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Bahrain: Eat Shawarma at Your Peril!

Bahrain, not normally the focus of the world's attention, was featured on CNN this week. LuLu gives her opinion of the report:

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

Yagoob is also frustrated at the report:

I normally don’t write about politics, it’s not my thing because 1) I’m not a politician nor a freedom fighter 2) I believe there are way better things to talk about and learn, but anyhow I just feel pissed off! … CNN are blatantly trying to capitalise on the ever growing Sunni-Shi’aa tear in the Arab World and Bahrain seemingly absorbs every conflict in the region and localises it.

He has even written a letter to CNN to complain:

Shi’aas and Sunnis in Bahrain’s history have always lived side by side and even have blood relations between the two Islamic sects.

Things in Bahrain are not exactly rosy, let’s me realistic but I feel that you have not showed the whole story. … The biggest problem we face in Bahrain is that we still think we live in the bloody nineties! Times have changed and we are going in the right direction regards democracy and human rights, slowly by surely…

Mahmood raises the ever-relevant issue of employment in Bahrain, and the labour reforms on the way:

The biggest change that that package will introduce is the employers’ ability to hire and fire based on performance, regardless of nationality and gender. And it is this – in particular – that will ultimately force the Bahraini worker to re-evaluate his and her position and become more productive. Believe me when that happens, we will rule the world, because – ironically – we are not lazy, we just needed that huge chip to be knocked off our shoulder!

Silly Bahraini Girl is impressed with the debate taking place on Bahraini blogs regarding this matter, and she wants to take things a step further:

Everyone has strong opinions when it comes to jobs, the job market, work ethics, education, training and lazy Bahrainis who want everything handed to them on a golden platter.

We have had a good debate going on in Bahraini blogs over the past few weeks.. and to put all the ideas together and generate more of an interest and feedback as well as tangible ideas and perhaps even a job's market where people can post vacancies and we can put them in touch with potential employees, yada yada yada .. I am ready to volunteer my time and effort to develop an online forum .. erm .. a blog .. and put all those ideas under one roof.

Mohammed AlMaskati, who has a job, doesn't think he should pay to support those who don't:

The invisible hand of the government will soon find its way to my pockets yet again. Confiscating 1% of my monthly income with a new excuse, an “Unemployment Scheme” that will “put Bahrain on a par with advanced countries in terms of social insurance for its citizens” according to the GDN. … But it isn’t the state that will safeguard the ill-fated, the poor performing, or the unfit for the market graduates that literally paid their way through colleague; It is I, along with 450 thousand other employees (Bahrainis and expatriates alike) that are obligated to pay to preserve peace and stability to the corrupt, wasta-infested local labor market and get Bahrain in par with advanced countries. It is us that have to pay for the mistakes and corruption of the government over many years for the benefit of a very limited category of people. We are supposed to be living in a tax free paradise mind you; and it hasn’t been even 3 months since the increase in the mandatory GOSI contribution to 6% endured by my poor soul. … Yes ladies and gentlemen, we live to see the “Global Practice” card played upon us once again, to the benefit of the government this time. The very same government that turned a blind eye to the “Global Practices” that dictated keeping military personal off the voting booths to ensure the neutrality of the elections, the very same government that turned a blind eye to the “Global Practice” commanding that the parliament is to be headed by an elected member of the largest elected bloc.

Scarlett Cyn also has employment-related problems. It seems there has been a lot of upheaval at work recently, and she is left wondering who she can trust:

There have been so many things going on at work lately, in general all of them bad to varying degrees. Things I unfortunately and most certainly cannot speak about here on my blog. But suffice to say, I’m not altogether thrilled.

Also, 7 employees resigned this week, two of whom are department heads. My friends and I were counting on Thursday (on our hands because we were sure we were miscounting, but…) we have 6 ‘acting heads’ of departments now. And just as many fixed. Personally, the 50-50 ratio makes pretty much everyone nervous.

And Maroon Al Ras has discovered that his so-called ‘friends’ perhaps don't deserve that title, after a period in which he could only receive calls on his mobile – and most of them were business-related:

13 يوماً بالتمام والكمال، لا يمكنني أن أعد أكثر من عدد أصابع يديّ الاثنتين، لأحصي الاتصالات التي وردت لي “أنا”.
كنت أتصل بدون مبالغة عشرات الاتصالات لـ”المعارف”، و”الأصدقاء”، لكني الآن فقط تيقنت أن كثيرا من الأرقام في هاتفي تحتاج إلى ” DELETE” عاجل، هي أرقام لا معنى لها، ولا معنى لاتصالي بها بعد الآن، لأنها أرقام لا تجد فيها صدى يرجع.
Thirteen days all in all, and I can count on the fingers of both hands the calls meant for me myself. Without exaggeration, I used to make dozens of calls to ‘friends’ and ‘acquaintances’, but only now have I realised that many of the numbers in my phone need to be deleted immediately. These are the numbers that mean nothing, and my calling them would mean nothing after this, because they are numbers where I don't find an echo coming back to me.

