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Chan'ad Bahraini

(Scomberomorous maculatus Bahrainius)

Bring back our old coins

Friday, May 28, 2004
So global soul has a post today talking about how all Chinese banknotes have the Arabic script on them, and it got me thinking of our own Bahraini money. Ironically, if you take a close look at any of our coins you will notice that, shamefully, none of them use the Arabic numberals (by which I mean the numbers from the Arabic script rather than from the latin script). In general, I must say that today's Bahraini coins are really really ugly and very boring. The new 500 fils coin has to be the ugliest of them all:

It seems as though someone designed them in a real hurry in an an hour. I guess I feel this way because I'm a traditionalist sometimes and I really miss the old coins, which were much more interesting, and also utilized the Arabic numberals. But, I'll be honest with you and tell you that when the new bi-metallic 100 fils coin came out I was just as fascinated with it as anyone. I remember how they initially had a problem with the centre coming out of the outer ring quite easily. And it soon became a fashion in our school for girls to take out the centre and wear the ring on a chain around your neck. Haha, hilarious... those were the days. If you were around back then, I'm sure you'll remember how that fashion lasted for a whole five seconds or so. Below are the old and new 100 fils coins for you to compare. (Thanks to Don for the images).

Old (1965-1992):

New/ugly (1992-now):

Bring back the old coins!

What does it mean to be Bahraini?

A few weeks ago, while introducing me to the Bahraini blogosphere, Mahmood wrote:
Although with a blog name like that, and with a mastery of writing Arabic in English with the custom use of numbers (which I still cannot fathom) to me this person is most definitely Bahraini, might not carry the passport, but certainly carries the spirit!
First of all, let me make it clear that even though I occasionally use numbers to transliterate Arabic words in an attempt to make myself look cool, I don't want to give anyone the impression that I might be fluent in Arabic. I know enough Arabic to be able to watch al-Jazeera and sing along with 3mro Diab, but I still have a hard time giving my order for bread in Arabic to my local khabbaz.

Anyways, with all the talk about illegal naturalizations and immigration and stuff these days, I thought I would discuss what it means to be Bahraini for me, as an expatriate "Asian" on the island. As I mentioned in my introduction a few weeks back, I have lived my whole life in Bahrain, save the years that I spent in the US getting my higher education. My father came to this island about 35 years ago with an opportunity to leave his home and enjoy the relatively higher salaries afforded to workers in Bahrain. Back then, I am told, there was still a large requirement for cheap, foreign labour to contribute to the local economy. My father soon afterwards got married to my mother (who was not Bahraini either) and brought her to this island also. I was born in Bahrain a few years later.

Since then I've known Bahrain as my only home. Bahrain is the centre of all of my best memories. When I go abroad and people ask me where I'm from, I'll tell them that I'm from Bahrain, but I hold the passport of another country. But there certainly must be a difference between myself, and all of the other "real" Bahrainis out there. Well, yes. Every summer my parents dragged me back to the "motherland", which I hated in my youth compared with Bahrain. Such a relief it was at the end of the summer to be able to come back to a place where we could leave our doors unlocked at night, where asking for strangers for help was normal, where even hitch-hiking was not out of the ordinary. Other things which make us expats different from the real Bahrainis is that I didn't attend a school that indoctrinated me with Bahraini or Arab values. We were never taught any Arabic, or Arabic history, except for the occasional Orientalist teacher who felt the need educate as about the primitive local culture. I also did not live with many Bahraini neighbours. As is the case with most expats here, I spent most of my life living in apartments or residential compounds populated by other foreigners.

Yet despite my separation from real Bahraini life, there was still something I loved about the island. It is the relaxed and easy-going way of life, the tiny close community. Ask anyone that spent any part of their childhood in Bahrain and they will all reminisce their days here with a particular melancholy.

As I grew older, my love for the island grew to more than just the relatively comfortable lifestyle, and I gained a particular interest, respect and love for Bahrain's people and culture. The problem I faced was that far too often I was made to feel that Bahrainis still viewed me as an outsider. As though I did not deserve the respect that a real Bahraini might be worthy because of my brown skin colour. Far too many times have I been called a hindi as an insult.

So, what does it mean for me to be Bahraini. Well, I don't really believe in the concept of nationalism, or the blind love for a piece of land demarcated discretely by a line. I have an association of culture with my "motherland" also, but I would never wear its flag. So it's not really the Bahraini passport that I'm after. Yes, it would be nice to have a piece of paper which would allow me to enter the country without being asked "what do you want here?" However, that's not of real significance. I'd like to be recognized as a valuable part of the Bahraini social fabric. I'd like to be treated with respect. After all, along with enjoying Bahrain's benefits, we expats have contributed alot to this country. Most of the roads and building on the island have been built by "Asians" toiling in the sun, working for ridiculous wages, in shameful living conditions.

Despite my trust in Bahrain's people, it's hard to not be somewhat wary going out and about when EVERYDAY there is a report in the newspaper of an "Asian" getting mugged and beaten up by a "gang of Bahraini youths" somewhere. Why is it that EVERYDAY we read about an Indonesian or Sri Lankan maid who runs away from work because she gets abused by her "owners", but is herself treated as a criminal for running away. I agree, that the people committing these crimes are in no way representative of Bahrainis as a whole, and that Asians are targetted because they are the easiest targets. But what disturbs me is that no one else seems to care about it when incidents like these take place everyday. The event gets lip service in the newspaper the next day, but its not often that one hears of justice being done afterwards (I know of far too many cases personally). Maybe it's asking for too much but I wish someone from the Bahraini communities would recognize that this crime and violence against Asians is getting out of hand or for one of the Bahraini MPs to stand up demand some basic human rights for foreign labourers,.. but you never hear anything of the sort. All of the political societies are too concerned with getting rid of us so that they can get jobs for "real" Bahrainis.

