27/03/2006

Pitfalls of a borrowed lifestyle...

Vol XXIX   NO. 7      Monday      27th March 2006

News that demand for personal loans has fallen from BD681.3 million in 2004 to BD656.2m last year must have been welcomed with relief in many quarters - except banks of course!

Who would want to see his profits drop, even if it was an indicator of a number of things, including perhaps that people have started to realise the dangers of the vicious circle of being in debt, the futility of trying to keep up with the richer Johns, or have become so poor that no bank will risk giving them loans.

A number of banks have actually expressed their disappointment, blaming the Bahrain Monetary Agency for the fall.

While it doesn't take a genius to figure out the reason for their dismay, I find myself thinking how long will the Bahraini society continue to survive on loans, with many living way beyond their means to sustain false appearances.

Many youngsters, myself included, took the bait and reaped the short-term benefits of loans early on in their lives, only to regret it later as the repayments became a burden and one loan led to another, spanning a few decades to pay off.

I personally had to take a loan to buy myself a car at the beginning of my career, since every job demands transportation. As I climbed the ladder, I thought I needed a better car, to reflect my new status, if not my salary!

This called for another loan, even though I hadn't completed the first loan and you would assume that once bitten, I would be twice shy.

Since I had already borrowed money and was in debt, there was no harm in adding insult to injury and treating my mother to a new car too.

Well to say the truth, she deserved it and I shouldn't be bragging about it years later.

As I was already up to my eyeballs in loans, there would really be no chance for me to see the world and enjoy myself without having to borrow more money.

So a third loan sealed the deal and booked me holidays to Europe and the US, which I still boast about today - without mentioning that my travels and expenses were made possible thanks to bank loans and not my ingenuity in saving money.

Needless to say, I never enjoyed the thrill of a full salary as it was distributed as soon as it was deposited in my account, while the banks doubled, tripled and quadrupled their profit at the expense of fools like me who always think they have made a great deal, when in reality they have been taken for a ride!

* Amira Al Hussaini currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

18:47 Posted in Miscellaneous | Permalink | Comments (27)

12/03/2006

A giant leap forward for Bahraini women...

Vol XXVIII   NO. 357      Sunday      12th March 2006
 

I have already circled September in my calendar! I know exactly where I will be and what I will be doing.

It is a date which every Bahraini should be proud of as a Bahraini and Arab woman will for the first time assume the role of president of the United Nations General Assembly.

Shaikha Haya bint Rashid Al Khalifa will be the second woman to hold the post in its 61-year-old history, after Angie Brooks of Liberia, who was president in 1969.

Congratulations Shaikha Haya on this great achievement, which is truly a huge leap in terms of showing the rest of the world the high calibre of Bahraini women and the heights they have reached.

We have indeed come a long way.

I hope this will answer all the questions people ask me about women in my country.

For if the picture is not all that perfect, there is great hope in the future with two female ministers and finally a woman president of the UN General Assembly.

It is a gain of such a great magnitude it is sure to generate interest from around the world about Bahrain in general and the status of its women in particular.

The responsibility placed on Shaikha Haya's shoulders is indeed huge, as the world's eyes will be focused on her during her tenure.

She will be responsible for running the General Assembly, attending endless meetings and facing the questions of some of the world's most seasoned journalists in one Press conference after another, to name but a few of the challenges ahead!

While I wouldn't want to be in Shaikha Haya's shoes, as I am more comfortable covering events from the sidelines, the post of General Assembly president is an unenviable one which I am sure she has already been briefed about and ready to deal with its realities, come September.

This takes me back to days when I was a cub reporter and won a scholarship to the UN to cover the proceedings of the 49th General Assembly meeting almost 10 years ago!

Being in the General Assembly hall was daunting to say the least. But heading the meeting is another story altogether.

Thank you Bahrain for placing your trust in a woman and showing the rest of the world our civilised face, which I am more than sure Shaikha Haya would be able to project, given her earlier performance as our ambassador to France.

It is indeed a bright page in Bahrain's modern history.

* Amira Al Hussaini currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

11/03/2006

Family law opponents living in the dark ages

  NO. 356      Saturday     11 March 2006

Bahrain is once again making the headlines for hosting the biggest event in racing history - and it is the number one race on the Grand Prix calendar.

While thousands of people are working behind the scenes to make the event a success, a smaller number of locals are openly rallying support for a demonstration to coincide with the race - to call for banning the newly drafted Family Law, which seems to be getting closer to reality by the day.

What is it they are calling for exactly? A race against time and a trip back to the dark ages?

Have we gone totally mad in Bahrain or it is just me getting negative vibes from everything happening back home?

What are the turbaned clerics against exactly? A written codified personal law which guarantees the rights, responsibilities and duties of every member of the family?

Or the fact that the carpet will be swept from under their feet and they will lose the unchallenged control they have over people's life and destinies?

The fact that we are in the year 2006 and there isn't a written law to safeguard family rights is a joke, especially when legislators are busy calling for covering up mannequins and segregating institutes of higher education.

They could have better used their time and our public funds on discussing more worthwhile issues.

Why is a family law such a threat to the clergy and men in general? What are the side effects they are so worried about? How will it upset the family unit in Bahrain?

What will outlining what the duties and rights of the husband, wife and children in line with Islamic Sharia upset the clergymen so much?

And what baffles me is why have so many women gone out on the streets to demonstrate against a law which will finally give them recognition as wives and mothers - and some standing in a court of law, which will have a written code of conduct and not depend entirely on the whims of one man?

Sigh! The future looks bleak indeed if we have reached crossroads where our people are actually rallying behind oppressing women and not giving mothers and children their legal rights, as ordained by the Holy Quran and Islamic Sharia.

*Amira Al Hussaini now lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

         

10/03/2006

How women footballers are scoring over men

  NO. 355      Friday     10 March 2006

Bahraini women have once again shown the rest of the world their resolve, dedication and ability to score even better points than men!

Although I am anything but a football fan, I can't deny how excited I was with the news that my countrywomen have brought pride to the kingdom by winning the first Arab Sevens Football Championship in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

How I wish I was with the spectators on the stands, cheering and rallying behind them!

To think that Bahraini women are enjoying a popular team game such as football - practising, running, sweating, beating teams from other countries and clinching a trophy is laudable to say the least. You rock, girls!

Winning a regional tournament and being named the first Arab ladies in football, of all games, is a great achievement.

The challenge is now to remain on top, continue to bring in more trophies and encourage more women to get involved in sports, for life should include recreational activities and fun - as all work and no play makes Jill a dull girl!

My only hope is that women athletes would be able to share the limelight with their male counterparts and benefit from the spoils allocated for developing sports activities in Bahrain.

I completely understand the sensitivities among the local community of seeing women dressed in sportswear and exercising en masse in public and have no objection against it, as it is part of a code of traditions and behaviour that we should respect.

What would be fitting is to see women-only clubs and recreational facilities opening up, which include football pitches, tennis courts and squash and badminton areas - to name a few - to encourage more women to have a life and get involved in sports and other activities.

Sport will not only boost their morale, but also help fight off extra pounds, which many of us have amassed over the years simply because sports and outdoor activities have been exclusive to men in a society which has for long frowned upon women who run, jump and toss balls.

Our aspiring women politicians too can learn something from our budding women's football team and make the headlines, come the October parliamentary elections - for it is with hard work and sincere effort that many of us can achieve their dreams.

*Amira Al Hussaini currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

         

06/03/2006

Sales ban on Doulos senseless

 
Vol XXVIII   NO. 351      Monday      6 March 2006

It is great to see common sense prevailing at last and the Doulos being allowed to sell books!

But I still cannot bring myself to understand the rationale behind the decision to allow the world's largest floating bookshop to dock at Mina Salman, but ban it from selling its books!

It was like chopping someone's hand off and giving him a pen!

What have we got against the written word? Wasn't it the Holy Quran that ordered the believers to read? Wasn't it Prophet Mohammed who instructed his people to seek knowledge?

Why was the Doulos allowed to call on us, if we were to snub it and show the rest of the world our fangs and our "great sensitivity" towards books as if they were the plague?

Why were people who read in Bahrain herded like horses to water, but denied to drink from it? It's not like we are spoilt for choice when it comes to books in Bahrain so that the floating bookshop posed a threat to local businesses.

The sad fact is that if anything, we need more cultural activities and books to encourage people to learn, expand their horizons and fight intolerance and backwardness.

Revising the decision will not eradicate it overnight, but is a step in the right direction.

A quick search on the web exposes a sad reality, not only in Bahrain, but in the rest of the Arab world.

According to the 2002 Arab Human Development Report, Arab countries produced 6,500 books compared to 102,000 in North America and 42,000 in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Citing Unesco figures, the report says that book production in Arab countries is only 1.1 per cent of world production, although Arabs make up 5pc of the world's population.

To add insult to injury, Arabs produced no more than 1,945 literary and artistic books, making up 0.8pc of international production.

This is less than a country such as Turkey produces - with a population about a quarter of that of Arab countries, according to the report.

What a shame!

I will never forget how, after every holiday abroad, my bags were searched at Bahrain International Airport - not because they contained contraband items, but because they were full of books that made custom officers jump up and down with excitement!

The fact that the books were in English and contained very little graphics made them ponder on them longer than they would with other items, until I intervened and told them they were for my studies.

And I wasn't lying, for it was from books that I have learned more than I have at school, university and my working experience - all put together.

*Amira Al Hussaini currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

05/03/2006

Allowance a massive relief for homeless families

Vol XXVIII   NO. 350      Sunday      5 March 2006

For the 40,000 families on waiting lists for government housing, there can't possibly be better news than the BD100 monthly windfall promised by the Premier.

While the amount will go a long way towards helping them meet increasing rent and possibly even afford better accommodation, I can't bring myself to imagine the costs the government would have to shoulder to meet this gesture, considering housing projects are coming up at snail's pace and the waiting lists and periods are, if anything, just increasing.

But it is a gesture, which once again reinforces the government's commitment to ensuring a decent dwelling for every Bahraini family, as stipulated in the Constitution.

Because of a lack of lands, haphazard planning, poverty, unemployment and the sad reality that there are so many dilapidated homes - which I will not bring myself to call slums - in many areas of Bahrain, it brings hope to many impoverished families which would otherwise have to continue stomaching appalling living conditions.

It is a remedial measure, which will at least help many families make ends meet and move to better accommodation.

It will be particularly helpful for the swarming families, who live like sardines in one room in an ancient family house that is too shocking, but accepted as reality in many villages and even towns in Bahrain.

BD100 a month will help them rent another shanty dwelling, which they will finally be able to call home, as they continue to wait for their promised home.

I really wouldn't want to be in the shoes of housing officials in Bahrain, for the issue is really a sticky one.

Most lands are privately owned, land prices are escalating at breakneck speed, the harsh arid desert climate is taking its toll on existing homes faster than government homes are actually being built and people are getting more and more frustrated with the long wait for a refuge, which will elevate their status from sardines to people who can at last aspire to dream of a better tomorrow.

For all the pessimists out there, who think that this gesture is another cosmetic fixture to appease the disgruntled, I say that something is surely better than nothing.

It is a laudable move that will enable the poor to breathe a sigh of relief at last.

My only hope is that the government itself deals with paying the deserving citizens their housing allowances in a transparent and systematic manner as soon as possible and not leave it to parliament or the municipal councils to fight over.

*Amira Al Hussaini currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

02/03/2006

Caught in the web of Internet rip-off...

Vol XXVIII   NO. 347      Thursday      2nd March 2006

 

Batelco is doubling its authorised capital from BD100 million to BD200m! Hurray! What does this mean to me and you and all the other consumers under their mercy?

Will it mean lower phone and Internet bills?

I doubt it, not as long as their profits are climbing steadily - despite the "increasingly competitive telecommunications environment" if I am to use the words of its chairman Hassan Ali Juma.

But let's face it, telecom companies are the same the world over and as a lucrative business, their primary concern isn't to bring you closer to your dear loved ones as much as to bring them closer to your dwindling purse.

When we first arrived in Canada, we shopped for a few weeks for the best telephone deal.

With all the promotions and competing companies that was possible, even encouraged by companies, which actually give you the chance to compare their rates with the competition.

I opted for the $25-a-month unlimited local calls mobile phone - one for me and another for my better half.

I was cursing and swearing for the first month about how much I have been ripped off for years when I now have a better deal for a much lower price. That was until the first bill came. It was a whopping $200!

Angered at being taken for a ride again, I picked up the phone and called the company, explaining in as many words as I could put in a sentence how enraged I was.

What on earth was I thinking? Did I really think I would get a deal from a telecom company?

They said there were installation charges, connection fees, a fixed amount for caller ID, charges for receiving overseas incoming calls, another few dollars for ability to access the emergency number and other miscellaneous charges I would rather not draw the attention of telecom providers in Bahrain to - and all this multiplied by two! Oops!

And before I forget, there is of course the 15 per cent tax on almost everything here, including your phone bill.

But like it or not it is necessary and without it, I frankly feel naked, lonely, insecure and vulnerable to almost everything.

It is my guardian angel and the only means in which I can get access to my family and friends with the click of a button until I get home and make myself comfortable on my sofa and log on to the Internet!

This is where a new world opens, hugs me with its open arms and throws me into the heart of my Isa Town home - where my family huddles around the PC listening to me and seeing me live, doing monkey faces and relating to them how good or bad my day went.

My one-year-old nephew Ali thinks I actually live inside the computer, which I really do, waiting for the minute my loved ones come online - when Batelco's servers are having a good day!

* Amira Al Hussaini currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

27/02/2006

Silence over abuse of women is shameful

Vol XXVIII   NO. 344      Monday      27 February 2006

 

Once again, a newspaper report draws our attention to some of the injustices women in Bahrain - and much of the Arab and Islamic world - suffer when their rights and dignity are stripped away, for no other reason than that they are women.

I realise I keep repeating myself and I sometimes wonder whether my comments serve a purpose, or whether they all fall on deaf ears.

