Tag Archives fikr6

Frustration, a good catalyst for change

I can fully understand our Crown Prince’s frustration with the government and officially welcome him into our ranks, the ranks of I would say the majority of Bahrainis whose only recourse to their frustration is to habitually bang heads against solid walls of stasis and fear of change. To the government, they think that they are simply doing their job, to the rest of Bahrain, we once again recognise yet another missed opportunity to progress.

The cost is huge. It is truly a matter of life or death to this country. What is amazing is that for 40 years or more we have been on a downward spiral which almost got us to the state of a forgotten backwater, when those around us have been enjoying the fruits of their foresight. Yet, when we get someone who wants to effect real change, he and his sincere ideas for progress find inordinate opposition.

It is as if they are saying that change, whatever it is, is not welcome in this country.

Labour reforms, educational reforms, economic reforms as well as political reforms have all but died in the last few months. We are at a stage now of lethargic existence. ‘Who cares’ is a phrase oft repeated by all and sundry.

His Highness Shaikh Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, Crown Prince of Bahrain, addresses luncheon guests and members of the US-Bahrain Business Council

From the heydays of 2001 when enthusiasm for welcome change and new beginnings was palpable. When a Bahraini walked tall in the streets and wore a beaming smile welcoming an expectant and inclusive future is all but been destroyed now. It is a state that one is forgiven in believing that it is completely stage-managed: ‘Get the people so frustrated in order to kill every single spark of enthusiasm for this country and its people’.

The proof of this condition is quite plain to see: frustration is the norm, torturers continue to walk amongst us with impunity, sectarian hatred is rife and its perpetrators continue to go unmolested – in actual fact they continue to be promoted and enjoy complete immunety from accountability, the dangerous policy of demographic change goes unabated, transparency is opaque at best and corruption has escalated. Almost all international metrics about this country have deteriorated and there seems to be no will to correct them.

This of course translates into public unrest. People have become so frustrated that they now believe only complete change will correct the situation. 2007 saw some 113 demonstrations a lot of which turning violent. These resulted in imprisonment, hospitalisation and even fatalities.

Parliament continues to exacerbate the situation even further. They have not considered any action beyond narrow sectarian parameters. They have even abrogated their intrinsic responsibility of oversight by habitually refusing to utilise one of their constitutional tools to question ministers due to nothing more than sectarian considerations. Their role has been limited – willingly – to publication of press releases castigating people for using their constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of expression!

Anti-naturalisation demonstration in Bahrain

The country is directionless. It is in dire straights and requires a good captain to step up on deck and take control of the rudder to navigate it out of these turbid waters.

I believe that our crown prince, with his amply demonstrated leadership qualities and commitment to the country, is the right person to lead this change. He has shown that he can take criticism with an open mind, is inclusive in his approach by eliciting and acting upon views even from the opposition as we have witnessed through his various reforms workshops. He is young and tenacious with a clear vision. He should be given an honest and unfettered chance to push that vision and ideas through.

playClick to listen to the Crown Prince’s interview with Turki Al-Dakheel at FIKR6
Arabic :: mp3 :: 38 minutes

His frustration has obviously been brewing for some time. The evidence of which was during the recent FIKR6 conference in Bahrain where to everyone’s surprise (and other’s chagrin) he digressed from his planned opening remarks by appending a passionate and clear appeal to the people to show the leadership that we are frustrated with the state at which we find our country. He went further and encouraged everyone to highlight government meddling and its hindering of necessary projects. “Get your voice to the leadership” was a resonating call in halls filled with intellectuals and decision makers.

He amplified on this call even more during his interview with Turki Al-Dakheel where he boldly pointed out that a government’s main job should be limited to three things: Defence, Security and Justice.

He was time and again harassed by the interviewer who rightly pointed out that this is not he case at all in any Arab government, but the prince was adamant in his belief. He time and again affirmed his vision that he wants Bahrain to go in this direction. He seemed to not have any doubt in his mind that this is the way to go. This is the ultimate vision he is working toward.

Those remarks, so publicly expounded, must have shaken a few cradles. His efforts continued to be thwarted. But now, it seems he has reached a turning point. In a highly visible public gesture, he has notified the King of his frustration and laid the ball completely at the King’s feet. It is now up to the King to ensure that the government change and that the role of the Economic Development Board – which the crown prince heads – is affirmed in unambiguous terms to be the exclusive agency in charge of national economic policies.

That mandate has now been given.

What the effects of this clear mandate is, will become clear in the next few days and weeks. I just hope that those effects will be expedited by the removal of the gargantuan guardians of that wall of regression. New blood must be infused into a representative and forward looking cabinet to effect much awaited and desperately needed change.

The world does not wait for us to make up our minds and does not stand on ceremony either. It wants results and a clear indication that we mean business in a modern and transparent way; else, other markets are wide open to receive the world’s benevolence. We are very welcome to continue to reside in the quagmire of one of the last remaining backwaters in the world.

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[FIKR6] Education, The digital Arab

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We discussed some very thought provoking questions at the Digital Arab break-out session this morning. The basic questions posed were:

  • To what futures do Arab youth aspire?
  • What do you see at the intersection of the Internet, Arab culture and technology?
  • Will the lag in technology adoption between the teachers and the students restrict the success of technology use in the classroom? Where will Arab youth get the teachers they need to thrive in the digital global economy?
  • What can be done to retain successful young Arab minds to work inside the region (possibly creating new industries) instead of outside of the region (thus contributing to the increasing brain-drain)?