My point is that we are all humans. We need to start caring about everyone's problems. We live here together, and for many of us we've lived together for a very long time. If it's possible, I would like to live here and contribute towards the prosperity of this island's people for the rest of my life. But in order for me to do this I need for other Bahrainis recognize and encourage me along the way rather than hinder the process.

They've done it again

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Yes, as expected, the Star Academy concert scheduled for tomorrow has been cancelled. I am the last person who would attend the concert, but I would be the first person to defend the right for others to stage and attend such an event. It is quite disgraceful that we have been bullied around like this. There was no official reason given for the cancellation of the show, however the comment in the GDN by Information Minister Nabeel Al Hamer says it all:
Mr Murad said Mr Al Hamer later withdrew permission, saying he would be hauled before parliament if he allowed the show to go ahead.
(Mr. Murad is the organizer of the show). It is obvious from this that the show was not cancelled because of any genuine concerns over its content, but because of Mr Al Hamer's fears that the nutty MPs will again cause Nancy Ajram-style havoc in the Parliament and in the streets. It is sad that we let these guys dictate our lifestyles. Let people choose what they want to attend or not. If people are so much against the concert, then the ticket sales will ensure that it doesn't take place again.... ahh, the frustration.

On a side note, the same Star Academy concert was held in Kuwait on 6th May, soon after which authorities issued a fatwa banning concerts with female singers. Despite this pressure, some members of the opposition have valiantly taken a stand against these restrictions on freedom. Let's hope that some of us in Bahrain will take some inspiration from our Kuwaiti brothers. The full article from AFP is below.
Kuwait's liberal camp protests new restrictions on concerts
Tue May 18, 4:00 PM ET

KUWAIT CITY (AFP) - Kuwaiti liberals criticized the government for bowing to the emirate's Islamists by tightening controls on concerts, saying it amounted to a "dangerous" campaign against freedom.

Some 500 Kuwaitis gathered at a rally where speakers warned that a government-Islamic alliance would lead the oil-rich emirate to disaster.

"The government alliance with Islamist groups will lead to disasterous consequences. The religious political game is a dangerous one," warned Ahmed al-Rubei, a former leading liberal MP and education minister.

A statement issued by seven liberal non-governmental organisations described the new restrictions as an attack on the emirate's liberal constitution, and called on cabinet ministers to resign in protest.

The rally was organized a day after the Kuwaiti government issued new rules that banned all forms of dance at concerts and required families and unaccompanied men to sit separately.

The regulations were issued after three Islamist MPs threatened to question Information Minister Mohammed Abulhassan for allowing a show to go ahead by stars of Lebanese reality television programme "Star Academy".

"This is a political agenda by Islamists ... Their model is Afghanistan (news - web sites) and Fallujah ... We will defend our freedom by all means," vowed Khaled al-Mutairi, leader of the National Democratic Alliance.

"They want to take us back to the dark ages, with the direct and indirect encouragement of government sides," said Fuad al-Shatti, head of the Kuwaiti Artists Association.

Kuwait remains a religiously conservative country where alcohol and discos are banned, but boasts the liveliest political scene in the Gulf Arab states

Citizenship probe

Monday, May 24, 2004
A few days ago, someone commented that large numbers of foreigners have been naturalized without meeting the necessary requirements. The GDN has a report on this issue today. I'm not sure what sort of steps will be taken, but certainly bringing out into the open is better than nothing. Here is the report:
Citizenship probe to reveal findings
MPs will reportedly be told tomorrow about violations in the way some people have achieved Bahraini citizenship. A special probe committee was set up by parliament in May last year to look into allegations of random naturalisation. It is believed that the committee, which ended its inquiry last month, has revealed violations.

Committee vice-chairman Jassim Abdula'al told the GDN yesterday that there was a lot of pressure from the people on MPs to reveal the whole truth to the public, without hiding anything.

"This issue is more sensitive than the mismanagement at the pension funds and certainly the session will be followed by many, especially the opposition, which marks this file as one of its top priorities," said Mr Abdula'al, who is parliament financial and economical affairs committee chairman.

"Violations range from people not completing the required years to deserve a Bahraini passport to those getting passports by discretion."

How will they get out of this one?

Associated Press has released a home video showing the supposed wedding party just before it was bombed by US airplanes. This home video has been combined with a video of the after-math of the bombing. An excerpt from the BBC report on the video:
The film shows gleaming pick-up trucks - some decorated with ribbons - speeding through the desert apparently en route to the wedding. The celebrations themselves feature the traditional firing of salutes from guns and singing as well as men dancing to the music of a popular wedding singer. The singer, Hussein Ali, was also killed, his grieving family told the BBC shortly after the attack. Clearly visible on the wedding footage is a man playing electric organ who later appears to be among the corpses filmed by APTN. AP says a reporter and a photographer who interviewed more than a dozen survivors a day after the bombing were able to identify many of them on the wedding party video. It also says its footage of the aftermath shows remnants of musical instruments, pots and pans, and festive brightly coloured bedding.
I don't know how the US military will get out of this one. After all of the bad press from Abu Ghraib, I can understand why they would not want to own up to bombing a wedding party by mistake. But their repeated denials after the release of this video will only add fuel to the fire. It is quite sickening the way Dan Senor, the spokesperson at the Baghdad press conferences, lies through his teeth over and over, losing more trust each day. In an article in one of the ISIM Newsletters, Professor Nazif Shahrani writes that the leaders in post-Taliban Afghanistan (i.e. the Americans) need to:
abandon the assumption that security may be obtained only by means of a large national army and police force. Instead, they ought to start thinking that security is fundamentally a problem of deteriorating trust as a valued social capital in Afghan society.
I think this way of thinking really needs to be applied in Iraq also if the Americans (or anyone) want to control the security situation there.

On a different subject, the Washington Post has come out with another report:
A military lawyer for a soldier charged in the Abu Ghraib abuse case stated that a captain at the prison said the highest-ranking U.S. military officer in Iraq was present during some "interrogations and/or allegations of the prisoner abuse," according to a recording of a military hearing obtained by The Washington Post.
I don't think much else really needs to be said about Iraq.