No woman deserves to suffer the indignity brought to our attention of a 38-year-old Muharraq widow, who is being threatened with becoming homeless overnight.

Whatever the reasons for the feud with her in-laws, she is a mother with children, whose destiny was to lose a husband at such a young age and face the dilemma of not having a roof over her head, where she can live in peace or do whatever she chooses to do with the rest of her life.

Instead of rallying behind her, for her circumstances are cruel, her in-laws are making her life a living hell, with beatings and abuse, not only for her but her daughter as well.

So what if she brought men to fix the pump at home?

Instead of attacking her, the incensed brother-in-law, who happens to live in the same house, should be asking himself why he had not been the one responsible for fixing the broken pump.

For him and his wife to gang up against the helpless family is unacceptable and for the police to turn the grieving widow away, without as much as investigating the case and showing the attackers that there still is some law and order, is appalling.

I am happy a lawyer has intervened in this particular case, but my heart bleeds for all the other women, whose voices and cries don't reach us because they suffer in silence in a society which is adamant in treating women as second or even third-class citizens.

Law-makers, the government and parliament should take a closer look at atrocities being committed against women every day and should ask themselves whether they are doing their jobs properly, when half the country's populated is wronged.

Ownership laws should change in Bahrain if we are to aspire to empower women and give them their rightful place in society.

A home should be jointly owned by the husband and wife, for it is paramount for the stability and security of the family as a whole.

For society to wash its hands of such atrocities being committed against helpless women and girls is ridiculous and for us all to watch injustice committed and keep our lips sealed is shameful.

*Amira Al Hussaini currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

20/02/2006

That magic oasis of peace has disappeared!

Vol XXVIII   NO. 337      Monday      20 February 2006

 

Nothing warms the heart this winter more than meeting former Bahrain residents and reminiscing about the Bahrain they knew until they left - the land of peace, calm and tranquillity and where the hospitality and friendliness of Bahrainis smothers you to death.

It fills me with pride and joy to know that Bahrain has carved a niche for itself in the hearts of all those who have passed by the Land of Dilmun and experienced life as it was in that magical oasis of peace.

"But what is happening in Bahrain now?" asked a man, who left Bahrain in 1995.

"What do you mean?" I answered, trying to sound as naïve as I possibly could without laughing.

"All the attacks on foreigners," he ventured to explain.

"It isn't that bad, just isolated incidents," I replied, trying to steer the conversation to another topic.

"And all the stabbings and armed robberies," he pressed.

"What stabbings?" I interrupted.

"You know. Locals stabbing expats!" he said.

"No, I don't. And no society is immune to crime."

All of a sudden the friendly Bahrainis have become knife-wielding vandals going about stabbing and attacking expatriates, as a part-time job or a form of recreation, I presume.

As much as such generalisations annoy me, what annoys me more is the fact that workers are being attacked and the incidents are brushed aside as if nothing had happened.

The perpetrators aren't punished simply because those victimised do not have the protection necessary to make them equal in front of the law.

Over the previous two weeks, two attacks were reported in the GDN. One involved a Nepali employee attacked by a Bahraini at Al Muntazah Supermarket in Hoora, for no reason.

The other was about an Indian driver dragged out of his minibus and punched by a local, following an accident in Salmaniya.

Would those two have been attacked had they been locals? Would the man involved in the accident punched the driver had he been a Bahraini, wearing a thobe and driving a Mercedes?

They would have thought twice, just as they should have done if they had any respect for themselves and understood the gravity of their actions and how they are interpreted by people around the world.

Violence is an unacceptable form of dialogue and as such should not be tolerated, if we are to protect the reputation of our country.

Whatever happened to reasoning, in a civilised manner?

* Amira Al Hussaini currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

18/02/2006

Why do men in uniform think they are above the law?

 
Vol XXVIII   NO. 335      Saturday      18 February 2006
 

The sheer arrogance of some people baffles me. It really gets to me, especially when it comes from people wearing a uniform.

Wearing a uniform should be a declaration of loyalty to a code of ethics and conduct, be it the white coat worn by doctors, school uniforms enforced upon students, the khaki worn by policemen or the fatigues donned by soldiers.

Each represents the duties and the code of ethics and conduct the person wearing them has sworn to adhere to and which they should live up to, in or out of uniform.

For instance, a doctor is still committed to saving life, with or without his white coat and a policeman is still responsible for upholding the law, in or out of uniform.

This is exactly why I find myself outraged at a Yemeni soldier in Bahrain, who stabbed a Moroccan woman after a scuffle at a hotel, then arrogantly boasted that since he was working at the BDF, he was above the law.

He reportedly stabbed the Moroccan woman several times, after a dispute over money, in a Manama hotel.

"The man was saying how proud he was for being Yemeni and working for the BDF and continued to say how he is not scared for doing what he did because he knows that he will be set free for being a soldier," the hotel's security manager told the GDN.

I am in shock over his remarks and also hurt to see an immigrant worker, who has come to my country to earn a decent living, utter such nonsense and flaunt all the things we really believe in like justice and right and wrong, just because he is wearing a uniform.

Is he really above the law for being a soldier? Will he be set free as he arrogantly boasts?

I certainly hope not and I really do hope that the ministries of Defence and Interior take those allegations seriously, to bring back some respect to the police and army.

Bringing back respect to men in uniform is a national duty and can only come about by more openness and a serious effort to punish those who think they are above the law.

This is imperative, if we are to put our trust in men and women in uniform.

Otherwise, all is lost in a country which upholds the doctrines of democracy and human rights and wants to show its sons and daughters that the law is applied equally to everyone.

* Amira Al Hussaini currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

11/02/2006

Unfaithful Valentine given the bird by pet Ziggy...

Vol XXVIII   NO. 328      Saturday     

11th February 2006

 

With Valentine's Day around the corner, there couldn't have possibly been a better time for one particular story to hit the headlines.

I can actually see men and women queuing up at pet stores, booking parrots as gifts for their loved ones.

Chris Taylor, of Leeds, England, thought his lover Suzy Collins was faithful, until their big-mouthed parrot ratted her out.

The couple was cuddling on the sofa when Ziggy the African grey suddenly sqawked: "I love you Gary".

To add insult to injury, the parrot also made smooching sounds every time the name Gary was repeated.

Ms Collins admitted that Gary was a lover she had been making hay with at home while Chris was out.

As a result, the girlfriend was booted out, along with the eight-year-old parrot, since Chris could not stand to hear him repeatedly calling Gary's name.

What really surprised me though is that Chris did not see any tell-tale signs, especially as the couple were conducting their affair at his apartment.

It must have been a rude awakening when Ziggy let the cat out of the bag, proving without doubt that parrots and not just dogs can be a man's best friend.

But there is a lesson to be learned from Chris' heartache - animals are more faithful than humans.

Having grown up in a household full of pets, I find this story amusing to say the least.

The pets we have had and still have are a source of great joy for all of us.

The parrots we have had and still have didn't create family feuds and our Persian cats were mute.

My hamsters would sometimes create a racket, but they didn't reveal anyone's secrets and my turtles, bless them, were oblivious to their surroundings. The most hilarious creature to walk into our house was the aptly-named Iguana, who made heads turn and squeamish girls scream their heads off when it as much as moved his head.

One day, Iguana decided to inspect our neighbourhood.

Before long we had our neighbours knocking on our door screaming, that our 'dinosaur' had escaped.

I wish they had done the same when one of our cats went out for a stroll.

As soon as it stepped outdoors, someone snatched it, put it in a cardboard box and went running off to sell it at the Isa Town flea market.

Amira Al Hussaini currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

04:32 Posted in Miscellaneous, Rants | Permalink | Comments (3)

06/02/2006

Parents' ignorance could have cost child's life...

Vol XXVIII   NO. 323      Monday      6th February 2006

 

I am so annoyed and disgusted at the sheer ignorance of some parents, who would rather see their children die than allow medical intervention to save their lives.

I couldn't believe my eyes yesterday when I read the GDN's report of the Sitra parents who refused to let doctors operate on their five-year-old despite being diagnosed with appendicitis.

Doctors had to snatch her away from her parents and operate on her without her loving parents' approval, five days after she was first diagnosed and her parents refused to allow the doctors to do their work.

Had this happened in the West, there would have been a major outcry.

The police, social services, child rights groups and every Tom, Dick and Harry would be up in arms, calling for the rescue of this poor child.

But our civil organisations seem to be a tad too busy waging war against Denmark than looking into more pressing issues at home.

I really can't understand what was going on in her parent's head, but their excuse that operations were conducted unnecessarily is so lame, adding insult to injury.

This is a government hospital. Doctors don't get paid per patient. Doctors don't even get paid proper doctor wages, compared to other doctors in the region.

It is also a central hospital, where doctors don't perform surgeries as a recreational activity.

Had it been a private hospital, I would have been more sympathetic towards the parents.

But turning down free surgery that would have left a scar and meant immediate relief to a child in pain? This is really unbelievable.

I just feel like screaming. People like this baffle me and being of a poor background and from a village is no excuse.

A parent is a parent is a parent. How did they bear their daughter's screams and pain for so long without doing the right thing?

Why did they return to the same hospital again, if they knew deep in their heartless hearts that the operation was unnecessary?

How could they have sat back seeing their child in agony for so long, before budging and coming down from their lofty towers and seeking help from the same hospital they refused treatment at earlier? Why didn't they seek a second opinion?

And how do they feel now that their daughter, a young innocent child who had no say on what had fallen upon her, is lying in a critical condition in intensive care at Salmaniya Medical Complex.

Some people would do just anything to get children of their own, while to others it obviously means nothing to lose a child.

Or is it because she is just a girl? Had she been a boy, would the attitude of her parents been any different? Just wondering.

*Amira Al Hussaini now lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

04/02/2006

Parliament proceedings have never been a big draw

 

Vol XXVIII   NO. 321      Saturday      4 February 2006

 

It is no wonder that advertisers are shunning Bahrain satellite television and Channel 38, whenever Shura and parliament sessions are being broadcast.

Even though I haven't conducted any research, I am sure they are right in anticipating a low target audience.

Personally, I have never seen anyone rush home, the way they do here when yet another season of American Idol or Survivor starts, to tune into the latest discussions at Shura or parliament.

I can't help but laugh when I hear that MPs have actually spent their precious time drafting a request to have their sessions broadcast in full, which is customary in many countries around the world, where parliaments really debate and reflect society's woes, concerns, needs and worries.

Even then, the average Joe isn't very keen to know what legislators are going on about, but Bahrain's unique experience and the quality of some of our representatives could draw attention and make a few jaws drop and tickle some, should the MPs manage to make their long-cherished dream come true.

Having covered the sessions for years, I understand the concern of advertisers.

Even journalists were caught dozing off and trying hard to suppress their yawns, as one honourable member after the other repeated the same argument, using more or less the same words.

My biggest concern after covering each session was facing the music from the deputy editor, who would cross-examine me as if I had control over what they discussed and not.

"Is this all they had to say ?" he would ask.

"Yes," I would reply, not knowing what else to say to hide my complete disappointment and even embarrassment at the level of some of the discussions.

"Didn't anyone stand up and challenge this?" he would continue.

"No. Not really," I would tell him, fully understanding his exasperation at the childish amateurish exchanges we had to sometimes report.

I used to envy television reporters covering the sessions, because they just had to broadcast what they filmed and not try to decode some of the encrypted messages uttered by the members.

Giving television audiences 90 minutes of sessions, which sometimes exceeded five hours, is enough punishment I suppose, especially when many members echo each other and rarely come up with something new, outrageous or even ridiculous to say.

When this does happen, television officials censor it, protecting the public from some of the fun we journalists used to experience first hand.

A better programme, which would guarantee a full house, would be a two-hour show summing up four years of squabbles, fights and heated exchanges between the members, as well as all the juicy scenes censored by Bahrain Television! It could even be dubbed "Bahrain's Funniest Home Movie."

28/01/2006

Squabbling doctors tarnish image of noble profession


Vol XXVIII   NO. 314      Saturday      28 January 2006

 

It really is appalling to see what I presumed to be mature professionals resorting to name-calling in their bid to solve a gigantic problem, which touches the lives of the most vulnerable people when they are in genuine need of help.

People, at least most people, only go to the Salmaniya Medical Complex's Accident and Emergency Department, when they are in dire need of professional help.

The last thing they want to think about is whether the doctor is more concerned with their medical condition or with internal politics on the ward.

To think that doctors of all people are squabbling in the open and resorting to name-calling and tarnishing their reputations in public is sickening.

I am all for letting people know about all that concerns them, but to shake their trust in the medical system and the men and women who have dedicated their lives and energy to taking care of them, is really uncalled for.

I also don't understand why the Health Ministry did not intervene earlier and try and solve the issue before it escalated to this level, especially that it has been bubbling for a few months.

Personally, I turned down the opportunity to study medicine because I really didn't think I had the dedication and selflessness to be part of this noble profession.

I guess I was wrong in giving low grades to my character, as time and time again doctors are showing us that they aren't infallible and that they too can attack below the belt, with or without reason.

What is all this talk about some emergency doctors allegedly "bringing Arab women to the ward at night"?

This certainly is a far cry from the days when a doctor refused to treat my sister about three years ago, when a wok full of oil tipped on her, giving her second and third degree burns all over her thighs and legs.

I immediately rushed her to the SMC's emergency, where a bearded male doctor reluctantly glanced at the injury and sent her to the dressing room for further treatment.

He didn't even take a second look at the scalded thighs, which made me mad, especially when the wounds got infected the next day and another doctor said that she should have been hospitalised there and then for a skin graft operation.

My sister still carries the gruesome marks on her thighs, a daily reminder of how a modest doctor could damage a girl's self-esteem.

Now parliament is debating whether to discuss the issue of the squabbling doctors at SMC or not.

Oh please!

Let the doctors solve their own problems and get back to doing their jobs.

