Friday, February 18, 2011


Temperatures are rising in Bahrain. Not just outside, but inside people's hearts and minds too.

On Valentines Day, love was far from people's minds as a group of anti-government protesters set up camp at Bahrain's most prominent landmark and biggest intersection, Pearl roundabout. A fortnight before they took place, there were rumours that they would, but nobody took them seriously, "As if anything would happen in Bahrain" some said, and "Bahrain doesn't have the numbers for Tahrir square."

But something did happen, pitting Bahraini against Bahraini protests have impassioned the Nation, attracted international news coveragae and have caused us expatriates to feel somewhat unsettled about the long term stability of this country.

To explain the nature of the protests in basic terms: Bahrain has a population of 1 million, just over half are Bahraini citizens, the remainder are expats, like us, living and working Bahrain. Out of those Bahraini citizens 70% are Shiite Muslims but the ruling Party are Sunni Muslims and Bahrain being a Kingdom, the Monarchy (Khalifas) are Sunni too. At the heart of the uprising is the Shiite/Sunni divide. The Shiite citizens feel that they are marginilized and that they do not enjoy as many rights as the Sunni citizens (ie, they are under-represented in Parliament). By and large, it would be true to say that they do not enjoy a strong socio economic position. The grievances in Bahrain are very different to those that anti-government demonstraters in Egypt were protesting about. Yes, perhaps protesters here were inspired by their fellow Arabs, but it would be wrong to compare them. It would also be wrong to compare Bahrain to any of its other neighbours, this Island is not as rich as others in the Gulf. Long ago it was a wealthy outpost for pearling and fishing, its economy has now shifted to oil (which it doesn't have much of) banking and construction.

The two Islamic sects have had little difficulty co-existing and I would say that the community here is generally stable and peaceful. Of course, there have been incidents in the past, particularly in the 90s. More recently, small-scale anti-government protests have gone under the radar, barely rating a mention in the daily newspapers. To the US as well, Bahrain is a strategic military base and has been a model of stability and reform (because of the referendum that was held in 2002 regarding changes to the Constitution). It has been put forward as an example for other Arab nations.

So this civil discontent comes as a surprise - to everyone. The protesters are disillusioned enough with the regime to demand change, more rights, effective representation and some have risked (and lost) their lives in the process.

Bahrain has been in a state of unrest for four days now. At first we thought it would last a day or two, but now we are not sure how or when things will get better. Over the last couple of days we stepped out to our local shops and ran a few errands, we felt safe but there was a sense of urgency in the air as everyone seemed to be stocking up on essentials, supermarket shelves were near empty. H is on mid-term break at the moment, so she has been home and has no clue about what's going on. We are hearing helicopters flying above and this evening my heart jumped when I heard gunshots. I've never heard a gunshot in my life but I knew one when I heard one. One shot was followed by three or four more. Scary.

Funerals are taking place, the wounded are being taken to a public hospital that is pretty much up the road from us. Many are camped outside the hospital to make sure that the wounded and casualties are treated. Doctors are not able to keep up with treating the wounded, Al Jazeera News reports as I type this. Meanwhile we're burrowed up at home, baby with an ear infection suddenly doesn't sound so bad.

Hopefully I've made sense, typed this quickly. Signing off from Bahrain with a heavy heart tonight. Hoping that things will improve, sooner rather than later.

1 comment:

  1. "hopefully I've made sense"- youve done more than that, you've put it very eloquently! Thinking of you, V

    (Sorry for the belayed response- my attention has been places other than the Blogosphere!!)