TOP THINGS WE'LL MISS MOST FROM BAHRAIN (continued)
The friendly students at the University of Bahrain
Friendly colleagues in the Department of Economics and Finance and College of Business
Being able to swim year-round
Top things we'll miss from Bahrain
All the pictures of the royal family leadership around the island, which remind you that personal rule is alive and well. You almost start to feel that you know the leaders, because you see their pictures in every major public place. We'll miss them.
From left: Crown Prince Shaikh Hamad; Prime Minister, Shaikh Khalifa; King Hamad; and his father, the late Amir, Shaikh Isa (Khalifa's brother)
My prayer is for this country, Amen. [In front of the BDF military hospital.]
"Greeting back the people of Bahrain" -- the first picture we saw on arrival at the airport. This one is near the royal area of Riffa'
Near the Ministry of Labor in Isa Town
Near the US navy docks in Mina Salman
On the Zallaq highway, outside the King's Sakhir palace. The 98.4% refers to a 2001 referendum on a National Action Charter decreed by the then-Amir. It seems the king has interpreted the vote as bestowing legitimacy on him.
Outside the BDF base in Hamla. Seemingly left over from before 1999, when Shaikh Hamad was head of the BDF. Maybe they need to replace this with a picture of his son, Shaikh Salman, who is now officially the head of the BDF, in addition to being Crown Prince and the head of the Economic Development Board.
Queen Rania of Jordan graces the front pages
Shaikha Sabeeka, Bahrain's first lady, just finished hosting a summit of Arab first ladies here in Bahrain, and the local media seized several opportunities to run pictures of her with Jordan's beautiful Queen Rania. Interestingly, not long before traveling to Bahrain, Rania was on the Today Show, talking about the birth of her 4th child, Hashim, with Katie Couric. Yesterday's print edition of the Bahrain Tribune ran an unusual front-page shot of her carrying him at the airport:
And yesterday's GDN ran this shot on their website:
Gulf Daily News
Glamor by association? A new iconography of Arab femininity? Whatever, it was a nice contrast from the usual drab media coverage of male dignitaries shaking hands.
[P.S. On Friday night, some friends showed me a picture of the Emir of Qatar and his wife visiting Japan from that day's Arabic paper Al Ayam, which they said was the first officially approved image of a Gulf Arab leader's wife without hijab. "The times they are a'changin...."]
Snippets from a majlis
Not long ago I had coffee with a student who took my class my last semester, and he said that he loved Oprah's TV show. It struck me then as unusual but maybe indicative of wider attitudes. Well, on Wednesday night I was visiting at local majlis (weekly social get-together) where several men were praising the show as a great example of discussing social problems openly. Seriously.
Transparency is a popular word here among those who want to reform the government. And Oprah seems to be a good example of the kind of openness that seems lacking in Bahrain's polite society. (She's on MBC 4 almost every day. Hate to say it, but I paused for a minute to watch a bit of her show the other day. Field research.)
I also have a funny story from the other night. After I was done visiting, I headed out and jumped in the car, started it up, and put it gear. As soon as I hit the gas, I heard an awful sound coming from the back of the car. So I got out and investigated. Bizarre! The driver's side rear wheel was missing... gone completely. The car was resting on the bare wheel and axle.
Somebody stole my tire. And the fact that I didn't notice before putting the car in gear obviously tells you something about my powers of observation.
After the police arrived and we filed a report at the police station, they dusted for fingerprints and took pictures of the "crime scene." Thankfully, the thieves left the lugnuts nearby, so we were able to put on the (full-size) spare. The police were very helpful and even put on the spare for me. They said that they've had reports of least 17 previous wheel snatchings. Apparently it's an easy way for people to get some cash.
If anybody in Bahrain sees an extra wheel with a Nissan wheel cover turning up at a garage or one of the local souks, let me know. Even with a police report, I'm afraid our rental car company is going to charge us. Sigh...
Hope for Bahrain's future?
The Sunni-Shiite divide in Bahrain has caused a lot of worry about Bahrain's future. Many observers, including the International Crisis Group, see sectarianism potentially contributing to a political explosion. Religious differences obviously divide the two sects of Islam, but these are overlaid with cultural, social, political, and economic differences. A lot of us are pessimistic about the future of Bahrain.
The idea of a "Bahraini" national identity is pretty weak. Bahrainis tend to divide people into categories: Holy (Hawala, sunni Arabs who came from Iran), bedouin (Arabian tribes), and expat Muslims (Pakistani, Sudanese, Syrian, Yemeni, etc.) are all on the Sunni side. The Ajami (Persian) and Baharani (native villagers) and those with ties to southern Iraq are on the Shia side. Bahrainis tell me that they can usually tell someone's background just by their name and their accent. This kind of sectarianism seems quite pervasive.
However, I just had a conversation with a couple of students at the university. One young lady said her father is Sunni and her mother is Shi'i. Of course, her parents' marriage was not without problems; her grandmother was not too happy at the time. The other young lady said that her family is tribal, so if she married a Persian Shi'i guy, she could be killed.
Yet they also said that young people have friends across sectarian lines. They themselves are friends. They said that in their generation these things are not a big deal anymore. I hope they're right.