Trouble on the island

Saturday, May 22, 2004

There's been some action on the island apparently. I did not go towards the Manama area all day, so I wasn't aware that anything happened until I checked the news right now. The biggest thing is that Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al-Khalifa has been sacked from his position as interior minister by the King because of what happened. This really is interesting taking into account the events of this past week. It seems to go along with the stories that I often hear about the ruling family being split between the progressive camp (led by the Crown Prince) and the Old Guard (headed by the King's uncle, the Prime Minister). My immediate reaction is to suspect that even the detainees from the petition incident were arrested because of pressures from the Old Guard, and released on insistence by the progressives... but this is pure speculation.

More importantly, my wishes for swift recovery go to all those injured today. We don't know the truth about who started the violence, but everyone needs to show restraint in such conditions. It is however the responsibility of the security personnel to set an example by showing restraint, which they did not do today. Events like today's make it difficult for the government to criticize the way Israel has been dealing with protests in Rafah. At least, the King has admitted failure, and tried to correct the situation by getting changing the interior minister. I don't think the sotry is over yet -- I do hope the situation does not devolve though.

Anyways, here is the Reuters report.
Bahrain Minister Fired After Clash with Protesters

MANAMA (Reuters) - Bahrain's king sacked his interior minister on Friday after police attacked a demonstration to protest the U.S.-led forces in Shi'ite Muslim holy cities in Iraq , official media reported.

King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa replaced Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al-Khalifa with another member of the royal family, Rashed bin Abdullah bin Ahmad al-Khalifa, the official news agency said.

"We share the anger of our people over the oppression and aggression taking place in Palestine and in the holy shrines (in Iraq). People had a right to peaceful protests. We are investigating," the agency quoted the king as saying.

Police clashed with thousands of angry demonstrators in the capital Manama on Friday. More than 20 people were hurt, including Javad Firouz, a Shi'ite opposition activist and member of Manama city council.

"He received a rubber bullet in the head and is now in hospital undergoing an operation," his brother Jalal Firouz told Reuters. "Many women and children fainted from inhaling gas. This is completely unjustified. It was a peaceful rally."

The police action came two days after the king held a rare meeting with dissident leaders and ordered the release of a group of political prisoners to end growing tension between the Shi'ite-led opposition and the Sunni Muslim minority ruling Bahrain.

Friday's violence broke out after police fired shots to disperse thousands of mainly Shi'ite Muslim demonstrators demanding the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the southern Iraqi cities of Najaf and Kerbala.

Officials have not confirmed whether the police used rubber bullets against the protesters.

"Death to America... death to Israel," chanted the protesters in the pro-Western Gulf Arab state, home to the U.S. Navy (news - web sites)'s Fifth Fleet.

Marchers carried portraits of Iraq's top Shi'ite religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, through a Manama suburb and some demonstrators wore white shrouds to indicate their willingness to die to defend the holy sites.

"America must leave our holy shrines... This is a red line they cannot cross. They are playing with fire," said a banner carried by the demonstrators.

U.S.-led forces have been battling followers of the radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in and around the two cities. Sistani has called on both sides to withdraw their forces.

In mainly Shi'ite Muslim Iran, demonstrators have been out in force three times in a week to protest the presence of Western forces in Iraq. Protesters hurled petrol bombs and stones at the British embassy in Tehran on Friday.
Update: As usual, Bahraini Blog has many more details.

How to install an A/C in Egypt

Thursday, May 20, 2004

I just got this photo in my mailbox with a bunch of other pictures. The subject of the e-mail was "Only in Arabia". I just had to share them with you. You have to admire their style.

To see the rest of the photos, go to my Yahoo album here. Enjoy.

What about the right to petition?

As I mentioned in the previous post I am elated to hear that all of the detainees have been freed, and that the King took some time to meet with the leaders of the various societies. However, neither of the English language daily newspapers (Gulf Daily News, Bahrain Tribune) had anything to say about the status of the petition. It isn't this specific petition that I am concerned about, but rather the right to submit a petition about any issue to the government. It is not necessary for the government to accept the demands of a petition, but it is unreasonable for them to not even entertain a piece of paper with signatures. It is even more unreasonable for those associated with a petition to be arrested (assuming they are behaving peacefully).

I don't know the legal system of Bahrain very well, but my hope is that some MPs will submit a proposal to parliament to have the laws against submitting a petition (dealing with any issue) ammended. I am also assuming that the discussions with the King that took place yesterday covered more than what was reported in the English language press.

One question to more informed readers. At the very bottom of the GDN report of yesterday's events, they quoted Bahrain Centre for Human Rights vice-president Abdul Hadi Al Khawajeh as saying:
We also hope that the Penal Code of 1976 will be changed soon, so that this doesn't happen to others.
What exactly does the Penal Code of 1976 have to say about this? Please fill us in if you know.

As usual, Bahraini Blog has some more information about the situation.

On a side note, the headline on page 2 of today's GDN is "Petition launched for the release of captives". However, this petition is referring to the Bahraini captives in Guantanamo Bay... I hope the authorities don't feel the need to arrest anyone over this :)

Pro-reform activists freed

Wednesday, May 19, 2004
This just in from Reuters. I'm glad that the activists were released, but we'll have to wait for tomorrow's newspapers to find out what was settled at the meeting.
Bahrain king orders 11 pro-reform activists freed
19 May 2004 18:23:45 GMT

MANAMA, May 19 (Reuters) - Bahrain released on Wednesday 11 opposition activists who were arrested earlier this month after petitioning the government for more democratic reforms, officials and activists said.

A day earlier, New-York based Human Rights Watch had urged the Gulf Arab state to free the activists, calling their detention a "blatant suppression of freedom of speech".

The official Bahrain News Agency said the release followed a meeting between King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa and nine political and social groups.

