Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Manama’

Turned Away from Bahrain

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 2nd April, 2012

Over the past 20 years or so, Bahrain has been one of my favourite ports of call. When I was working in Kuwait for extended periods in 2004-2006, in particular, I often used to pop down for the weekend, as Manama was so friendly and relaxed. But alas things have changed somewhat since the events of early last year. This morning I flew in, hoping for a couple of days of winding down before doing some work elsewhere in the Gulf only to find that nowdays even those of us with European passports don’t just hand over 5 dinars and get a visa in 30 seconds. A significant number of people coming in on my flight (and those following) were taken aside while their documents were consulted against the Immigration Department’s records. My passport was held for almost four hours before a senior officer came out, bearing documents from my file, including printouts of tweets I published last year experssing dismay at the crackdown on demonstrations at Manama’s Pearl Roundabout and the security forces’ intervention in a major hospital where some of the wounded were being treated. Politely but firmly the officer said I would not be allowed into the country, adding that “no-one has been killed in Bahrain” and that “the doctors who were taken away were revolutionaries who were trying to overthrow the King.” Doubtless one day objective history will set the record straight; at least I hope so. Anyway, I had some hasty rearranging to do and moved on to Doha in Qatar. Apparently I have now joined (Lord) Eric Avebury and others who have campaigned on human rights issues relating to Bahrain in becoming persona non grata there. It’s a shame, because I still consider myself to be a true friend of Bahrain and of the Bahraini people. I can now only look forward to a time when it might once again become a more open society. And in the meantime, Qatar — home to Al Jazeera, amongst other things — will now become my default Gulf destination of choice.


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Islamic New Year

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 30th December, 2008

islamic-new-year     Yesterday was the first day of the Muslim year 1430. It’s unusual for the Islamic (Hijra) and Western calendars almost to coincide in this way, as the the former is about 11 days shorter than the latter. And for many in the Arab world, this had led to hopes of a joyful, extended holiday.  But with Israel launching its ‘all-out war’ against Gaza, people are not in the mood for celebrating. There was a dignified demonstration by several hundred Palestinians and local sympathisers on the Corniche here in Manama yesterday afternoon (Bahrain being one country in the region where political demonstrations are allowed).

Gaza is understandably dominating the summit meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which opened in the Omani capital, Muscat, yesterday. Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, Prime Minister of Qatar — which is the only GCC country which has diplomatic ties to Israel — rang the Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, to inform her that ‘Arabs feel that Israel had no intention of achieving peace’. This bodes ill for 2009.

The global financial crisis is the other big issue for the GCC leaders, but this should not in principle stop them progressing with their plan for a regional single currency (provisionally dubbed the ‘khaleej’, or the gulf), by 2010. This plan is very much based on the EU’s model. But Oman — perhaps inspired by Britain’s example — is going to opt out.

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Bahrain, from Red and White to Black

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 29th December, 2008

ashura-2   When I landed in Bahrain a fortnight ago, Manama was a sea of red and white flags, marking National Day. Most buildings (and many boats!) were flying them and quite a number of the grandest edifices in the capital were illuminated with strings of red and white lights at night.

But last evening, I was taken to the Shia village of  Sanabis, where every house was displaying a black flag and big banners hung over the road, with quotes from the Shia Martyr Hussein. All this is in preparation for Ashura, which marks the day the Prophet’s grandson was killed in the battle of Kerbala in present-day Iraq. I was taken into the new local mosque, with its gorgeous blue tilework, Iranian carpets and chandeliers. It was something of a shock to see giant pictures of the past and present Iranian spiritual leaders, Ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamenei, flanking the minbar (from which the imam preaches). No wonder the Sunni minority in Bahrain (which includes the royal family) are sometimes nervous about the Shias’ sense of belonging.

However, the Shia hospitality last night was superb (the fact that I had been to Karbala probably enhanced my status). Tea was  being served free from tables outside the mosque and food was being prepared in the kitchens. On Ashura day itself, the whole village will be crowded with devotees in a state of spiritual exhaltation.

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Fishermen’s Woes in Bahrain

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 17th December, 2008

The house in Bahrain where I am now staying used to back straight on to the sea. When I first started coming here, fifteen years ago, local fishermen used to gather driftwood under the back wall and mend their nets during slack periods. But following the construction of the kingdom’s artificial Amwaj Islands and further land reclamation to improve Muharraq’s road infrastructure, there is no longer any outlet to the sea and the fishing boats have gone. The same story is being repeated around Bahrain’s islands, as more and more land is reclaimed.

At least the fishermen at Seef got good news yesterday, timed to coincide with the Bahrain National Day holiday: the Manama municipality has agreed to work with the Public Commission for the Protection of Marine Resources, Environment and Wildlife to create a new temporary harbour for 60 fishermen whose boats were left landlocked by land reclamation at Seef. But just as the pearl-fishers saw their livelihoods devastated here in the 1930s, now many fishermen fear they will be the last in their line.

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