August 19, 2006

the sunny side of independence

For someone who works indoors, this Fourteenth of August was anything but a sunny occasion. You may internalise it as a day of independence, but in outer reality the word lost every shredded ray of meaning.

In the swoop of one full generation, the country progressed from a half- efficient colonial rule to a highly developed feudal one. The transition was achieved through the most successful land privatization scheme anywhere. Citizenry also underwent massive redefinition by the world first ever citizens-on-demand program. Open to sunny citizens everywhere.

But if one had the luxury of air-conditioned woes, the same can’t be said of the 42 local workers (no need to guess their unsunny sectarian affiliation) who braved the 42 plus degrees on Monday to demand parity with non-local workers in receiving the BD 52 food allowance. The very next –independence- day, their American manager sent the 42 their dismissal letter with dutiful cc’s to appropriate authorities, the American Embassy.

It was obviously a grave miscalculation by the striking workers at Dyncorp. The company, which is billed as providing “technical” assistance to US naval base here and with presence in 35 countries, and contracts with US forces, has 2 billions turnover and allegations ranging from sexual exploitation rings in Bosnia to mercenaries in Iraq to arm trafficking in Sudan to its credit. Wholesome independence aside, you could tell the strikers went too far in believing the testimony offered by an Oman-based official of the company to a hearing of a congressional committee:

“DynCorp International has operations throughout the region including Bahrain. As a result of the U.S.-Bahrain Free Trade Agreement, our company has a workers’ union. We view this as a plus, and we work together with the DynCorp Workers Trade Union and the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBTU) as they develop and take on the responsibilities of organized labor. We intend to be leaders in the implementation of the U.S.-Oman FTA labor provisions, and will be supportive of the formation of workers’ representative groups in Oman”.

And the fruits of a post-independence economy do not stop here. Just onn Wednesday, yet another textile company followed suit and arbitrarily dismissed 20 local female workers (no need to guess their unsunny sectarian affiliation) just ahead of a visit of a Labour Ministry begging round to employ few more –unsunny- Bahrainis.

If that was not enough for a 14th of August, the courtly newspaper of this -henceforth Sabbath respecting- country jovially announced the end of hostilities against another unsunny nemesis sect in Lebanon by the headline “The Match is Over” إنتهت المباراة on its Monday edition. You could tell that the long flirtation between air-conditioned Wahabism and self-declared Yahweh’s air force is now burgeoning into a match made in oiled heavens.

August 06, 2006

unpublic diplomacy

The British sense of subtlety is legendary of course. So it was in keeping with that refined upper crust sensibility that the British Embassy here issued its recent missive to local dailies urging them to refrain from publishing first page “horrific” photos of destruction in Lebanon.

The esteemed Embassy, for long the seat of esteemed and unsubtle power over the fate of this island and surroundings before contending with a kinder, subtler sort of influence as of 1971, obviously intended the whole affair to remain a discreet letter to the editor. It was unsubtle Al-Waqt, followed by plain Al-Watan and mouthful Akhbar-Al-khaleej, who went ahead and published it. You may see it as a classic case of a PR disaster, but to me it was both disheartening as flattering to read the statement. For one thing, the letter showed little respect even to BBC Arabic. To send a not so professionally worded statement to professional journalists makes you wonder whatever happened to British standards post metric times. (The Embassy may do well to apply for a language loan from a still-sterling HSBC). Form aside, it was flattering to see the august Embassy's pained care for our sensibility. They must have the Tunisian guy who passed away upon seeing the atrocious pictures in mind when they issued their subtle health warning to the newspapers. Photos can kill you and it is to every reader's interest to keep a blood pressure well within normal limits.

The letter, signed by a Mr. Harrison, acting for the long time no see Mr. Lamb, sadly did not suggest any alternative pages for publishing the photos. But it went to a great length to emphasize the subtle, behind closed nature of British diplomacy in the conflict. Which, coming on the heel of a press conference to the world by Mr. Blair by the side of Bush, sounded like a colossal understatement, verging on complete self-effacement.

But that’s in keeping with yet another venerable British tradition. From your borders to your passport to your history book to your ruler, Great Britain perhaps had more impact on your life than Great Almighty, but don’t expect any any boasting of this matchless success.

Consider that this is a war unleashed by the British- conceived State of Israel, driven and subsidized by British-populated United States, cheered by British-sulked Saudi Arabia, well-wished by British-reared Jordan, taken in good sport by British-miscarriaged Egypt, and mildly protested by British-midwifed Sudan and Yemen. So it was perfectly normal for Condi Rice, speaking on behalf of the new surrogate mother of empire, to happily herald the birth pangs of new -teethless- Middle Eastern offspring.

I am not laying blamer for our woes at the heavenly feet of mother Empire, heavens forbid. I’m only blaming subtle forces of heavens for our un-Irish luck with men and women of Whitehall. Even on those rare occasions where shift of policy might have a chance with men like Derek Fatchett or Robin Cook, they prematurely receive the subtle nod to another hall of the hereafter.

That leaves every editor in town to stick to subtle and photo self-effacing coverage of the conflict, lest the American–made, British-justified, Israeli –delivered guided bombs and missiles do the self-effacement for him.