There is yet more disappointment in store. Mohammed AlMaskati asks us an uncomfortable question – do we know what's in the shawarma we all love eating?

Shawarmas are little pieces of heaven right here on god’s green earth. The unique mixture of the animal fat, the greased slices of spiced and marinated beef or chicken, a slight touch of taheena, pickles, vegetables or even taboula wrapped in a thin slice of pita bread is just unmistakable. A true signature dish of the Middle East, our very own burrito sandwich!

And it does more than tickling your taste buds, Shawarmas are by far the worse type of junk you could feed your body. If we overlook the nutritional facts, the beef or chicken used are often stored in extremely bad conditions, laid out to marinate for weeks in vinegar and lime. Often covered by nothing more than a dirty cloth or some paper they use to wrap the sandwiches in, one night after the other before the full large cone of meat is sold out at ridiculously low prices after hours of exposure to all sort of pollutants of the streets, all of which at room temperature.

Silver is also thinking about food, but sensibly he is focusing on home cooking, and he has some advice for young women today:

Every weekend, I wake up around 9-10 o’clock, just grab a small bite and take care of some stuff waiting for the highlight of the weekend, MY MOM’s COOKING. It's either Majboos, Beryani, Safi or other Bahraini dishes.

If you think about it, you will realize that, most of my mom’s generation knows how to cook, and you will also realize that each of them have their own touch when it comes to cooking. You can really notice that in Ramadan, when the neighbors and family send food. You will find 4 dishes of majboos but all taste different. That’s what I call the “Art of Bahraini cooking”.

I have noticed that most of our generation girls (age between 21-30) don’t really know how to cook. I wasn’t sure about this assumption, so I ran small test at the place I used to work. I asked the girls a simple question “do you know how to cook eggs”, very simple thing to do right?? Wrong, I got crazy responses. … I know these days girls don’t have to cook, we are not living in the stone age but let me give you a piece of advice, if you love your man, cook for him. This is one of the best you can do for him, Guys will love it. You do want to make your man happy right?? Cooking is a start!

From saving relationships to saving energy – TechZ wants us to take responsibility for the environment:

It seems with the recent loss of Alba’s power/water contribution to the local supply due to maintenance, not to mention one of Bahrain’s own plants under maintenance, a lot of us are having huge issues with electricity and water shortages. … This is the time, the time we ‘have not’, that we appreciate what we take for granted so much on a daily basis. Flip a switch, turn a knob, power and water, basic requirements for our daily life.

Bahrain’s population, rich or poor have been taking it easy with regards to water/power usage. We need to start getting this wastage of a non-renewable resource under control. … We all need to take part, recycling has to get more ‘in your face’ as in Europe, where every trash can comes with 3 separate units to dispose glass, paper and plastic. Proactive rather than the traditional laid back Reactive is what's needed.

Silver likes the idea of a metro system in Bahrain, and reports on a team of Bahraini experts who recently went over to Dubai to examine the plans for one there:

They all agreed that such a system is desperately needed in Bahrain. They all also said it requires in-depth planning or such a project will backfire. Most experts believe such a project will require 10 years to complete and given how slow construction is in Bahrain, we can tag 5 more years to give us a total of 15 years.

Experts believe that such a system will cost billion of dollars but the benefits is worth the investment. No serious feasibility study has been done on the benefits but according to Reem Akbari, “we did a pool asking people if they will use such a system and we got 50% saying yes”.

I have talked about the metro system in a previous article, I think if done well, it will be very beneficial to our country and economy. We have 300,000 cars on the road with an increase of 10% yearly, the road upgrades alone will not solve the problem. We need someone to take a bold decision, like Dubai did .

Finally, Abadi recounts a day of waiting around, expressing his disappointment that bureaucracy in Bahrain takes as long as in other parts of the Arab world – but that it helps if you're a woman:

Yesterday was a day of waiting … waiting … and even more waiting.

It all started around 11ish when a friend passed by me and took me with him to start working on getting my driving license. We arrived there at around 11:20 and i started filling up the application which went really smoothly and then finished the eye test which all in all took around 15 minutes. I was actually happy that things are going smoothly but then things took a turn to the worst and I realized Bahrain is the same as Kuwait and Lebanon.

I took a number to go to the counter so that i can be served. Number 675!! They were serving number 651 when I took the number so any normal person who sees 4 counters and number 651 in front of him would assume that this is not going to take long. Well it did take long, two hours long… the people working there took their sweet time talking to each and people they are serving joking and laughing which prolonged the usual 5 minutes (I timed it) needed to serve a person to around 15-20 minutes. Furthermore these government employees seem to have a special liking to women. Women simply walk in without doing anything or taking any number and their applications would be filled out by the officials and their papers processed as fast as possible … now isn’t that gender discrimination !!!

And now we're going to make you wait – a whole week, until the next round-up from Bahrain!

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