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Nick Kristof was once again in Bahrain recently and as any good reporter, delved right into the events he came to investigate, talked to both sides of the conflict and came to the conclusions that most of the Bahraini people have been laboriously living through and breathing over the last ten months.

Others who choose to keep the blinkers permanently affixed to their conscience – and expectedly – cry foul whenever someone attempts to remove them. They do so not in providing evidence to contradict what has been reported, of course, but by blaming someone for the effort. This time, ironically, the government:

That’s right. Advise an erring government to further push its head in the sand. And here, my friends, is the crux of the problem. “Loyalists” if they could actually be called that, are doing immense damage to the country and its people by naively believing that the best way to deal with real problems is to hide from the truth and through their actions condone the government’s straying from the correct path. They also assume that international observers are like the sheep they’re used to, are very easily misled and will also believe their versions of the “truth”, though the truth is staring them in the eye.

So what did Nick do this time? What kind of “untruths” did he tell?

Well, spend a few minutes with this:

And here’s the article that goes with this video.

We ain’t goin’ nowhere fast if we continue to bury our heads in the good stuff.

So what are the things that will get us out of this mess? Well, they are what every human being on earth is and should be aspiring to:

    1. A new constitution forged by a constituent assembly elected to establish a constitutional monarchy and an elected Government.
    2. The adoption of an equitable electoral system to achieve representation of all of our society.
    3. Dismiss the government and the formation of a transitional government whose mission is to achieve political and security breakthroughs so as to create a suitable ground for a serious and fruitful national dialogue. We reject the reduction of this important requirement through a limited cabinet reshuffle which is a repetition of the previous attempts which did not provide a real alternative to our people.
    4. Release of the remaining prisoners of conscience and political prisoners and the abolition of their trials.
    5. The formation of an independent and impartial commission of inquiry in the killings that took place since 14 February, and to bring those responsible to trial.
    6. Neutralization of the state’s official media in order for it to be nationally representative of all components of the society and their views.
    7. To provide the necessary safeguards to achieve the government’s commitment to agreements it undertakes.


Bahrain’s Rocky Road to Reform – ICG report

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A new report from the International Crisis Group:

Following a spasm of violence, Bahrain faces a critical choice between endemic instability and slow but steady progress toward political reform. The most sensible way forward is to launch a new, genuine dialogue in which the political opposition is fairly represented and to move toward changes that will turn the country into a constitutional monarchy. In order to create an environment in which such talks could succeed, the regime should take immediate steps to address the human rights crisis, including by releasing political leaders jailed for peacefully expressing their views, and reverse the alarming sectarian polarisation that has occurred.

In February and March 2011, Bahrain experienced peaceful mass protests followed by brutal repression, leaving a distressing balance sheet: over 30 dead, mostly demonstrators or bystanders; prominent opposition leaders sentenced to lengthy jail terms, including eight for life; hundreds of others languishing in prison; torture, and at least four deaths in detentions; trials, including of medical professionals, in special security courts lacking even the semblance of due process of law; over 40 Shiite mosques and other religious structures damaged or demolished; the country’s major independent newspaper transformed into a regime mouthpiece; a witch hunt against erstwhile protesters who faced dismissal or worse, based on “loyalty” oaths; serious damage to the country’s economy; a parliament left without its opposition; and much more. More significant for the long term perhaps, the violence further polarised a society already divided along sectarian lines and left hopes for political reform in tatters, raising serious questions about the island’s stability.

continue reading…


Bet you didn’t know this about entrepreneurs

After interviewing about 20 Bahraini entrepreneurs over the last few weeks for the Bahraini Views project, I thought I found a common denominator: they are driven, they come in all ages and from different backgrounds, and their religious affiliation doesn’t have anything to do with their success (the last part is important, Bahrainis would probably understand).

But fault in initially suggesting a certain age-group of between 18 and 30 for this project, due to my supposition that our target demographic (young Bahrainis) would respond more readily to, I now think is based on a mistaken notion. Based on these interviews, I found that apart from anything else, they are passionate about what their doing and that passion transcends every other criteria you can think of.