"The king has ordered the release of the 11 detainees and all of them returned to their homes," Abdul-Rahman al-Naimi, head of the opposition National Democratic Action Society, told Reuters.

Opposition groups had circulated a petition demanding constitutional amendments to give greater powers to the country's elected parliament, which is on an equal footing with a chamber appointed by the king.

"We discussed with the king ways of improving dialogue with the government. But we still have not decided to stop the petition," Naimi said.

Police originally arrested 19 activists but later released eight on bail.

The men, mostly under 25, were charged with calling for change to the political system, provoking hatred and trying to destabilise public security.

The government says any changes to the constitution is the right of the king, who is given broad powers by the law.

Bahrain, the Gulf's banking hub and home to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, has introduced some reforms, but the opposition, led by the country's majority Shi'ite Muslims, want more rights in the Sunni-ruled island state.

Many Bahrainis fear rising tension between the government and the opposition could cost them political freedoms they have been granted since the new king came to power in 1999.

"We want the freedoms"

This issue of the petition calling for the right to form political parties in Bahrain has been going on for several weeks now, but I still have not covered it on this blog. I still do not know enough about what both sides have to say to be able to comment on it with any credibility. However, the fact that eleven of the protesters are still languising in prison, for merely trying to submit a petition, is cause to be worried about. It is very unfortunate that the old tactics of intimidation are again being used by the government in this supposed new era of freedom. It really makes me think twice about my own safety with regards to the stuff I post on this blog.

It would be tolerable if the government were to decide against accepting the demands of the petition. Though, detaining activists for peacefully protesting sends the wrong signals, and can only be ultimately detrimental to both sides.

I believe that the leaders of the political societies were due to meet with the King to discuss the points of disagreement. I hope it went well.

Bahraini Blog has a recent post with some useful information and opinions with regards to this issue. Below are excerpts from the Human Rights Watch report released on May 17:
The government of Bahrain should immediately release 20 individuals arrested for collecting signatures on a political petition, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities should also end the criminal investigations against them.

The petition for constitutional amendments would give greater legislative authority to the kingdom’s elected assembly. Addressed to King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, the petition reportedly has tens of thousands of signatures.

"This blatant suppression of freedom of speech and association flies in the face of the government’s proclaimed commitment to democratic change," said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Division. "The right to petition peacefully is fundamental, and this petition addresses an issue that lies at the heart of democratic reforms."

On April 30, authorities arrested 17 Bahrainis at several public signature-collection stands. Deputy Public Prosecutor Ahmad Shinaishin stated then that they faced "charges of calling for change to the political system, provoking hatred and trying to destabilize public security." Three of the 17 were released on May 2 without charge.

On the morning of May 6, according to the independent Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), security forces raided the homes of five other petition activists, confiscated computers and documents and took the five into custody. Authorities also detained and charged the spokesman for a defense committee for the detainees. He and several others have been freed on bail, but 11 remain jailed, many of them now in their third week of detention.

On May 16, the BCHR received a letter from the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs threatening to withdraw the center’s license if it did not end unspecified "political activities." The center has been active in a campaign to secure the release of the arrested petitioners.
Could someone out there please tell us what expatriates in Bahrain can do to help the cause of freedom? My hopes and prayers for the safe release of the detained activists.

Art events this week

A couple interesting art exhibitions happening this week:
1) Traditional Turkish Ornamental Art Exhibition
Traditional art including marble, illumination and miniature works by Turkish artists Sebahat Kircak and Aysegul Yenen.
when?: 9.30am - 12.30pm*, and 6pm - 10pm; 19 - 22 May 2004
* Morning hours on Thursday and Friday are for ladies and children only
where?: Gulf International Convention and Exhibition Centre, Gulf Hotel, Manama

2) Oil paintings by Iraqi artist Sina Ata
when?: 10am - 1pm, 4pm - 8pm; May 23 - June 12, except Fridays
where?: Al Riwaq Art Gallery (Next to Zoe's), Osama bin Zaid Avenue, Adliya

Rap al-3rabi

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

I mentioned hip-hop in a post a couple days back. Well here is another very interesting phenomenon from our region that I've been following for a while now: Arab rap. That is, hip-hop music rapped in the Arabic language. Although there are a few different Arab rap movements out there (Algerian, Lebanese) the one I'd like to focus on is that coming from Arab-Israelis. A good source that I've come upon for this is ArabRap.net. The biggest names out there are MWR, DAM, Ta3m al 2alam, and a few others.

The sociological profile of Arab-Israelis matches almost exactly that in which hip-hop is likely to flourish, as laid out in the theory. Like African-Americans in the US, and North Africans in France, in Israel the minority Arab community is on the margins of the mainstream society. Arab-Israeli towns have much higher unemployment, lower education levels, less public funding, and less access to social welfare. Because of their ethnicity they are viewed by their compatriots as traitors, or second-rate citizens. At the same time however, the Arab Nation at large (wa6an al-3rabi) also views the Arab-Israelis as traitors for accepting the Israeli state(de facto) by not fleeing as did many other Palestinians of the time. Because of their Israeli passports they are not able to get visas to visit many Arab states -- this especially affect the Muslims among them who desire to go to Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj.

In short, they have existed as a half-caste community without being able to fully belong to either an Israeli or Arab identity. The result is Arab rap. Compared to the tame lyrics of Fairuz, or the teeny-bopper apolitical music of Amro Diab, these Arab rappers have hard-hitting things to say. Yet they are still poetic and avoid the trashy style of Sha'ban Abdelrahim ("bakrah Israel"). Their criticisms are directed both at the Israeli state, for denying them their basic rights, as well as towards the Arab leaders for not aiding or even recognizing them. Through hip-hop, these guys (and girls) are trying to carve out a niche for themselves within the ideological and sociological landscape of both Israel and the Arab Nation.

