03 April 2008

Small Island, Big Issues: Bahrain's King Visits Washington


LuLu: Ok, setting aside the Washington Institute's history of advocating super insane policies of the neo-conservative right wing in the US, this is rather interesting [someone is watching closely, I suppose]:

March 24, 2008

Tomorrow, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa of Bahrain visits the White House for talks and a working lunch with President Bush. The meeting promises to cover much more than the usual diplomatic pleasantries. The island state of Bahrain headquarters the U.S. Fifth Fleet and is therefore key to U.S. strategy in the Persian Gulf. The stability of this relationship faces challenges, however, given increasing divisions in the royal family, simmering discontent among the majority Shiite population, and perceived threats from Iran. Each of these issues -- particularly Iran -- will likely play a prominent role on the president's agenda tomorrow.

A Stalled State?

Once 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.

Bribery Allegations

Recently, problems within the royal family have appeared on the front pages of foreign newspapers and even in the local media. In February, the Wall Street Journal reported that a Bahraini-controlled company had accused Pittsburgh-based Alcoa, one of the world's largest metals companies, of a fifteen-year conspiracy involving fraud and bribery. The original complaint asserted that Alcoa had overcharged Aluminum Bahrain (a.k.a. Alba) in certain transactions, with some of the resultant proceeds allegedly used for improper payments to a senior Bahraini official already under investigation at home. According to the Journal, that official is Sheikh Isa bin Ali al-Khalifa, who was dismissed by the king in 2005 and is now an advisor to Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa. The U.S. Justice Department is reportedly opening a criminal inquiry into the Alcoa case.

Emerging Family Confrontation

Prime Minister Khalifa is tied to other divisions in the ruling family as well. Uncle to King Hamad, he has served in his current post for thirty-seven years. Over that period, he has built a formidable position in the island's commercial life. He is also considered an efficient administrator with political skills that the king perhaps lacks. But the king and his American-educated son, Crown Prince Salman, appear increasingly concerned about Khalifa's role. In January, during an extraordinary public exchange of letters between father and son, Hamad issued a public warning that government officials resisting change would be swept aside. Possibly anticipating a coup, he dismissed the defense minister (another relative) and named Salman deputy commander-in-chief of the army, removing any ambiguity over who controls the military if the king is abroad. The prime minister himself was abroad at the time.
Disagreements have emerged on other issues as well. During a February interview, Prince Salman gave pointed remarks about recent protests, stating, "It is a free country and dissent is allowed. The demonstrations are something to be proud of." In contrast, the prime minister is considered a hardliner in dealing with political opposition. Many of those arrested during street troubles in December remain in custody, awaiting trial. Their families allege that they have been tortured.

With the support of his father, Salman is also attempting to build up an Economic Development Board as an apparent rival to Khalifa's cabinet. Established in 2000 to encourage foreign investment, the board now includes sixteen ministers, making the majority of the cabinet directly accountable to the crown prince on economic matters. In his February interview, Salman explained that the move "eliminated bureaucratic steps within the cabinet.... We do not need to discuss things twice. We do it just once and pass it along for approval [by the king]."
Yet, any hope that the prime minister, now age seventy-two, might retire appears premature. Khalifa is already taking advantage of the king's absence (Hamad visited London before traveling to Washington). For example, he told the cabinet yesterday that no effort would be spared to "seek alternatives and find solutions" to counter soaring prices, showing his political skills with promises of a onetime payment to low-income families and the establishment of special centers to ensure proper distribution.

Saudi Views

Saudi Arabia is likely to be watching King Hamad's Washington visit closely. Riyadh has long had a paternalistic attitude toward Bahrain, which is linked to the kingdom by a fifteen-mile-long causeway. The island provides a less constrained social environment for Saudi tourists, but Riyadh is concerned about the possible effect that radicalized Bahraini Shiites might have on Saudi Shiites, who form a local majority in the area closest to Bahrain -- an area that is also home to most of the kingdom's vast oilfields.

President Bush's Agenda

Although he has publicly praised Bahrain for its limited political progress in recent years, President Bush will likely use King Hamad's visit as an opportunity to suggest real sectarian power-sharing over the long term. The regime's controversial approach to "solving" its chief demographic dilemma -- that of being a majority Shiite country ruled by a Sunni royal family -- has been to import Sunnis from across the Arab world and Pakistan, giving them government jobs (often in the security services) and making them naturalized Bahrainis. Inevitably, this has increased resentment among many Shiites, who have been excluded from such jobs and political power in general. The involvement of these "new" Bahrainis in crackdowns on Shiite demonstrators has only exacerbated the tensions.

Labor reforms offer one means of mitigating these problems. High oil revenues are fueling a region-wide development boom, and rather than importing cheaper -- and potentially less troublesome -- foreign labor, the regime would be wise to include native Shiites in the growth.
President Bush and the king will also likely discuss terrorism-related issues. Although the island is not a major hub of international terrorist activity, authorities did recently uncover and prosecute an al-Qaeda cell there. The sentence was unfortunately light, but the president should nevertheless applaud the king for the investigation and encourage him to continue aggressive action against such activity (for more information on the al-Qaeda case, see PolicyWatch no. 1345).

Discussing Iran

Iran will likely be the top item on the meeting's agenda. Bahrain believes that Tehran has never really given up its territorial claim on the island -- a suspicion that Iranian clerics reinforce regularly in public comments to that effect. The king therefore has strong concerns about Iranian intentions; he will likely seek President Bush's reassurance about U.S. policy toward Iran and private promises of U.S. support in the event of a confrontation. For his part, Bush will presumably encourage aggressive follow-up action on recent U.S. sanctions against Future Bank in Bahrain, which is controlled by Iran's Bank Melli -- itself previously designated for financing Tehran's nuclear and missile proliferation activities.

Iranian issues have ruffled the U.S.-Bahraini relationship at times. Last November, for example, embarrassment resulted when Crown Prince Salman gave an interview declaring that Iran was seeking nuclear weapons, just weeks before the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate reported the opposite. Tehran would probably love to exploit any such rifts and sever the island's longstanding relationship with Washington. It likely views the uncertain state of internal Bahraini politics as an opportunity as well. Accordingly, Washington should use tomorrow's meeting as a starting point for greater vigilance toward its relations with a vital regional partner.

24 January 2008

Will it ever stop?


مرارة التجنيس
محمد العثمان

المبدأ: «الجنسية البحرينية لمن يستحقها وفقاً للقانون، لا أحد ينازع في ذلك، سواء أكان الحاصل على الجنسية البحرينية عربياً أم أجنبياً، أم خليجياً أم شامياً أم يمنياً أم آسيوياً... إلخ». هذا مقتطف من مقال منشور سابقاً لكاتب السطور. وها هي الأيام تترى تحمل من أنباء القوم الذين تم تجنيسهم وإدخالهم عنوة على النسيج الاجتماعي في البحرين... أنباء يندى لها الجبين، أفعال شائنة ليس لها من قرار ولا نهاية... أعمال متمادية في سحق أدبيات هذا الشعب المسلم المسالم، وما تربينا عليه من ثقافة وتربية راقية مدنية

تنبأنا بمثل هذه الصواعق، فالجواب يقرأ من عنوانه، إلا أن الصاعقة لا تكمن في الخبر الأخير من المحرق، فالأخبار القادمة قد تكون أكثر مرارة ووجعاً لمن سيتابع أخبار هذه التجنيسات غير المنطقية، غير العاقلة، غير الرشيدة، غير الحميدة وغير الآبهة بمشاعر الشعب البحريني بمجاميعه سنة وشيعة، وإخوة لنا عرباً حصلوا على الجنسية البحرينية بكامل الشرف والاقتدار وبحسب القانون

حذرنا مراراً وتكراراً من التمادي في هذا الغي التجنيسي المقيت، ولكن لا من مجيب. بل قام بعض خطباء المساجد بالتحريض على زيادة التجنيس! وتداعى أعضاء جمعيات السوء والحصالات السياسية مؤيدين لفكرة التجنيس، حتى سعت كل جمعية بقوائم التجنيس تدلي بها وتقدمها بين يدي سلطة التجنيس في البلاد

قام بعض الخطباء وأئمة المساجد باستخدام الآيات القرآنية من أجل شرعنة التجنيس، ومازلت أذكر أحد السفهاء (الخطباء) وهو من مشايخ السلطة والركض خلف الدنانير التي تنهمر عليه من جهات عدة في الدولة، حينما قام بتمثيل واقعة التجنيس وكأنها المؤاخاة بين المهاجرين والأنصار في المدينة المنورة! وأيضاً حينما كتبنا مخاطبين الجهات العليا بتقنين التجنيس وتحديد ضوابط ومعايير منطقية له، قامت قيامة البعض ولوحوا بأن هذا في صالح أهل السنة والجماعة، وعلى منوال ما قاله زميلنا العزيز العرب مكسب

في هذه العجالة العجولة، أطالب الإخوة الذين رفعوا عقيرتهم ضدنا في تلك الأيام، وأسألهم بالله عليكم ما هي فوائد التجنيس على السنة؟! لن أحصل على رد مطلقاً! فقد لاذوا بالصمت مراراً وتكراراً... ولن يغفر لهم الشعب البحريني هذا الظلم الذي اقترفوه

النار لا تحرق إلا رجل واطيها. ذاك الذي ينفث دخان سيجارة من على شرفة فلته في المناطق الراقية لا يشعر بمرارة التجنيس. يشعر بمرارة التجنيس من ينتظر على قائمة الإسكان بيتاً صغيراً له وعياله، ثم يتفاجأ بتجنيس أحدهم ومنحه بيتاً! يشعر بمرارة التجنيس من ينتظر وظيفة يحصل عليها ثم تأتي بغيره وتمنحه الجنسية وتوظفه... وهكذا دواليك

وهكذا، تطور الأمر بنا كشعب بحريني مضياف إلى شعب انعزالي متطرف ضد من حصلوا على الجنسية البحرينية! من المستفيد من هكذا تجنيس؟ هل حسابات سلطة التجنيس صحيحة أم رعناء هوجاء تسقط في أول اختبار كما سقطت تلك الأقوام في أول اختبار حسن سيرة وسلوك؟ !