I am therefore really glad to find some academic corroboration for this premise; a recent report from the Kauffman foundation for entrepreneurship, entitled “The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur”, is based on a survey of 549 company founders across a variety of industries in the United States suggests the following:

    1. The average and median age of company founders when they started their current companies was 40.
    2. 95.1 percent of respondents themselves had earned bachelor’s degrees, and 47 percent had more advanced degrees.
    3. Less than 1 percent came from extremely rich or extremely poor backgrounds
    4. 15.2% of founders had a sibling that previously started a business.
    5. 69.9 percent of respondents indicated they were married when they launched their first business. An additional 5.2 percent were divorced, separated, or widowed.
    6. 59.7 percent of respondents indicated they had at least one child when they launched their first business, and 43.5 percent had two or more children.
    7. The majority of the entrepreneurs in the sample were serial entrepreneurs. The average number of businesses launched by respondents was approximately 2.3.
    8. 74.8 percent indicated desire to build wealth as an important motivation in becoming an entrepreneur.
    9. Only 4.5 percent said the inability to find traditional employment was an important factor in starting a business.
    10. Entrepreneurs are usually better educated than their parents.
    11. Entrepreneurship doesn’t always run in the family. More than half (51.9 percent) of respondents were the first in their families to launch a business.
    12. The majority of respondents (75.4 percent) had worked as employees at other companies for more than six years before launching their own companies.

Interesting observations aren’t they?

So what do YOU consider the most important assets of an entrepreneur? Please share your thoughts.

via OnStartups.com


Consumerised Education

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All the papers this morning are carrying this sort of news:

SEVERAL Bahrain schools and universities are failing their students, according to a government-approved report. Out of 20 public and private institutions reviewed, three were deemed “inadequate”, 13 “satisfactory” and four “good”, while none achieved the highest level possible. Two out of four higher education courses analysed also received “no confidence” judgements, with the other two courses receiving “limited confidence” rulings. Vocational institutions were also slammed in the nationwide evaluation scheme, with 50 per cent deemed “inadequate”. The revelations follow a Quality Assurance Authority for Education and Training (QAAET) report released yesterday during a Press conference at the Gulf Hotel.

GDN • 30 June, 2009


Is this the start of something very new in our culture? Where even an official entity calls a spade by its name? No, more than that, actually recognise that the education in this country is overwhelmingly shite? Where the only thing that so called “universities” care about is making money from hapless, helpless captured market?


Maybe there is hope for this here island..

but wait, there’s more:

However, despite the results QAAET’s chairman and Prime Minister’s Court Minister Shaikh Khalid bin Abdulla Al Khalifa remained optimistic and called for all organisations to intensify their efforts to improve services.

In the immortal words of Shakespeare: Huh?

“Improve services?” What improve services? Is this donkey even alive? NUKE THE BUGGERS AND BE DONE WITH IT!

Improve services! There isn’t a “service” to start with! Well, I guess there is if the sound of their tills katchinging is classified as service.

Education in this country is a joke, generally. The only way that a parent can at least ensure that their children have a future in the world is to put them through one of the expensive private schools and then continue to monitor their progress throughout their educational career. This is a very dear exercise in both time and money. 16 years of monitoring the brutes to make sure that they at least have a better than par chance of getting accepted in a university or even polytechnic abroad to pave the way for hopefully a good enough employment when (if) they return.

I can tell you from personal experience that me wanting my children to tread that path was the main motivator for dumping my successful career with Gulf Air all those years ago and establishing my own company. I knew that to achieve the vision I have for my children, even the good salary I was receiving while being in Gulf Air as an Avionix engineer could not suffice. Not by a long shot. I’m happy that I have made that decision now.

So the QAAET has audited those braindead give-me-your-money-and-we’ll-keep-your-children-off-the-streets-hopefully-and-pretend-to-educate-them shops and found that the great majority of them don’t make the cut. Good. This is a first step.

The second is to impose major fines and bankrupt those who rape the dreams of our youth and make a good example of them. Let that be a lesson to the cowboy “entrepreneurs” and get the whole scene corrected. We have more “universities” than barber shops in this tiny island and there is absolutely no need for that. Especially not at this low quality.

