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Chan'ad Bahraini

(Scomberomorous maculatus Bahrainius)

Commimttee to Protect Bloggers

Thursday, January 20, 2005

I came across the Committee to Protect Bloggers website today (via Subzero Blue). It says:

The Committee has four primary spheres of activity.

  • CPB will serve as a clearinghouse for information on incarcerated members of our community, as well as those whose lives have been taken from them because of their enthusiasm for the free exchange of information that blogging allows.
  • CPB will serve as a pressure group to force unrecalcitrant governments to free imprisoned bloggers, and make restitution for tortured and murdered ones.
  • CPB will bring to bear the formidable communicative power of the blogosphere to keep pressure on governments to stop
  • CPB will act as direct agents in negotiations to free imprisoned bloggers.

(Continued)

Well that sounds like a good idea to me. As I've mentioned before, us bloggers in Bahrain have so far not had any restrictions placed upon us yet. But given the often ambiguous nature of our justice system, it would be wise to be prepared.

Eid Mubarak

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

After the winter rainshowers, areas of the island which are usually barren enjoy a brief period of lush vegetation and colour, particularly in the valleys and depressions where the water collects. It is quite pleasing to seeing these vibrant colours being temporarily hosted in places that are so hostile to them during the rest of the year. (No prizes for guessing where the photo was taken).

Anyways, I'm going to be out of town for the long weekend, so an early Eid Mubarak to you all!

Repeal 56: Part 2

Sunday, January 16, 2005

On Thursday, the National Committee for Martyrs and Victims of Torture held the second in their series of protests against government employed torturers. (Read about the first protest here). Their specific demands were:

  1. The annulment of Royal Decree 56 which in effect grants amnesty to all of the accused torturers.
  2. Compensation for the victims of torture and the families of the murdered.
  3. That those accused of torture be put on trial, and their files be made public.

Their specific hitlist included the following people:

  • Adel Flaifel
  • Shaikh Abdulaziz Atiyatallah Al-Khalifa (currently head of the national security agency)
  • Khalid Al-Wazzan
  • Khalid Al-Moawada
  • Adnan Al-Dhaen
  • Mahmood Al-Akoori
  • Abdulrahman bin Saqr

And although his name wasn't written on any of the placards, "Down down Henderson!" was chanted several times throughout the protest, obviously referring to the notorious Ian Henderson.

The turnout wasn't huge -- 250 people max I would say -- but it was significant. But the really interesting thing was that the protest was held right outside the Ministry of Interior Fort in Manama, home of the CID and all the accused torturers listed above. As far as I know, this was the first time that a protest has been held there. At first the protesters gathered on the opposite side of the roundabout outside the fort. But after about half an hour a group of protesters walked across the road and continued their demonstration on the pavement just outside the fort entrance.

Kudos to the cops for letting the protesters demonstrate so close to the entrance, and for limiting their own presence. The fact that people are allowed to publicly protest about the lack of democracy is, ironically, a sign that we actually do have some vestiges of democracy in Bahrain. Of course, we can't ignore the fact that Bahrain's torturers have been given complete amnesty. However, I think that allowing people to air their grievances freely is one step in the right direction towards the justice that the regime will inevitably have to face in the future. Many many more of such steps still need to be taken.

But one sneaky thing that the cops did was to block off the roads leading to the demonstration after about 45 minutes, thus limiting its exposure. I think the cops could have used the excuse that the protest was slowing down traffic at the roundabout to justify their action. (Yes, the protest did slow down traffic). So I think the activists need to reassess their methods of activism.

Holding demonstrations is a very useful tool, but that on its own does not achieve a great deal. The only people that see the protests are the people who actually drive by, and most of them don't have enough time to understand what's really going on. They probably just read a few signs and drive on (since the drivers behind them are honking to get them to speed up). And when the cops block the roads, as they did on Thursday, then the exposure is further limited. Asides from this, the only other coverage that such a protest will get is a paragraph in the local papers if they're lucky (and if they're really lucky, then maybe a short report from the international agencies). I'm sure that most people in the country weren't even aware that there was a protest on Thursday... or if they did know about it, then they probably forgot about the issue the next day.

So I think there is a need to complement the demonstrations with other methods of protest that can be sustained for longer than a couple of hours. Maybe something like a ribbon campaign, or small stickers for cars. Maybe they could try to purchase some newspaper space for an ad (okay, that's a tough one). Or anything that will attract attention and spark curiosity, that doesn't require too much effort, and does not hinder the desired audience from going about their business. A bit of imagination could go a long way.

