A sand bank in flames

17 02 2011

The Arabic Revolution has crept eastward, to Bahrain. The tiny island in the Persian Gulf is now also caught up in the wave of anger sweeping across Northern Africa and the Middle East. And here the fight for democracy and social justice has only just begun.

The night before. (Bahrain, February 16, 2011 - KEYSTONE/AP)

Bahrain holds a special place in my heart even though there is really not much there. Not even oil. My first visit in 1997 was for fun and for fun only….to visit Ironic Mom long before she became a mom. Fortunately no digital photographic evidence exists. (Hmm…. come to think of it…. where are those negatives?)

The second time I went to Bahrain it was as a working journalist, to wait for a war.

Between October 2001 and April 2003 I spent almost six months on the island on four different occasions. After a while, the tiny, friendly monarchy earned itself the sub-title: “Your favorite sand bank in the Persian Gulf”.

My Bahrain adventures started four weeks after 9/11. While Marines stormed the Hindukush about a thousand miles to our east, we already suspected the Bush administration was desperately trying to find an excuse to go after an old nemesis just north of us, Saddam Hussein. By September 2002, there was no doubt the powder keg would soon explode and the question was no longer if, but when. And because Bahrain is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th fleet, it was the logical place for journalists to congregate. And wait.

I will admit, the life of a waiting journalist in the field is a rather comfortable one, with editors safely in bureaus a couple of time zones away. Our days in lovely, warm Bahrain usually started with a breakfast buffet in the Diplomat Hotel, followed by a quick call to London to let them know the coast was still clear. Afternoons at poolside included  hummus and iced tea, served at my lounge chair. And for dinner it was either “Fiddler’s Green” Irish Pub, a fabulous Asian restaurant called “Monsoon”, and on really special occasions we went all the way to the Ritz Carlton to feast at Trader Vic’s.

This was, after all, a time when we all still had corporate credit cards and generous expense accounts.

The international appetite for news from Bahrain was rather limited and any remotely exciting event drew a disproportionately large western media crowd. An anti-U.S. march here, a Chess tournament between a human and a computer there, and – our biggest story while on the island – the first fair and free national election in which women had the right to vote and stand as candidates.

I still bathe in the glory of that day in October 2002, when we got the Emir’s only quote to a western media outlet. (But please don’t ask me what it was.) For my efforts in that scrum, a resentful Arabic television journalist speared me in the ribs with his microphone pole.

That's us on the left: Western, blond and female. Eye candy for the Emir and his entourage.

Fun and games aside, the pictures coming out of the Gulf state in the last couple of days – of demonstrations and protesters camped out under the Pearl Monument in the center of Manama – I guess surprised me more than they should have. I remember Bahrain as an exceptionally peaceful place (except for that MBC cameraman), with an autocratic but mostly harmless, benevolent ruling family and a couple of drunk obnoxious Saudis on the weekends.

What disturbed and shocked me to the core was the news this morning that the government broke its promise and used violence – teargas, rubber bullets and buckshot – to attack sleeping men, women and children in the middle of the night on Pearl Square. Six Bahrainis died and hundrends were injured.

But the voice of the people is getting louder even in Bahrain. And the royal family would probably be wise to listen up. Inshallah.

The morning after. (Bahrain, February 17, 2011 - KEYSTONE/AP)


Here is a New York Times opinion piece – worth reading – about the protests in Bahrain.



4 responses

18 02 2011
Scott Wolfsteller

Interesting situation. Do you notice how quiet the U.S.A. is being regarding the revolution going on there?
Jees, I wonder why? Maybe because the 5th fleet is based there, and the U.S.A. is really not interested in “change” after all.

18 02 2011
Evelynn Starr

True. But to be fair, the 5th fleet also provides (directly and indirectly) a rather large number of jobs for Bahrainis.

23 02 2011
Ironic Mom

I’ve been following the Bahrain story closely. Still have friends there…

23 02 2011
Evelynn Starr

Looks like it has simmered down a bit in the last couple of days… hoping it will remain peaceful and the royal family can read at least some of the writing on the wall.

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