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Bahrain: The Tale of a ‘Legal Slave’

Many of Bahrain's bloggers have had something to say about the 1% deduction from salaries for the new Unemployment Fund. Munther at The Drivel of 2 Bahrainis is furious:

OK, I’ve received confirmed news that the government will take THAT controversial % 1 out of my salary starting next month. Now, I am no scrooge but to have money deducted from my hard earned salary for slackers is just unfair! People are talking about a women who comes from a well off family applying to the fund and; believe it or not; got accepted!

I don’t know which annoys me the most, the fact that MPs and Ministers are not gonna get that stupid tax deducted from their hard earned money, or the fact that those who work for the ministry of interior affairs and the army got a pardon so that they don’t get taxed either! I wonder if that job offer at the army is still standing?

Yagoob has an innovative approach to the issue:

Yes, it’s officially and truly here…the dreaded 1% cut for the Unemployment Fund..
I lost to this cut BD 4.130 (US$11) which is the equivalent of me pouring petrol at Abdulla Centre and a full tank of petrol lasts me about 4-5 days because my daily commute from Riffa to Manama.

So if we took this idea further into my extremely delicate monthly budget and juggling my personal debts, because I lost the 4 dinars thus I will or actually the government will lose 4 days of my productivity due to the fact that I can’t fill my tank to go to work!

So I will then slack for four days every month and then maybe I could after a few months rack enough days of slacking to complete a month and get back the money (BD 160 / US$425) by applying for the unemployment fund!

Ammar tries to identify exactly what people are objecting to:

Why is it such a fuss? It's only 1%? And it does go towards helping the unemployed; definitely a noble cause. Let's take a quick look at why this is the wrong way to go about it. First, no one has any idea where this money is going to go. There hasn't been any verified auditing done on amounts which have previously been taken out of our salaries (ie, Social Insurance), and we all saw the results a few years ago when it was reported that the GOSI was actually losing money. So where was this money going? Invested in the wrong way? Stolen? Or did someone just lose most of it on the way to the bank? Well, either way, we have no idea where our 5% GOSI deduction is going, and we're not even sure if we will actually receive any benefit out of it when we decide to retire. So when the decision was given to increase our total GOSI deduction to 6% a few months ago, most people didn't take it very lightly. Add to that another 1% for the unemployed, which isn't even going through the GOSI this time, meaning hardly any record keeping, and people's blood starts to boil. Ironically enough, the deduction starts in a June, so you're boiling both figuratively and literally.

He lists further objections here and here.

Concerned Citizen X also believes that the situation is unfair:

If salaries in Bahrain were adjusted for the inflation rate and the yearly increment, if any, was significant, this would not have a big impact on our day to day lives. Unfortunately here in la la land it WILL HAVE A HUGE IMPACT.

A law has just been issued in Bahrain banning labourers from working outside from noon until 4pm in July and August, and limiting working hours. Mohammed AlMaskati is pleased about the decision:

Finally some good news! I always felt bad for those laborers *cough* slaves *cough*, every time I drive past them in the streets. Be it the unbearable heat they have to work in, their unprotective light clothing and skinny bodies. It is about time someone takes some action for their favor.

We have all grown up to the story of how the public media does not announce it when the outdoor temperature exceeds 50 degrees Celsius, as there is a law that prohibits laborers to work in such extreme work conditions. Now regardless of how creditable this urban legend is, I am delighted that it didn’t take another catastrophe (Like that of the Dana Dhow, or the fire in the labor compound) for the authorities to move on this.

[…]

A good day in wonderland, been a while!

Silver thinks this may encourage Bahrainis to work in the construction sector:

The new law might make it easier for Bahrainis to start working in construction and other labor intensive jobs. Add that to the new labor reforms, which basically make it more expensive to import labor, I can see some Bahrainis moving to work in those jobs. Now I refuse to believe that all Bahrainis won’t work as labor. Just look at ALBA for example, they work in the heat of August and in front of melting Aluminum pots, much worse than construction, yet most of the workers there are Bahrainis. So I say with the right working conditions and the right pay, Bahrainis will work in construction and other labor intensive jobs.