Anyways, watch a video of Thursday's protest by clicking here (wmv 6.34MB)... you'll have to mentally filter out the Braveheart background music. And the next protest in this series is set for the 28th of Jan at 3.30pm, again outside the Ministry of Interior Fort.

And some photos of activist kids as usual:

Just say no to public bumlicking

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Not so long ago I wrote about a billboard displaying the faces of the Royal Three (King, Prime Minister and Crown Prince). In response, Bugs asked:

I have a question don’t you guys get disgusted every time you see these clowns every where you go ?

I shall withold my opinion on whether they are "clowns", however I do get tired of seeing their mugs and hearing their names everywhere. I would guess that many of us who have lived here for a while have become numbed to it all and don't really think twice about it now. But when you stop to notice, you realize that its everywhere, everywhere.

Let's see. We've already talked about the billboards that line the streets every year for a few weeks before and after National Day. I also mentioned in passing how the portraits of the Three hang in all government buildings and many private buildings all year round. But there's more. The local media is filled with their pictures and stories about them -- far more than actually constitutes news. The front page of most of the local papers will have at least one story (usually more) about them. It might read something like this:

Prime Minister Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa hailed the success of the country's economic policies and paid tribute to His Majesty King Hamad bin Salman Al Khalifa for introducing the successful reforms package. The Prime Minister highlighted the undisputed facts that Bahrain is the most economically and technologically advanced country in the universe and has a human rights record second to none. This was confirmed by the high ranking achieved by the country on some list compiled by an independent international organization that wouldn't be able to find Bahrain on a map,... blah blah

If you flip to the sports pages in the back you get more of the same. Typically, something like this:

The endurance horce race organized by the Bahrain Royal Equestrian and Endurance Federation (BREEF) was once again won by Federation president, Shaikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa... rhubarb rhubarb...

The broadcast media is the same but worse since it is entirely under the control of the government. So this is what a typical news bulletin on the radio starts off with:

His Excellency Shaikh Wudeva bin Whoever Al Khalifa, undersecretary of the Directorate of Notmuch, sent a cable of good wishes to His Excellency Shaikh Joe bin Bloggs Al Khalifa congratulating him on learning how to tie his shoelaces. Shaikh Joe sent a cable of good wishes back to Shaikh Wudeva thanking him for the cable of good wishes, etc etc.

But recall that Shaikhs Wudeva and Joe probably have their offices right next to each other yet they still insist on sending a "cable of good wishes". To be honest I'm not even sure what they mean by this so-called "cable". Couldn't they just use e-mail now instead? Hmm... maybe it would sound a bit wierd.. "an e-mail of good wishes".

TV is quite similar to radio, but they actually show video of the Shaikh with his accompanying entourage as they visit different places and are greeted by everyone.

But wait! That's not all. Each of our 20 dinar banknotes features a portrait of the King. It used to be a picture of the Bab al-Bahrain, but they replaced it with our monarch after it was found that conterfeit copies of that note were in circulation.

And how about this. Go and get your phone directory and open up the blue section just before the white pages. You will find that there are eight whole pages that list the names and phone numbers of the members of the royal family. No not just the members who have a public office, but anyone who is part of the royal family. The section is aptly titled "Royal Family Names".

And how about some more billboards? If you've been driving through the Seef area this past week then you've surely seen all the billboards thanking the PM for supporting the Chamber of Commerce and the construction of its new headquarters. I counted 18 (yes, eighteen) of such billboards situated around the new site. Most of them have been attributed to the Chamber of Commerce, but it seems that some of the individual members wanted to make sure that they get recognized also, so they got separate ones done in their own name

So what the hell is going on? Obviously, the royal family can't take all of the blame for this, because it doesn't have direct control over all of the instances I've listed above. I would guess that those billboards that are sponsored by businesses are probably a means of getting cheap advertising. And then there is also the bum-lick factor which both businesses and government institutions would want to make use of to further their organizations or personal careers. Even if some of them don't feel they need to suck up, they probably feel pressured to join in so that they aren't the odd ones out. And on the side of the family itself, it seems as though they quite happily approve of, or encourage, such public displays of support. As the country inevitably moves towards democracy, the only way that the royal family can secure its position in the future is if it has public support to stay on. But I very much doubt that those billboards and the like do anything to increase their popularity.