Parliament too has a full agenda and issues to discuss, as their days are numbered.

l Amira Al Hussaini currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

21/01/2006

Time we gave migrant workers their due respect

Vol XXVIII   NO. 307      Saturday      21st January 2006

How long will we just sit back and read stories about housemaids being abused in Bahrain? I realise that the Migrant Workers Protection Society is doing all it can, after the plight of runaway housemaids comes to their attention and the damage is done, but not before and I am in no position to blame them for that.

They are doing a great job, something which is much needed if Bahrain wants to live up to its reputation as a safe haven for migrant workers, who have left their families and lives back home to look for a better future overseas.

Like everything else in Bahrain, whatever happens behind closed doors is a shameful secret and homes are a protected sanctuary, which they should be.

But householders are responsible for all that happens under their roof and such abuse should not be tolerated. The perpetrators should be punished.

Bringing in someone from a Third World country to slave all day for BD40 is ridiculous by all standards.

While in Bahrain, I have come across horror stories of families forcing their maids to sleep on kitchen floors, of couples who lock their fridges and of sick people who actually have so much time to spare and hearts full of spite and hate, that they actually count the tea bags and cans of tinned food in their cupboards.

Having a housemaid is really a widespread phenomena only in our part of the world and is considered a luxury beyond many elsewhere, including here in Canada.

People here frown at me when I shamefully have to admit to them that I have never had to wash dishes, clean my room or do laundry in my life, because we had what amounted to a live-in slave.

When I tell them about the virtually free domestic help we get at home, they are appalled.

You should see the expression on their faces to realise the parasitical existence we indulge in day in, day out.

Even doctors and professors here have housework to do when they return home, something I was ashamed to do when I first came here.

I actually contemplated for a while whether I should seek some domestic help to clean, sweep, dust, wash, cook and wipe my dirt for me.

What put things in place was that everything here has a price tag. If I wanted domestic help, I would have to pay through the nose and give up that Louis Vuitton bag and much more.

I don't know whether the Canadian model is applicable in Bahrain but the plight of housemaids could disappear overnight if their work and services were dignified and they were paid proper wages for their effort.

After all, how much respect do we have for BD40 ?

*Amira Al Hussaini currently lives with her husband in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

16:37 Posted in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1)

14/01/2006

Women must play right political cards

Vol XXVIII NO. 300
Saturday

14 January 2006

Hurray! With 10 months to go for the parliamentary elections, a woman has already voiced her plans to run the race - against an Islamic fundamentalist, that is. As much as I adore the courage shown by women's rights activist Mariam Al Rowaie, the last election has proved to us without doubt that bearded men fared better than those who prefer a clean shave.

And women? Well, out of the eight women candidates, not all are blessed with facial hair and not a single one won a seat, making me wonder whether we as a Bahraini nation are more prejudiced towards body hair.

While the constitution gives men and women equal political rights, society has seriously undermined the democratic reforms by unilaterally deciding that only men get the votes and the right to join the legislative branch of governance.

It has automatically alienated half of society, leaving issues of concern to women and families away from the debating floor.

Yes, some people may argue that women have made some hard-won gains, thanks to the direct intervention of parliament.

We now have veiled women driving cars on our roads and this was only possible because the issue was raised and rubber-stamped by the 40-man strong parliament.

Too bad, women cannot go to women-only classes at Bahrain University, female patients cannot be seen by women doctors only and girls cannot shop in women-only malls.

But there is always hope that these issues can still be debated and approved by parliament, if hardliners get their way again and the silent majority continues in its hibernation.

If you want a blunt opinion, the truth is that parliament does not reflect society and doesn't give outsiders or even Bahrainis for that matter a true picture of the real Bahrain.

But the fact also remains that it is our own doing. Not enough women stood for the last elections for many reasons - the very same reasons why some competent men shied away from ridiculing themselves and standing for an election they knew before hand they would not win.

If you are a believer in the theory of probability, then you know as much as I do, that if enough women join the race, there are likely to be some who will make it to the finish line. Let's see how many women play their cards right this year.

07/01/2006

Future of Bahrain too precious to squander


Vol XXVIII   NO. 293      Saturday      7 January 2006

Doctors say that the only way to fight cancer is by early diagnosis. While they cannot guarantee a 100 per cent success rate in the treatment of all cases, the fact remains that patients whose illness is detected early fare better than those who have unknowingly suffered the disease until it was way too late.

Having said this, confronting cancer takes a lot of dedication, a strong will and an optimism to face an unknown tomorrow - whatever challenges it may bring.

It also takes the skills of a dedicated medical team, whose members know exactly what they are doing and the size, scope and implications of the vicious disease at hand.

In Bahrain, sectarianism, prejudice and discrimination are what are gnawing at our flesh, sapping dry our resources and tearing our nation apart.

Calls for a one-family spirit have proven to be a short-term balm for a cancer which is spreading by the day and which may prove terminal to the dream of a true democracy, adherence to human rights and a decent quality of life for all citizens and residents alike.

Fingers point out to one culprit when it comes to all the vices and problems at home and that is discrimination.

Every individual sees any concern or issue from his own perspective and is not ready to see the picture as a whole or to reach a compromise.

Every faction feels it is being wronged.

We seem to be at loggerheads and the future and reputation of Bahrain are far too dear to squander because of the egos and vanity of some.

When I was growing up, I had no clue what my sect was. All I knew was that I was Muslim, Arab and Bahraini - in no particular order.

My ethnic and religious background made no difference to me then, as it doesn't matter much to me today.

But society does not and never will judge me on who I am, but on who my parents are and on which part of the spectrum of ethnicities and religious ideologies they belong to.

I grew up in a truly cosmopolitan society. At school, we had Shias and Sunnis, Catholics and Protestants, Hindus, Buddhists and Jews, amongst others.

In my Utopia, we were all equal. It didn't matter what our colours or tongues were. We were all students with one goal - to get the out of school as fast and out into the world.

To be realistic, I could say the same about society at large, where people of different backgrounds are supposed to work together and co-exist peacefully.

The only difference is that real life is nothing like school. Maybe it is time they started mirroring each other.

Isn't it time to identify common goals and work towards achieving them?

02/01/2006

Incest-rape case is beyond comprehension


Vol XXVIII NO. 288
Monday
2 January 2006

What a way to usher in the New Year. For one Bahraini family, the year 2005 has been blackened forever in their memories.

I don't know the full story, but what I know from newspaper reports is that a 16-year-old boy was handed over to the police by his own father for raping his 13-year-old brother and sister, 14, on the same day.

According to sources, it is one of the worst incest-rape cases police have ever had to deal with.

And it should be, for the very son who was entrusted with caring for his siblings, while his parents were outside the house, turned out to be the person who should have been least trusted - yet another one of life's shocking ironies.

I don't know what was going on in this young man's head, but to brutally attack his younger brother and sister and rob them of their innocence and shock an entire society in the process, is something I cannot comprehend.

What gave this 16-year-old monster the right to ruin the lives of both his brother and sister and bring shame and heartbreak to his parents and society?

Did he think his siblings would stomach the pain and humiliation?

Did he think his parents would cover up his criminal act?

Did he really believe his gruesome act would go undetected and unpunished?

Who is to blame for such a tragedy?

Should we blame it on his upbringing, or point the finger at society?

Do we blame our clergymen, who have become too involved in politics and have put the serious job of shaping the characters of youngsters on the back burner? Should we blame an education system which has failed to teach young people - especially boys - the simple principle of respect?

I am so disgusted by this sheer act of violence against everything all the decent people out there hold dear, that they are working hard day in, day out for - a dignified and better tomorrow for each and every Bahraini.

I am extremely annoyed that this act has come to shame our society at such a critical time, at the end of an already bumpy year.

Even the pessimist in me did not expect it to plummet to this level. Even I was looking forward to a fresh start for the year ahead. I hope this menace, though he may be only 16, rots in jail for a long time to come.

31/12/2005

Why the delay over battered women's shelter?







Vol XXVIII NO. 286
Saturday
31 December 2005

Can someone, anyone, explain to me why plans for a shelter for battered women are still on the shelf when mothers, wives and daughters are still being abused by husbands and fathers, even as I write?

I don't buy the excuse from the Social Development Ministry - which is headed by a woman minister - that a permit is being denied because the group (Al Sharaka Amnesty International) which has applied for it is not registered with the ministry.

I think there are more sinister forces out there who do not want to see women given a choice, a safe haven to turn to when life becomes too miserable to bear and the walls of a horror house they are forced to live within become too suffocating.

In our society, a woman has no other place than her father's or her husband's house - or her grave.

Any woman living outside the parental or marital home is seen as a source of shame and an object of suspicion.

Women are continuously monitored, least they decide to take charge of their own affairs and bend some already twisted rules.

It is sad that in a country which has gone a long way to give women equal rights, including free access to education and the right to vote or stand in parliamentary or municipal elections, women still lack so much when it comes to protection from domestic abuse within their own homes.

It is the norm for families and friends not to get involved in family disputes, even when they turn violent - even when bones are broken and spirits are crushed.

With family and friends turning away and refusing to interfere, the problem is compounded by the lack of a written family law and penalties to punish those involved in domestic abuse, though parliament has at last taken up the cause.

Even doctors say they can't do much when women are admitted to hospital with broken bones and bruises, when the women themselves are too afraid to press charges because they know it won't get them anywhere and may bring them more trouble when they go back to the hell called home.

What is better, a temporary shelter for abused women, which gives them a chance to clear their heads and seek a permanent solution to their suffering away from threats, or continued abuse simply because they have nowhere to turn for protection?

The choice is simple and is obviously in the hands of the Social Development Ministry, which should come up with a solution matter quickly, since family affairs come its umbrella.

27/12/2005

A clean start in the life laundry

Vol XXVIII   NO. 281      Monday      26 December 2005

Do you miss Bahrain?" This is the question many people ask me day in, day out.

It has only been two months since I have left the home I have lived in all my life, the home of my fathers and theirs' before them.

I don't want to sound ungrateful or unpatriotic, but do you want to hear the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

I am glad I am out of there. I am enjoying the experience of being free and independent and I am relishing my time off work, during which I can read, write, paint - or just learn to keep house.

For the first time in my life, I am learning how to operate a washing machine, a microwave and an oven, not that we didn't have those commodities in Bahrain.

On the contrary, we had all those gadgets and more, but because we were so pampered and protected by our families, everything was ready for us when we got home or rather to the "hotel", as my mother refers to it.

Being away from home hasn't hit me yet and I really don't know whether I miss Bahrain or not.

It could perhaps be because we have been adopted by Indian friends, who lived in Bahrain for 19 years.

They have been here for eight years, but still love everything Bahraini and it is perhaps down to them that we have not yet felt the pangs of homesickness.

At this point, all I'm sure about is that I miss my immediate family, my mother, sisters, brother and their children and my dear and near friends and relatives.

Life is not the same without them. I cry every time I speak to any of them - and I know it isn't because we are benefiting the telephone companies by running up high bills.

I also closely follow all that is being written about home and still get annoyed when I surf the Internet and read about some of the things happening back there.

My blood boils every time I hear about yet another demonstration or rally. I cringe when I see newspaper headlines and continue to read the same stories I have read over and over again.

But whatever the situation, whether daily occurrences in Bahrain bring me pride or shame, there really is and will never be any place like home. A home is where your heart is and not your house.

l Amira Al Hussaini currently lives with her husband in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

00:24 Posted in Miscellaneous, Rants | Permalink | Comments (2)

24/12/2005

Housing loans for women a step in right direction

Vol XXVIII   NO. 279      Saturday      24th December 2005

Finally, there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel. According to Works and Housing Minister Fahmi Al Jowder, 35 per cent of the 1,175 families who will benefit from housing loans worth BD31 million are headed by women.

This is a sizeable proportion, considering that traditionally a woman cannot be seen to live on her own in our society.

Should her marriage fail or her husband die, God forbid, she should automatically return to her parental home.

Shelter is one of the fundamental human rights in the Human Rights Charter, a right many women were denied in the past, simply because they were women.

The fact that they are mothers, with children, parents and other relatives to care for, meant nothing to many decision-makers who believed that a Utopia existed where all men were responsible and provided for their families and ensured that there was a shelter over their heads.

The fact that there are single women out there who are not destined to be married and who have no homes of their own, did not make a difference.

When marriages turn sour, women and their children are usually the first and only victims, with some cruel men actually throwing their families on the street.

With archaic property and housing laws which stipulated that government homes must be in the name of the male head of the family, some women found themselves on the streets with their children.

I have seen with my own eyes what has happened to women turned away from their families' homes and told to fend for themselves, in a world which is not and has never been charitable to divorced and widowed women.

I know of a woman who has been moving apartments every few months for at least 18 years, because every time she applied to the Housing Ministry for a home, her application was turned down because she was not married!

I am delighted to see that women are finally being treated with a little bit of justice and that they will be given nearly a third of housing loans approved by the government.

This will give those women and their children safety, security and peace of mind.

It will go a long way towards ensuring that justice, government support, human rights, independence and dignity are not restricted to men alone.

Amira Al Hussaini currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

10/12/2005

A strange feather in Bahrain's cap..!

Vol XXVIII   NO. 265      Saturday     

10 December 2005

 

Forget all about our 4,000-year-old Dilmun civilisation, the mystic Tree of Life and the A'ali burial mounds.

Forget about our history and legacy as the Land of Immortality and the enchanting tales of King Gilgamesh and his search for the fabled flower.

Forget modern-day achievements including our global position as the financial hub of the Middle East, the home of the Middle East Grand Prix and a pioneer in ushering in a new democracy and political reforms to the region.

This isn't what Bahrain is famous for today - at least in the part of Canada I now live in!

Only three of the scores of people I have met here over the previous 45 days knew where Bahrain was - and what surprised me most was why.

For the rest of the unwitting souls, here are some of the exchanges I have had:

"Bahrain? Is that in the Bahamas!"