Ammar has little sympathy for the employers who are complaining about the new law:

If you aren't aware yet, a decision was passed a few days ago banning contractors from working their staff during the hours of 12pm and 4pm during the summer. With the soaring heat and temperatures reaching 50 degrees Celsius at times, it was probably the only humane thing to do. Obviously, such a decision was frowned upon by the constructors. Some argued loss of productivity, some argued increased expenses to transport labourers to and from accommodation during these work hours, and some went to the extent of saying that millions of dinars will be lost!

Can you believe that?

Constructors; I understand your frustration; I know that instead of making net profits of so and so million this year, you might have to deal with a few less million (if that is really how much it is going to cost you!). I understand that you will have to forget about buy that fourth house in the Caribbean this year. I understand, and I sympathise with your cause, I truly do. I also wish I had a house in the Caribbean.

On a related subject, Cradle of Humanity tells the story of a ‘legal slave':

He greeted me every morning as I opened the backdoor and entered the office. Some time back when I first joined I had asked for a cup of coffee, with cream and no sugar. Ever since, every day at the same time he would come with my morning coffee. He received my “Thank you” with a wide smile, “welcome madam” he would say back. At times when I was stressed and so were my colleagues he seemed to be the only smiling face in the office. Malcolm was different- he did everything cheerfully. More than once my co-worker had commented on how good our “office boy” was that maybe the company should consider opening a restaurant.

Cradle knew very little about Malcolm, until he lost his job and had to leave Bahrain:

He worked in our office from 9 to 5. He then worked at a hotel from 6 to 1. The weekend was shared between the two premises. He lived in a room where there was nothing but his uniform, and as per his earlier conversations with some staff members, he had no friends. He only spoke to those in our office, on the random occasions when my likes thought about chatting with the “office boy”. He was alone. In a foreign country among people who spoke a different language, most of which are better-off than he was. He had no right to quit or change jobs, and he did not have the money to arrange for his emancipation. He was a legal slave, with little attention from everyone.

He left, to his hometown; his legacy from Bahrain was only a plastic bag.

Ayman is concerned about those people who get into debt for the sake of holding a wedding stretched over many days, and wishes they were more sympathetic to everyone who has to attend:

Ok, so some people do want to make the best wedding and spend all their just started life savings, and want to start their life together with big a loan just to have a wedding. Their call, it's their wedding and their life after all. I do not agree on it, but hey, just my opinion.

But having seven days for a wedding? C'mon!!! Day for henna, for Jalwa (traditional ceremony in Arab weddings), for whatever, and then two days for dinner, and some others for i don't know what.
Hey, it is your wedding, but did you think of all the people who have to attend? And especially women who now have to make like 7 different new dresses costing that much, and they may not wear them again. And they have to attend all those seven days and seven nights, so who takes care of kids, and husbands? And of course everything else will be on hold for seven days or more.

Anyway, if you are thinking of a 3 or 7 days wedding, think of the people who have to attend. Do them, and yourself a favor and spend a nice honeymoon with your wife, and ease it on the credit card.

Mohammed AlMaskati has been pondering another rite of passage this week:

There is something about the traditional burial rituals that really gets to me, with another death in the family, someone I wasn’t close to, can’t relate to in any way. I knew how the rest of my day is going to end up like as soon as I heard the dreadful news early that morning.

There is something that kept pushing me to the edge of the grave, right in line with his close family members and stand there, zoned out of my surroundings, looking no where but towards the grave itself, knowing that this is my family’s side of the graveyard; not so far away lays my grandfather, my grandma, my cousins, all around me. I took a long look to the area as I walked out; it’ll only be a short while before I myself join them, right here on this spot, not so far away from where I stand right now.

When leaving the cemetery Mohammed saw the grave of a young man killed during political unrest in 1996:

He was 21 years of age when three bullets found their way through his body, later buried with the presence of only riot control officers and security guards, without any family members to even identify his body or attend the burial. … This is but one story of nation that is filled with tales of sacrifices and courage by decent Bahraini families that lost a loved one; other’s whose members faced torture and imprisonment for long years or those that were forcefully thrown out of the country that they called home.