من يملك سلطة التجنيس عليه مراجعة هذا الخبال المسمى تجنيساً... نحن لسنا ضد إخوتنا العرب الذين أمضوا الفترة القانونية، بل نحن مع تجنيسهم متى كانوا ملتزمين باشتراطات حسن السيرة والسلوك... بل هم ظهرنا وسندنا، وخصوصاً أهلنا من سلطنة عمان الذين أمضوا الفترات الطويلة دونما الحصول على الجنسية البحرينية، وكذلك أصلنا وساسنا أبناء اليمن، فهؤلاء لا تأتي المشكلات من ورائهم بل هم الأقرب لطبائع أهل البحرين. وستبقى مرارة التجنيس غصة في حلوق البحرينيين السنة

صحيفة الوسط
Thursday, January 24, 2008

16 January 2008

A New Era of Leadership in Bahrain?

One of our biggest problem in Bahrain is the lack of a unified leadership with a unified vision for the country. The internal fragmentation within our country's high ranks, especially in the past 6 years, has lead us on a path of disarray, confused accountabilities, and random- often contradictory- policies.

Four years after the first labor reform workshop, the second labor reform workshop, the economic reform workshop, and an education reform workshop, people are still waiting. In fact, the majority of Bahrainis began to doubt that the intention of reform even existed.

The recent call (outcry? please read the letter) by the Crown Prince echoes what most Bahrainis want to scream out but they can't: the government needs to change its ways before the ship sinks. Say what you may about the EDB and its plans, the Crown Prince did what no other in this country was able to do: revive the discourse of "REFORM" (badly needed, badly ignored).

Thanks to the Crown Prince's public letter, the King finally moved to declare intentions to hold ministers accountable (I suppose ministers are a good proxy term to use). The opposition is now again emboldened to call for change... and even the sleeping parliamentarians are riding on the reform wave.

On the other hand, many of us fear another deja-vu in the making. This latest episode is of course significant because for the first time - instead of it being the feedstock of late-night gossip - the struggle between reformists and the "old guard" in the leadership finally came to light. It is also significant more so because for the first time in 4 years, we are starting to feel some sort of hope that someone somewhere is thinking of fixing the country.

The Economic Development Board needs to move, and move fast, to show people it is serious. Now that the "government" resistance is addressed v.publicly, EDB now has the chance to show that its powers can be put to good use. Unfortunately, doubt is still much stronger than hope, but Bahrainis are eager to be proven wrong on this one. As much as Bahrainis detest certain elements within the leadership, they don't want this to be just an episode in the power struggle between the Crown Prince and his foes. Real changes are badly needed-- changes that have a direct impact of people's lives. People need to see Bahrain moving in a unified direction and according to a plan that makes sense and that is transparently shared with all. Moving beyond the Amwaj and "McKinsey" controversies, people need to know that the Crown Prince is working for them.

13 January 2008

Dancing Bush

video

Good times..

Knowing me though, put your spoiler alert on:

Click here for the opposition's open letter to Bush on the progress of reform, democracy, and human rights in Bahrain (don't ask me why it's in Arabic... maybe they saw the dance and assumed just a bitttt too much).

10 January 2008

Stop crying, Start saving


There is plenty to be said for our country's historical lack of economic direction, rational thinking, and abundance of corruption and mismanagement. There is also something to be said for the value of sound financial management on the individual level.. I know, your salary is crap (and so is mine). Until the government wakes up and does something to save the economy (not just subsidize inflation), maybe you should consider doing something to prevent your finances from going down the drain. I will give it a try at least. Here are my favorite saving tips from money management:


#1 Treat yourself like another entity and pay yourself first.
This is one of those classic savings approaches that we can easily employ. If we imagine ourselves as someone as important as any other creditor we have, then we can deploy payments to our own accounts on a regular basis just as we do our own bills. Set up an arbitrary savings amount — a good rule of thumb is at least 10% of earnings — and stash it in a savings account each month. I find 10% a good start to a savings plan but a stretch goal should be something higher, such as 20% or more of your income. Another term for this activity is “tithing yourself” and is a great habit to develop.


#2 Automate your savings.
Direct deposit is one way of ensuring you get your money safely into your account without worry. Without it, I tend to second guess myself wondering if I’ve received all my pay checks and whether I’ve deposited them all. Direct deductions are a superb way to channel money into savings.


#3 Pretend you didn’t get a raise.
So you were lucky enough to secure a raise! Congratulations! Now if you’re able to pretend you never received it and instead sock this additional money away especially in an investment account that compounds with time, you may surprise yourself further down the road with a substantial nest egg. I agree, not being able to celebrate a raise may not be that much fun, so use a small portion of it to reward yourself (but I’d avoid those big ticket items)!


#4 Pretend you haven’t paid down your debt even if you already have.
You may be accustomed to paying down debt, but the time will come when you’ll have paid them all down. When this time comes, you may find yourself with money freed up raring to go elsewhere! This is a great opportunity to route this “newly found” money towards a savings account for your goals.


#5 Bank the savings you receive from coupons, sales and discounts.
Sales can save you a bundle, so how about writing yourself a check each time you score some savings while shopping? If you were prepared to pay full price but discover a savings of 10%, bank the 10% you save into your savings account. This could be a painless strategy of building up your nest egg that you incorporate into your daily shopping habits.


#6 Open investment accounts and automate contributions.
Learn about how to invest your savings. The next step beyond saving your money is to find a way to make them grow. Once you are comfortable with investments, you can open accounts and actually set up automatic monthly contributions to these accounts. This will help you take advantage of the concept of dollar cost averaging, a powerful way to grow your money.


#7 Create secondary sources of income.
If you are able, exploring other ways to supplement your income should help boost your savings. By increasing your income, but keeping your expenses the same or lower, you have more money freed up to line your accounts. I especially like to hear about how secondary income sources come about by accident, as when someone has a hobby that turns into a business, or when someone fortuitously stumbles into an income generating project they actually enjoy doing.


#8 Cut down on impulse buying and avoid unnecessary purchases.
Just say no to that inner voice in your ear telling you that you can’t live without the attractive XYZ sitting on the retail shelf. If you give yourself a few days to mull over your buying dilemma, you may realize quickly it’s not something you really need and you’ll forget about it in a few days. Get yourself distracted with other matters as much as possible!


#9 Reinvest interest and dividends from investments
This one might be a strech in our Bahrain context but why not, if you have them: reinvest any interest and dividends and give your investments a chance to build.


#10 Use unconventional savings vehicles
This is controversial and may not be the best way to save but could be the only ways to save for some people or “non-savers” who lack the discipline to set aside money any other way. For instance, if you have insurance policies tied to savings vehicles, you may consider these relatively more complex programs rather than simpler insurance plans, in order to effectively “force” yourself to save. Examples of unconventional savings vehicles include universal or whole life insurance, annuities, or even real estate, which allow you to make monthly payments towards a fund or goal.


And of course, the classic for Bahrainis: don't get a loan! Just don't (unless it's for some emergency-related expense). Remember also that getting a nicer car or throwing a jolly wedding party do NOT qualify as emergencies!

29 December 2007

Al-Wefaq's Lost Compass


أكد الشيخ علي سلمان في خطبته بجامع الإمام الصادق في الدراز أمس، أن «الانفلات الأمني لا يخدم المصلحين، بل يخدم من لا يؤمن بمنهج الإصلاح، ويخدم طبقة لاتزال قوية ومتنفذة وسيزيد نفوذها بالانفلات الأمني، وسيحقق لها مكاسب استراتيجية عاشت عليها عقوداً وستكون سعيدة بأن يعود»

It's official: times have changed. Far from the days when Al-Wefaq was commanding the Shia street, their latest reactions to the recent wave of violence show total helplessness and confusion. On the other side, it seems that the recent events are as much a show of frustration with Al-Wefaq as with the government. Beyond speeches and feeble attempts to criticize the Ministry of Interior's handling of the demonstrations, this political society needs a shift in strategy before it is too late.

The implications of a Wefaqi parliament failure are quite dangerous, and can potentially affect the whole concept of peaceful opposition in Bahrain. If Al-Wefaq continues to move from one failure to another in parliament, currently the only forum that allows for opposition within the system, the other alternative is just more violence. Sadly, neither Al-Wefaq nor the government seem to realize that at least some sort of political success of parliament is necessary to sustain Bahrain's stability: think of it as a "venting"mechanism.