We should also address their feed system, so let’s not forget those prisons we call our primary and secondary schools. Their curricula and method of teaching are the main cause of where we are as a country and society. Things will not change unless that decrepit education system is gutted. Until the Ministry itself is gutted from the brainfarts it contains and start anew. It is incumbent upon the powers that be to do this – if they do want progress for the next generation that is – because for over 100 years of formal education this country’s record of patents – if there is such a thing – is negligible and it’s scientific achievement is nil.

What they are thrilled about is the establishment of religious schools! Yes my friends, we have a mini-Imam Universities in both Sunni and Shii flavours here apart from the various “hawza”s (no that is not a cry one might emit after a shot of fiery liquid, but an Arabic word describing a “madrasah” or religious school) in every single village, sometimes more than one and often available for women separate from those for men. As if we need more numskulls travelling amongst us.

So the cat’s out of the bag. The chicken is out of the coop. The horse has bolted. The QAA has ascertained that the education system is brain dead. What are they going to do about it?

I don’t know, but I hope to god that they take the bull by the horns and get things properly changed, even if that means shutting down the schools for a whole year to sort them out – believe me, that shut-down will not be missed. In fact, it’d do the country a favour.

There’s another rub that must be addressed: why is it that most kids go to pains to get a degree? The pressure is immense for kids to get an undergraduate degree in things that we don’t even need as a country! 85% of all graduates I’m told will come out with a BSc and most of those in business. Do we actually need that? How many of the thousands that graduate actually get a job in their field? Not many I think; hence the continuous demonstrations we get with people lifting pieces of bread signifying their out of job status, there was even someone driving around in his clapper of a car with his certificates stuck on all the windows trying to be noticed and given a job. I’m not sure what happened to him but I suspect at least his certificate afforded him some protection from the sun! And don’t get me started on those people who choose – actually choose – to go to university here and select the most unneeded subject ever because that “specialisation” is the easiest one to gain a degree out of! Social studies is it? Oh yes, go get one and come run this here bank… mind you, judging by what happened to TIBC and Awal, they might do a better job!

We come to vocational training… we used to have the Isa Town Polytechnic, which was converted to Bahrain University ultimately and through that unstudied move contributed to the dire straits the educational and labour systems are in. That then got “corrected” by creating the Bahrain Training Institute and Hotel Training and the other zillion little grab shops who claim to provide vocational education, some even being subsidised outsourcing-wise by 6 million, yes dear friends, SIX million Bahraini Dinaeros ($16m approx) to train tellers and hotel staff. If you happen to pass by that place, by the rubbish you find thrown about and the way they choose to park and meander and sashe across in front of oncoming traffic in front of that “school”, you know where those 6 million are being spent. Most probably in Geneva or other exotic locales rather than in a proper monitored program that would teach their charges how to respect themselves and strive to achieve by respecting others and taking pride in what they do.

I’m glad that that has been recognised by the report:

The report’s bleakest findings were those of the Labour Ministry’s licensed vocational courses, with half of the eight providers judged inadequate overall.

Seventy-five per cent of the providers’ and management was also deemed below satisfactory.

So ladies and gentlemen we have a real and stark danger that has already befallen our country due to haphazard policies which desperately need to be fixed. Courageous steps MUST be taken IF a solution is to be adopted. I humbly suggest that should that be the case, the following must be considered:

    1. Fire the Minister of Education and all of his deputies. They have had their chances and blew them. Do this first and do it NOW. Let the middle meddling managers run the day-to-day affairs of education, they can’t fuck it up more than it is at the moment.
    2. Fire the guy in charge of giving permits to private schools and universities. Give that job to the QAA at the moment and get them to suggest someone in that position whom they vet and accept, this might correct – somewhat – Bahrain’s higher education reputation so that countries like Kuwait and others won’t black-list a host of those money-grabbing-shops.
    3. Tear down the school’s perimeter walls. Something that is 10-foot high surmounted by barbed wire or metal spikes is not conducive to creating the required trust-based educational establishment.
    4. For the next 3 generations emphasise vocational training and gear the courses to programs that could provide good jobs that the country can benefit from and ultimately can get make the country self-sufficient in various trades
    5. Put professionals sourced from all over the world who are passionate about education and society building and pay them well and allow them to create environments where kids would fight to get into rather than scale 10-foot walls to get out of.
    6. To all officials, please temper your inflated egos. The country’s survival is at stake, we don’t care who you are or where you come from. Recognise your strengths and weaknesses and let professionals run the show.
    7. Above all, introduce courses and activities which promote critical thinking. Throw away courses which emphasise rote learning and allow people to question taboos. We can’t move forward as a culture if we continue to be stuck to untouchable subjects
    8. Throw away religious education. It has created more problems than solutions. But if this is not doable (it is doable, but requires big balls) then at least teach middle of the road Religious Education, not just the Sunni strain of Islam. Teach them about Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, and other religions in the world, get them to open up to other – even competing – ideas.