FIKR6 conference

The panel attempted to answer these questions each within his or her own sphere of experience and contributed informative answers which naturally raise even more thought provoking questions. It was clear to me right from the start that the single hour dedicated to this session (in fact to any session within the conference) will not be enough. If audience participation is factored in too, then each theme does illicit a complete dedicated conference due to the time each session would occupy. However, we have to respect the imposed constraints for obvious reasons.

The common answer to all of the posed questions above was predictably education. This is the common denominator through which progress is enabled and futures get drawn. It was agreed that modern education is the missing catalyst in the Arab world, a situation which must be corrected at all levels and completely overhauled should we wish to be part of this technologically advanced era. Moreover, we should look at education from the student’s points of view and empower the teachers to be more like mentors rather than the assumed fonts of knowledge, a position traditionally given to them which is no longer appropriate.

Young people are at the forefront of the technology curve, most of the time way ahead of their own teachers; hence, a serious investment should be applied to the teachers to get them retrained in new technologies not as “rote learning providers” or ones who teach how to use simple computer operations, but be mentors and enthusiastic educators who can explain the new trends and technologies which in turn will allow their charges to easily absorb and apply that information.

The political situation in many parts of the Arab world coupled with the dearth of opportunities for young minds provide a fertile ground for frustration, one that possibly leads to that young mind to prefer foreign lands for furthering their education or indeed to emigrate to in the hope of more respect, remuneration and a wealth of other opportunities. The “brain-drain”; however, is not that simple. The panel suggested that for enterprising minds the world over, geographical limits are immaterial, and in a lot of cases this migration is actually beneficial to the person’s country of origin or community as when the resources are provided, then the result of that migration will cross the physical geographical border and have a positive impact on the community as a whole. This, the panel decided, is not a bad thing at all. At the very least it provides a real cultural interchange that is sorely missing and creates a basis of understanding between cultures.

There are a lot of excellent initiatives in the region to propagate learning in innovative ways. The RI-SOL, Relief International, Schools OnLine is one that should definitely be supported. They have solid ICT training programs and have given thousands of PCs to schools in the region and are directly engaged in providing teacher professional development training through teacher centres in Jordan and Palestine and have been integral in providing design and implementation ICT education initiative in tens of countries around the world. Marry this to the 9,000 computers being equally provided by Intel and the Arab Thought Foundation in which an initiative is undertaken to install them in countries most in need of them in the Middle East and provide the required teacher and student training to use them and you will probably agree that it is a necessary first step in reforming traditional education.

There is more to be done of course, but steps as these which have been proposed – an enacted – at the conference is a good start.

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[FIKR6] Arab Strategies for the Global Era

FIKR6 logo - Arab Thought Foundation
500 intellectuals from over 30 countries have descended on Bahrain to participate in the Arab Thought Foundation’s FIKR conference, the annual think-tank that strives to make a change to the Arab world not by force or arms but those of thought.

These gatherings have identified and provoked a lot of thought in what needs to be changed in our societies in order for us to progress and integrate within the global community in an intrinsic and binding fashion. This year’s conference is not different, it challenges the participants to discuss various aspects which are germane to this region’s future and propose strategies through which we can ascend into a new Arab economy through which our transformation and shaping of this new era could be undertaken. The conference theme of “Arab Strategy for the Global Era” boldly plants the stake in the ground and invites the illustrious participants to keep that goal at the forefront of their minds.

Within the central theme of the conference, the areas of Energy, Investments, Media, Technology and Social Responsibility will be focused on as they all directly contribute to this new Arab economy and collectively provide a major impact to the way forward for all of our governments and societies.

The conference started today at the Ritz Carlton with a day-long Innovation Workshop which was open by invitation to our future leaders; those between 15 and 30 and were addressed by an excellent panel with varied backgrounds and each of which a leader in his or her field. The interesting thing about this, and one that is very indicative of how this conference is different, is that groups created from this workshop have been invited to present their solutions and innovative thoughts to close the whole conference with a very real possibility that one or more ideas might be chosen by those present for actual funding and transform it from an idea into a product. If this actually happens, then this will shows that this conference has transcended the “talk” and crossed the border into real action.

I look forward to my participation in this conference. My session is about education in the Arab world and specifically about the effects of digital technology and the digital readiness of the Arab world.

I am extremely humbled and fortunate to be joined on the panel by:

  • Haitham Obeidat, Factory of International and Political Studies, International Studies Department of Middle East an Far East Studies, Jagiellonian Univeristy (Poland);
  • Iman Al-Hindawi, Founder and CEO, Middle East Center for Culture and Development (Jordan);
  • John Davies, VP, Sales and Marketing, General Manager, World Ahead Program, Intel Corporation (USA); and
  • Nasser . Alardah, REgional Program Development Manager, Relief Organization – Schools Online (USA)

I am also thrilled to let you know that this event will be covered by five Bahrain-based bloggers so please also check their blogs for updates and their take on the conference.

Those who will cover the conference are:

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