One of the most powerful songs is "Meen Erhabe" (Who's the terrorist) by DAM. You can listen to their song as well as watch a video to go along with it here (the page has a couple other interesting videos also). Here are some lyrics (translated) from the song:
You want me to go to the law?
What for?
You're the Witness, the Lawyer, and the Judge!
Your countless raping of the Arabs’ soul
Finally impregnated it
Gave birth to your child
His name: Suicide Bomber
And then you call him the terrorist?
You silence me and shout:
"But you let small children throw stones!"
"Don’t they have parents to keep them at home?"
You must have forgotten you buried our parents under the rubble of our homes
I’m not against peace
Peace is against me
It’s going to destroy me
They've got a thing or two to say about Arabs also. These lyrics are from the song "Khamsoon 3am" ("Fifty Years") by Ta3m al 2alam:
The meaning of development is upside down for us (Arabs)
We lost track
After getting beaten up, and lost, and being eaten up by the fire like wood,
It makes you wonder how Arabs are still saying:
"That is what’s written".
The world has scaled mountains and crossed valley and hills,
But what worries the Arabs is how to eat with their left hand.
If you haven't heard them yet, then you should definitely check them out. You can download a bunch of mp3s at ArabRap.net. Not everything is amazing, but there are a few songs which are quite powerful. They have some valuable things to say, so I hope their movement continues growing. Does anyone know if there is any khaleeji rap available by any chance?

Hurrah for women's suffrage!

Monday, May 17, 2004

Should nothing go wrong this time, Kuwaiti women may soon be able to vote and stand in parliamentary elections. Says the BBC:
The government in the conservative Gulf Arab state of Kuwait has embarked on a new effort to grant women full political rights. The Council of Ministers approved a bill allowing women to vote and to stand for election which must now go before the 50-member parliament. Legislators narrowly defeated a similar move in 1999 under pressure from Islamic and tribal lobbies. Women in oil-rich Kuwait have been campaigning for the vote for decades.
One more small step in the right direction for the region. Let's hope the momentum keeps building.

Extra riot police on the streets?

Is it just me, or am I seeing an abundance of riot police vehicles patrolling the streets in the past few days? It reminds of the days during the uprising way back in 1995/96 when there were public security vehicles on every street corner. Well I'm guessing that the added security these days is a precaution against any trouble that might be sparked by the political standoff that has not yet come to a proper conclusion.

On another note, isn't it odd that the vast majority of the public security personnel on the streets are from a completely different land and culture? For those of you not from Bahrain, the guys patrolling the streets are almost entirely from the Balochi ethnic group, hailing from the Balochistan province of Pakistan. I'm not really sure when and how this system began, but a friend of mine from Oman tells me that Balochis make up the bulk of the security forces over there also. But that makes some slightly more sense as regions of Balochistan were once a part of the Omani Sultanate, and I remember reading somewhere that the Balochis were even used as security forces in Zanzibar when it was still under Omani rule.

The Balochis really have a reputation on the island. I remember that when I was in school here, guys with the right contacts would threaten to have "the Balochis come beat you up". And I heard many stories of this actually being done.

Well if anyone knows anything behind any of this then let us know.

Denouncing torture, not America

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Apparently, the government will be looking into claims that a Bahraini detainee was abused in Guantanamo Bay. Says the GDN:
An investigation is to be launched into allegations that a Bahraini prisoner was brutally beaten at the infamous US base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Claims that Juma Al Dossary was stamped on, kicked in the stomach and had his head smashed on the floor of his "cage" by eight or nine guards, will be investigated, Foreign Ministry Under-Secretary Yousif Mahmood pledged yesterday.
Certainly, I think this is a necessary step, as we need to make sure that torture does not take place anywhere. However, it does seem a little odd given the fact that similar things have taken place much closer to home here in Bahrain's prisons for many years and nothing has been said about it. To be fair, the King did hint towards the end of such practices when he initiated the political reforms process a few years back. I have not heard of any abuses since then, but there are still many Bahrainis here who (quite literally) bear the scars of torture from the previous era. There are many families who still bear the pain and anger over what happened to their loved ones in the past, and this will not be resolved until the government admits its former errors.

Despite the horrendous images that came out of Abu Ghreib, the system of democracy in the United States must be commended for admitting their failures (well, to an extent) and for launching a serious investigation in to the causes of it. I hope the lesson that we learn from Abu Ghreib is not that "all Americans are evil", but that "all torure is evil", no matter where it happens, who commits it, or who the victim is -- it is evil. In light of these events I hope that the New Bahrain has the moral will power to now recognize the importance of admitting and condemning our own dirty relationship with torture. Only then can we expect others to do the same.

Hip-hop idols

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Here is an interesting photo that I took recently. Sorry, the quality isn't too good so click on the photo to get the larger version. The picture shows the boundary wall of a nursery school in Bahrain with some graffiti sprayed on it. On the panel on the right hand side is spray-painted "ya Allah" (O Allah). On the left side panel, if you look closely, you will see that "2PAC" has been spray-painted by someone else, referring to the murdered rapper Tupac Shakur. It is quite interesting that these two specific phrases were chosen. I think it is a good illustration of the extent of globalization in a place such as Bahrain, and the often surprising identities it creates. :)


I'm sure that by now everyone is aware of the video that was released on a website supposedly linked to al-Qaeda, which showed the beheading of Nicholas Berg, an American civilian in Iraq. This is just one more in a long long line of gruesome murders committed by people claiming to represent Islam. With regards to this issue Mahmood comments:
If we as Muslims stay quiet about this situation, then we too shall join the ranks of sub-humanity and will be completely culpable.
I completely agree with him on this, and as a fellow Muslim and human being I would like to join Mahmood in condemning this, and all other such gruesome acts, which have been committed in the name of Islam. I believe that our conspicuous silence, or our lack of outrage, on such issues is the real reason that many people have lost trust in Muslims as a whole. I refuse to let a bunch of narrow-minded people claim to represent my beliefs anymore. It is long overdue that the supposed "silent majority" of Muslims need to get up off of their lazy or scared backsides and take a stand against this.