The grave stood a witness to an era of injustice and tyranny, a reminder of the days of “State Security Law” and its crooked court, other martyrs were laid to rest not so far away. Heroes of this little land that gave their lives to what they believed in, youngsters that gave their future for this nation, unlike us all they didn’t choose to shyly burry our heads in the sand, but spilt their blood as ink to a long unforgettable novel of sacrifice and call for a country of equality and justice.

Butterfly has been suffering from ‘blog depression':

ففي الفترة الأخيرة بدأت تنتابني حالة من الاحباط والكآبة أنعكست بشكل ما على مقالاتي الأخيرة التي أتخذت مسار أكثر تشاؤما وسوداوية وجعلتني اتساءل بيني وبين نفسي عن جدوى هذه المدونة واهميتها .. عن الوقت الذي أقضيه أمام شاشة الكمبيوتر .. عن الافكار والتحليلات التي تسيطر على تفكيري لبعض الوقت والتي ما ان تنتهي حتى تشغل مكانها أخرى. حالة من العزلة النفسية تشدني باتجاهها أكثر فأكثر فأشعر كما لو أنني أعيش وسط عالم خاص وحيدة مع افكاري وتساؤلاتي
Recently I have begun to feel down and depressed, and this is somehow reflected in my posts which have become darker and more pessimistic, and made me question myself about the value and importance of this blog…and the time I spend in front of the computer screen…about the ideas and analyses which dominate my thoughts sometimes, and which are replaced by others as soon as they are over. A sense of psychological isolation has overwhelmed me and I feel as if I am living in the middle of a private world alone with my thoughts and queries.

To lift our blog depression, let's turn to Scarlett Cyn, who has an outrageous story to tell:

Z went to the US embassy here last week to renew his passport and came back with a highly amusing story. … Z was there and while waiting in line to hand in his application for the new passport, noticed a huge (black) Saudi man (sorry, color of this man is part of the story) in a thobe (you know, the long white arabic clothes the men wear) screaming like HELL at a woman behind the bullet-proof glass window. Now, normally, considering where they were, this would have scared the &*%# out of anyone, right? Right. But its not that he was screaming, it's that he is &*%# crazy. It is because of WHAT he was screaming.

He was screaming, over and over again, in English “I WANT MY AMERICAN PASSPORT! I DEMAND MY AMERICAN PASSPORT!!! I AM MICHAEL JACKSON'S BROTHER!!!! (did you catch that??) THEY ABANDONED ME IN SAUDI FOR 30 YEARS AND I WANT TO SEE MY BROTHER MICHAEL!! I WANT TO VISIT MY FAMILY IN LOS ANGELES! THE JACKSONS! MICHAEL JACKSON IS MY BROTHER!!! GIVE ME MY PASSPORT! I DEMAND TO HAVE A PASSPORT. THEY ABANDONED ME IN SAUDI ARABIA FOR 30 YEARS BUT I WANT TO SEE MY BROTHER MICHAEL NOW.”

We end this week with a bemused post from Munther at The Drivel of 2 Bahrainis, who wants to know why some women insist on wearing their hair in a high hump under their headscarves:

What’s with this new trend regarding Hijabs? I barely got over the bandanna style which surfaced with the release of Pirates of the Caribbean 2 (last year’s trend) and now this? Last night, I’ve been to Lilo’s Cafe and noticed that most of the girls who wore hijabs had this weird hump on their heads! … One of my mates who’s considered the womanizer of the group claims that it originated in Saudi Arabia where girls uses this “fashionable’ method to tell guys that they are single and looking for somebody ! Wow I never thought that we’d get an Arabian version of Shag Tag Night! … Two of the lads spent a good part of an hour arguing about what's in there and finally agreed that it’s actually empty yogurt containers! … Wearing a designer Hijab is nice and I am sure that most would not argue that! But getting into this weird phase of camel hump styles is just taking the mickey and has nothing to do with religion or chastity!

That's all from Bahrain this week!

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