13 February 2011
"The nation will start the uprising 14 February."
This recent Associated Press photo takes me a long way back to my youth. The village of A'ali, age ten, cruising around on BMX bikes and skateboards, hanging out with the local Bahrainis. Sometimes having a laugh, sometimes fighting, causing chaos. A pasty white Welsh kid thrown into the hot and dusty streets of Bahrain... I can't really convey how it has shaped me as a person in a blog post. I've been trying to make sense of it for a long time.
It took me ten years to even understand some of the implications of my family's presence on that tiny island. The ruling Al Khalifa family have viscoulsy oppressed the vast majority of indigneous Bahrainis for generations. Meanwhile, Western expats occupy the highly specialized/ skilled and managerial occupations, workers form the Indian subcontinent occupy the menial works. If the Bahraini Shi'a complain about any of this with any fervour they risk detention without trial and likely torture. Currently, there are allegedly polticial prisoners as young as ten years old occupying underground jails, probably for doing little more than the young man in the above picture.
This is totalitarian regime that has been actively supported by the US and UK. Not to mention Ian Henderson, who helped to brutally suppress the Mau Mau in Kenya was chief advisor to Bahraini security forces for decades and is now wanted for the crimes against humanity.
Bahrainis are not afraid to get out in the streets. It is not like you or I blocking the Broadway Bridge to denounce the War In Iraq. This is life and death shit to these people but when you've got nothing to lose...
While Islamic Fundamentalism has been a vehicle that has carried much of the dissent, the people of Bahrain have had very real gripes beyond religious schism, that include: the lack of freedom of expression, freedom to organize, lack of representation, insanely unequal distribution of wealth. Small concessions have been made over the years. A Parliament has been formed, elections happen, there is free press and legal unions and so on but everyone knows these are often meaningless token appeasements to keep the ruling elite firmly in power. Give 'em just enough to quell the grumbles, allow them to be pacified by some token freedoms and luxuries. Obvious lessons learned from western 'democracies.'
Ultimately, like in Tunisia, Egypt and the rest of the Middle East the power structure can not be meaningfully 'reformed,' it needs to be actively dismantled. Surely, a lot of the world will have a legitimate concern over who and what will fill the power vacuum but hopefully, February 14th will display a genuine egalitarian challenge to an autocratic regime, whose demise has been a long time coming. Inevitably, a less than ideal government will take hold in all these countries but the lessons learned in the streets are going to provide invaluable learning opportunities for eventual lasting change for the entire International political stage.
Leaderless, horizontally organized challenges to illegitimate authority, the decentralization of power and eventual direct control over our own local communities is coming. Maybe not in our life time but these 'moments' are going to give us glimpses of just what's possible. There really is no alternative at this point. It is just a matter of how long the planet can afford to sustain us while we get our shit together.
To my friends in Bahrain, As-Salamu Alaykum.Some of us are rooting for you.
Mum, Dad, be safe.
And Mabrook Egypt!