NOT IN MY NAME will anyone justify the murder of an innocent human being.

Hanging on to cherished memories

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

So I decided to check out the First Heritage Festival that is taking place in Sanabis, and it's turning out to be great. There are many many artists, men and women, working away on their murals. Pretty much all of the different artistic schools are represented, and all sorts of interesting ideas expressed. Asides from the actual artwork, the atmosphere was great with people of all different ages and nationalities present. It's a great idea as I think Bahrain needs many more of such events.

One of the things that struck me was that all of the Bahraini art that I have come across so far has been fixated on notions of a historic and traditional Bahrain: men in white thobes, faceless women in black abayas, coffee pots, minarets, old wooden doors, camels, dhows. Admittedly, this particular exhibition is after all a "Heritage Festival" so it makes sense that the murals being painted contain icons and symbols of traditional Bahrain. However that still doesn't explain why all the rest of Bahraini artists restrict themselves to this theme. Where are the representations of Seef Mall, and fast cars, guys with gel dripping from their hair, and super-stylish girls in abayas, internet cafes, shawarmas and gahwas? What about Filipina and Sri Lankan housemaids, Indian and Bangladeshi labourers, European and American white-collar workers? I think all of these things are certainly part of Bahraini culture, so one would expect them to be represented in at least some Bahraini art in some way.

While at the event I took the opportunity to question a few of the artists on this issue, but most of them responded saying that my understanding was incorrect and that there did exist Bahraini art about modern Bahraini culture. But there was one Indian painter among the artists -- even he was painting a picture of traditional Bahrain. When I questioned him on the matter he gave what I see as the most honest answer. He said:
"I'm painting about the old Bahrain because that is what people want to see. The modern Bahraini culture is around us everywhere today for us to see. Wherever people go they are forced to see modern Bahrain, but they want to remember the old Bahrain. I am painting a memory."
That makes sense, and it seems quite obvious now. There is certainly something about the old Bahrain that we miss now, more than ever. Even if we never directly experienced the things represented in the paintings, the symbols that are utilized make us recall a cherished time of the past in Bahrain. Representations of the traditional Arabic coffee pot are not meant to remind us of the days that we supposedly drank coffee from such pots. Rather, it indicates to the audience that we are dealing with melancholic memories of Bahrain, whatever that might be.

Taking this idea further, does thats suggest that most people in Bahrain long for a previous era? Or is it that we are worried about forgetting it? Hmmm... I don't think I've interpreted this properly... well...

Anyways, the exhibition runs till Thursday so do go down. When I left the site today, the acclaimed artist Abbas al-Mousawi was just about to start his mural, so that is to look forward to also. Finally, if you're wondering where it is, it's right on Budaiya Highway near the junction with Sanabis Avenue . If you're coming from Budaiya then look on your left, and if you're coming from Manama then it will be on your right... you can't miss it.

Another outing for the lads?

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

The word on the street is that the eight finalists of the LBC reality TV show Star Academy (an Arab adaptation of a French show by the same name) are due to perform here in Bahrain on May 27. Now I'm no fan of all these reality shows, however I do hope that the concert takes place without any trouble. Because after recent incidents involving the Nancy Ajram concert, the Big Brother TV show, and La Terrasse restaurant, I suspect that those same elements are probably preparing for another fun evening out causing havoc. And if we're lucky, the issue might even be debated in the parliament!

Fingers crossed.

Syrian culture on display

A few interesting events taking place today:

1) First Heritage Festival (Al Eskafi): "Drawing on Walls"
Says the GDN:
The event, organised by the Sanabis Cultural Committee, features 40 respected Bahraini artists showcasing their talents by illustrating the outer walls of selected gardens.

They are using the event to depict Bahraini culture - but the only concern is that they might run out of room, according to information committee head Riyad Ashoor.
when?: 4pm - 10pm, May 10 - 13, 2004
where?: Somewhere in Sanabis (sorry there are no details... if anyone knows better then let me know)
maplink (Sanabis, it's not too big an area)

2) Jewellery exhibition by Syrian artist Rafah Malas
when?: 10.30am - 1pm and 4pm - 8pm; May 11 - 12, 2004
where? Dar alBareh Art Gallery, Adliya
Contact: 17 713 535

3) Syrian Days Festival
A festival to promote Syrian culture. It will showcase photography, traditional handicrafts and an art exhibition.
when?: 10am - 2pm and 6pm - 9pm, May 11 - 12, 2004
where?: Bahrain National Museum

Bahraini blogs

I just came across another Bahraini blog, so I thought I'd spread the word: Reflections from Canada. It is by a Bahraini student in Canada.

So far then, I am aware of a total of 5 Bahraini blogs:
Mahmood's Den
Letter from Bahrain
Bahraini Blog
Reflections from Canada
and humbly, Chan'ad Bahraini

If there are anymore then do let us know.

Bahraini sets talking record

I'm not too sure what to make of this... but right now I'm thinking that as long as Bahrain isn't making the news for rioting at concerts or stabbing restaurant-goers, then this is a good thing -- So GO JAMEEL! :)

From the BBC:
A Bahraini man is claiming to have broken the world record for the longest non-stop talk, reports say. Management trainer Jameel al-Nasser, 56, started the 66-hour marathon on Wednesday at 1930 local time and finished 1330 on Saturday. He is waiting for official confirmation of a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. He spoke in Arabic about neuro-linguistic programming, taking breaks every eight hours to pray and eat.

'Good subject'
Mr Nasser told the paper his success could be attributed to his subject matter. "The subject was very close to my heart and I was able to speak volumes on that," he said. "My whole family was there to support me." But it was not all plain sailing. "On the first day I was strong [but] on the second day I became weak," he admitted. "I was not able to eat anything and I was having only warm water."