There is work to be done. The QAA’s report is a first step and while I am confident – knowing how things work in this country – it most probably has been diluted to ameliorate unjustifiably inflated egos, it’s a step in the right direction.


UN HRC UPR absent NGOs

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Damn! Working at the UN must be a version of a wet dream to those acronym aficionados, don’t you think!

Anyway, Bahrain came out with flying colours in the first ever Universal Periodic Review (that’s the UPR part) in Geneva’s HQ of the United Nations (yes you guessed it) at their newly created Human Rights Council (HRC) but in the absence of seven Bahraini human rights non-governmental organisations because – it seems – that they were sidewinded – but good – and been stupid for not securing their positions before going on their jolly to Switzerland.

Well, we can expect those not allowed into the party to complain rather vociferously, as is their right of course, about the mangled procedures of the HRC which one hopes will get fixed soon. The HRC decided that the only way they will listen to Human Rights organisations from a country is for those organisations to gain approval from — wait for it wait for it — their country!


If you had a chance to follow the live broadcast of the session yesterday, you would have noticed the heaped praise put on our beloved country from our dear neighbours and the rest of the Arab and Muslim world, all of whom are paragons of human rights defenders of course; while a couple of decrepit imperialists (shyly) complained about alleged abuses this country suffers from.

Okay okay. I won’t go on about it. Suffice it to say that I am proud that the government has taken this first step in transparency and put out a report which would have sent several hundred to prison had they even thought of its contents only a few years ago. They have also recognised that they have to make amends, voluntarily, to some regulations, laws and legislation to be in tune with international conventions the kingdom has signed and even agreed to remove some reservations it has previously expressed. Bahrain also promised to create a national human rights commission, agreed to diligently work at the problem of human trafficking, allows human rights organisations delegates to visit the country and even strengthen civil society organisations.

Applause. To be sure. But let not that noise swamp the cries of women still fighting for equal rights, for a proper family and personal status law and for abused and battered guest workers and maids or the terrified nightmare screams of the forgotten victims of torture still seeking redress.

We’ve got work to do as a country, and hope that the points identified by the government’s own report does not get entombed in a bottom drawer somewhere but be diligently converted into actionable plans to better this great society.


Bahrain, a failed state?

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Bahrain unrest continues unabated in the absence of the political will to resolve basic issuesOnce at the vanguard of developing Gulf city-states, Bahrain has now lost that position to sheikdoms like Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, as well as neighboring Qatar. Although Bahrain’s capital, Manama, has some of the glitz of other Gulf capitals, its early lead in development — achieved during the 1970s with the creation of a dry dock, an aluminum smelter, and offshore banking infrastructure — is no more. Similarly, political reforms appear stalled, with little or no progress made since the bicameral legislature was introduced in 2002. The 2006 elections were manipulated, if not rigged, to ensure that Shiite legislators did not win a majority. And members of the royal family still hold the majority of cabinet positions.

Perhaps most worrisome for Washington, the regime no longer seems to be exercising the canny balancing of political tensions that other Gulf rulers employ to ensure stability. Instead, Sunni-Shiite friction is being played out on the streets — never a good way of attracting foreign investors.
The Washington Institute – Small Island, Big Issues: Bahrain’s King Visits Washington

No comment.