The "venting"theory seemed to work well with the previous parliament. As little as it had achieved, it was at least successful in making noise: in showing that (parts of) it cared. Far from it, Al-Wefaq got itself into one disaster after another: antagonizing the King by boycotting his opening speech, passing the hugely unpopular 1% unemployment tax, speaking in favor of the apartment housing option (may be valid but is still unpopular), and trying in vain to build impossible alliances with Al-Menbar and Al-Asalah. It seemed to overlook the fact that its constituency is actually watching, expecting, and waiting... and waiting. The government, in unleashing its supporters to kill any little Wefaqi initiative, including anti-tajnees and anti-Ateyatallah questioning, has also grossly miscalculated the impact of Wefaq's failure. Does the government really prefer to deal with the street than with parliament?

What we see in Bahrain nowdays is that Al-Wefaq's entrance into parliament not only exposed their own lack of direction, strategy, and ability to tackle serious national grievances. It also showed the whole "political reform" process to be sham with no hope in sight. It actually proved what Haqq was claiming all along: the parliament is so heavily restricted by the government and pro-government forces that no "change from within" can possibly take place.

So where do we go from here?

20 December 2007

Who killed Ali Jassim?

I have to say that I tried my best to stay away from this issue, simply because as everyone else, I don't know all the facts. I don't know if tear gas can kill a person, and I don't really know if it was police brutality that killed Ali Jassim Makki.

But responsibility extends beyond the direct act of murder. Ali Jassim and hundreds with him were out there because it was their way of demonstrating their grievances. In a tightly-controlled political system where the government controls all the Shura, half the parliament, the judiciary, the executive, and the word "bandar" cannot even be mentioned, "political reforms" seems to be reduced to the glossy brochures we take to international conferences. We look around and we see naturalization (tajnees), corruption, unfairness, sectarianism.. yet many of us keep quiet because we can still live comfortable lives without getting involved. The problem is, not all of us have this comfortable life. These demonstration an act of desparation, and all government measures and anti-demonstration laws will not make it go away.

On 10 December 2005, Al-Wasat reported this about Ali Jassim:
إن مشكلته كبيرة، إذ بيّن أن والده «طالب ومازال يطالب بأرضه في باربار التي سرقها أو استولى عليها أحد الأشخاص المقربين لأحد المتنفذين، ولم يحصل عليها طيلة السنوات الماضية على رغم إلحاحه في المطالبة بها».

Government propaganda is not making it any better. It seems that Al-Menbar, Akhbar Al-Khaleej, and (poisonous) Al-Watan are unleashing their attacks against "disorder" and "illegal" demonstrations. Frankly I don't know where they get the audacity to even speak. Supporting a "reformist" agenda espoused by the King cannot be separated from supporting the right of free expression and public demonstration. In any casem Jassim and people like him don't really care to know about our anti-demonstration law, our independent investigation committees, or even the International Declaration for Human Rights that we signed, apparently. They want to know that their government is not stealing their wealth, perpetuating their poverty, or selling the country's land to foreigners. Until the leadership is ready to treat its people as citizens (not subjects), no amount of propaganda can change this sad situation.

18 December 2007

We're a million: Math 101


So recently the government made an interesting non-announcement in parliament. Apparently, according to a statement by the Central [dis]Informatics Organization (CIO) to parliament, Bahrain's population finally reached a million. Hurrah!

Now, setting aside the question as to why we remain in the dark when it comes to official statistical figures of the CIO, something just doesn't add up...
If we go back to 2001, the official statistics were as follows:

Total population = 650,604
Bahraini = 405,667
Non-Bahraini = 244,937
Total population growth rate of 2.7%
Bahraini population growth rate: 2.5%

[Note that the Middle East growth rate was 3.62 in 2001]

Fast forward to 2007:
Total Population = 1,046,814
Bahraini = 529,446
Non-Bahraini = 517,368
Total population growth rate = 10.1%
Bahraini population growth rate = 5.1%

Yes, I'm not kidding and the CIO is not kidding either. As opposed to a 2007 Middle East growth rate of 3.3 (other countries are apparently cleaning up their act), we shoot all the way up, higher than any growth rate in the world (by the way the global rate is around 1.1%).

Depressed enough? OK here is more:

If we assume that the 2.5% growth rate of 1991-2001 is the "natural" rate, and we assume that it stays the same (very conservative assumption since it was actually declining.. the rate was 3% in 1981-1991), here is what the Bahraini citizens' population should have naturally become: 470,450

This can only mean one thing. Yes. God created 60,000 Bahrainis just like he created Adam and Eve, for no such number can possibly be born here by accident. Otherwise, we may actually have to believe that the government is lying when it says it is not naturalizing all the people we see mushrooming around us. Either way, even this number does not make much sense if we consider that the CIO itself had declared a the 2006 population growth figure of 2.6%.

More notes on the parliament dicussion:

The Minister of justice said that the growth rate now is 5.1% (neglected to mention that it's actually 10% if we include expats), and said the increase is due to the recent "economic development" which lead to a surge in expatriate labor. Of course, our parliamentarians, the geniuses, didn't bother to ask whether the 5.1% actually includes expats-- or even wonder how can a growth rate that was decreasing since the 1950s all of a sudden double in 6 years (or a year, if we take the mysterious 2.6% of 2006).

Seriously, does anyone in the ruling establishment, government, or our genius parliament realize the kind of crisis we're getting ourselves into at this point? Do we all have amnesia and Math retardation?

Read More here.

حلفت يالزينة ما افارق البحرين



Happy National Day
Happy Coronation Day
Condolences on Martyrs Day

THIRTY-SIX Years later, I turn to the TV to watch our leaders give the same old speech, I wait a bit longer to watch the same old national dance, I get on youtube to watch the same old protest video, then I turn to our good old online discussion forums to read the same arguments over and over. It then hits me that, as part of the silent majority, my main concern is for the 10-day vacation. I also realize then that I have nothing to do those ten days except blog...

So how do you feel today?

P.S. Thanks loads to those who asked about me. Perhaps I will punish you by starting my all new series: "diaries of a Bahraini traveler girl" :)

09 August 2007

Taking a break, Part II

Well, I suppose August is just not the time to worry about politics **we're going down anyway**

See you in September & be good and safe!

26 July 2007

Now this is what's wrong with us..!

These are taken from a "debate" on Al-Jazeera's Al-Ettijah Al-Mu'akis, between an "Islamist thinker and activist" and a secular "thinker and activist":

الديمقراطية في الشرق الأوسط
مقدم الحلقة: فيصل القاسم
ضيفا الحلقة: - سيد القمني/ مفكر علماني- هاني السباعي/ مدير مركز المقريزي للدراسات التاريخية
تاريخ الحلقة: 10/7/2007

سيد القمني: ولد خليك محترم يا ولد..
هاني السباعي: توب إلى الله اجري اعلن ما أنت أعلنت توبتك يا رجل من سنتين وسحبتها..
سيد القمني: توب أنت يا راجل توب من اللي أنت فيه توب من الإرهاب..
هاني السباعي: مَن الذي كان ينفق عليك وعلى عيالك مجموعة مرتزقة تتهم أمة كاملة..
سيد القمني: إرهابي وقاعد في الديمقراطية في لندن ما تروح أفغانستان تحارب يا جدع روح خذ حق الشهادة في أفغانستان..

فيصل القاسم: بس دقيقة يا دكتور..
هاني السباعي: هذا يجب أن يحجر عليه هذا سفيه يجب عليه..
فيصل القاسم: دقيقة يا دكتور، يا دكتور هاني بدون مقاطعة يا دكتور..
هاني السباعي: يا رجل يعلن توبته حتى يا ريت يا حبذا لو..

سيد القمني: بتتكلم علي ثاني يا راجل..
فيصل القاسم: يا سيدي يا سيد السباعي أشكرك سيد سباعي وصلت الفكرة..
هاني السباعي: هذا يسيء إلى الأمة يجب أن يعتذر إلى هذه الأمة.
سيد القمني: يا جدع ده أنت راجل سفيه صحيح.

For more on this intellectual conversation, click here.

Support the campaign for justice

I stand by my initial position and hope that Bahraini bloggers can contribute to supporting a movement for justice to all victims of abuse in Bahrain*.

I think the concept of forgiving and forgetting has been repeatedly used and abused as a slogan to shelter violators of human rights in Bahrain such as Mr. Henderson

So, while this may seem like a small gesture in the grand scheme of things, the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights had launched a campaign to support justice and human rights in Bahrain-- by calling for trial of Bahrain's major human rights abuse symbol, Officer Ian Henderson, Head of Bahraini Security and Intelligence Bureau (1966-2000). Shamefully, he continues to be sheltered by the Bahraini (reformist) government, despite his instrumental role in orchestrating arrests, torture, and exile of national activists.

For logos and banners in multiple languages, please visit http://www.byshr.org/

* By all, I really mean all- on both sides. So let us not use the old "destruction of property" argument to shelter torturers..

15 July 2007

Secular Deamons

So this has been the new "big thing "in Bahrain for the past couple of weeks. Shaikh Essa Qasem, head of the "Olama" Islamic Council , had given a Friday sermon at Al-Sadiq mosque in Duraz 2 weeks ago in which he deamonized "seculars" and "secularism" as enemies of Islam and of the people of Bahrain. "Down with the seculars!", the crowds shouted..