So we have this environment set up that is highly conducive to public displays of bum-licking. Okay, Bahrain is by no means an exception as many of our neighbours, and other developing countries around the world suffer from this same problem (much worse in some places). And I can't really expect things in Bahrain to have changed overnight as soon as the reforms were introduced. So why am I wasting my (and your) time with this issue? Well unless people begin to express disapproval of public bum-licking the situation will never change. So this is my part.

Afternoon siesta

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

A cat in a wheelbarrow...


... enjoying the siesta in the company of a friend.

The gift of wound

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

After last week's tsunamis, there's been a lot of discussion about the role of "God" in tragedies, amongst those of us who waste our time with Higher Existence. Some people explain the tragedy as punishment for the transgressors. For others it is a trial to differentiate the true believers from the rest. For some, the pain and suffering in the world is proof that a Just God does not exist. And yet others see it as a sign that the Apocalypse is on its way.

What's my view? Ghalib the Lover explains (with a wry smile peeking through his weeping face):

جراحت تحفہ الماس ارمغاں داغِ جگر ہدیہ
مبارک باد اسد غم خوارِ جانِ دردمند آیا


The gift of wound, the souvenir of a diamond, the offering of a scarred heart.
Congratulations, Asad! Your sympathetic, compassionate beloved has arrived.

Make of it what you will.

Shifting to Haloscan

Monday, January 03, 2005

So I'm considering making Haloscan the comments engine for my blog. Here are the good things about Haloscan (vs Blogspot comments):

  • You don't have to sign in or register to leave a comment.
  • I can provide a "latest comments" section in my sidebar to help the discussions going.
  • I can provide you with an RSS feed of all the comments.

The bad things about Haloscan comments are:

  • It doesn't look as slick as the blogspot comment engine.
  • The comments page will have some advertising.
  • There's a small chance that spammers will flood the comments section.

So what I will do is set up Haloscan for the next two or three posts, starting with this one. If people have any opinions about which they prefer then they can drop a comment in this post. If it works okay, than I will use Haloscan for all future posts. And if not, I'll revert back to blogspot comments. Note that there will be a "Latest comments" section in the sidebar on the right within an hour of my posting this. So let's see.


------

Update (5-Jan-05): I've decided to ditch haloscan and use a nifty hack from BloggerHacks (cheers Abdu). I think it should solve all my problems. Again, let's see how it goes. And don't worry, I have all your Haloscan comments stored... I will add them manually tonight.

56: The magic number

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Photo source: Montadayat.org

Here's something that I had no clue was going on. From the Khaleej Times:

MANAMA — The controversy over the legal status of the Decree No. 56 issued by His Majesty the King, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, earlier last year (2004), ended here with the Chamber of Deputies marking it as "constitutional." The "all-legal" decision on the King granting a general amnesty to certain individuals was approved by the majority of the Chamber members. (Continued)

Well done to our joker MPs on another job well done. I hope they are patting themselves on the back for doing such a good job of representing the will of the Bahraini people. Oopsy... they somehow missed the thousands of people who were on the streets just two weeks ago protesting specifically against Decree 56.

Actually, I had no idea that Law 56 was being discussed in Parliament. But with our elected rubber stamps in office, its not like we should have been expecting a meaningful outcome.


Photo source: Montadayat.org

Also yesterday, a protest was held outside the former office of Adel Flaifel, the notorious former security officer accused of torturing political activists. They were there to demand the rescinding of Law 56 so that Flaifel and his cohorts can be tried for torture and murder. (See more photos here). Similar protests are planned for the coming weeks (the next one will be on Jan 13, I think).


Photo source: Montadayat.org

In my eyes, the King's backing of Law 56 is the biggest obstacle obstructing the path towards truth and reconciliation between the different sections of Bahraini society. (Asides from it obviously being morally wrong) Politically, the King's support for such a humiliating law is a huge blot on all of his apparent efforts to portray himself as the "Good Cop", and it will certainly hurt him in the future if he doesn't do anything soon. Over time, it's possible for society to forget economic hardships, it's possible to forget sectarian discrimination, it's possible to forget restrictions on speech... but it's not possible to forget torture and murder -- these wounds will continue festering until they are treated.

Urban contradictions

I came across a series of photos posted on the Karbabad.net forum which perfectly illusrates the absurd contrast between the Seef district and Karbabad village that I mentioned in a post about poverty a while ago.

