chanad’s blog btw. But I don’t agree on the point above that Al Wefaq “don’t pretend to be something more pluralistic”: that may be true in terms of the mobilisation of their own base through campaigning on the Islamist right, but their wider political strategy especially regarding outsiders is to present themselves as a force for liberalism and human rights. It’s a good strategy – but its fundamental flawed in the obvious contradiction of fundamentalists presenting themselves as human rights activists, hence their frequent use of front organisations such as the Committee for Martyrs and Torture Victims and seemingly the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights.

  • mahmood
    25 March 2005

    120,000 join demonstration

    according to montadayat.org, 120,000 demonstrated in Sitra, the last 20,000 of which crossed the Sitra causeway on foot as the police stopped their cars.

  • anonymous
    25 March 2005

    Interesting Times – banned

    some news for all of you – this al wefaq rally has been banned by the ministry of interior last night & has been refused authorization for it’s go ahead. My sources say that it will go ahead however – and remain peacful to the max.

  • mahmood
    25 March 2005

    Re: Interesting Times – banned

    oh dear!

  • mahmood
    25 March 2005

    Re: Interesting Times

    I just sent you a fresh password on your hotmail (or was that yahoo?) email account

    Thanks for your kind words Shurouq, yes, Chan’ad is an excellent man with a heart of gold and with a lot of energy!

  • mahmood
    25 March 2005

    Re: Interesting Times

    I read that post with interest Chan’ad. I was listening to a radio talk show on 89.2 yesterday where they hosted a number of journalists and thinkers from Bahrain, one of them was Sawsan Al-Sha’er of Al-Ayam. Although I didn’t hear the whole episode, I gathered they’re talking about terrorism, extremism in our societies and how the liberals destroyed any chance they might have had to reach society’s sympathy, let alone getting voted into parliament in that the word “liberal” to the normal guy on the street means: (1) ditch Islam not only by separating it from politics, but from every day life as well, (2) get much much closer to the west, (3) reject any and all eastern thought, (4) they are leftists (maybe even athiests, although she didn’t say that.)

    I think that is gross generalisation by Sawsan. Most liberals I have met are moderates, never wanting to ditch Islam or damage it in any way, they – like me – want to get to the middle ground and that I personally feel that by attaching religion to politics is a losing game in that it weakens both as they do conflict with each other most times, rather than complement each other.

    Maybe if the term “liberal” is too much for the man on the street to like, then let’s just call ourselves “moderates” as that will convey our beliefs in a much better light.

  • kategirl
    25 March 2005

    Re: 120,000 join demonstration

    Yeah, the protest organizers are claiming it to be 120,000… but from my past experience, a more accurate number would be to use half the number reported by the organizers. At the protest I heard some journalists tentatively saying around 50,000. And [url=http://www.reuters.co.uk/newsArticle.jhtml?type=worldNews&storyID=695989&section=news&src=rss/uk/worldNews]this reuters report[/url] says that the organizers were claiming 80,000. Choose what you want coz I hav no idea.

    In any case, this was a HUGE one… the biggest one I’ve seen in a long time…

    I’ll have my post and pics up in a couple hours

  • Vicky
    25 March 2005

    Interesting Times

    While I do recognize the importance of the constitution for a country’s political life I still think this focus is not really helpful. Quite obviously to achieve constitutional changes there’d be more trust needed also on the government’s side and I doubt whether wefaq is realizing this. Confrontatios like that seem so futile and I’d guess those rather support views inside the government argueing against more popular participation. To me this constitutional debate involves far too much moral issues: the question of the legality of amendments – just or unjust – cannot really be solved politically.

  • kategirl
    25 March 2005

    Re(1): Interesting Times

    They could call themselves “liberals”, “moderates”, or even “Shia Islamists” if they wanted to, but they would still lack widespread support. The issue goes much deeper than the name. As Scorpio noted, this is about the failure of the Secular Left to engage with the masses.

    The leaders of the secular parties are great at earning PhD’s and holding seminars, but they seem to be completely uninterested in grassroots activism… they don’t even seem to be trying. Meanwhile Al Wefaq is happily enjoying its status as the sole supporter of human rights and social issues in Bahrain.

    Recall that the protests in Lebanon were successful because members of all the different political groupings came together to demand change… it wasn’t just one party. I think even if Al Wefaq tried on its own to encourage other communities to get involved in opposition activism it wouldn’t work… the other parties need to make some effort themselves to get involved. And it will continue to be a one party/sect show until then.

  • Alireza
    25 March 2005

    Re(2): Interesting Times

    Where are the NDA supporters in the debate we’re having here? A lot of them must visit this blog and Chanad’s, but none of them are even involving themselves in the discussion about the failure of their party. For instance where’s Bahraini blogger Homer? What’s that? He’s too busy studying for his Phd to contribute?

  • 7alaylia
    25 March 2005

    Re(1): Interesting Times

    Posted “Maybe if the term “liberal” is too much for the man on the street to like, then let’s just call ourselves “moderates” as that will convey our beliefs in a much better light. ”

    There is a good book I am reading right now Mahmood called “Progressive Muslims.” They have a whole chapter talking about why they did not use the word “liberal” to describe themselves and their movement.