As usual, a religious message had a political background. The Shaikh's message comes following the controversy over the 1% unemployment insurance tax scheme, which the Olama council had decreed un-Islamic, as it compells employees to pay contribution against their will. The so-called seculars, and this term is used loosely, as all of them had indicated their committment to Islam as the official state religion, disagreed. Some figures in Wa'ad and parliament had called on the Olama Council to refrain from rushing to use religious fatwas to silence the debate on this issue. Apparently, this call had struck a nerve. In that sermon and those that followed, Shaikh Qassim continued to accuse the "seculars" of waging a war on Islam and called upon his followers to fight the "deamon."

Now, many writers, both Shia and Sunnis, religious and otherwise, have written in condemnation of this newly-waged "war". Rightfully, they pointed out that calling upon the Shi'i street to fight a secular imaginary deamon is in effect the perfect distraction from such critical issues as government corruption, unemployment, land distribution, sea reclamation, housing, and destruction of Tubli bay, to say the least. Moreover, one must point out that regardless of what the Shaikh considers as secularism, it cannot be denied that even if what he described existed, the secular movement in Bahrain (mainly Wa'ad) is (1) too weak to be deamonized and (2) The Shia's (and Wefaq's) ally in government opposition-- meaning it makes absolutely no sense to fight it. It is hard to defend Shaikh Qassim's statements. They are, to say the least, divisive at a time when the Olama Council itself stresses building unity within Bahrain.

But another interesting aspect in all of this is the crisis Al-Wefaq is facing. Basically, this anti-secular message can be seen as directed towards 3 main targets: Wa'ad, Aziz Abul, and Majid Al-Alawi-- two of which are established Wefaq allies. Moreover, the "Shirazi" line of Al-Amal Al-Islamic [not in the Olama Council], represented by Sh. Al-Mahfouz has weighed in against Sh. Qassem's message.

Al-Wefaq is being pressured on more than one level. First, Wefaq cannot hide that its own MPs have voted in favor of the 1% tax law in parliament. It was only in June, around six months later, that they switched gears and condemned the law as a "government trick," raising even more questions about their competence as MPs. Now, Al-Wefaq's very legitimacy, and not only political tactics, is being questioned in light of the Olama Council's condemnation.* On the other hand, its Sunni oppositionist "seculars", as subtly as Ebrahim Sharif put it, are looking to Wefaq for a stand in support of its allies. So far, Wefaq has been keeping an uncomfortable silence..

To be continued...

* The Council, esp. Sh. Essa Qassim, has been long considered Wefaq's spiritual guide and its "Islamic-source-of-legitimacy"

12 July 2007

المتنفذ و الصيادين - الحلقة 2


اليوم بكتب بالعامية و اعذروني لأن موضوعنا بحريني 100% و ما يستحمل انجليزي: قبل شوي قريت خبرين في جريدة الوسط و الصراحة تعبت نفسياً و حبيت أنقل اللى قريته

أول خبر: بعد تلكؤ ادارة الثروة السمكية في تطبيق القانون على متنفذ المالكية و ازالة حظور الصيد المخالفة، صيادين المالكية يعبرون عن استعدادهم لازالة الحظور بأنفسهم بالتنسيق مع المالك -- يعني باختصار احنا مستعدين نروح لفلان بن فلان و نشوف يمكن يتفاهم معانه دام الحكومة خايفة و يابسة في قشورها و مو قادرة تقول له شي

ثاني خبر: ادارة الثروة السمكية تسحب رخص صيادين بعد ان عجزوا عن تسديد أقساط بنك التنمية -- يعني انتو فقارة و القانون قانون و بعدين من قال لكم اصلا تصيدون مو كفاية فلان بن فلان قاعد يصيد و الا البحر لعبة يعني

طبعا اوكي الصيادين ما سددوا اقساطهم و من العدل انهم يتحملون العواقب حسب القانون-- بس القانون يفقد مصداقيته لما يتطبق على ناس و ناس لا. يعني اشلون تقدر تشرح لهالفقارة اللي انته مانعهم عن الصيد انك مو قادر تشيل جم حظرة مخالفة بس لان صاحبها يبتدي اسمه بحرف الالف و اسم ابوه بحرف الميم و اسم عائلته بحرف الخاء.. انا لو من مدير الثروة السمكية هالانسان المحترم جان استقلت من الفشيلة و دفنت روحي تحت قاع الارض لكن كما يقول المثل الامازوني سيل ما يبلك ما يهمك

و في الاخر هم اكيد ينتظرون توجيهات القيادة الحكيمة

07 July 2007

Rift in Bahrain's Royal Court

After CNN, the Los Angeles times takes a more intelligent look at Bahrain:

Strategic rift in Bahrain's royal court

Some members of the ruling family reportedly back hard-line Sunni groups; others advise helping disenfranchised Shiites.

By Borzou Daragahi, Times Staff Writer, July 7, 2007

MANAMA, BAHRAIN — Leading members of Bahrain's royal family have thrown their weight behind hard-line Sunni Muslim groups, some of whom share the outlook of Al Qaeda, in an attempt to counter a perceived Shiite threat, government officials and critics say.

The strategy, first exposed in a government report that surfaced last year, has revealed a rift within the court of the ruling Khalifa family. One faction believes in reconciliation with the Persian Gulf nation's disenfranchised Shiite Muslim majority. The other believes in suppressing Shiite aspirations, even if it means supporting Sunni groups propelled by the same ideologies that inspire Osama bin Laden.

A ranking government official who is a member of the royal family said there was "no doubt" that a hard-line movement existed within the Bahraini power structure."Then, there are the moderates who believe that cohesion is the way to go forward," he said.The official, who counts himself among the moderates, spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. Members of the royal family are unanimous in public, and analysts say they rarely discuss internal rifts.

But Bahrain, a small, oil-rich nation of 750,000 people where the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet is based, is anything but united.It rests uneasily on the increasingly volatile sectarian fault line rattling the Middle East. Impoverished Shiites, some of whom share close religious and cultural ties to Iran, demand more power from the dominant Sunnis, who have ties to Saudi Arabia. Intermarriage between the sects has become rare. Bahrain's Shiites and Sunnis have different last names and speak Arabic with different accents.

Crown Prince Salman ibn Hamed Khalifa, a 37-year-old graduate of American University in Washington and Cambridge University in England, leads the moderates, who have focused on creating job opportunities for Bahrain's young as a way of staving off sectarian tensions. Khalid ibn Ahmed Khalifa, minister of state for royal court affairs, is known as the leader of the hard-liners. Few know where King Hamed ibn Isa Khalifa, the ultimate authority in Bahrain, stands.

"The royal court minister is backed by the Sunni extremists and he backs them," said one Bahraini analyst, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "It's a very dangerous game. They're going down a slippery road."

Even opposition figures say that the most extreme of their nation's Sunnis are moderate compared with Al Qaedainspired insurgents fighting governments in Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan. One Sunni hard-liner has said he welcomes the presence of American and British military officials in Bahrain if it keeps the Iranian influence at bay.

Yet secular and Shiite Bahrainis have become alarmed by the growth of Sunni fundamentalism. Figures allied with the Muslim Brotherhood or more extreme groups have gained the upper hand over the ministries of information, finance and large parts of the military, government critics and human rights groups say. Banks owned by Muslim charities or organizations have grown rich with the return of Arab funds from the United States and Europe after the increased post-Sept. 11 scrutiny of Persian Gulf money in the West. Islamic charities have morphed into powerful political groups, with the government's encouragement, critics say.

Some likened the rapid buildup of Sunni groups to the U.S. and Saudi support for Islamist Afghan warriors during the 1980s Soviet occupation."This is the Saudi Frankenstein," said Ebrahim Sharif Alsayed, a member of the National Democratic Action Society, a secular opposition group. "I don't think terrorism is a serious threat. But this is the same play. They think they can manage the Islamists."

Critics worry that in a country long a bastion of relative moderation, clerics are glorifying holy war. Islamic newspapers have grown more strident and anti-American. One, Akhbar Khaleej, refers to Bin Laden as a "sheik," a title of honor. Two controversial Sunni figures who left the United States have found refuge and employment in Bahrain: Wagdy Mohammed Ghoneim, the head of an Orange County mosque who was suspected of giving speeches in support of terrorist organizations and arrested in November 2004 on suspicion of overstaying his U.S. visa; and Salah Soltan, a scholar.

"Every week they appear on television, telling people how to be clean and religious and pious," said one journalist who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.

Evidence of government support for Sunni extremists first emerged in a report prepared by former government official Salah Bander, which detailed ties between regime officials and hard-liners as part of a plan to crush Shiite aspirations.

Sunnis' fear of the country's Shiite majority has been heightened by events in Iraq, where newly empowered Shiites rule over the once-dominant Sunni minority.

Though shimmering with ostentatious wealth, Bahrain has not been immune to political and sectarian violence. Shiites say that for decades they've received a disproportionately small share of the country's riches and opportunities. Shiite districts west of Manama, the capital, tend to be poor and run-down. Independent observers have criticized the government for regularly staffing security forces with non-Bahraini Sunnis.