Seef, has perfect wide roads, with wide pavements, lined with trees and street lamps. All the building are clean and shiny, as they were only built within the last five or six years.

Karbabad however is a neglected village. The houses are crumbling and without paint. The roads are barely wide enough for one car to squeeze through, and most them are just dirt-tracks (without tarmac). After it rains, the pools of stagnant water remain on the roads for weeks.

What is so striking is that these two places lie right next to each other. It take only five minutes for one to walk from one scene in to the other; to walk from one world in to the other. It obviously raises questions about why Karbabad (and other villages) has been so specifically neglected. There are so many new roads being built in Seef... would it hurt to make some proper roads in Karbabad? (To see the rest of the photos click here).

And on a related note, recall my post about the plans to build a highway through Diraz and Barbar villages. I find it ridiculous that they want to build a highway passing through Diraz, when much of Diraz village doesn't have proper roads. Its ridiculous that they want to build a new city off the coast of Diraz, when Diraz village is so dilapidated. Why are we so obsessed with trying to solve problems with these huge elaborate construction projects (which so often involve reclaiming land)? Is it not possible to spend a bit on regenerating the rundown villages, rather than building these embarassingly shiny cities right next them? Probably not.

Funny reading

While reading through this morning's GDN I came a cross a couple stories that made me laugh very hard.

The first article was supposed to praise the government for tackling media and software piracy in Bahrain. The headline reads: "Four charged with 'piracy'". The sub-heading says: "Manama computer shops raided in joint sting operation". I found this so funny because just yesterday afternoon I was in Muharraq and I saw a couple Bangladeshi chaps with a big collection of pirated CDs for sale laid out on the pavement of the main road that goes towards the Suq. It wasn't some secret mafia transaction taking place behind closed doors requiring a hi-tech "sting operation". They were standing right out in the open on the main thoroughfare in everyone's view. The best thing though was that they were carrying out their business right opposite the Muharraq Police Station, and no one seemed to be bothered. These street vendors are quite common in Bahrain. I wonder what they need "joint sting operations" for.

And here's the other funny article from the GDN:

Bahrain steps up security

MANAMA: Security was stepped up near the Al Fateh Islamic Centre during Friday prayers and near the US embassy yesterday. Undercover Bahraini and US security forces were present during the prayers, witnesses said. Leading Bahraini scholars and clerics earlier condemned a call by Saudi dissidents living in the West for mass rallies in Bahrain through a TV channel, Reform, which they run. (Continued)

There's definitely something very wrong going on if "witnesses" know that there are undercover security forces present. With regards to the the undercover US forces, I wonder if they were given away by their "High and Tight" haircuts... hmmm.

Anyhows, if you want to read more about this call for mass rallies in Bahrain by Saad al-Faqih's movement, then read this report from Arab News. But I'm still very unclear about what was being advocated and the reasons for it.


The article below was printed in the GDN on 1-Jan-05:

Four charged with 'piracy'

By MOHAMMED ASLAM

THREE Bahraini businessmen and an Indian salesman have been accused of dealing in pirated computer software.

One of the Bahrainis, who manages a computer shop, is also accused of possessing pornographic material on CDs.

All four were charged following raids on two computer shops in Manama in July this year, the Lower Criminal Court heard.

Three of the defendants appeared in court and denied all the charges against them, but a fourth failed to appear.

The case was adjourned until March 15, when witnesses will testify.

All the four defendants are accused of dealing in pirated software belonging to the Microsoft Corporation.

They were arrested after raids by Information Ministry inspectors, following undercover work by the Arabian Anti-Piracy Alliance (AAPA), based in Dubai, the court heard.

An AAPA representative posed as a customer and visited one of the shops, where he found pirated software on two computers.

Field inspectors from the Information Ministry's Publications and Press Directorate were sent to two shops, following the complaint by AAPA, the court heard.

"In the first shop in Manama we found pirated software goods and also some pornographic CDs," said the head of the inspectors.

"We also seized two computers with pirated computer programs.

"In the second computer shop, we seized two computers with pirated computer programs"

Two Bahraini businessmen, aged 36 and 47, said they owned the shops, but their managers were responsible for running them.

"I had warned all the employees in the shop not to trade in any pirated software goods," said one.

The other said he had no knowledge of what went on in the shop.

"I own many commercial registrations and have many business outlets in Bahrain and abroad," he said.

"I normally visit this shop once a month and I have no knowledge about what was seized by the Information Ministry inspectors from the shop."

2005

Have a good one.