"No. It is in the Arabian Gulf," I reply.

"Oh yes! I know where that is...the Gulf of Mexico," one man, who happened to be very educated, except perhaps in geography, told me.

"Oh well...whatever!"

"Bahrain... I know where that is," said a woman of Italian descent I happened to share my umbrella with, outside a convenience store one cold rainy day.

"It is far away. It is like my Sicily!" she continued.

The first part of her response gave me hope. A lot of hope. The second part left me gasping for fresh air.

"Her Sicily indeed," I hissed, moving as far away from her, leaving the geography buff in the rain.

A handyman from El Salvador, who helped fix my curtains, fared much better.

"Where are you from?" he asked with some authority.

"Bahrain," I replied - exasperated with giving more explanations, thinking that if educated people didn't know where my country was, why would Mr Fix It?

"Oh. Bahrain. Small country. Big problems. Like El Salvador," he said, sending shockwaves down my spine.

Well, he knows, I told myself. There was no need to elaborate. Can we get that curtain rod fixed now please ?

The other three who really knew where Bahrain was had their vested interests.

One was my banker and the other two work in the apartment block we have just moved into.

They wanted to check our legitimacy, so they 'Googled' Bahrain on the Internet and learned all that they needed to know about my country.

"We know all about Bahrain. That is where Michael Jackson is!" was all they could say about home.

Of course. Another feather in the cap.

15:55 Posted in Rants | Permalink | Comments (3)

03/12/2005

Stop the fuss and get on with passing a family law

 

Vol XXVIII   NO. 258      Saturday      3 December 2005

Excuse my ignorance but I really don't understand all the fuss over the personal status law. Why is it taking this long to pass a law which is aimed at safeguarding the cornerstone of society, the family unit, stipulating the rights and responsibilities of every member of the family (be it man, woman or child)?

What is wrong with unifying a code of conduct which helps deal with domestic issues in a civilised and organised manner?

Why are some people so opposed to the idea of giving men, women and children their social, legal and religious rights in the form of a written law, which could give people an idea of what their rights and responsibilities are - even if it is only on paper?

We all agree that there are problems in some homes which cannot be solved amicably and which should be taken to another level and we all know how long it takes for our courts to process cases, from petty thefts to gruesome murders.

Divorce, abuse and custody battles take their toll on family life and should be resolved in a systematic manner - not according to the whims of certain individuals.

Why are clergymen so against having a unified written family law in a country like Bahrain, where the population doesn't exceed 700,000 and where the majority of people are Muslim?

And why is the government, which had no reservations in passing the controversial societies and demonstrations and public gathering laws, playing the waiting game and allowing this issue to be blown out of proportion?

It is in the interest of all parties to ensure that families are stable and that people know what their rights and obligations are within the family unit.

I realise the issue isn't as simple as I make it sound. I also understand that there are a few subtle differences in the way clergymen interpret family law in Islam.

But what I can't accept is how can a problem, which has remained unsolved for so long, be blown out of proportion when its declared purpose is to ensure the rights of men, women and children in a state of law.

To all those squabbling factions out there, stop fretting and get down to work. The more time wasted on issuing a law of this magnitude, the more women, children and even men will suffer. Injustice isn't a good feeling to grow up with, not when the next generation is at its receiving end.

Let's set our differences aside and try and settle scores on bigger issues - issues which don't involve breaking homes, slamming of doors and social stigma and scars that the victims of divorce and domestic abuse have to cope with for the rest of their lives.

28/11/2005

Freedom? It's your choice...

Vol XXVIII   NO. 253      Monday      28 November 2005

 

Freedom? It's your choice...

Apparently the fight is now on in Bahrain to protect personal freedom and safeguard the very values the reforms of 2002 are based on.

These include respect for human rights, adherence to international conventions ratified by Bahrain over the years and giving people a shared responsibility in the decision-making process, by electing their own representatives to parliament and municipal councils.

On paper, all this looks great, but something is amiss. People are not happy with their representatives or the decisions being shoved down their throats.

Where have we really gone wrong?

What has happened now which has made people think that those very rights which have been granted following the National Action Charter referendum of 2002 are infringing on personal freedoms and hurting the very economy they were supposed to have catapulted to new heights?

We can continue to stick our heads in the sand, or we can take a good look at ourselves and assess the situation and see how it has reared its head and turned against us, the very people yearning for freedom, respect and equality.

We can't and shouldn't blame it on Islam, because at the end of the day it was us who elected these people to office.

Before someone jumps the gun and attacks me and my religious beliefs, let me make a few things clear: Islam is a great religion. It is an encompassing way of life.

If followed properly - the way Allah decreed and not the way practised by power grabbing men who have twisted it over the centuries to meet their petty selfish needs - is a very balanced way to live life to the fullest while respecting others, protecting human rights and even complying with contemporary international conventions and charters.

Islam isn't the opponent to progress. It isn't that ugly hairy monster which comes in handy for parents wanting to scare their children and should not be abused as such.

The choice is after all up to the people of Bahrain. They can make or break their country.

With 2006 round the corner, I really do hope that people will think with their minds and not their religious affiliations when they entrust another 40 men and hopefully women, with running their affairs.

Amira Al Hussaini now lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

21/11/2005

When natural instincts took a back seat...

Vol XXVIII   NO. 246      Monday      21 November 2005

 

When natural instincts took a back seat...

BY AMIRA AL HUSSAINI

It started as a drizzle. A little bit of rain won't harm I told myself as I resisted getting under the umbrella, held by my beloved husband as we walked from what we hope will soon become our apartment to a nearby mall.

"Amira. Come under the umbrella now," said a cautious Amer.

"It's only a little bit of rain. Water doesn't kill," I replied smugly.

Very soon, the drops were getting bigger and before I knew it, it was raining camels and donkeys!

It was then a mad dash for safety from the furious drops, which were attacking us relentlessly, and the gusts of wind that were blowing the umbrellas away from the crowds running for shelter.

I was awed. In Bahrain, there is hardly ever any rain and I have never brandished an umbrella in my life. Here, it seems to be an essential.

A necessity, in fact, and I only realised its importance after I was soaked.

Not that the umbrellas would have been useful in that sort of a storm.

I wasn't prepared for that 10-minute downpour, nor were my feet - which got drenched and are now angry with me for not wearing boots.

To be honest, nobody in the whole of Hamilton, my new home, was ready for the onslaught.

But at the mall, it was business as normal.

You wouldn't have noticed that there was a storm outside, people running for safety and - unbeknown to us at the time - a tornado-like, full-blown attack on Upper Gage Street, which is two blocks away from where we are now staying with old friends from Bahrain.

The angry gale tore through a few blocks, wreaking havoc, uprooting trees and blowing off the roofs of the homes and a school - full of students in class - in its path!

What annoyed me most was that we had driven up a section of that street a couple of hours after the storm and didn't notice anything different. I saw an uprooted tree, but didn't make much of it.

"Maybe it has always been there!" I mused, knowing that something was amiss. Unlike the swamped roads of Bahrain after a few millimetres of rain, the roads here were dry - as if the earlier storm was a figment of my imagination.

What made me furious was that I only knew about the fact that it did happen and the extent of the damage it had caused some seven hours later, when I heard names of familiar streets on the 11-o-clock news!

And to think that I was once the news editor of Bahrain's leading newspaper!

Where has my nose for news gone and my natural instinct to be at the centre of events as they unfold?

19:43 Posted in Rants | Permalink | Comments (3)

13/11/2005

Caught in a web of online hype

Vol XXVIII   NO. 238      Sunday      13 November 2005

BY AMIRA AL HUSSAINI

SO much for all the lip service we have been given for years on the virtues of online banking.

According to legend, the days of queuing up at the bank and carrying sackloads of money are over.

Historians claim this practice is outdated and associated with the barbaric activities of cavemen from a bygone era, that the modern world moves around using plastic money.

It is no longer classy or safe to be seen with cash in your wallet in chic places.

The myth is that thousands - if not millions - of dinars are transferred from one account to the other at the click of a button every second of the day, 24/7; that the globetrotting rich and mighty flash their platinum cards as they shop till they drop from Milan to New York to Tokyo; and that it is only the nouveau riche who carry embarrassing amounts of cash to boost their self-image and remind themselves every waking minute that they really have money.

When I left Bahrain to my new home in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, last month all I took with me was a bunch of cards - which have since proved to be useless.

"Why should I carry any cash on me?" I thought smugly to myself.

I don't know if it was me or my traditional, technically challenged mindset - which is still adamant that a computer is for writing articles and editing stories.

Somehow I jinxed all my prospects of accessing my accounts in Bahrain when I called the helpline number in a moment of panic as I was doing a last minute check on my way to the airport.

A frantic husband asked me where my Internet banking details were and after a thorough search I gave up and declared them missing.

I then called the helpline number, where the operator told me he couldn't help me as the system was down and to try in an hour.

Fearing that the access code would fall into the wrong hands, I called up my bank directly and begged a more helpful banker to cancel my account and mail me a new access code number.

The number took 10 days to be mailed from the bank's Adliya branch to my A'ali home address and a day to be faxed to me in Canada.

I now have the codes, but still no access to my bank accounts. Three weeks have passed and the efficient Internet banking system is still down.

I don't know how long it will take me to figure that one out.

At moments like this I ask myself why I did not resort to tradition and put all my money in pockets on a belt around my waist.

19:21 Posted in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

24/09/2005

Job market needs a dose of work ethics...

Vol XXVIII   NO. 188      Saturday      24 September 2005

I am delighted that someone out there has finally woken up to the fact that what our labour market seriously lacks is WORK ETHICS.

It doesn't matter how many more millions - or even billions of dinars - we pump into training and rehabilitating our 20,000 unemployed people for jobs on the market if we don't focus on infusing this into those programmes.

The Labour Ministry has said that it will spend at least BD30 million on training Bahrainis next year and an undisclosed "lesser" amount the following year.

So far so good, because if we really want to find a solution to this mounting problem, which could grow out of proportion and cause chaos overnight, we really need to spend money.

But wasn't it only in recent history that BD25m was siphoned off for what was supposed to have been the magical solution for our unemployment problems?

The deal was that the Labour Ministry would be restructured, the unemployed trained for the jobs market and we would live happily ever after.

Whatever happened to our BD25m? I know this isn't the issue and I don't want to probe too deeply. What concerns me today is how much more do we need to spend to teach people that work is an essential part of life, that people work to live and live to work and that without something meaningful to do, a person's life is worthless?

How many more strategies do we need to draw up to teach people to wake up early, show up at work on time, take fewer days off sick and spend their hours at work doing what they are supposed to be doing - working, perhaps?

It doesn't matter if it's your first job or you have a PhD in the field you are working in; it means nothing if you have been merely keeping that chair warm for 30 years; and no one cares if you are the only one in your specialisation to have ever set foot in Bahrain.

What really matters is how professional you are in doing your job; how dedicated you are in serving your community; and how much you respect yourself and your job.

Introducing work ethics into training programmes is a sound policy, which I hope would be followed through to the end.

Let's start with the work ethics of those implementing training programmes. Their mission should be to serve Bahrain and only Bahrain. There should be no hidden agendas, no favouritism and no abusing the system for personal gain!

I hope I have made myself clear. Now get back to work!

18/09/2005

Corruption admission a courageous step

Vol XXVIII   NO. 182      Sunday      18th September 2005

TWO policemen are behind bars for bribery. They were caught in an undercover operation following a tip-off from a man who claimed that they had promised him a job as a policeman in exchange for money.

On the one hand, I am over the moon that the Interior Ministry has provided us with this scoop. We didn't ask them for the information. We had no inside knowledge. They supplied it voluntarily!

I don't know if this is a one-off, or whether we will get to hear about more horror stories from their closed quarters in this era of open speech and democracy.

I don't even know whether we will be given access to information and be able to tell our readers what the fate of those who abused their responsibilities towards their profession and their nation would be.

On the other hand, I am scared. Scared because we put our trust in our police force and the last thing we want to hear is that some are corrupt, take bribes and abuse the very principles of the system they are being paid to uphold.

I realise that not all people are the same. I understand that if one policeman is corrupt, it doesn't mean that all policemen are. But I also know that if there is one rotten apple in the barrel, we need to empty it, and weed all the bad ones out before we end up with a stinky mess.

While I applaud the Interior Ministry for having the courage to make this announcement in black and white, telling the whole world that it is cleaning up its own backyard, I would want to see more openness.

By this I mean, I would want them to tell us what is going to happen to those who have abused the trust placed in them.

Like any other citizen, I want to know what the punishment of those who have let the system down would be.

For it would really be a shame to announce that we do have corrupt policemen and then do nothing to show what was done to them to serve as a deterrent to others and build back some trust the system urgently needs.

15/09/2005

Cooking up a stink in the workplace...

 

Vol XXVIII   NO. 179      Thursday     15 September 2005

A friend of mine called me yesterday wailing and crying.

I had thought that there was a catastrophe, or perhaps someone had died.

But no. Her problem was with a colleague of hers…who was cooking her lunch in the office during lunch break.

Before my friend knew it, she was gasping for fresh air. The entire office reeked with the smell of cooking fish. There was smoke everywhere. And the fire sirens didn’t go off, because there simply wasn’t a fire siren in the building! But we will not go on about safety in the work place now because it was no longer an office. It was a dirty old kitchen with very bad ventilation.

And what was worse, was that my friend had a business meeting scheduled in 10 minutes.

She had to cancel the appointment and evacuate the office and was still angry about the situation way into the night. 

When she told me about her ‘situation’ I was simply speechless.

It took me back to the days when I was at university and had to teach in a government school for three months as part of the requirements for my Bachelors degree in English and Education.

Do you know what I saw in the teacher’s room everyday? No. This isn’t a scene from an Egyptian sit-com. It was real. The honourable teachers had their vegetables sprawled all over their tables and were busy chopping cucumbers, aubergines and lady’s fingers to name a few. Of course, they were also peeling potatoes and carrots and exchanging recipes, among other things!