Anger and resentment bubbled up in the 1970s. And in 1981, a group of Bahraini Shiites, allegedly backed by elements in Iran, attempted to overthrow the monarchy. Violent clashes between Shiites and security forces erupted in the late 1990s, sending prominent Shiites into exile. Many Sunnis regard Bahrain's Shiites as an Iranian fifth column.

"Sunnis and Shiites are all in the same boat," said Mohammed Khaled, a Sunni lawmaker who has been described as a hard-liner. "But we won't allow anyone to guide that boat. We will not accept any foreign interference, not from the Americans nor the Iranians."

Many of Bahrain's Shiites maintain strong ties to the burgeoning Shiite movements throughout the Middle East. The homes and cars of pious Shiites are adorned by posters of the leader of the Lebanese militant Shiite group Hezbollah, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah; Iraqi cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani; and Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei.

King Hamad launched a plan of reconciliation and democratic reform when he ascended to the throne in 1999, but many say it has stalled, in part because of fears that giving Shiites more power would open the way for an Iranian takeover of the island nation, over which Iran once claimed sovereignty.

Moderates in the government, including the crown prince, argue that democratic reform and economic opportunity will be far more effective in coaxing Shiites away from Iran.

"The hard-liners haven't succeeded," the government official said. "They have only done one thing: turn a lot of people against them."

11 June 2007

Rule of Law?

Rule of law sounds like a nice concept, unless you're one of those who in the past couple of decades or so considered themselves to be above and beyond any law. Take the so-called Malkiya "powerful man": Malkiya is a small Bahraini fishing village, meaning that access to the sea is the lifeline of Malkiya's people. Now theoretically, Malkiya's shore is public property, except that a certain powerful person happened to be "granted" land by the sea.

In Bahrain, land distribution is a huge problem. Throughout the past years (or at least until the present King's time), lands have been distributed right and left in a semi-tribal fashion of ruler granting land his family and friends out of "generosity" (well, that's my polite word for it). The Malkiya "strong person" is just one of those who happened to be owning this piece of land by the sea. He also happens to believe that laws do not apply to him just like they never applied to his father. In 2005, he started building an illegal "separation wall" that would have cut the fishermen's access to the public shore. The owner didn't even bother to get a building permit and was extending the wall almost 2.5Km into the sea. Of course, normally you would expect some legal action to be taken to A. Stop it and B. punish this outright violation. But since he is "powerful," neither the Ministry of Municipalities, municipal council, nor the parliament could do anything. At the end, after significant embarrassment and press coverage, the King "talked" to the guy and he (graciously) agreed to stop building the wall.

Now the same person has decided to pull another antic. Why should the villager be fishing on "his" shore? and why bother with a professional fishing license and what not? Surely powerful people can exploit marine resources themselves?

Well, technically no. You actually do need a license and there are types of fishing geer you cannot use which he is using. Problem. Another problem is that the annoying people of Malkiya continue to be an inconvenience to our man. Last Saturday, the area people and fisherman demonstrated against the violator. The demonstration was licensed by the Ministry of Interior under the Public Gatherings Law (rediculous, for discussion at some other point), and was lead by a number of respected political activists in Bahrain such as Hassan Mushaima'a and Ebrahim Sharif. Predictably, though, the demonstration turned violent. Granted, some demonstrators must have been over-excited, but it is a disappointement that police forces would resort to mass violence and tear gas. After all those years, the Ministry forces are still incapable of separating between "arrest of disruptive persons" and "mass punishment of demonstrators." I think it's also retarded that the police sited "violations of private property" as a reson for interfering, knowing that this "private property" fisheries are illegal in the first place.

Anyway, back to the rule of law issue: there is none. It's a joke that the Ministry of Interior would speak about enforcing the "Public Gatherings Law" against angry powerless Malkiyans, whereas this "powerful man" is roaming around doing whatever he feels like.. There is law. We love talking about the law. There are also punishments for violating the law. "Being nicely asked" to stop is not the punishment your average Hamoud or 3abbood will get. Can someone try and justify why the law means nothing in this case?

Latest update: Our man announced today that he will abide by the law, if everyone else does.. whatever than means?

02 June 2007

Bahrain on CNN

On June 1st, CNN aired what it called an "in-depth look" at Bahrain, in an 8 minute segment that can be viewed here.

Hala Gorani, presenter of "Inside the Middle East," apparently was in Bahrain, interviewing Shi'a poor villagers, Nabeel Rajab, and a couple of government Ministers. The program started with an assertion that Bahrain, despite being one of the world's richest countries in terms of per capita GDP, has a "hidden population." Political and economic issues in Bahrain were reduced to " long-standing tensions" between the " poor Shi'a majority" and the "ruling Sunni elite." And that's that.

First of all, let's just say that an 8-minute segment cannot possibly present an "in-depth" look into anything, even as small as Bahrain. Most importantly, though, looking at the political, social, and economic tensions in Bahrain from a black-and-white, Sunni-vs-Shi'i lense just misses the realities on the ground. Poverty is not an exclusively-Shi'a phenomenon as it was presented on the program. The Sunnis are not an "elite" enjoying exclusive access to power and wealth. Classifying the Sunni-Shi'a tensions as "long-standing" in Bahrain, moreover, is just plainly ignorant of Bahrain's history and social structure.

I must say I'm disappointed at Nabeel Rajab. Everything he said indicated concern over the Shi'a of Bahrain and only the Shi'a of Bahrain. Instead of being what he is, an activist for human rights and freedom, he appeared as a sectarian figure consumed by paranoia that "they just don't want us to be empowered economically so we don't take over the government." With all due respect, this branding political tensions as purely sectarian is both wrong and irresponsible. Reform, if that's what we're looking for, will not happen if the opposition alienates a whole section of the population. "Driving" all the Sunnis in the government arms by manipulating their fear of a "Shi'a" threat is a catastrophicl strategy. Whether we like it or not, the political system of Bahrain is authoritarian. If you're in the opposition, chances are you will be repressed and silenced, whether you are Sunni or Shi'i. CNN seems to have missed this basic fact. .

Discrimination exists. Corruption exists. There are different grievances on many levels. But reform, freedoms, and equal rights in Bahrain cannot be achieved by campaigning for the rights of one sect only. Complaining that Shi'a are not in high government levels is not the way to ask for political rights. In fact, we do have a lot of Shi'a in high government positions, but what does that mean for the rural villages? Nothing. The government appointed and will continue to appoint Shi'a who are pro-government, and yet the authoritarian nature of the system is unchanged.

I suppose the one ray of light in this program was the absence of all other opposition figures. I'm assuming they were asked and refused because they had enough sense not to be involved in this. The opposition should definitely not allow itself to be sucked into reverse-sectarianism. In Bahrain in particular, our opposition cannot afford to alienate the Sunni population. We are too small to turn our political struggle into civil strife.

01 June 2007

Yes it's my fault!

Here is my issue these days: I need my electricity. I need it so I don't melt during the day. I need it so I can get on the internet and blog. I need it so I don't read books in candle light. Unforunately, I haven't been getting much electricity since I got back to Bahrain. In fact, now I'm being told by the Minister of Electricity that it's my fault! Or at least, I am 90% of the problem!

Under the influence of the heat, I actually started to believe that it's my fault. In fact, since the miracle of electricity finally came back to our house (after two days of lighting candles, harrassing the ministry, and invoking souls of ancestors), I have been thinking of how it is my, LuLu's, own fault that our government can't provide us with electricity. Here is what I came up with so far:

1. It is I who did not plan the development or infrastructure of Bahrain.

2. It is I who is not building electrical substations because the "planning" authority in Bahrain did not plan for them as it was giving building permits (candle model).

3. It is I who is still unable to negotiate a gas deal with Qatar or Iran.

4. It is I who is giving permits to commercial establishments and multi-storey buildings in previously-designated residential areas such as Budaya, Juffair, and Jid-Ali, making it impossible for their substations to handle the additional burden.

5. It is I who made the decision to over-light the streets of Bahrain like a christmas tree, so the dark houses around it have something bright to look at.

6. It is I who is over-using electricity by keeping the lights ON in all government buildings, year-round, day and night.

7. It is I who is conspiring against the Minister of Electricity, by putting him in a ministry he has no idea what to do with, just to make him look bad.

16 May 2007

To forgive and forget

MP Salah Ali (Al Menbar Islamic bloc) said today that it is in Bahrain's interest to "forget about" Bandar's report and just move on. On the same day, parliament voted down Ateyatallah's questioning on the Bandar scandal.

But this is not news. In 2002, decree law No. 56 pardoned all government officials involved in torture and abuse as well as those "guilty" of protesting government policies. Since then, the culture of impunity has been promoted actively by the government. Since then, our government, and pro-government parties, have been trying consciously to blur any memories of government oppression or conspiracy in fear of damaging the perfect picture of a unified, proud Bahrain, and their own image of benevolence.

I really believe this to be the root cause of the division in our society today. Victims of government arrest and (at least alleged) oppression have never had closure, compensation, or justice. Leading government figures that were accused of committing conspiracies, abuse, and torture were never punished. On the contrary, many went on to assume prominent positions and are treated as honorable citizens by the government-controlled press and politicians. Self-identifies victims, meanwhile, are struggling with the residues of the past, especially the 90s, without receiving any form of acknowledgement or apology

In general, there are two central pillars to achieving reconciliation: truth and justice. Revealing the truth paves the way for the society to face its past and move forward to forge a national reconciliation. Pursuing justice cleanses the nation’s conscience and provides victims with closure and sense of support and security.