However, by the third day, he said he had managed to perk up and felt that Saturday was his best day - despite having consumed only warm water, two cups of coffee and custard for the duration of his talk. "I was so enthusiastic to win I just could not eat. But, anyway, I am glad that I have succeeded," he said. Mr Nasser must now send two witness statements and a video of his talkathon to the Guinness Book of World Records in the UK, to win his place, the newspaper reported. The current record is held by Zimbabwean Errol Muzawazi, who spoke on Polish democracy for 62 hours.

Bahraini fashion under wraps

Monday, May 10, 2004

The photo above is from a fashion show in Beirut exhibiting clothes by the Saudi designer Zaki bin Abboud. It isn't exactly related to this post - but I loved the design and felt like putting it up.

Anyways, Gulfreporter has a recent post about the fashion and legal requirements, of women's covering in Iran and Saudi Arabia. Over the past few years I have noticed interesting changes in Bahrain also so I thought I'd report on this issue also.

While the Bahraini state does not require it (thankfully) as in Saudi or Iran, a large portion of women still do "cover up". (I don't have any real figures to go by, but I would guess it hovers somewhere around the 50% mark). I imagine that the most popular reasons for this would be religious conviction, social/religious/moral identification, family and social pressures, and even comfort and convenience. Now, for the modern and increasingly employed Bahraini woman who wants to "cover up" (sorry, I don't know of a better term to use), there are two main options of how to dress. The one with the most flexibility is to wear the coloured hijab (headscarf) with "modest" Western style clothing below. This allows you to choose between a wide range of colour combinations. It is very common for the hijab to carry bold patterns or interesting material textures. Worn well, the hijab can look perfectly normal with jeans and a t-shirt.

More interesting (from the researcher's point of view) is the traditional abaya and hijab combo, covering the person from head to toe in black. What makes it so interesting is that even under such constraints, today's Bahraini women have learned to express themselves through fashion. Take a trip down to Seef Mall some time and observe. If you look closely you will realize that many of the young women wear abayas which are ever so subtly tapered at the waist revealing the feminine flare of the hips. Although you can't choose a colour for your hijab, there are several other adjustments you can make. For example, the type of material to use - my favorite is the "voile"/chiffon type fabric which is wrapped around so that there are several disordered layers beneath the chin (I think this is a more recent fashion). The type of border is also an important choice: beads, lace, sequins, and more. That same choice goes for the border of the cuffs of the sleeves of your abaya.

After having chosen your clothing, you get to really define yourself by the type of make-up you choose to wear. I think that women over here choose between pretty much the same cosmetic products as women in other parts of the world. From my meager observations, alot of girls (and guys!) seem to like using alot of kohl adding alot of depth to the eyes in a gazelle-like manner. But generally, alot of attention is paid to the face, and the sales figures at cosmetics shops will attest to this.

After all is done, the final look can be astonishing: elegant, sexy and modest. I don't think most people can really understand how that combination of adjectives can make sense until they actually see it for themselves. I really find it fascinating how all of the women in Bahrain (or anywhere) will insist on expressing their identity through fashion no matter how hard anyone might to try to stop them. Moreover, as more constraints are added (be they from others or self-imposed), the results are often even more interesting and moving, since the women need to think of ever more sneaky ways of getting around the restrictions without explicitly breaking the rules. When this happens, the "restrictions" no longer serve to restrict, but complement the fashions they are trying to restrict. A proof of this is the fact that many Bahraini women will still choose to wear the abaya even when they are not faced with any legal, social, family or religious pressures. In this manner, sometimes the abaya itself ironically takes on the form of a fashion statement.

One last comment on something that Gulfreporter said in his post. With regards to the slow liberalization of dress requirements in Saudi Arabia and Iran, he says: "There are positive trends at work in the region. The question is how best to encourage them." I think it's very important to be clear on what exactly we should be encouraging. One of the things I've always loved about Bahrain is the relative freedom for women to wear what they choose, be they covered or uncovered. As I've described above, many women feel much more comfortable in hijab and abaya, as it can still allow them the same amount of avenues to express themselves as Western women. What we need to be encouraging is the freedom of women to wear whatever they choose; not the systematic end of the abaya and hijab.

Disclaimer: I am neither a Bahraini, nor a woman, and I have not yet discussed these thoughts with any Bahraini women. They are merely my observations, and thus it is very possible that my description and analysis is off the mark. Therefore, I do hope that some more informed readers might provide some criticism (or possibly agreement) to this post.

Interesting sculptures at the Art Centre

I went to the Art Centre yesterday to check out the solo exhibition of Bahraini artist Abdulrasool al-Ghayeb. There were around 100 ceramics and sculptures on display. It was quite interesting, however some pieces were a bit mediocre. The exhibition in general lacked a real focus, and looked more like a haphazard collection of the artist's works. The problem with this is that there were some pieces which obviously did not receive the same time and attention by the artist as his other pieces. There were some very intriguing and emotive themes explored, as you can see in the photo above; I just wish the exhibition was limited to the best 25 works, rather than 100.

Final verdict: If you have other plans or are busy, then its probably not worth the effort to try and squeeze this in to your schedule also. However, if you have have a free evening and are looking for something to do then go and have a look.

when?: 8am - 2pm and 4pm - 9pm; Sat May 8 - Sat May 15 2004
where?: The Art Centre, (near the National Museum)

US scholar Dr. James Zogby to speak in Bahrain

Sunday, May 09, 2004

Says the GDN:
US Senator and head of the Washington-based Arab American Institute Dr James Zogby is to visit Bahrain as a guest of the Bahrain Centre for Studies and Research and Bahrain University. He will speak on the dialogue between the US and the Arab world.

Dr. Zogby is a very well respected scholar of Arab and Arab-American affairs throughout the world. I encourage everyone to attend this lecture as it will be one of the few opportunities we will get to hear about Arab-US relations without the anti-American or anti-Arab bigotry. I'm assuming that this will be an academic style lecture. For more info about him, visit his webpage: http://www.zogby.org.

when?: Wed May 12, 2004, 6pm
where?: Bahrain Convention Centre, Crowne Plaza

'What's Happening in Bahrain' Calendar

I've always thought it would be useful for someone to compile a calendar online listing events taking place around the island. So along with posting events on this blog, you can also see the events in a calendar format at: http://calendar.yahoo.com/chanadbahraini. Right now its quite empty, but I will start filling it up whenever I get a chance. If there is anything that you'd like listed, then just drop me an email and I'll gladly put it up.