What is it with people who have ZERO respect for their workplace? If the aforementioned woman was mad keen to fry her fish and eat it, why didn’t she go home to cook her offensive meal? And if those teachers were so torn between wifely duties and their teaching profession as teachers, why did they find it so difficult to make a choice?

A woman’s place is in the kitchen indeed but this is no excuse to bring the kitchen to the office.

Make up your mind woman…there are a lot of jobless people out there! Who says you are indispensable?

 

           

14/09/2005

Driven round the bend by motoring morons

Vol XXVIII   NO. 178      Wednesday      14 September 2005

It's back to school again. Tell-tale signs are all over the roads in terms of cars packed with bouncing children; parents driving with their offspring hanging out of the windows; responsible parents driving with them on the front seat and even more responsible parents zig-zagging through traffic at breakneck speeds - without their seatbelts.

And we all know how annoying it is to drive along congested streets every day.

With the road planners we have in this country, I am surprised anyone gets anywhere he wants on time.

To get from Isa Town to Manama, for instance, one has to set off a good 45 minutes in advance to reach one's destination in time.

But this isn't what annoys me the most in bottlenecks. What really rattles me is the fact that I can see other drivers up close and sometimes personal.

Have you noticed how many have given up wearing seat-belts? Do the morons know that those car "accessories" are there for their protection and aren't decorative ornaments.

I was unlucky enough to be stopped by a policeman at the roundabout. Since I was the first car, I had a bird's eye view of all those driving past me. Out of the 50 plus drivers who drove past, only SIX were wearing their seatbelts.

This made me cringe. This is 12 per cent of the drivers I studied in a little over three minutes. And the policeman waving at them to move, didn't even wink. I guess he has given up.

Why am I annoyed? I wear my seatbelt and ensure that everyone who rides with me is safely fastened up in his seat.

But there is a national responsibility and a role each one of us has to play to ensure that people are aware of the dangers such reckless behaviour causes.

The police should also be tough and impose strict laws to force those careless drivers to buckle up.

If they aren't concerned for their own safety and that of their passengers, then I am sure they wouldn't mind parting with their hard-earned cash for fines.

Fine them please and fill up the Traffic Directorate's coffers. The money could go towards a fund to purchase artificial limbs for those maimed in accidents and pay bonuses to traffic policemen to encourage them to fine more drivers who have made it a hobby to break the law.

13/09/2005

Waking up to life's harsh realities...

Vol XXVIII   NO. 177      Tuesday      13 September 2005

 

I hate alarm clocks and the person who came up with the concept to create them, those who manufacture them and all who sell them.

But like them or detest them, I have to use them - and with fervour. I have three which ring for at least an hour before I should really wake up, making a real racket, just to force me to get my sorry self out of bed to face another day at work.

Actually, all the noise they make gives me a headache - not a good jumpstart for my day or for anyone else's day in our entire neighbourhood. And yet, I wake up and sleep drive to work, everyday.

Don't get me wrong - for I am not the lazy type. I do wake up early on holidays, and am full of life otherwise, especially when I leave the office at night. It's just the mornings when I have to come to work which are difficult, unbearable and seem to drag. And that's six out of seven mornings for you out there who have the luxury of a five-day week!

It's just that not everyone is enthusiastic about getting up in the morning to go to work - and I admit I am amongst this group of disenchanted citizens. In fact, I could be named Most Disenchanted Citizen of the Year for my immense hatred of getting out of bed in the morning. I despise getting out in the summer heat and leaving my cool crisp sheets behind and I loathe leaving the warmth of my duvet to face the bitter cold of winter.

But it's a fact of life which I have to face everyday. Like everyone else who is employed, I have a choice.

If I want a job - then I better wake up early and get to work on time.

And I better work, if I want to improve my prospects in life and achieve something tangible. And I better put all my power and might into what I do, if I want to climb the ladder and make my way to the top.

If this isn't what I am up to, then why should I wake up to begin with?

09:29 Posted in Miscellaneous, Rants | Permalink | Comments (8)

04/09/2005

Unity in diversity should be goal...

 
Vol XXVIII   NO. 168      Sunday      4 September 2005

Sunni, Shia, Holi, Arabi, Bahrani, Hasawi and Ajami, to name a few, aren't the names of local exotic dishes you can find in traditional restaurants.

They are what we call each other to describe the ethnic and religious background we come from in our small Bahraini society. And I am using the word small on purpose, to belittle the sickening state of mind many have plummeted to in this age of modernity, reform and national reconciliation.

I find this name-calling business repulsive to say the least. It makes my blood boil because I can't find a reason why such a small society should be torn up and shredded by so many differences and allegiances, when the suffering is one; the happiness is one; and the destiny is one.

At the end of the day, we are all Bahrainis - the good and the bad; the 'original' and the 'not so original'; the ones from a pure Arab descent and the ones whose ancestors came from Iran or wherever; and those who claim to be have lived the land from time immemorial, those who came to Bahrain 200 years ago and those who were granted Bahraini nationality yesterday.

I personally am not ashamed of my background - and like many Bahrainis have a mosaic of traditions, cultures, cuisines and arts to enjoy and appreciate.

In my family alone, we have the Baharna (Shia Bahrainis) and the Arabs (Sunni Bahrainis) and the Ajams (Bahrainis of Persian descent), all living under one roof, eating the same food and laughing at the same jokes.

It isn't heaven on earth all the time as sometimes individuals may become childish and pick on someone else's accent, pronounce a word wrongly or do something which is culturally not acceptable from the collage of civilisation we have picked things from as we progressed.

But there is never mayhem, name-calling and back-stabbing because of one's ethnic and religious background. And no one is ever accused of treason against the state because he prays at this time and breaks his fast at that.

Like our ethnic background, we have inherited our religions and sects. Whether it is the wrong or the right type, is between us and Allah and not for Man to judge.

Bahrainis have lived together, embracing people of all kinds and faiths, and treating them equally over generations.

And now is not the time to create rifts for no other reason than to satisfy the whims of a few children who think that politics is a game they can try their hands at.

To those I say: Grow up and don't meddle in things which could backfire on you and society. This is not the way to show appreciation of one's homeland!

23/08/2005

The grandmother I will always miss

Vol XXVIII   NO. 156      Tuesday      23rd August 2005

BY Amira Al Hussaini

My grandmother died just a few days ago. I did not go to the burial ceremony. I just couldn't bear it. I couldn't muster enough courage to see how we will all end up one day, so I stayed at home and wallowed in self-pity.

It is so hard to imagine that she has gone, that the day I once had nightmares about has come.

I keep waiting for someone to pinch me and tell me it's a bad dream, that it's not true.

She lived a simple life and left this world without much fanfare.

Though she was a grandmother to us all, she was actually my mother's aunt.

My real grandmother died at the age of 35, when my mother was young.

So when we were children, my mother's aunt took the place of granny and lived up to the role and more.

She is the only granny I have known, but she was even more than that.

She is the past that has gone, never to come back. The true spirit of Bahraini women.

At a young age, she was married off by her father to a much older pearl merchant, from a seaside village.

A few years later, her husband succumbed to bad debts and misery and eventually died, leaving her with two boys sick with sickle cell anaemia and a daughter.

They continued living in the village because in those days, that was it.

A woman's fate was sealed with marriage - wherever that took her.

Despite the terrible times, she held her head high and never once complained.

Her eldest son died just after getting married and starting a family.

Her second son died few years later and her daughter got married to a Saudi relative and moved to the Eastern Province.

My mother became a daughter to her and she became the mother my own mother missed and for us, she took the place of the grandmother who died before we were born.

She stayed in our house when we were growing up and then moved back to her real grandchildren when we were old enough to stand on our own feet.

I was the most attached to her because, to tell you the truth, I would actually sit down when told to sit, shut up when asked us to be quiet and do chores as best as I could - and I owe all that to her.

She taught me how to stitch and embroider. She would bring all this fabric out and thread of all hues and together we would stitch motifs and flowers and birds, on everything from pillow cases to my T-shirts.

Now she is gone.

She would tell me tales of the past - the Bahraini version of fairy tales - which she spiced up and altered to fit the mood and situation.

Now she is no more.

She lived to be old and deaf and her tongue got heavy with the passage of years.

Every time I saw her lately, she would ask me if I had just come back from school and whether I had finished my homework - even though I finished school 15 years ago.

I can always remember her being old. She saw her own children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren, yet I would have loved for her to have hung on still longer, to see my own children yet to come.

She was there for me as a child, picking up after me, teaching me right from wrong, giving me lessons in life and opening my mind to interesting hobbies.

I owe her a lot, but the truth is that as much as she was good to me, giving me and brother and sisters her unconditional love and care, I have let her down badly.

My visits to her grew infrequent, even though she lived close to places I go to regularly.

I was selfish and couldn't bring myself to see her sick and bedridden.

It broke my heart, but as much as I loved her, I shunned her.

At my hour of need, she was all there for me... at her hour of need, I was too busy.

May Allah bless her soul in peace and may he forgive me for being the ungrateful grand-daughter I had become.

May he forgive me for being just to too busy with life to look back and care for someone who meant and gave so much.

11/08/2005

Justice at last for poor workers

 

Vol XXVIII   NO. 144      Thursday      11 August 2005

I am thrilled to read that the Indian government is finally taking steps to safeguard the legal rights of its citizens in the Gulf.

Although it is long overdue, I seriously hope establishing legal aid offices attached to embassies will redress an unenviable situation a lot of migrant workers find themselves in when they run into trouble with the law.

Many of those workers are uneducated, poor, confused and very scared, even though they may have done nothing wrong.

They find themselves in trouble because of their own naivety or thanks to unscrupulous employers, who think they own those people because they have agreed to leave their countries and work here as their 'slaves'.

In life, there is nothing which infuriates me more than people who don't stand up for their rights.

But there is nothing much they can do when there is no one to guide them and walk them through the illogical maze of our legal systems.

The situation is simple, people cannot do much about their lost rights when they don't know what they are, to begin with.

The decision to provide legal advice to destitute workers who may land in trouble with the law because of lack of awareness, or because they have been abused, is probably the best development that has happened to address the condition of Indians in the region in a very long time.

I hope that other governments will follow the lead and develop similar schemes for their migrant workers.

It hurts me every time I see someone in trouble with the law, with no proper legal support or guidance, which invariably means that he or she will inevitably be denied justice.

The modern legal system is full of loopholes and it is only people with the wits and means to get legal advice before it is too late who get a better deal.

A few months ago, I was approached by an Indian friend to help another Indian in a situation with his 'sponsor'.

He explained the problem and I asked him to go to his embassy and complain. There was nothing I felt we could do as a newspaper, as it was an individual case.

The worker had his share of woes and the employer was ready with his counterattack, which as is the norm in such cases involve accusing the worker of stealing an X amount of money from the company.

The fact that the sponsor had extorted tens of thousands of dinars from the poor Indian since illegally renting his commercial registration in 1997, was irrelevant, because the law is tipped in favour of the influential Bahraini, who had his tracks covered.

The victim had pumped almost BD60,000 to set up the business, money which he had lost overnight following a disagreement with his sponsor, who had wanted more money out of the deal.

With no legal advice or support and the looming threat of imprisonment, the victim signed over all his rights to the sponsor, in exchange for a return ticket home!

This disgusting situation repeats itself ever so often in Bahrain.

I hope embassies will show more resolve to help their citizens, who are cheated of the hard labour and forced to give up their rights, just because there is no one to stand beside them.

  

09:51 Posted in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1)

08/08/2005

BD200 bonus barely enough for necessities

Vol XXVIII   NO. 141      Monday      8 August 2005

By Amira Al Hussaini


Bonus today. Gone tomorrow! Government employees got a whopping bonus this month. A whole BD200 to spend as they please, as a thank you for their dedication and hard work towards Bahrain and its people.

And the workers were delighted.

I bumped into a driver from one of the ministries the day before the bonus was announced.

He couldn't stop smiling, I felt his jaw would fall off. He was actually singing to himself with excitement.

"Is it true that we will get our bonus tomorrow," he asked, drooling all over the place.

"Yes, but it's only BD200," I replied.

"Wow! Thank you. Thank you for letting me know. Thank you. May Allah prolong your life and may all your dreams come true.

"You really are the bearer of good news. I don't know what to do, but I am so happy. It's as much as my salary. This means I will be getting two salaries this month," he said.

"But what can you possibly do with BD200?" I asked, still not comprehending why anyone would be so happy over such a small amount of money, considering it was the first time ever for all government employees to get a bonus across the board.

"I will buy a new air-conditioner for the children. All six of them are in a room without an AC," he said.

This really left me speechless. He will spend his money to buy an AC for his children's room.

After waiting for years for this dream (the bonus) to come true, he will blow it on one purchase. An AC.

But with the temperatures soaring, I am not surprised that is the only thing he wants in life right now.

Two days later, I bumped into another government employee.

"You know what I did with my bonus?" he asked me.

"You bought an AC," I ventured.

"Yes. My seven children are so happy. The old AC was making a lot of noise and wasn't cooling the room," he said.

"I even took them to ... (a junk food joint), where they all had hamburgers. They have been nagging for months. I am so happy with the bonus. It couldn't have come at a better time."

Great. I wait for years for a bonus and then spend it on burgers and an AC.

I don't want to sound ungrateful, but do you really know what I would personally do if I were to get a BD200 bonus for my work. I would flush it down the toilet. But that's me.

I expect to be paid and appreciated in direct proportion to the work I do, and I certainly am worth more than BD200!

At least I think so.

06/08/2005

Decent people held to ransom by rising crime

Vol XXVIII   NO. 139      Saturday      6th August 2005

A Sri Lankan housemaid is being terrorised in East Riffa by masked thugs, who are making her life a living hell. They not only knock on her door at night but have also dragged her out of the house, in an apparent attempt to kidnap her, in broad daylight.

The two men, dressed from head to toe in black, have reportedly done this before, to a different maid in the same house and the police have been informed.