In the case of post-90s Bahrain, healing never occurred, as neither truth nor justice was pursued. People on both sides of the spectrum, despite public rhetoric of "unity", really just maintained two different versions of the truth and two different concepts of what justice entails. Al-Dhahrani's recent proposal to compensate "victims" of 90s violence (only this time he spoke of victims of the actual popular uprising) was only one manifestation of the deep divide. The two sides never came together to tell the story; and a balanced version of the truth was never revealed. Throughout time, the distinction between victim and perpetrator was also blurred.

In public statements of major pro-government Islamist parties (Al Menbar, Asala and Sa3eedi), the prevailing rhetoric is not just to deny government wrongdoing, but to accuse the mainly Shi'a dissidents of “starting it” by rebelling against government policies. On the other side, mere mention of property losses that some non-involved parties suffered as part of the violence is often shunned as an attempt to justify government violence and abuse of protestors.

To be honest, with the exception of nationalist oppositionists (Al Noaimi, Munira Fakhro, Ebrahim Sharif, etc), we have a sectarian divide along those lines. It's not unreasonable to claim that the majority of Sunnis blame the protestors for starting the violence. In turn, the Shi'a wounds never healed and their self-image of victimhood was never addressed.

All nations have moments in their history that make them feel especially proud. All of them have moments of shame as well. In order to foster healing and "real" unity, Bahrain cannot afford to continue on this path of "unaccountability" and denial. Historical events need to be debated, recorded, and in the Bandar report, acknowledged and investigated at minimum, at least to show respect to that section of the population that seems to be the target of the strategies put forth in the report.

So, No, Mr. Salah. It is not in Bahrain's interest to "forget about it" and continue breeding this culture of impunity. Your refusal to even investigate the matter is suspicious at best. No one with half a brain can possibly forgive or forget, knowing that the suspects are roaming around happily under the protection of our own elected parliamentarians.

15 May 2007

Fasht El Jarem: Failure of Journalism

It all started with this piece of news in Al Wasat newspaper. Bahrain's largest "fasht"and its largest marine life reserve. Al Wasat newspaper related that unnamed sources in the business community are talking about plans to sell the fasht to an unnamed person for a sum of $785 million, which may or may not go to the country's treasury.

This could be a disaster by all means. But I'm really appalled at the way this issue was treated by the press, as if it was another Britney Spears tirade. This is a serious issue. It's a natural reserve. Destroying the marine life on the fasht will deprive Bahrain of its largest fisheries, coral reef, etc. Yet to be treated casually like just another "scandal" which a newspaper will jump on is too dangerous and irresponsible. First, on the original story, Al Wasat did not even bother to contact the ONE government agency who would know and who actually has written records of land ownership and change of ownership (which press and MPs can push to get, officially): the Survey & Land Registration Burea. Instead, we are getting random quotes by Minister of Housing, Minister of Municipality, Minister of JUSTICE (what the..??) and the Minister of Information (stooge me please).

Come on! I feel like this is being treated as an "attractive" sale-boosting scandal with no real journalism effort at all being put into it. I am the first one to say that we cannot trust government rhetoric, but running around doing jumping jacks and screaming about a piece of news (that is admittedly unconfirmed) is silly too! It is just as silly as Akhbar Al Khaleej today denying the news, also without putting any journalistic effort into it. Now it's starting to look like Al Wasat is trying to prove this news is correct to save face, whereas Akhbar Al Khaleej is trying to prove it false to save the government's face (and to spite Al Wasat too).

I'm not convinced by either. I'm also just as disappointed with MP's, who have split into the classic two camps: 1. Al Wefaq asking the wrong questions to the wrong people 2. Others who are not asking any questions to anyone. Between the two camps, we get a nice horse show but nothing else.

13 May 2007

Is Kuwait dumping its problem on us?

The latest rumor nowdays in Bahrain is that our government and the Kuwaiti government have agreed that Bahrain will "receive" a few thousands of "bedoons" from Kuwait [bedoon = without citizenship]. As people in the Gulf would know, the bedoon is an issue that Kuwait has been struggling with for a while, and now Bahrain is to the rescue??

I'm not exactly sure how creadible this rumor is. In a place where the government's "information" ministry is run by a stooge and the "central informatics" machinary is run by a corrupt conspirator, rumors & conspiracy theories are all we have. People have been noticing more-than-frequent visits of high Bahraini officials to Kuwait and vice-versa, and I guess we are just worried that yet another wave of "new" Bahrainis is on the way.

I'll leave you with this Article from Al Rai Al Aam Kuwaiti newspaper. Again, I am not certain about its creadibility but it raises big concerns. There is a Kuwaiti parliament member who even "welcomed" Bahrain's initiative! The thing is, it's a long shot to expect other governments or even parliaments to act morally towards our country, when our own government isn't. But for decades Kuwait has been Bahrain's best friend and really built for us more than our own government was willing to (health centers, schools, mosques... even machboos recipes!). I guess as Bahrainis we just hope that Kuwait doesn't agree to this potential conspiracy or listen to our government's self-destructive ideas [and let's not fool ourselves. we know whose idea this is!].

12 May 2007

لوثة التجنيس والتطفل الاجتماعي


إن كان وجود تغول للنعرة الطائفية كما هو سائد حالياً في مجتمعنا يشير إلى فشل واقعي وإخفاق ذريع في عملية بناء الدولة وتكريس هوية مواطنتها الدستورية، فإن الاتجاه للتعامل مع مثل هذا التغول عبر مزاعم تغليب طائفة على أخرى، أو الاجتهاد لخلق وجود طائفي تنظيمي ثالث في البلاد كما قال الزميل الباحث عبدالله جناحي عن ذلك مسبقاً، ليس سوى خيار انتحار جماعي، وزيادة في الفشل، وإغراق للذات في وحل الخسارات التي تظل حتى الآن بلا قاع محتمل، وذلك في ظل ما تعاني منه الدولة من إخفاقات في صياغة هوية صهيرها الوطني، وفي تلبية كامل احتياجات المواطنين سواء أكان ذلك عبر إيجاد نظام للخدمات الحيوية أكثر فاعلية وكفاءة وشمولاً، أو حتى عبر حل أزمة أكثر تجذراً في بنيان الدولة تتمثل في تسوية عادلة لتوزيع الثروات على جميع المواطنين، فيكون فشلاً تنظيمياً سياسياً واقتصادياً حققته الدولة، وقد استحال الآن إلى فشل استراتيجي مستحكم.

ولربما ما نعنيه في مثل هذا المقام ما أحبذ أن أطلق عليه ويطلق عليه بعض المتشاركين معي في ذات الرؤى بــ»لوثة التجنيس» التي ألمت بالدولة وجعلت منها تتجه إلى المغامرة بمنح جنسيتها لكل من هب ودب، ولأسباب سياسية بحتة مبعثها أحلام فترة ما بعد النقاهة السياسية التي ابتليت بها وأفقدتها رشداً سياسياً واسترتيجياً وطنياً، فبدلاً من أن يتم تطبيق الضوابط والضمانات القانونية المتعارف عليها قانونياً، وبدلاً من أن يتم اللجوء إلا الاستثناء الملكي في ذلك بصفته استثناءً لا أن يكون قاعدة شاملة تقلب تلك الأعراف والضمانات القانونية على رأسها بمسمى فضفاض هو «الخدمات الجليلة» التي لا يعرف حتى هذه اللحظة شكلها الموضوعي ونصابها المعين.وعوضاً عن تجنيس أصحاب الخبرات والكفاءات والمبدعين والمبدعات في شتى المجالات حتى تستفيد من تميزهم البلاد، أو ممن خدموا البلاد وتفانوا في ذلك لفترات طويلة، نرى الدولة وقد أضحت جنة وأرضاً لأحلام جميع المشردين والمطرودين والمنبوذين في سائر العالم، والذين عجزت أصلاً عن استيعابهم وتأهيلهم وترويضهم اجتماعياً دولهم ومجتمعاتهم الأصلية، وهم قد منحوا شرف الجنسية البحرينية دون أن يخطر ذلك في أكثر أحلامهم وردية ليكون عالة مضافة على المجتمع البحريني، وزيادة في تأزيم مشكلاته وقضاياه الكامنة أساساً، ومزاحمة للمواطنين في أبسط طلباتهم المعيشية والوظيفية، هذا إن لم يكونوا قد منحوا امتيازات وخيارات معيشية يتمنى الحصول عليها معظم المواطنين.

وإن كان متوقعاً من بعض الكتاب والصحافيين ككتاب «المساج» والأندية الصحية أن يتغنوا بلوثة التجنيس الحاصلة اخيرا باعتبارها خياراً إنسانياً يعزز مكانة البحرين في محيطها القومي لتكون ملاذاً لكل العرب، وهم الذين ما عهدناهم متصدين لاتجاهات الدولة الرسمية صوب التطبيع مع الكيان الصهيوني، أو حتى يعزز من مكانة المملكة في محيطها الآسيوي لتكون عشاً دافئاً لما تصدره دول آسيوية عظمى مثقلة ديمغرافياً من فوائض بشرية على حساب المواطنين، فإن مثل أشكال الدفاع المبتذلة تلك لم ولن تتمكن من تعويم الحقائق واخفائها بغربالها لكون أمثال هذه السياسات التجنيسية خارجة منذ أزل عن حدود العقل والمنطق ومتبرئة من علامات الرشد السياسي والاستراتيجي، بل هي أقرب ما تكون نوعاً من الإدمان الشره على حبوب مضاد للهلوسة يأتي بنتائج عكسية مدمرة على سائر الأعضاء الجسمانية، ويحتاج بالتالي إلى نصيحة صديق واستشارة طبيب.

