September 24, 2005

development by examples

Another positive step on the road to constitutionalised monarchy has been taken. His Majesty issued Royal Order 20 for 2005 on Wednesday appointing Board of Trustees for the Institute of Political Development. This new organization is tasked with promoting reform and providing political training for MPs, Shura members and municipal councilors, and conduct studies and research on constitutional and legal issues. A fine local solution to a local problem of interference by the NDI and other foreign initiatives in internal affairs.

The order appointed Lulwa Al Awadi president of the Institute, with Dr Bahiya Al Jishi, Dr Hasan Madan, Hamad Al Muhannadi, Taher Hikmat, Fareed Jasim, Mohammed Al Mashehadani, Mohammed Hadi Al Halwachi, and Yousif Al Hashimi as members.

By all accounts, these are fine men and women from the community, and beyond. To be sure, some are obscure, such as Mr. Taher Hikmat (who has the same name as a Jordanian parliamentarian), but my ignorance could be at fault. others, however, are shining stars and illustrious examples for political development at its best.

Dr Al-Meshehadani, an Iraqi who acquired Bahraini citizenship, is just perfect for the job. A distinguished law professor, then Department Chair, then Dean of Law, all the while an abiding loyalist toward his immediate boss ( Chair, then Dean of Law, then Rector of the University): Sh. Dr. Maryam Al-Khalifa. Two years ago, when a group of law students sought a permission to hold a conference for a debate on the constitution, he fatherly but firmly refused. The faculty is a place of learning not politics, he admonished. When the students made a fuss about the university bylaw being an infringement on their rights, he -in all magnanimity- and on gentle prodding of the Shaykha - made a rare descent from the ivory tower to pen a journalistic article. In perfect, crisp Arabic, he explained to all that a legislation regulating a certain freedom is a necessary precondition to exercise that freedom. He quoted a French constitutionalist that “a clause in the constitution is absolutely not sufficient for a freedom to exist. Until the necessary legislation regulating it is issued, a constitutional clause on a freedom is nothing more than a constitutional promise, not apt to be put in practice". The regulation, he said, stands, and if they had a problem with it, they can go all the to the constitutional court.

Mr. Al-Muhannadi’s career showed a similarly remarkable development. He worked since 1986 for the Interior Ministry, first with the prosecution team, then in legal affairs at the Southern Security Command, and organised pilgrimage trips, only to find himself elected as MP. He left a strong impression recently when, as chair of the lower chamber’s legal and legislative committee, was asked by Al-Wasat whether he viewed the current distribution of electoral districts as fair and equal. He offered this answer: “ I think it is fair. Across the world, you don’t look at population density only; you also take into consideration the geographical area and other factors as well’. Kudos to an MP who considers himself representing every inch of sand in his area as well. A new innovative formula is born: one man/meter square, one vote.

Mr. Al Halwachi’s claim to political fame and substantial fortune came from his way with words. He rose from humble positions at the Ministries of Electricity and Justice, when he discovered a knack for “gainful” poetry. He first free-lanced for the purported gift of few thousands Bahraini Dinars per poem, and later became a regular at royal visits and receptions. He was appointed a member of the august chamber of Shura, and became head of its legislative committee, in recognition of his status as a rare breed; A son of the vanquished leaving no praising gem unearthed for the sons of the conquerers. Thus, one king is “ a cloud of love that poured care over all thirsty hearts in the kingdom”, and another royalty is “ the light that beamed over all the quarters of the sultanate” , and whence they both met, “ two suns, one of glory, and one of supremacy, were rising to shine on all”. If the
US can't help in moderating its praise, how could he?

The notable development in all of this is the appointment of Dr. Hassan Madan; a very good writer, an intellectual you could say, one who lived in exile for years, a former ranking member of the first modern –underground- political organization in the country, and a sitting head of a political society. Is this his rightful place? Some would say alas. I wish him luck.

September 18, 2005

September 18 and September 11

September 11, 2001

Flight 011 (with 92 passengers) departs at 7:59 am, is hijacked, crashes at 8:45, North Tower collapses at 10:28.

Flight 175 (with 65 passengers) departs at 7:58 am, is hijacked, crashes at 9:03, South Tower collapses at 10:05.

2 ½ hours of terror end in the horrific death of under 3000 people.

Direct perpetrators: perished all on impact. Planners: many are in custody, the rest are the most wanted men on earth.

Fallout: A global war on terror. Two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

War of ideas: Why Muslims Hate the West? Aworld-wide campaign to confront and eradicate the roots of “Islamic” ideologies of hate.

Most common adjective: The day that changed the world.

September 16-18, 1982

A unit of 150 Phalangists was assemble at 4:00 p.m. Armed with guns, knives and hatchets, they enter the camps at 6:00 p.m. A Phalangist officer reported 300 killings to the Israeli command post at 8:00 p.m., and further reports of killings followed through the night. Pregnant women were knived to death. Two doctors were killed. 50 women marched to declare surrender but were all gunned down.

The Phalangists, before exiting the camp as ordered, forced the remaining survivors to march out of the camps, randomly killing individuals, and sending others to the stadium for interrogations, the militia finally left the camps at 8:00 a.m. on September 18.