    This is what he said about the term “liberal”. “Some suggested the term ‘liberal Muslim’. It is certainly true that on many social issues most of us find ourselves on the ‘left

  • mahmood
    26 March 2005

    Demos and Business

    Thinking more about demonstrations and their effects on business… the whole of the democratic world have demonstrations, sometimes huge ones crossing the million yet they are the most prosperous nations on earth. Everyone knows Hyde Park and the kind of nutjobs that gather there and spew against everything in that and other countries, yet business is booming.

    That got me thinking, why should peaceful demos in Bahrain generate quite the opposite feelings as far as business is concerned. Does it really matter to people who want to invest in Bahrain that we have demonstrations now and then?

    I must admit that this logic is flawed, and maybe I confused peaceful demonstrations and riots. Surely investors seeing that a country having democracy and allowing their citizens to share their views and demand change for the better shouldn’t deter them from doing business here? On the contrary, they should actually feel much safer as they will feel that there is justice and they too can take whatever side to court to get resolution to any problem without having to fear the dreaded wasta or unconstitutional detriments?

    They should do. If there is freedom of expression and the right to demonstrate in a country and both are allowed to flourish peacefully then investors should feel quite happy to invest in such a country. They should also feel very safe.

  • anonymous
    26 March 2005

    Interesting Times

    Wow! – Brill pictures. I was looking threw them thinking, wow it looks great Bahrainis flying their national flags and all, and then i noticed there were no mugshots of his majesty or the PM! Way to go!! – how fantastic! Patriotic to your country and not it’s ‘leadership’! – Wish i was there too.

  • [deleted]0.95776700 1099323586.392
    27 March 2005

    Interesting Times

    As a distant observer, it appears to me that these demonstrations are all about building a Bahraini national identity apart from religious and tribal identities and making it superior to those factions by a constitution that regards individuals equally. That looks like a good development.

    Steve

  • [deleted]0.95776700 1099323586.392
    29 March 2005

    Re: Demos and Business

    Mahmood,

    Business craves stability. If you have a demonstration in Washington, DC, you know that the protestors will be policed, things will not get out of hand, and the day after they leave will be pretty much like the day before they came. That isn’t the history of demonstrations in the Middle East. Investors like predictable environments.

    Still, that’s taking the micro-view of the demonstrations. You are right in the long view this will build a better enviroment for business but businesses may be a little wary of moving in while that environment is under construction. Good businesmen will invest their money but won’t gamble it.

    Steve

  • anonymous
    29 March 2005

    Interesting Times

    I think demonstrations do affect business. Sometimes for the negative, sometimes for the positive. The question was “Do peaceful demonstrations effect business.” Well, of course they do. Many businesses shut down or loose their business for the day. I think most businesses can handle one day of loss for demonstrations, and society is better off for them.

    I have attended peaceful and not so peaceful demonstrations in Europe and the USA. I think they are healthy for the society.

  • anonymous
    30 March 2005

    Re: Demos and Business

    Just a quick question. The pictures of the Al Wefaq march/demo are all of men! Are women not allowed to march, or is it thought unsuitable?

  • mahmood
    30 March 2005

    Re(1): Demos and Women

    Not at all. Women did and have always participated in demos in Bahrain. Have a look at Chan’ad’s coverage of the event where he also has pictures of women taking part.

  • anonymous
    6 April 2005

    Interesting Times

    [size=9]”I fully realise however that this is easier said than done because the Bahraini society has become extremely sectarian, as witnessed in the very parliament that should work for the whole of Bahrain: shi’a, sunni, baha’i, druze, christian, jew and hindu. “[/size]

    There are [b]Jews[/b] in Bahrain?[b]![/b]

  • mahmood
    6 April 2005

    Re: Interesting Times

    not many, but there are a few families who have lived here since the late 19th century/early 20th. we even have one Jewish member of parliament!

  • 7alaylia
    6 April 2005

    Re(1): Interesting Times

    There are Jews all over the Middle East, though sadly enough since 1948 their numbers have been falling. Mostly through immigration out of the Middle East or Europe. Yemen and Morrocco were both well known for their Jewish communities. I know a couple here in the DC area. I love Alabina, Morroccan Jewish singer.

  • mahmood
    7 April 2005

    No Way!

    The new minister of social affairs, Mrs. Fatima Al-Balooshi didn’t even wrap Al-Wefaq on the knuckles! All is forgiven it seems… and this is how it should be. All kudos to Mrs. Al-Balooshi for her correct read of the community and situation.

  • mahmood
    15 April 2005

    Interesting Times

    The poll I’ve put up asking whether peaceful demonstrations affect business is closed now, the results as you can see are intersting where one third think they don’t but the majority think that they in fact do. I tend to side with those who voted “no they don’t” because although the disruption to business from demos is temporary, in the long term they will strengthen the society and democracy increasing stability and hence business.

    Thanks to everyone who responsded.

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