كما هو آتٍ ذاك التبرير والدفاع الطائفي الساذج في أوحال بعض المنتديات الإلكترونية التي ترى بأن تجنيس الآلاف من المنتمين لأهل السنة والجماعة يأتي في صالح تمكين وزيادة أعداد أهل السنة والجماعة على حساب الشيعة، وهو في حد ذاته دفاع أخرق وتبرير ضيق الأفق يفقد أصحابه قدراتهم على حماية أنفسهم وحماية مصالحهم ومصالح فلذات أكبادهم مستقبلاً، فمن الملاحظ حالياً أن المتضرر هم أهل السنة والجماعة، الذين أنتمي إليهم أباً عن جد، بما في ذلك قراهم ومناطقهم بالبلاد التي يتمركزون فيها بمستوى عالٍ تزداد كثافته بشكل سرطاني مخيف بجموع بشرية من المتجنسين تزداد حجمها بلا حدود، وهم الذين يعايشهم يومياً أبناء هذه الأوساط والمناطق، ويعرفونهم جيداً فيما يشكلونه من تلويث اجتماعي وحضاري وسلوكي يأخذ جميع أبعاده المدمرة، وفيما يشكلونه من مزاحمة لأبناء أهل السنة والجماعة في وظائفهم المدنية والعسكرية بوزارتي الداخلية والدفاع التي يتركزون فيها بشكل بارز وكبير.

بل إن هؤلاء من إخوتنا البشر ممن حصلوا على الجنسية أثناء لوثة التجنيس أصبحوا ويصبحون عبئاً ثقيلاً وحيزا مفتوحا لمصادرة الإرادة السياسية لأهل تلك المناطق، حينما يتم استغلال ما يشكلوه من ثقل سكاني اصطناعي هائل في لعبة سياسية تديرها الدولة صاحبة العقود والصفقات ضد المرشحين غير المرغوب في وصولهم برلمانياً أثناء الانتخابات، فيعود الضرر بشكل كبير على المواطنين من المنتمين إلى أهل السنة والجماعة في المطالبات المعيشية والوظيفية، وفي حقول التمثيل السياسي والمدني، والأسوأ من ذلك على سلامة العمران المجتمعي لتلك المناطق التي بدأت تضمحل عاداتها وتقاليدها الوطنية الجميلة التي اصطبغت جميعها بأصباغ ثقافات التسول والتكرم المراد تعميمها شعبياً، وأنا على ثقة بأنه ومع تقادم الزمن بأن يكون أهل تلك المناطق الأكثر تضرراً من سياسات التجنيس الخاطئة التي يقع عليها اللوم لا على إخوتنا المجنسين، وهم على استعداد تام لإخراج مئة عريضة شعبية يومياً ضد آفة التجنيس، لا عملية التجنيس القانونية السليمة والمعتادة محلياً وإقليمياً وعالمياً، إذا ما انفتحت الآفاق وازدهر الوعي بمشارط الألم المجتمعي والسياسي والاقتصادي مع ضياع وتبدد آثار «المكرمات» السامية على واقع المواطن لصالح الطائفة والفئة الجديدة الداخلة إلى مجتمعنا بأحلام كثيفة.

ما أود أن أشير إليه قبل أن أختم المقال هو أننا لم ولن نكون أبداً ضد إخوتنا المتجنسين الذين يشتركون معنا في رباط الإنسانية والعروبة والإسلام والذين أصبحوا الآن مواطنين باسم القانون، بل إننا نقف بحزم ضد سياسات التجنيس الخاطئة والمجرمة بحق الشعب أياً تكن النوايا، فإنه وبالإضافة إلى ما تخلفه «لوثة التجنيس» من تفريط في إمكانات ومقدرات الدولة، وما تسببه من تلويث اجتماعي ومن حزازات واحتقانات طائفية، فإن خطر «التطفل» الاجتماعي يظل الأدهى والأمر من بين سائر تلك الأخطار المتحقق منها والمحتمل، وأعني به أن يصبح المتجنسون أنفسهم جماعة وظيفية كما ذكر ذلك الزميل نادر كاظم، بل إن هذه الجماعات تتطفل اجتماعياً لا بتخلفها الاجتماعي والحضاري مقارنة بالمجتمع البحريني الخليجي، وإنما حتى حينما يجد أعضاء هذه الجماعات أنفسهم مضطرين لأن يروجوا لأنفسهم كسند إنقاذي وتطميني مغالب لطائفة ضد الطائفة الأخرى، باعتبار أن وجودهم يمنح الطائفة الفلانية دعماً وقوة ومناعة ضد «اختراق» و«ابتلاع» الطائفة الأخرى، فيكثر حينها اللعب بأعواد الثقاب الطائفية كسبيل لتعزيز وشرعنة الوجود والحضور الاجتماعي لهذه الجماعات التي أصبحت بحكم اللعبة السياسية والصدفة التاريخية جماعات وظيفية تستهلك استراتيجياً، ولو على حساب الوحدة الوطنية للشعب، وهو ما يجب أن تلتفت إليه الدولة بجدية وتتعامل مع آثاره السلبية إن كانت حريصة على مواجهة الخطر الطائفي الأول الذي أعلنه وزير الداخلية سابقاً.

تعلموا مبادئ وأسس التجنيس من الجارة والشقيقة الكبرى السعودية على الأقل وغيرها من دول الخليج

11 May 2007

لا و الله عيب

الشيخ أحمد بن عطية الله زعلان و مبرطم و يقول انه مستاء لان الاستجواب خرج عن المتوقع، يعني و العياذ بالله صار مو على كيفه

و قال انه كان يتمنى من الوفاق بدل هالحجي الفاضي عن الفساد و التجاوزات انهم يركزون على "بلورة معاني الخصومة الشريفة"

يعني مثل مباريات الكرة اعتقد

و الصراحة معاه حق... يعني ليش ما تبلورون يالوفاق؟ بلورو!! ما نتو خسرانين شي

انا بعد ببلور

09 May 2007

United behind.... Ateyatallah?

Once again, and as if they didn't have enough chances to demonstrate their stupidity and uselessness, our parliamentarians just refuse to do one decent thing during their term. After all to be honest, most of us don't REALLY have representatives in parliament. The government has representatives in parliament and it's quite happy with them. We, meanwhile, have to endure their antics and bang our heads against the wall, and hope we don't get ulcers.

Al-Wefaq had submitted a request to question Mr. Shaikh Highness Ateyallah Al-Khalifa over corruption and abuse of powers charges. This is the same guy allegedly responsible for a conspiracy to foster sectarian divide in Bahrain. No one, not even me with my worst case scenarios, expected that the 22 remaining members of parliament (not inc. Aziz Abul) would unanimously deny the motion. Basically, if they were sure he was so innocent and lovely, why not investigate the matter to prove his innocence? Granted, Al-Wefaq was not going to question him about the Bandar report itself but about "corruption" associated with the report. Still, why are they so against even looking into this?! (I smell fear mixed with bribe mixed with phone call from a big guy).

Technically, they voted to delay deliberations. Realistically, though, with only a couple of weeks left for this parliamentary session, the psoposal is effectively killed. They cited "interference with judicial processes" as a reason. I wonder where they got that one! In fact, Ateyatallah has already been acquitted by our very independent judiciary and now the proceedings are all focused on charges against Al-Bandar himself (who may I add, was kicked out of Bahrain. I'm not exactly sure how retarded you have to be to kick someone out of the country THEN hand him a jail sentence).

So here we have it. 22 of our parliament members are all united behind Ateyatallah, "the" shining symbol of sectarian divide and corruption. Well done, Sa3eedis and sub-Sa3eedis.

Meanwhile, Wefaq parliamentarians + my man Aziz Abdul withdrew from the session in protest, and are threatening potentially to withdraw from Parliament altogether! Afterwards, they prayed behind Al-Sa3eedi to show their solidarity against sectarianism. I really will not comments on this stunt. It would just be too mean.

04 May 2007

حمالين المباخر

The Arabic term translates roughly into: holder of the mubkhar (incense burner). Traditionally, this would be the semi-servant person who hangs around the heads of the tribe, burning Oud and incense for them and telling them how great and amazing they are, they who do no wrong!

Nowdays, with the advances of nano-technology and all, the incense burner took a new form: words! Yes! Somehow, centuries later, we ended up with this semi-servant mentality in our press, parliament, and even business community.. I mean, just read this. And this. And this! (there is more of course, but reading too much more may cause serious heart problems).

It's more than sad and annoying! It seems that a good portion of our jouranlists and public figures are treating the political system in Bahrain as if it was a big continuous PR party! I'm not against complements, but this whole deal of telling us how wise and awsome and genius "this person" or "that person" is or trying to convince us that Bahrain "is a haven of democracy and prosperity" is plain retardation!

