It’s tough to believe how calm the atmosphere (aside from the traffic) was when I strolled by the Pearl Monument above some 3 weeks ago. Currently the site of tense and violent anti-government protests, under normal conditions there isn’t a much to do at in the square but take photos of the Pearl Monument. Before oil became the primary source of the Bahrain’s economy, pearls were the kingdom’s main export and there are plenty of references to that fact throughout the tiny country in the Persian Gulf.
The current protests revolve around a history of discord between Bahrain’s Shiite Muslim community and the ruling Sunni Muslim Al Khalifa royal family. The Shiite communities are rather segregated in neighborhoods marked with black flags that can be found throughout the capitol Manama and rest of Bahrain. The road to political and social equilibrium for Bahrain is an uncertain a volatile one for now.
You can see more of my recent pictures and sights from Bahrain in this gallery here.
It’s always the case that there is some sort of cognitive dissonance when seeing a place that we know was the location of something that was monumental and historical in nature. EDSA in Manila is just a busy highway, and it’s hard to imagine that thousands of people have gathered there back in 1986 to topple Marcos. Terezin is a lovely little town in the Czech Republic, but it was the site of a Nazi concentration camp back in the first half of the twentieth century.
I wouldn’t have thought Bahrain, of the Arab states in the Middle East, would be one to erupt like it has. The government has had quite a heavy hand (as recently evident) but it seems like these movements are gaining momentum.
You’re absolutely right – it will be like visiting Tahrir Square in Cairo several months from now. I doubt much physical evidence of the 2 week protests will be found 🙂
From what you’ve written, it sounds like a different story for Bahrain to the feel-good people power stories that came out of Tunisia and Egypt. Protest stories also coming from Libya as I type. Interesting times…I know that’s an understatement!
The strange thing is at the time nobody I spoke with thought such a thing could occur there. I would venture to say that Bahrain has a more restrictive government than Egypt or Tunisia (when it comes to anti-government sentiment).
Ironically, the government heavy hand might be pushing things along faster. I suspect the results in Egypt have given many more groups around the Arab world a boldness they might not have otherwise had.
This movement in the Middle East that has seen the toppling of long-term governements in Tunisia and Egypt is really fascinating. It is difficult to believe that this peaceful looking square is the current site of an uprising (though people power is immense as we recall from the Eastern Europe downfall in the early 1990s). Many of these government in this region are highly restrictive and will take exceptional negotiation to survive.
I think in the Gulf states especially there is less of an appearance of discontent; just because things are so developed and generally orderly (due to lots of oil money). The governments have a strong grip on power and clearly threatened – like you say, the violence is evident of their desperation to hold onto power.
Things are changing quickly in this part of the world. I really have no idea what to think any longer. I’m still amazed at how segregated communities are. In Jordan and Lebanon the segregated communities have been around for so long that people don’t even think about it any longer – but to a foreigner it still seems weird.
There is certainly a momentum building and it’s an exciting time to be near or traveling through these places.
The Shiite communities in Bahrain were really jarring to see – they almost looked fortified and very intimidating. I can imagine that sort of dynamic can only go on for so long before the pressure is released somehow.
Its funny how a simple pic can leave a such powerful impact, great shot Anil
Thanks – I knew at the time it was a popular site but had no idea it would or had such a political significance.
Oh I know how it feels.. I was in Cairo when the protests started. I was there and I saw them growing and growing… then I left Egypt and every time I watched the news on the tv and saw Tahreer Square, I had the chills… That’s where I go to Arabic school, where I used to meet with my friends (see you in Tahreer at 7pm!) and I live just 5 minutes away walking.
It’s not a sad feeling, it’s weird and can’t really be described. Well, it tends to be a good one as hopefully things will change for the best!
My thoughts are with Libya now…
Wow, whereabouts are you now?
I too agree that while the violence is sad, I’m hopeful that the results of these demonstrations will be in a positive direction – both in Egypt and Bahrain — with fingers crossed for Libya, Tunisia, Yemen and others as well.
I was back home (Italy) for 3 weeks but now I feel much more at home! Back in Cairo since a few hours and happier than ever 🙂
Glad to hear – I saw your YouTube video about it earlier today and your passion for the city and people really pours through in your words and face.
I’m looking forward to visiting Egypt sooner rather than later myself!
You definitely have to 🙂 and I think now it’s a great moment… there’s such a unique atmosphere!
Will be happy to be your guide whenever you decide to come… hopefully I’ll be around 🙂
looks like you got here just in time bro, the monument is gone…