The Sisyphean Nature of Small Business in Bahrain

Having a small business in Bahrain is nothing less than a Sisyphean task. It’s agonising. Heart wrenching. Soul crushing. Doesn’t end. And one has to deal with a myriad of hindrances to business. Growing a small business is an even harder enterprise. Everything is lobbied at you not to succeed. One of the main detriments to business success here in Bahrain is unfair competition.

Competition is fierce and it’s almost always a price to the bottom. One would be pardoned for thinking that the system is jerry rigged so that the market remains at low prices and profit levels so that only those whose end-game is never to stay in Bahrain nor benefit it in any way. The winners use those profits in the context of their origin economies. The perceived low profit here, is a small treasure in their own countries whose costs are vastly lower than those here in Bahrain.

The Bahraini businessman loses not because the product or service is not as good as the competition, but because it doesn’t make any sense for them to sell at a loss. The foreign competitor – being Bahraini registered; hence, actually regarded as local business – wins. Every single time. While the small Bahraini businessman is ultimately shoved into a bankruptcy corner with no hope of a comeback.

Almost every business you can think of in Bahrain has run into this sort of competition at one point or another. 

What Bahrain appears to have done then, is build a false economy where mostly the foreigners benefit from, while the locals are thrown at the wayside.

We hear the screams for help; pleading to get the situation under control, to give us a chance to make a decent living, to compete on equal grounds. But it doesn’t seem that anyone is listening, as the situation continues unhindered.

What hurts more is that the available cash incentives and support these “Bahraini” companies also get to enjoy where none would have a chance in their origin countries to do so. Here, copious amounts of cash is given to them on silver platters to increase their already uneven competitive edge, to shove the local indigenous Bahraini trader – in all business categories – out to the street and out of their way.

It makes me angry to hear those empty calls that bleat “we are a free economy”. They fail to recognise – or they simply are too lazy to remove their blinkers to do so – that this is simply a spiral to non-existence. A death swirl that hardly anyone affected can pull out of.

What can we do about this?

A lot, I think. And it all boils down to leveling the playing field. But political will is needed to tackle this.

Other countries in the region are explicit about their preference for indigenous businesses. Just look at the Saudi contracts that distances Bahrainis and other GCC businesses from getting close to a competitive level with Saudi companies. It’s the same in Kuwait and I’m sure that is replicated in other countries in the GCC as well.

Why is Bahrain different? Why do we have to suffer? And why are we making it so simple for whole sectors of the economy to be taken over by foreigners and allow them to move money gained here out of the country so freely?

It boggles the mind.

It’s no surprise that talented Bahrainis with innovative ideas give up. A few eek a living in more advanced economies in order to push their ideas through and resolutely climb the entrepreneurial ladder. Unfortunately though, the vast majority here simply cannot afford to do that and they’re not equipped to be near that space in any case.

This culture must cease. It’s time that we safeguard our indigenous businesses. And like others in the surrounding region, give them a chance to prosper. It’s time that preference is given to our locals and their businesses. Their success means that the money they generate will remain here and circulate within our communities, rather than be transferred out for others to enjoy. It means that future generations will have a chance for jobs and an economy that is valid and sustainable.

It’s high time that these issues are given their due and corrected.

If the Coronavirus situation in Bahrain has taught us anything, it is that the leadership can take courageous decisions. I hope that they will give this situation some of their attention too. Because it is dire. And if it’s not intrinsically fixed, then our future is lost, and what we’ll suffer will be far worse than what an unchecked COVID-19 promises.