Provisional UNHCR report on Bahrain

unhcr-report-bahrain.jpgKiwi Nomad alluded to the “special” way that the GDN chooses to report the news, especially when the news is somewhat critical of the government. In this case, Geoff Bew seems to have chosen the ‘glass half full’ approach (of maybe his editor did? I don’t know) and printed the effervescent headline “UN report praises Bahrain’s progress” to describe how the UNHRC Advanced Unedited report on Bahrain human rights record classifies the country. While he is technically correct, the report does praise Bahrain for some advances, he neglected to highlight that more than half of the 45 issues raised are negative and urges Bahrain in unequivocal language to clean up its act.

You can download the report and read it yourself, but as far as I am concerned I fully stand by their requirements for change to the better – every single one of them – and I have called for the very issues to be championed and adopted.

I fully believe that should the government take up the task and implement the recommendations, our society as a whole will move inexorably forward to a better future.

I guess this is the golden opportunity for the government to show its probity by implementing the recommendations now, especially as parliament is a bit busy these days.

update 2306: hot on the heals of the UNHCR report, the US State Department released it’s report on Bahrain. Thanks to the BCHR for the heads up.


HR Universal Periodic Review published

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has published the Human Rights report it is going to submit to the Universal Periodic Review panel at the United Nations in April 2008. The Arabic report is available here while the English, once it is published, is going to be available here.

I’ve had a brief look at the report and am impressed in the fact that it provides some recommendations on what the government should do in the future. The question is not that, anyone can table recommendations, the question is does the report have teeth? Will the government – the very one who published it – take heed of the recommendations and enact them?

I must admit that I’m not very encouraged when I see a recommendation like that given regarding the Freedom of Speech in which it says that “there are some journalists who are against imprisoning journalists for their opinions while there are others who condone and encourage it“. It goes on to say “they will look into the situation”.

There are other sections such as those on discrimination and anti-torture; which, although recognised that these things happen in Bahrain – barely, there are no real solid recommendations like proposing changes to questionable laws or proposing new legislation to correct a situation.

Is this report just a stop-gap measure until – once again – the spot-light points elsewhere and then recede once again into our own little hole?

Well, the absence of concrete steps to enact changes leads me to believe that it might be. The lottery was drawn, our name came up, and this is the response. But don’t get me wrong, I recognise that at least they pinpointed areas which must be looked into, maybe next year we will get some concrete steps enacted.

If there is a real will, both societal and political, to fix our situation, I am sure just like those magical days of 2001, changes could be done overnight. We all know what needs to be done, and in the preceding 7 years we have heard and read a plethora of ways to get there.


Winograd, from another perspective

The following cartoon appeared in Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper (thanks to Jaddwilliam for the heads-up) reflecting an alternate perspective on the findings of the Winograd Commission. However, it failed to stop me in my tracks.

Winograd cartoon in Al-Quds newspaper

The bubble says: “They admit their defeat and they hold their negligent accountable!! God curse the Zionist fads which intrude on our genuine Arab traditions!

I am unfortunately very familiar with this situation, as is the case with almost every other Arab, I suspect. Our situation is that if we do identify grave negligence or even culpability in nefarious initiatives which could destroy whole societies and puts whole countries in turmoil, is elevate those implicated and pretend that the situation never actually happened. We just continue to spout useless platitudes about our “true Arab heritage” and that “those fads are not of our make-up”. What’s more is that the very people who were elected to ensure the application of proper oversight actually become tenacious defenders of the offenders! They methodically destroy any chance at our progress as a responsible human race.

Sweeping things under the carpet is an age-old tradition.

Maybe it’s high time that we did away with old and completely bankrupt ways and learnt to face our problems head-on in order to learn from experiences and get on to a better future. If that lesson comes from whom we call enemies, then so be it. But for God’s sake let us be courageous enough to at least attempt to solve our problems.

Without accepting and recognising failures, success will continue to be elusive.


The West’s Acquiescence to Autocracy

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Download the HRW Report 2008
pdf – 5.5MB

The US, EU and other democracies are accepting flawed and unfair elections out of political expediency, Human Rights Watch says in its annual report.

Allowing autocrats to pose as democrats without demanding they uphold civil and political rights risked undermining human rights worldwide, it warned.

HRW said Pakistan, Thailand, Bahrain, Jordan, Nigeria, Kenya and Russia had been falsely claiming to be democratic.
BBC News

Will this report wake them up?


Have a wonderful, if very windy, Friday!