But the first woman was too terrified to stay in Bahrain and has left the country, according to a report which appeared in Thursday's GDN.

Now another woman, who has left her family and home to come and work in Bahrain to make ends meet, is being targeted by what their employer believes to be the same duo.

The fact that this is happening just a few kilometres from where I live is frightening.

This isn't my Bahrain. This isn't where I was brought up and this isn't the level of security I expect from a country which is opening its doors wide open for foreign investors and tourists.

It was only last week that the GDN reported a court case in which a Chinese cook was kidnapped, locked in a room in a villa in East Riffa for five days and beaten by his captors, who threatened to kill him unless his family in China paid a ransom of 70,000 Yuan (BD3,451).

When police finally rescued this 25-year-old victim, he was found battered, bruised and malnourished, after being left with no food and water for three days.

What exactly is going on? I fully realise that these two incidents are not related, even though they both happened in East Riffa.

But the fact that they happened in an area inhabited by families is alarming and is a big cause for concern.

If this is not all, a little bit of investigation, has uncovered a mystery which should be addressed by the authorities as soon as possible.

Figures show that 18 people were kidnapped last year.

If this was Iraq, I would understand, but Bahrain? Eighteen people? Where were we? Why have they been kidnapped and what's happened to them?

Only two were kidnapped this year until June, says the country's top policeman.

This came straight from Interior Minister Shaikh Rashid bin Abdulla Al Khalifa, in his address to Parliament in June, when our honourable MPs discussed crime rates in Bahrain.

Before someone goes on the rampage and attacks me for being the bearer of bad news, I would like to welcome you all to the new world order.

Apparently, we are not alone.

According to the Guardian, there is almost a kidnapping a day in the UK capital, London, mostly related to the underworld of crime.

Half of all the kidnappers and victims are foreign nationals, usually from the same ethnic group.

With the bombings and kidnappings and all, please don't ask what my plans are for the summer.

04/08/2005

History should be preserved not disowned

Vol XXVIII   NO. 137      Thursday      4 August 2005

 

So we brush off a civilisation much older than 5,000 years, just because the people who built it were infidels ?

It has taken me a long time to come to terms with remarks made by MP Adel Al Maawda when parliament discussed the historic A'ali Burial Mounds on July 17, as I find myself running to my medicine cabinet every time they cross my mind.

This honourable MP described the Dilmun Civilisation (3000BC) as "some ancient civilisation from another place and time" !

He was speaking to parliament, made up of Bahrainis elected to office by free elections by the people of Bahrain, during dicussions on whether to sacrifice what remains of the historic burial mounds for housing projects, to meet growing demand for land and homes.

This is a very legitimate concern, especially considering that there are at least 30,000 families on waiting lists for homes from the Works and Housing Ministry.

This is a very plausible cause when we realise that the prices of homes have soared to unprecedented levels, making it difficult for even people earning relatively high salaries to consider buying property in Bahrain.

I fully realise that building for the living is necessary, but our history is just too precious to allow bulldozers ravage it to please the whims of an MP who thinks nothing of those graves, other than as reminders of Bahrain's non-Islamic past.

For him, there is "no need to preserve more mounds since all of them look the same."

To add insult to injury he boasts, that he is "not proud for the country to be associated with the burial mounds."

"We must have pride in our Islamic roots and not some ancient civilisation from another place and time, which has only given us a jar here and a bone there," he told parliament.

So what does this MP think we should do with our blasphemous past ? Do like the Taliban did, when they savagely attacked the Buddha statues of Afghanistan?

Or disown our heritage because the people of Dilmun were not Muslims, because Islam has only existed for about 1,500 years?

Who are we to judge not only people living around us and to infringe on their personal freedoms and beliefs, but also those here long before us ? The way some people think leaves me gasping for air.

19/07/2005

A doctor in the house - at BD1.600 an hour!

By AMIRA AL HUSSAINI

Here's a small lesson in mathematics and a big lesson in life. There is no need to put your thinking caps on because I will take through the problem step-by-step.

Apparently, resident doctors working at the main government hospital, the Salmaniya Medical Complex, are being paid BD800 a month for putting up with workloads of up to 120 hours a week.

This means that they work for a phenomenal 480 hours a month on an average - for peanuts.

I am saying peanuts because if you divide BD800 by 480, the result is BD1.600 per hour - or a packet of those salted roasted peanuts. In comparison, the person who washes your car makes BD1 for roughly 20 minutes of work and a part-time houseboy may earn BD1 an hour for dusting the house and watering the garden.

People look at to doctors wherever they go and say: "Wow ! It must be great being a doctor!"

Please don't get me wrong, for those I know in the profession - my husband included - tell me it is great being a doctor.

I am saying this not because it is a noble profession, but because many of those selfless people are doing it because they believe in the cause and are putting their lives on the line to spend more time with patients and ease their pain.

What is not great about being a doctor is the meagre pay cheque at the end of the month, for no-one can ever be satisfied with not getting what he is worth.

Discussing the plight of the over-worked and under-paid doctors is timely today, when you consider the demands being made by the jobless, along with the calls for social aid for those earning less than BD300 a month.

Everyone deserves to live a decent life. Everyone deserves an opportunity to improve his/her standard of living, but to do that, they have to be equipped with the essential skills necessary to ensure a place in the job market.

If qualified doctors are putting up with a demeaning situation and accepting it with a pinch of salt, while working in silence to improve their situation and redress the balance, why are others making so much noise?

Whoever said empty vessels make the most noise was right on the mark when it comes to the current situation in Bahrain.

Instead of dealing with the jobless protests with batons and teargas, it would be ideal to sit those people down and see exactly what they want.

A detailed study of their experience, education, training and work ethics would call their bluff.

For people who want to work are more systematic, organised and patient while working towards a long-term solution.

18/07/2005

Low Pay a Bitter Pill to Swallow for Our Doctors

By Amira Al Hussaini

Would you do a 90 to 120 hour week for between BD600 to BD800 a month?
I know I wouldn’t, especially if my job description sets a normal working week of 37 hours and the rest is unpaid overtime.
But for hundreds of resident doctors in Bahrain, this is a fact of life.
Imagine that’s all you are worth slogging through school for 12 years, finishing the top of your class; six to seven years of intensive study at university and a year of training at Salmaniya Medical Complex for NO PAY.
Add to this five years of being rotated from one department to another, working 36 hour shifts with no sleep or time for a decent meal and seeing up to 50 patients a day – all for a pay cheque of a maximum BD800 a month.
There is only one word to describe a situation like that - demeaning.
To add insult to injury, those doctors are not even registered as medical doctors at the Civil Service Bureau and are treated as other Health Ministry employees.
There isn’t a cadre for them, there are no hazard allowances, there is no work insurance and because of the enormous workload, many don’t even get a thank you from many of their disgruntled patients.
To rub salt into an open wound, doctors in Bahrain are actually being paid only a third of what their counterparts in other GCC countries get !
I am happy to see that the Bahrain Medical Society (BMS) is finally taking a serious interest in the situation of doctors in the country, instead of paying lip-service to their plight.
Comments made by BMS president Dr Abdulla Al Ajmi is yesterday’s GDN are encouraging and should be followed through to the end.
Although it would not redress the balance, a 30 per cent increase in salaries would be a step in the right direction.
All the doctors I know have entered the profession with one goal, to serve their nation and their people and ease the pain of patients in their hour of need.
According to Dr Al Ajmi, at least 25 consultants and other doctors have already left Bahrain looking for a better future elsewhere.
It would really be a shame to lose more, especially in a country which counts its own people as its only real asset.

12/07/2005

Reluctant job-seekers shunning a world of opportunities

Vol XXVIII   NO. 114      Tuesday      12 July 2005

By Amira Al Hussaini

I have always thought that something is better than nothing ... but perhaps I was mistaken.

The hundreds of Bahraini boys and girls who are shunning jobs in the hotel sector are obviously seeing something I fail to comprehend.

For them, it is much better to sit at home, get bored, create trouble in their otherwise harmonious households and live off their parents, older brothers or old rich uncles, than wake up in the morning and go to work - a thing people the world over do without a second thought.

Those youngsters are giving up the opportunity to embark on careers which could open a whole new world for them, just because they don't want to work.

We are not talking about jobs for people with masters and PhD degrees here. I am referring to the jobs available in hotels, resorts and restaurants.

These are jobs suitable for school dropouts, who have made the wrong choices in life and who could now be rehabilitated and trained at the expense of others, to ensure that they do something useful with their lives which are going to waste anyway.

But they will not have that, for it really is a hassle to wake up at the crack of dawn and go to work for BD200, especially when you have had an easy ride through school, refused to do your homework, had total disrespect for your teachers and had zero aspirations to go to university and do something useful for yourself and society.

Statistics released by the Specific Council for Training in Hotel and Catering in yesterday's GDN show that out of the nearly BD300,000 allocated for training Bahrainis in the hotel industry last year, only BD163,000 was utilised.

To add insult to injury, in a country where the unemployment figure looms around 20,000, jobless people are actually snubbing opportunities offered to them on a silver platter.

No matter what excuse they give for their reluctance to work in hotels (low salaries, problems with transportation, working shifts, mixing with expatriates, etc), the real reason is that they don't want to work.

Jobs offered in hotels are varied, ranging from reception and office jobs to those in housekeeping and the kitchen and there really is no shame in working for a living.

I fully realise that there are miraculous employment initiatives and labour reforms in the offing, but the truth is that if those people are not ready to get out of their beds and start somewhere, all these efforts are going to waste.

Hopefully, it isn't too late and youngsters will realise that they do have a choice and that their lives and futures are really what they make of them.

27/06/2005

Criminals are exploiting poor law enforcement

Vol XXVIII NO. 99 Monday 27th June 2005

By Amira Al Hussaini

A woman is kidnapped from the street, literally wrenched from her husband's grasp. Thugs pull a girl from a car and attack her in front of other passers-by, ripping her clothes, punching, kicking and biting her.

A student is gang-raped and a 12-year-old girl vanishes, with no trace even three years on.

Armed robberies in broad daylight, illegal drugs bought and sold, drive-by bag snatches and muggings almost every day.

New York? No, welcome to Bahrain - once a peaceful oasis in the Gulf, where people used to leave their cars and front doors open and go to sleep free of the fear of crime.

Rising crime is a reality in this modern age and a threat to the national security, economy and overall development of any country.

It doesn't take a genius to figure this out, just as it doesn't take a wizard to realise that something must be done if we are to be able to sleep in peace again.

My aunt's house was robbed a couple of years ago. The thief drove his car into her garage and emptied her house - stealing everything, right down to perfume and anti-wrinkle cream.

It was obvious he was comfortable in the knowledge that should he be caught, there wouldn't be much done to him.

It was evident that he was not afraid, not worried, not the least concerned about society's protective shield - its police force.

Every day people approach us with complaints about crime and when we ask them whether they have been to the police, they shrug their shoulders and ask: "What for, what will they do?"

It is a sad state of affairs when those men in uniform no longer have the respect the job demands, as the protectors and guardians of society from all the ugly faces of harm.

There is now talk about increasing the number of policemen to combat crime. That might be a short-term solution.

But the truth is that no matter how many times you increase the size of the police force, there is very little that can be done to reform people bent on breaking the law.

For in order to obey it, they must first respect it.

Even decent people will not help the police, if they do not respect them.

So the police must now fight on two fronts, to combat crime on one and to win the respect of the community on the other.

It is high time we stopped beating around the bush and got to the crux of it.

For the sake of Bahrain, for a better tomorrow, for a safe haven for our children, please bring back respect for the law - and the men who should enforce it.

25/06/2005

Bright women making a mark yet bozos rule the roost

Vol XXVIII NO. 97 Saturday 25th June 2005

By Amira Al Hussaini

It is a time of national celebration as thousands of graduates take a bow, with girls outsmarting boys once again in the secondary school examinations and showing the world the true mettle of Bahraini women. This year, 375 girls scored over 95 per cent, compared to 94 boys, showing that girls are at least four times better than the 'superior' male sub-species.

You can't imagine the size of the smile on my face when the results were announced.

They have even managed to bring tears to my eyes - for I am both happy and sad that more girls are realising the importance of being a step ahead of boys, who take a lot for granted in this society just because of their gender.

To be fair though, almost twice as many girls sat the exams - 3,990 girls compared to 2,178 boys - and although the reason for this beats me, it still makes me feel uneasy.

Without going deep into the figures, which I am not in a position to decode, they make me shudder every time I wonder that if there are really more smart girls and even fewer less-than-average boys around, what will the Bahrain of tomorrow be like?

Will we have less than average bozos bossing smarter women around? Will women accept a situation like this? And because there are fewer boys than girls, will girls accept sharing their better halves with other women?

The truth is, we don't have to look into the future to answer those questions.

A look at our present gives us the picture, for less-than-average bozos are already bossing smarter women around.

Women are accepting the situation because there isn't a legal framework nor a family law to protect them from abuse.

And, like it or not, smart women are forced to share the same men because they feel that such a rare species as "acceptable" men are getting fewer and harder to find by the day.

I really don't want to dampen the spirit of the celebrations in almost every home I know of, with young bright women making a mark and planning for a future where they know they should be superior.

I don't want to sound like Dr Doom, but the truth is that those figures mean nothing in a society still shackled by age-old traditions,which discriminate against girls just because they are smarter and more dedicated to their chores.

Unless things change drastically over the next few years and legislation is imposed from above to protect women's and family rights, I am afraid all our collective efforts to improve our lot as women and ensure that we serve our families and society in a befitting manner, will go to waste.

23/06/2005

Publicity-seekers out to promote shallow selves

Vol XXVIII NO. 95 Thursday 23 June 2005

BY AMIRA AL HUSSAINI

II have had it with people who only want to see their photographs in the newspaper, whether they deserve the coverage or not. I am disgusted by some who pretend to be champions of noble causes, when all they really want is to promote their shallow selves and get some free publicity out of their sorry attempts to provide shoddy services to society.