"This person" isn't wise and genius and Bahrain is not a haven.! If anything, we are sinking deeper and deeper into a pile of crap! Telling us this crap is "pretty" will not solve our problems!! I am equally disappointed as well in our major leadership figures. It seems that truth-telling does not fare very well with them. The journalists who are most hypocrites get the awards, those who are most "anti-people" get the lovey-dovey treatment, whereas those who write and write and write demanding reforms are brushed off, if not jailed occasionally. As for MPs, it seems holders of the incense burner have decided that "Ahmed bin Ateyatallah" is all of a sudden an honest, non-sectarian, flawless, innocent, puppy-eyed Minister who never orchestrated any conspiracy.

اللهم احفظ وطني من الانتهازيين و المتسلقين و حمالي المباخر و البشوت

28 April 2007

Talibanistan

Or should it be Bahrainestan? AlKhalifastan?

It's a miracle! Al-Menbar and Al-Asala are making change happen! Beginning with banning entertainment and alcohol in small hotels, and ending so far with a pledge to strengthen censorship in the media, the Islamists managed to make change happen without even having to propose it in parliament. It's as if they "think it", and it happens! A part of it can be explained by their strong lobbying efforts, and their PR advantage. As religious figures, they of course will be using their influence as religious preachers to mobilize popular support for their "cleansing Bahrain" actions.

Up to this point, it seems normal. But this is Bahrain. You don't just "lobby" and get your way. It seems the government is playing a dangerous game (the same game Egypt then Kuwait played and it bit them in the a**); they are strengthening Islamist (Sunnis) to counter other elements of the opposition. The Minister of Information, especially this one, will not be acting on his own initiative. There seems to be a government strategy to appease Islamists in parliament through social restrictions to ensure their neutrality in this divided parliament.. The liberals, on the other hand, have been strategically excluded, whereas Al-Wefaq is clearly (a) neutralized and (b) hesitant to speak against this campaign since they are an Islamic movement themselves.

So where will the line be drawn? Well, the problem is we don't know! If history is to teach us anything, this government will not stop at anything to strenghten its grip on power, regardless of the long term impact. For all we know, there may come a day when WE go to Saudi Arabia for the weekend..

22 April 2007

1st Banana Prize

There was a point in time when international awards meant something, and receiving international recognition was the greatest honor.. of course that was before shenanigans started to happen, with the Civil Service Burea getting ISO awards, Bahrain's Airport getting best duty free awards, and Gulf Air being-named-not-a-loser award.

But of course the most recent award is quite valuable. The UN finally discovered that we builds socially and environmentally sustainable towns with the goal of sheltering everyone (I guess literally everyone, including Pakistanis, Yemenis, Syrians, Jordanians, maybe Iraqis nowdays), hence the reward to the great architect of our civilization.

Now excuse me, I have to go clap my hands to keep Tinkerbelle alive.

16 April 2007

Getting Cozy with Israel

"Bahrain's ambassador hopes that Bahrain would soon be on better terms with Israel, with open borders and trade... "

Washington Post, the day after Passover.

13 April 2007

Really Fatema, no one cares!

I usually pride myself on being patient and tolerant. I am. But one thing that I can't really tolerate very well is inflated egos, especially when they are combined with public dilusions! Read this (Arabic).

So her name is Fatema Ali and she was a candidate at the previous elections. But I'm not sure is she serious? She's all over the place claiming to be discriminated against for being a woman activist and claims to be ostrasized and declared a non-Muslim for not wearing a neqab! (huh). Dude, first of all to be an activist you need to have a cause; and you need to be active. She is an employee at the Supreme Council for women which is a government organization and up until last elections, no one had even heard of her! Even in her own village she had no activity going on other than being Dheya El-Mousawi's wife (he by the way suffers from the same symptoms of self-grandeur dillusions). And for God's sake if she was declared a non-Muslim, we would have heard!! I was also disturbed by her claim that she lost elections for being a woman! I mean, come on! You can't just appear out of nowhere and expect to be elected.. People didn't elect you because they had no idea who you are!

Anyway, my point is this: Women have a long way to go in this society but the women's movement loses its creadibility when it's represented by self-appointed morons. And to Ms. Fatema: please, how about you take a vacation and try to follow Munira Fakhro around for a couple of weeks to see what real political activism means, and maybe try to learn a bit about how to champion a cause too. Until then, I don't think we need the drama..

09 April 2007

Pharonic Teasures in Bahrain

I changed the original title! It was originally announced that King Tut was coming to Bahrain *sigh* but something just didn't work out (we don't know what). On the positive side, other Pharonic treasures and some Tut's possessions will be on exhibit @ the Bahrain Museum starting April 11th.

The exhibition is the largest ancient Egyptian display to be held in an Arab or North African country outside of Egypt. I sure think it's worth seeing! Thank you Sh. Mai for your creativity and hard work!

P.S. Notwithstanding my absolute fascination w/Egyptian history & the exhibition, I have to mention that Bahrain is paying all costs, and all the proceeds are going to the Egyptian Antiquities Council.

05 April 2007

Islamist hypocrite

I guess I shouldn't use names since I might get sued, or go to a place where you guys might have to visit me on a schedule and bring me oranges. But I can certainly put a picture (look).

So this person is a member of parliament. Up until elections, he was never known for being religious. In fact, he owned a 3-star hotel with a disco, bar, and "entertainment-women" and things were all dandy. Just before elections, news got out that he sold the hotel. Fine. I guess you can "find" God and that can always coincide with election time.

Then he gets elected (well, you know, after buying most people in his district air conditioners, fridges, and washing machines etc). He also becomes an Islamist activist and campaigns against hotels & bars because they are un-Islamic. When the Minister of Information issued his order to close-down all entertainment facilities in hotels 4-star and below starting March 1st and ending their alcohol and disco licenses starting May 1st, this MP was of course very happy and was one of FIVE MPs who declared support of us becoming an Islamic country.. al-7imdella.

Except.. oh wait! He is being sued now.. Because guess what, he never sold that 3-star hotel! In fact, he has been renting it through an Indian agent to a Saudi investor who has been managing it (and the disco, and the bar, and the women).. Oh and the rental contract is for the duration of his parliament membership (heeh) for a total of BD500,000. Now of course the Saudi investor is suing him because the new changes in the law (which our Mr. MP is all for) will mean that he will lose his investment.

Final piece of amusement: the MP denied any relations to the hotel in the past, but since money talks, he is now filing a counter-suit to get the rest of the BD500,000 that the Saudi didn't pay (BD 365,500).

I love this.

Who was Sh. Salman speaking to?

One of the most enjoyable pastimes in any country is to critique your government and what it's doing every day. When you have a retarded government like some countries, the amuzement is even more enjoyable. But usually people who critique the government are not Crown Princes.

Just recently, this interview with the Crown Prince was published. Now, Shaikh Salman is known for being very honest and open, but I think this is the first time he explicitly critiques government ministers (very rightly of course).
He said this:

1. The position of the Ministers' and their unwillingness to defend Spring of Culture/freedom of expression is irresponsible and unfortunate (Wo..)

2. I'm disappointed in them (double wo..)

3. I am surprised ministers don't go down to meet the people, or the press, and listen to their daily grievances

4. EDB is productive and strong and whoever didn't know will know now

5. History will not be kind to those who stood in our way in implementing our reforms (e7m...)

OK I think you get the point. This is pretty strong! It's intended to be strong, especially in a country where critiquing anyone can get you an ungodly 6-12 months in prison. After a few dead months, I was ready to believe that all reformists here got a stroke and died. Maybe I was wrong! It looks like significant struggles have been going on behind the scenes, and it seems Shaikh Salman is back and using public relations to exert pressure. He also seemed very defiant in the message he was sending.. My only regret is that people in Bahrain are so disillusioned by 30+ years of empty government rhetoric and emptier promises that they are not even able to listen, let alone grasp the strength of his words.. unfortunately.

Tagging is evil...!

Yes. In fact, I think it's a conspiracy. Well, I still love G anyway.. so **Umph** against my will, the rules are:

“Each player of this game starts off with ten weird things or habits or little known facts about yourself. People who get tagged must write in a blog of their own ten weird things or habits or little known facts as well as state this rule clearly. At the end you must choose six people to be tagged and list their names. No tag backs!”

1. I love rock climbing. I can't really climb and I always get halfway up then I'm pulled back full of cuts, bumps, and bruises (physically & emotionally) but weeks later, I'm on another mountain trying. I may have been a monkey in a past life.
2. I may have been Egyptian too.. I'm hopelessly in love with Egypt.
3. Speaking of that, I think I may believe in reincarnation. Not so sure..
4. I don't drink coffee. Ever.
5. I love public speaking. When I was a kid, I used to gather all my cousins, sit them down, and give them speeches (poor things they always listened :p)
6. I love accents! I spend time learning them. I finally learned to speak in Moroccan.
7. I don't like kids. I just don't have the patience!
8. "Mahma yegoloon" is my favorite song and the only one by M7amad 3abdo that I listen to.
9. I smile when I'm either happy, nervous, scared, upset, or sad... so you need to take your guess..
10. I love following politics (duh.. )

Happy birthday ***G***