36 hours of mutilation, torture, multiple rape and slaughter resulted in the death of around 3000 people (Palestinians and Lebanese).

Direct perpetrators: Scoff free. Some went on to become very successful businessmen in Australia, Europe and North America. Planners: One is currently in office as a distinguished Prime Minister, one was former Minister. Some are parliamentary leaders. Some enjoy a hero status. Some are in the business of lobbying the Congress, Quai'd'Orsay and the Security Council, quite successfully.

Fallout: A commission report in Israel, and a failed attempt in Brussel to bring Sharon to trial. Oblivion

War of ideas: none.

Most common adjective: a massacre.

September 13, 2005

national treasures

An item in today's Al-Ayam caused me great concern. A source told a journalist that a ministerial reshuffle was in the offing, and this time it will involve no less than our historic Foreign Minister.

At issue is the place and ranking of this country in the record books of the world. At a time when every nation is competing for an entry into immortality, our hard won honours are being squandered.

His Excellency the Foreign Minister is already in the top league of the longest serving foreign ministers of the world. On the job even before independence, he was FM in 1970 when William Rogers was the U.S. Secretary of State, and 12 secretaries of state later, he is still there as the Bahraini counterpart to Condi Rice. He certainly broke the record of Andrei Gromyko who served as the soviet FM for 28 years. And now that he was on his way to unseat Sabah Al-Ahmad of Kuwait (FM fom 1963-2003) as the longest serving FM of the world, he is being cut short. What a shame.

An historic achievement is about to slip from the nation's hands. Can you imagine what are the odds of any country in the world beating our record if we were let to reach it? We already have let go of the world's longest serving Minister of the Interior (1971-2004). Maybe we just have to take comfort and solace in the enduring stability of having the longest serving PM of the world (1966- and counting).

September 12, 2005

no longer onboard

News wires and Akhbar Al Khaleej were reporting today that Abu Dhabi is pulling out from Gulf Air, which until recent past was the national airline of 4 governments: AbuDhabi, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar. Qatar pulled out first, and Oman was about to follow suit last year, but a last minute intercession by Zayed convinced Qaboos to remain. Now that Abu Dhabi has its own carrier Etihad Airways fully operational and Zayed gone, it sees little incentive in playing the role of main backer and bankroller of this Bahrain-based airline. It is certain that Oman will soon quit, and Gulf Air will effectively land in the lap of Bahrain.

The news is not totally unexpected, but it is sad for two things. Gulf Air is one of the biggest 3 employers in the island, and the bread and butter of hundreds of Bahraini families is at stake. It also comes as another nail -the last?- in the coffin of the hopes and dreams of those who were betting on unified or coordinated pan-Gulf ventures.

Gulf Air itself was in rehabilitation under an almost complete Aussie management for the last three years. Like in the Iraqi case, the hemorrhage was so bad, foreign intervention seemed inevitable. The tales of corruption - financial and otherwise- reached legendary propotions. Every one has his -or her- Gulf Air story. But the company is yet to learn. Just recently, it sent dismissal letters to three employees on the account of their union activism. The head of its Public Relations told the press the three are welcomed to sue in court if they wished to. Not a pretty P.R.

GF Air boasts of 55 years of history. Which begs the question, was it so difficult all along for local talents with competence and integrity to develop and be at the helm? or is it all syptomatic of what ails the region politically?

September 06, 2005

As-Sayab was here

As-Sayab on operation shock and awe:

I can almost hear Iraq hoarding thunder
And storing lightning in mountains and plains
So that when men unleash their seals
The gales will leave no trace of Thamud
In the valley.

And on its aftermath:

I can almost hear the palm trees drinking rain,
And I hear the villages moaning
And the migrants battling with sail and oar
Against the storms of the Gulf

(from The song of Rain).

September 03, 2005

one ISP, two kingdoms

Bahrainis are a gouged, squeezed lot. I don't mean vanishing oil revenues, public land and seashore. I'm talking about the internet rates we pay for notre dame de telecommunications.

I fork BD 40 (US$ 106) each month for a supposedly broadband line of 256 kbps from Batelco. ( that's in a country where many earn less than BD 200 per month). But if I were living in Jordan, Batelco Jordan (a subsidiary of Batelco Bahrain) will offer me a 512 kbps internet for JD 23.9, or just BD 12.8 per month.

The ISP business is not labour intensive, so wages (which are slightly higher here) could not account for the difference. Nor is it a case of economy of scale (Batelco Jordan is still a minor player there). So, how can they explain the difference?

Here are the rates tables:

Batelco Jordan Broadband Prices

Plan Type



Yearly Rate

Monthly rate

Broadband Light

128 Kbps


JD 159

JD 15.9

Broadband Entry

512 Kbps


JD 239

JD 23.9

Broadband High5



JD 299

JD 29.9

Broadband High12



JD 399

JD 39.9


And the one for Bahrain:

Package (Speed)
Residential Flat w / threshold
Residential Flat w / threshold
University / Special needs
128 / 64
256 / 64
256 / 64
512 /128
256 / 64
Monthly Threshold (free)
500 MB
5 GB
5 GB
Activation Fees
Monthly Rental
Usage above Threshold
(per 1MB)