In my career, some of my most stressful experiences have been with such publicity-seekers, who believe in their own lies and fall prey to their own propaganda.

On the one hand, they are actually doing something and as such this warrants the publicity they get. On the other, they give us so much grief and push the limits just to have their events covered and their pictures plastered all over newspaper pages - even when we know that the motives strip their attempts of any decency.

There are people who will leave no stone unturned, resorting to everything from sweet talking to threats, for some self-publicity.

I wish I had the courage to publish their photographs here and name and shame them, for the heartache they have given me over the years excuses such an extreme measure.

It is so sad to see people who are supposedly working to serve the community, eat at each other's flesh and back stab each other for no reason other than to climb the social ladder and be the centrepiece of events.

I don't know what is more sad, their total lack of understanding of the concept of community service, or their constant struggle to out do each other in being the centre of attention - even when their attempts are ridiculous, petty and embarrassing to say the least.

No matter how many times I have encountered these hollow people who try to impose themselves on the social scene, they still continue to give me the creeps.

I still can't get them out of my mind and can't bring myself to try and understand this concentrated level of malignant narcissism, especially when I see many people working silently every day to bring humanity, dignity and respect back to voluntary work.

There are several examples of people who have worked in silence to help others and bring a quality to their lives, while refusing the publicity which others take for granted for their noble deeds.

Two immediately spring to mind. One is an Indian businessman who covered the expense of a cornea transplant to save a Bahraini woman from blindness.

The other is a local company which is without fanfare footing the bill to treat Baby Khadija Ali Radhi, whose plight was reported in the GDN, for a rare disfiguring disease..

11/06/2005

Personal loans spell doom for borrowers...

Vol XXVIII NO. 83 Saturday 11 June 2005

By Amira Al Hussaini


Why is it that we have to keep up with the Jones' in everything we do?

Can someone explain to me why Bahrain is a nation in debt, with BD1 billion outstanding in personal bank loans?

The question here is how much of this money is the size of the actual debt and how much is interest incurred by unscrupulous banks, who try to sell poor people castles in the clouds?

Also, how much of this money actually went on necessities and how much more was spent on luxuries, from cars to expensive, sprawling homes, honeymoons and holidays to exotic locations, lavish weddings and education and treatment abroad?

I personally hang up on salesmen who call asking me if I want yet another credit card, or up to 20 times my salary in personal loans, with no questions asked.

I don't need to even think about it because I know that I don't want to get sucked into a vicious circle which will tighten a noose around my neck and make me regret every fil I borrowed, once the creditors come knocking on my door.

If I regret anything, it may be the rude way I attack those salesmen, who are probably working to pay off loans themselves.

People have the right to dream and fulfil their aspirations, but taking loans to make those dreams come true is like sinking into an abyss.

I know people who are scraping the floor to make ends meet and to pay those parasitical banks their loans, topped by an interest very close to the amount they borrowed, just because they wanted to show off with a flashy car and enjoy the perks of a first-class holiday.

My heart breaks every time I see a young couple borrowing money to start their lives and I wonder who really is behind this debt culture, which is reducing people to slaves, who work and toil all day just to pay off ridiculous interest rates.

I know that waiting to achieve a dream is difficult and not many people have patience, especially when advertisements for personal loans are so tempting and are now seen on billboards in the streets.

They even intrude into your privacy in the form of SMS messages on your mobile, whetting your appetite and making you drool for what you can have instantly in exchange for a cut of your income forever after.

Loans may be an easy solution for a sticky problem which is available over the counter without the need for a prescription.

But they are a hard pill to swallow and will impose dire consequences on a young nation, which will be shackled for years paying the price of what they enjoyed for only a few hours, days or months at the most.

08/06/2005

Lazy civil servants get their unjust reward

Vol XXVIII NO. 80 Wednesday 8 June 2005

BY AMIRA AL HUSSAINI

There is so much to thank God for this morning. The MPs finally have a reason to gloat. You see, I strongly believe in justice and it is only right that when someone pushes for something correct for a change, he gets rewarded.

Thanks to the MPs' persistence, combined with threats of angry protesters pelting the National Assembly with eggs and tomatoes, the government has finally bowed to pressure and agreed to do the right thing.

Giving government staff their rightful bonus should be taken for granted and not be a smelly fish dangled in front of thousands of hungry mouths, or used as a means for political pressure and extorting more from the government.

The fact that it is a one-off BD200 bonus, which will cost the government BD12 million, is scary though, because I strongly believe that not all civil servants deserve to be rewarded for doing nothing.

For instance, government workers on salaries of no more than BD800 a month, yet who live in lavish homes, whose children go to private schools, who spend their holidays in Europe and drive to their humble jobs in top-of-the-range cars, already take their annual or even monthly 'bonuses' - with or without the blessings of the MPS.

I hope they will do the right thing and donate the BD200, once it has been credited to their accounts in a legal manner, to charity.

I get angry every time I walk into a government organisation.

My pressure rises from the moment I step into the smelly foyer and walk up to the dirty elevators, or the smoke-filled staircases.

On my way to my final destination, my blood boils as I pass by near-empty offices, with staff either flirting on the phone, praying, off sick or have gone out to run errands for their families or private businesses.

While bonuses have become the norm in many companies and organisations - even in Bahrain where bosses are known to skimp and not share the spoils with their slaves - I don't think that everyone deserves them.

They should be given to those who work, who turn up on time, who serve their nation and who respect themselves and their jobs. I know this won't be possible here because there can't be a system of checks and balances to ensure a fair deal for deserving employees.

And I know that instead of grumbling, I should be thankful that it will be given to all equally - including women.

26/05/2005

MPs once again fooled by a few figures...

Vol XXVIII NO. 67 Thursday 26 May 2005


By AMIRA AL HUSSAINI

Our honourable MPs continue to baffle me.

On Tuesday, parliament met to discuss air pollution in Bahrain, among other trivial matters such as our national budget, caring for the elderly and salary increments for civil servants, to name a few.

The problem is that there is so little time left and so much to discuss before they take their long-awaited summer recess, thanks to their endless squabbles on whether music concerts should be allowed or banned in Bahrain.

As a result, issues have to be rushed.

All that time wasted discussing legitimate entertainment activities, which have been approved by the state, could have really been utilised to carefully scrutinise an issue as serious as the quality of the air we are forced to breathe.

Figures issued to MPs by the Public Commission for the Protection of Marine Resources, Environment and Wildlife about the quality of air make no sense whatsoever.

However, not a single MP stood up at the meeting to question what they meant.

For instance, figures for the Southern Governorate show that the level of hydrocarbons (other than methane) in the air was 686 times above internationally acceptable levels, in a year.

What the report fails to mention is how many times the level of these gases was checked in a year, to give people a clear indication of what the level of pollution really is.

Another glaring omission is the lack of any data about the levels of such emissions in the Central Governorate, which covers the heavily populated areas of Isa Town and A'ali and the heavily industrialised areas of Sitra and Ma'ameer, because "equipment to measure them has broken down".

Excuse me?

It is a common fact that no matter how smart you are, you cannot continue to fool people all the time.

But our MPs continue to surprise us because again, they have been fooled by a few figures which they couldn't decode to begin with.

Not one of them stood up at that meeting to ask why those figures were incomplete.

They should have asked why one of Bahrain's heaviest industrialised areas has been left without checks on the level of air pollution since 1997.

They should have called for the questioning of officials who year after year have pledged cleaner production and close to zero pollution.

If that is the case, and our industry is really clean, how can it be proved in the absence of figures.

If the pollution levels in those villages were really within regulations, why are the figures being hidden from the public.

Or, are the lives of people of Sitra and Ma'ameer cheaper than others?

10/05/2005

Crime is a reality we can't hide from

Vol XXVIII NO. 51 Tuesday 10 May 2005


By AMIRA AL HUSSAINI


"Amira, hasn't the GDN gone a bit overboard with stories about pimps, brothels and general prostitution?"

This is an SMS message I got on my mobile from a friend the other day.

In addition to being a dear friend, the sender is also a distinguished businessman and someone whose opinions I value and take to heart.

Instead of answering him in person, I chose to respond to it here, as I am fully aware that many readers find such stories disturbing.

As a Bahraini, I am shocked every time we hear about such incidents, even though they have become recurrent themes.

It hurts every time I hear about yet another woman being terrorised by thugs or a young boy or girl's innocence smeared by some human monster who thinks he can get away with his horrible act just because nobody is watching.

I am sorry we cannot change reality and the reality is that such things occur - even in our close-knit Muslim society.

Whether we like it or not, there are children being sexually abused, women raped and young boys sodomised and keeping quiet about it will not solve the problem overnight.

The latest story we carried in the GDN is about a muezzin, the very man who calls for prayer, who made sexual advances to a nine-year-old Bahraini boy at a Hamad Town mosque.

The case was heard in court and the judge jailed the 24-year-old muezzin for two years as a punishment for his hideous crime.

Did the GDN make up this story?

The answer is NO. We did not fabricate this story. In fact, it is not the first time that such a thing has happened in a place of worship and I am sad to say that it may not be the last time because there are hypocrites everywhere - even in mosques, churches, temples and government offices.

Instead of asking a newspaper to cover up on corruption in society, let's face reality and learn how to deal with it.

Maybe then we can come up with solutions and try and educate people about their rights and their responsibilities.

Covering up horror stories happening behind closed doors is not the solution. Sticking our heads in the sand won't take us anywhere and will definitely not take such problems away.

Not reporting those stories in newspapers will not mean that such ugly crimes are not happening in Bahrain.

Instead of blaming the GDN for carrying such stories, let's take a serious look at our society and see what it is that those perverts find sexually exciting in little girls and boys who should be left alone playing with their toys rather than be subjected to such life-damaging experiences.

09/05/2005

Crackdown on corrupt step in right direction

Vol XXVIII NO. 50 Monday 9 May 2005


By Amira Al Hussaini


I would like to applaud Interior Minister Shaikh Rashid bin Abdulla Al Khalifa for having the courage to call a spade a spade.

In an unprecedented move, he has called for a full and thorough investigation of misconduct and criminal activity at the General Directorate of Traffic.

Now the allegations are not the usual ones we hear about, like someone having influence over someone else to change traffic accident reports, or cancel violations before they are entered into the computer system, or even to pass someone who should have failed the driving test.

No, they are much more calculated crimes, involving heavyweights with the influence and means to abuse their power and look like the innocent flower, while they are the serpents under it.

Shaikh Rashid has ordered a probe to investigate a string of car thefts, involving traffic officials and other influential people.

They have allegedly created a web to steal cars, change their number plates and chassis numbers in traffic records, register them in the names of foreigners who are living here or have left Bahrain and then resell them in the market!

Wow! That's a cracking plan - a great one had it been masterminded by the Mafia and not by the very people employed to safeguard people's rights and protect them from such criminal activities.

It is the fact that those people were entrusted with the responsibility to protect law and order that hurts most.

Who are we to turn to next time our car vanishes from outside our home? You see, not everyone is privileged enough to have a garage with a top-of-the-range security system.

Personally, I wasn't the least bit surprised when I heard about the scandal.

What has surprised me is that the Interior Ministry has actually announced it and is taking steps to stamp such practices out once and for all.

This is a step in the correct direction and corruption should be exposed to set an example for others that such unscrupulous behaviour will not be tolerated in our new democracy.

Just as the crime was announced in public, I hope that the results of the probe will also see light in order to bring respect to a ministry whose main job is to protect law and order.

There will always be certain individuals who are corrupt and who will abuse their positions no matter where you place them, just as there are people who respect themselves, their jobs and their uniforms.

I hope that the purge against corruption at the Traffic Directorate will be extended to cover other directorates at the Interior Ministry which have not moved with the times and are not ready to embrace the doctrines of this new era!

I also wish other officials would show such resolve to stamp out corruption in their ministries.

03/05/2005

MPs simply won't give up fretting over petty issues

Vol XXVIII NO. 44 Tuesday 3 May 2005


By Amira Al Hussaini


I had promised myself not to lash out at MPs again too soon ... but they are not making it easy!

For our honourable MPs are now working towards getting yet another concert banned.

After fulfilling all their promises to the nation, MPs from Al Asala and Al Menbar blocs are putting up yet another fight to halt Star Academy's concert, scheduled to be held in Bahrain later this month.

Just like the infamous Nancy Ajram concert (staged on October 23, 2003), which was given the go ahead by the Information Ministry, organisers of the May 19 show say they also have official approval.

However, our MPs, who have been elected to uphold laws, seem bent on breaking them every step of the way when it comes to any type of entertainment - because they have appointed themselves the nation's vice squad.

After all, Bahrainis cannot behave themselves and need MPs to tell them right from wrong.

Whether we agree with the concert, or its content, or whether we believe it poses a moral threat, the fact is that its organisers have got official approval to go ahead.

This means that in a country with dwindling resources, someone has sat back and thought of a money-making scheme, to bring in revenue in a legitimate way, in line with all the regulations.

But this is not to be.

I am worried that this concert will take the same path as the Nancy Ajram concert and again make my country the butt of jokes in the region and further afield.

In my opinion, calls to ban the Ajram concert brought more harm to Bahrain's reputation and its security than allowing it to simply go ahead.

People are still talking about the concert and the troubles a group of anarchists, who thought they could stop it, caused.

Had the concert gone ahead without trouble, no one would be mentioning it again.

I really don't see what a concert can do to create moral decay in a country where, according to official statistics, almost 26 per cent of people aged 15 to 30 years, have experimented with illegal drugs!

Instead of wasting public resources discussing petty issues, it is high time our honourable MPs came up with better ways to attack this cancer which is slowly eating up our flesh and destroying our only asset - our youth.

26/04/2005

Website clamp a step backwards

Vol XXVIII NO. 37 Tuesday 26th April 2005

By Amira Al Hussaini

It is disturbing news that Bahrain has decided to clamp down on websites, just as the country celebrates World Book Day.