Update: I've just added a link to the ChanadCalendar at the top right of this page for easy access.

Get your act together GDN

Saturday, May 08, 2004

A couple of the other Bahrain blogs have been talking about the whole "Satan worshipping" issue taking place in Bahrain's newspapers, so I thought I'd put in my 2 fils also. Now although I agree with the opinions of the others who have put the blame on MP Shaikh Mohammed Khalid Mohammed for blowing things out of proportion, my real beef is with the way the GDN has been reporting the matter.

If I'm not mistaken, it was first reported in the GDN on the front page of the 24 April 2004 issue in an article headlined "Satan worshippers escape". The first sentence of the report reads:
A group of Satan worshippers have escaped an attempt by police to arrest them, it was revealed last night.
Really, this is poor and irresponsible reporting. Now I don't know whether those kids were actually Satan worshippers or not (and I don't really care much to be honest), and I don't think the GDN reporter knew this for sure either. Shouldn't they have rephrased the sentence to make it clear that those kids have been merely accused of being Satan worshippers by an individual MP? How about something like: "A group of teenagers, accused of being Satan worshippers by an MP, have escaped an attempt..." And why couldn't the headline at least have carried quotation marks around "Satan worshippers"? Yes, it may seem trivial, but I'm sure if I was one of the accused Satan worshippers I would be pretty cheesed about being labelled as such. Again, in the third paragraph, the reporter continues to refer to the group as "the Satanists". Furthermore, why was this article given space on the front page??! There are lots of important things to report, and the GDN has to select the most pertinent things to put on its front page... what could justify this being here in place of something more pressing?

Unfortunately, this is not the only time the GDN has used this sensational style of reporting. Today's front page also carried an article headlined: "Car sex couple are fined"... who cares?? Okay, maybe it warrants a small mention in the bottom corner of page 8, but why the front page?! Why does anything having to do with sex have to repeatedly be given so much importance in the newspaper?

Let's take another article (which thankfully was not on the front page this time). It is from the issue of Friday 9 April 2004 titled "Runaway maid in 'sex romps' with workers". Here are the first three sentences:
A runaway housemaid had sex with all the three men who were sheltering her. One even offered to marry her and bought a gold ring, Bahrain's Lower Criminal Court heard. The Indonesian maid, 34, claimed she ran away because her sponsor's wife regularly beat her up and paid her no salary for three months.
Again, why is it that the first sentence had to do with the fact that the maid was having sex, and that it takes until the third sentence for the article to tell us that she was regularly beaten and not paid by her sponsors? Moreover, notice how the first sentence (which is coincidentally about sex) is reported as though it is a true fact, whereas her claims to being beaten up are treated as nothing more than claims. Instead of being about "sex romps", shouldn't the headline have been about human rights abuses that the maid had to suffer by her sponsor?

I could write pages about the plight of foreign workers in Bahrain's legal system, but for today I wanted to focus on the media and specifically on the GDN's irresponsible reporting. GDN: please get your act together.

Mohammed al-Melehi Exhibition

As part of my blog, I'm going to try to post information about interesting events taking place around the island (mostly taken right out the "What's On" section of the GDN). I'll also let you know what I thought about any of the events that I did get a chance to attend.

So, the first event I want to cover is the solo exhibition of the Moroccan artist Mohammed al Melehi. It's taking place at the Al Riwaq Art Gallery in Adliya. The timings are 10am-1pm and 4pm-8pm. The exhibition will run until 15 May, so you have a week left to visit it. It's free and open to the public.

The paintings are really interesting. I'm no art critic so don't expect any big words or deep analyses out of me. However I did leave with a good feeling. I think there are about 16 or 17 of his paintings featured in the exhibition, all of which explore a similar theme. As you can tell from the photo above, there are alot of very bright cheerful colors used to fill in the shapes created with straight lines, arcs, waves, and occasionally small stars. All of the paintings, to me, evoked images of mountains, or the clouds in the sky, or a sea bed. They are very playful, visually pleasing, and very accessible to all people. Well, certainly go down and have a look... I'm sure you will leave smiling.

Al Riwaq Art Gallery is right next Zoe's in Adliya, I think, on Osama bin Zaid Avenue. Click this link for a map of how to get to Zoe's. Al Riwaq's phone number is 17 717 441.

"Greeting back the people of Bahrain"

Friday, May 07, 2004

I'm sure the poster shown in the photo above is familiar to everyone living in Bahrain. For several months now I've seen this poster in several places around the island. For those of you who don't live here, the person sitting on the horse is the King of Bahrain (HRH Sheikh Hamad al-Khalifa).

Now I'm wondering, is there anybody else out there who feels that the horse in the painting bears an eery resemblance to Zuljenah, the horse that Imam Hussain rode during the Tragedy of Kerbala (like in this painting)? Okay, so there are lots of people who ride white horses... but still, the style in which the horse has been painted seems to be very similar to those in paintings used to portray Kerbala within the Shia' tradition.

Hmm, I probably am being paranoid, and am trying to appropriate more symbolism than actually exists in the picture. In any case, I do like the gesture on behalf of the King. It is slightly patronizing, and the artwork is not extraordinary, but the spirit is there. I wonder what other people thought of this picture?

I'm back

Sorry, I haven't really posted anything useful yet coz I've been away from the island this past week. I didn't think it would make much of a difference as I doubt I really have any readers yet. However, thanks to some free publicity at Mahmood's Den, I expect there were at least a few curious browsers... Cheers Mahmood!

Anyways, bear with me for a while as I get settled in to this. I'll probably be playing around with the layout and stuff for a couple of weeks.