Yesterday's stern warning to all webmasters to either register their sites or face legal action, has sent shockwaves down my spine.

To camouflage a law bent on infringing on the rights of people to express their opinion with clichés like protecting public freedom and safeguarding the rights stipulated in the 2002 reforms initiated by His Majesty King Hamad, is worrying.

It makes me and many others wonder what type of democracy we want to tell the rest of the civili-sed world we have.

Do we have a real democracy, or a tailor-made one under which people can do, say or think anything they want, as long as it falls in with the official line?

Instead of taking the opportunity of World Book Day to encourage people to read and write, express themselves and expand their horizons, the Information Ministry has now appointed itself as custodian of the worldwide web (www) and has created new restrictions to a service which provides people with information and entertainment at the click of a button.

The amusing question is how does the ministry think it can monitor and control all that appears on Bahraini or Bahraini-related websites, which number anywhere from 6,000 to 10,000 and which can double in size overnight?

In the cyber world, which acknowledges no boundaries, censorship or secret police, where the word pours out from the heart and goes directly to the people, how does Bahrain expect to enforce this law, particularly on websites hosted by domains in other countries ?

What signals are the authorities sending to the rest of the world about democracy and freedom of expression and human rights in this country?

How will it punish people who refuse to register their on-line diaries, especially if they are personal or frivolous, such as details on their everyday lives, or the antics of their pets?

Why is Bahrain stubbornly disrespecting its citizens and refusing them space to breathe and develop and learn to respect themselves and others in the process?

Democracy is not born overnight.

It is a long learning process and trial and error are acceptable as long as mutual respect and the will to make things work for the benefit of all are there.

Is freedom of expression just a sound bite under our own version of Bahraini democracy?


24/04/2005

Rediscovering our rich past, but alongside modern-day litter

Vol XXVIII NO. 35 Sunday 24 April 2005

By AMIRA AL HUSSAINI


Bahrain's rich traditions were splendidly showcased in the annual heritage festival, which celebrated old weaponry and falconry this year.

The festival, which attracts thousands of visitors from Bahrain and abroad each year, is always a great opportunity for the young and old to rediscover the country's vibrant past.

It is hosted in a mock village, especially designed to take visitors to the old alleyways, homes, mosques and courtyards which made up Bahrain's neighbourhoods before the discovery of oil and the development it has brought with it.

As we toured it, the smell of kebab and khanfaroosh led visitors to a line of women preparing the delicacies in a corner in the village.

Traditional craftsmen could be seen going about their business, preparing everyday items the way they have been made for hundreds of years, with the skills passed down from one generation to another.

It was with this nostalgia for the simple days of Bahrain of the by-gone era that I took my five-year-old nephew to the heritage festival, which ended on Friday.

Yes, it was a very successful theme, with a lot of things related to weaponry and falconry available in abundance.

We found the women preparing the traditional Bahraini kebab and the falconers posing with their birds of prey.

We saw the camel, the donkey, the pony and the horse - things which would excite any boy of my nephew's age.

But he would not be tempted to ride any of them. I tried to bribe him with a kite in the colours of the Bahraini flag.

I offered to buy him a talking parrot. I even bought him lots of trinkets... but he was adamant that he wanted to leave.

"I want to go home," he grumbled.

"Don't you like the music and the animals?" I asked.

"I do, but this is a very dirty place," he replied.

I took a deep breath and then a look around me. It was a dirty place indeed.

There was waste paper and plastic bags flying in all directions.

In fact, litterbugs were everywhere while litter bins were rare.

I wasn't surprised that my nephew wanted out.

On our way out, he pointed to the waterfront.

"Look at all the rubbish here," he said.

"Why are you bringing me to dirty places? Let's go to Seef."

So much for an educational outing to instil some pride in a youngster about his country's heritage and history!

06/04/2005

MPs must learn true meaning of democracy!

Vol XXVIII NO. 17 Wednesday 6 April 2005


BY AMIRA AL HUSSAINI

At first, they wanted a democracy. Then, they got a democracy. And now that they have a democracy, they are not sure whether they want to deal with it and the freedoms and "decadence" it could bring or not. The fundamental principle behind a democracy is freedom, a concept some of our MPs and many others in our beloved kingdom are obviously not familiar with.

They are claiming to be democratic, but are not yet ready to deal with society in a mature way and allow people to make their own choices.

Will limiting people's freedom ensure that the principles of democracy are upheld in Bahrain?

Will infringing on the rights guaranteed by the Constitution and the United Nations Human Rights Charter instil the teachings of democracy?

These are all redundant questions. The real question is who is behind the motion to drag Bahrain back to the dark ages?

Freedom means that individuals are free to do whatever they want, provided their action doesn't break the law or trespasses on the freedom of others.

The key motion our honourable MPs should promote is enhancing freedom and not curtailing it.

But this seems to be an impossible feat for the majority of the 40 MPs selected by the people, for the people of Bahrain.

Most people are asking: What has the parliament achieved in more than two years?

What have our MPs done to instil and enhance the doctrines of democracy and freedom?

What difference has a parliament really made for Bahrain?

The answer is simple. Nothing much.

Some of the highlights of the parliament are as follows: causing mayhem over the Nancy Ajram concert; chasing out Big Brother from Amwaj Islands; causing an uproar over co-education at Bahrain University; trying to halt a project as grand as the Bahrain International Circuit, which just hosted a thrilling Grand Prix, and giving lots and lots of empty promises to the people of Bahrain. Remember the BD500 "bonus" promised last year? Well, I guess this is the last we will hear of it.

Our MPs should be busy drawing up laws which protect and enhance people's freedom within a framework which maintains law and order, instead of squabbling over limiting people's freedoms.

It is high time our parliamentarians woke up and had a long and frank discussion among themselves: Do they want to function within a democracy, or continue to shove dictatorial motions down people's throats?

If they can't understand the meaning of a true or even an experimental democracy, then they should spare us the ridicule of the developed world and step down.

People would not lose much. In fact, the money being spent on their maintenance, cars, salaries, proposed pension scheme and pompous lifestyles could be donated to charity and help improve the conditions of their downtrodden Bahraini brethren.

27/03/2005

There is no answer to telephone nuisance

Vol XXVIII NO. 7 Sunday 27 March 2005


BY AMIRA AL HUSSAINI

The phone rings. You answer the phone. So far so good. You see, every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

Telephone conversations can sometimes be very annoying and I have managed to get unstuck on the phone many times in the past.

I can't stand beating around the bush; I am generally impatient and genuinely have a lot of work to do. I simply cannot waste my time with niceties on the phone; I can't discuss the weather and I can't give anonymous callers a minute-by-minute account of what I did with my husband last summer.

If you are unlucky enough to answer the phone at the Gulf Daily News on any given day, here is a transcript of a typical conversation:

Me: "Hello. Gulf Daily News."

Caller: "Hello? GDN?"

Me: "Yes. Can I help you?"

Caller: "GDN..Gulf Daily News...same same?"

Me: "Yes."

CLICK

Your guess is as good as mine as to why this person had called the newspaper to begin with. This is a regular occurrence. We get such phone calls several times a day.

Not that I am important or anything, but I sometimes have this feeling that people wake up in the morning with an agenda - Let's make Amira's life miserable today.

Telephone conversations with people who don't know whether they are going or coming or what they exactly want are exasperating and sap all your energy, especially after a long day at work.

Here's a another conversation I just had with a caller who wanted to speak to reporter Robert Smith:

Me: "Hello. Gulf Daily News."

Caller: "This GDN?"

Me: "Yes..GDN, Gulf Daily News same same."

Caller: "Robert there?"

Me: "I am afraid he is has gone out on an appointment. Would you like to leave him a message?"

Caller: "Yes. But this is GDN?"

Me: "Yes. This is the Gulf Daily News."

Caller: "Robert there?"

Me: "No. Robert is not here. He will come back later."

Caller: "But this is GDN?"

Me: "Yes. This is GDN. Robert is not here. Can I help you?"

Caller: "But this is GDN and Robert not there?"

Me: "No. This is GDN. Robert is not here. It is very simple. Do you have a problem understanding me?"

Caller: "Why you so rude?"

Me: "Why do you keep repeating yourself so many times?"

Caller: "But this is GDN!"

It is a lost battle. Just because it is the GDN, we are supposed to know everything and put up with abuse everyday.

Phone etiquette? Another cliché which has lost its meaning in the real working world.

09:15 Posted in Miscellaneous | Permalink | Comments (15)

19/03/2005

And they call me a man hater!

And they call me a man-hater...when I am not and never was.

If there is a good man out there and he has done something good...I would be the first to acknowledge it and salute him for that rare act of kindness towards mankind!

Anyway.. I am finding it difficult to get my published articles and sometimes censored articles which are not always politically correct off the net.

I just found one on Mahmood's Den. Thanks Mahmood for this great act of kindness! I owe you one!

00:21 Posted in Rants | Permalink | Comments (31)

18/03/2005

Forget shop mannequins...what about our abayas?

Friday March 18, 2005

BY AMIRA AL HUSSAINI

Cover up the mannequins please. Those distasteful anorexic women should not be on display for public viewing. Let them wear abayas, with the red lace of nightgowns hanging out from the side. For a change, the mannequins will then be mimicking real women - instead of the other way round. I can't help but roll my eyes every time I am out in public, surrounded by women wearing the tightest, brightest, embroidered, see-through abayas.

Is it only me who feels this way? If they really want to expose what lies beneath, why do they bother wearing the abayas to begin with?

Please, don't get me wrong. I am not voicing my insecurities or anything.

I am also all for freedom of expression and dressing up is one way of expressing oneself, which I don't want to limit in a society which has more restrictions and taboos today than it did in the swinging 60s and sizzling 70s.

But to humiliate the abaya - the sign of the humble modest woman who strictly adheres to tradition and culture - in this shameful manner is blasphemous by all standards.

I really don't know why parliament has not taken up the matter, or why members from the Islamic Bloc haven't yet passed a motion banning such scandalous abayas, which are closer to nightgowns than the symbol of the humble Muslim woman.

I know I am opening myself up to criticism here, because I am not exactly the abaya-wearing Muslim woman.

But at least whatever clothes I wear cover more than some of the abayas worn by many women!

If parliament does not want to do something about loose women on the streets, perhaps the municipal councils should come up with a motion to cover up scantily-clad women wearing abayas?

They have, after all, appointed themselves as the vice squads in a Bahrain where everything is so perfect - albeit with a few people hanging their underwear to dry outside their homes.

Why

Why is a very legitimate question.

I am a journalist who has been fiddling with the idea of writing columns for our local newspaper for a few months. I want to bring all my published columns under one roof - in CyberLand!

So...let's see what happens!

In short, this is my archive...

12:12 Posted in Blog | Permalink | Comments (8)

15/03/2005

Councillors wasting time with trivial concerns

Vol XXVII NO. 360 Tuesday 15 March 2005

BY AMIRA AL HUSSAINI

The Municipal councils are continuing to amuse us with their trivial pursuits.

Many people, including my humble self, have no idea anymore what their real job is because they have distracted us with their hilarious concerns.

The fact that they are spending time discussing whether mannequins have to be covered up or not or where people should hang their washed underwear to dry sends shock waves down my spine.

After Muharraq, the Central Municipal Council has now succeeded in passing an order to cover up all the mannequins in their area.

A great achievement indeed in areas with roads full of potholes, overflowing sewage and dilapidated homes, swarming with insects and rodents!

From banning the display of nightwear and swimwear on mannequins in shop display windows, the Northern Municipal Council comes up with another ingenious idea: Let's stop people hanging their underwear to dry outside their homes.

I am sure other councils will follow suit and before long, people will have to resort to wearing disposable underwear or maybe no underwear at all rather than break the law and face penalties - perhaps jail or a fine - for not affording dryers or mansions to hang their underwear in places far away from prying eyes.

I wish I had time on my hands to review to the 50 elected councillors' election programmes and see what they have achieved over almost three years.


Have they lived up to people's expectations?

Wasn't there a municipal councillor in Muharraq who promised his constituency to close down Bahrain International Airport because of the noise and inconvenience it brought to people in his area?

What about the Isa Town municipal councillor who promised to close down Al Manar for Parents Care - a daytime centre looking after the elderly - and turn it into a health centre?

The message coming from the leadership is loud and clear: The aim of reforms - political, economic and labour - is to improve the quality of life of all Bahrainis.

It is a shame to see what little is being achieved because the reforms are being hijacked by concerns which are not the need of the hour in my country.

13/03/2005

Let's drive lunatics off our roads...

Vol XXVII NO. 358 Sunday 13 March 2005

By AMIRA AL HUSSAINI

The alarm goes off. You are fully awake and are ready for the beginning of a long week at work.

You get into your car. Something makes you pause: "Is it really worth it?" you ask yourself.

I am not speaking here about the futility of going to work and repeating the same chores everyday; I am not talking about the monotony of life where every day repeats the day before it and I am not even going anywhere near the stalemate we feel in some quarters as far as real development of any value is concerned.

Leaving your house in the morning, every morning, is inevitable - if you muster the energy to get out of bed, that is!

Do you know what it is that drives me crazy every time I am in my car going somewhere?

It is the way other people drive. Their selfishness and their arrogance gets under my skin. Their total lack of manners and respect for other road users, be it pedestrians, drivers, cyclists or even cats, makes my blood boil.

Look at the way they zigzag through traffic at full speed, totally oblivious to the lives of other road users; how those little silly boys in flashy cars flash their headlights at you, even on highways where you are driving at the maximum speed limit; how some creepy crawlies drive at a snail's pace even on open roads - blocking two or sometimes three lanes of the highway; and the way people talk on the phone, while meandering from one lane to the other, without using signals. Signals? What signals?

The fact that some drivers think they own the road and are not responsible for their actions is a slap in the face for humanity and decency. It doesn't matter what make of car you drive; what makes a difference is how you drive it.

What adds insult to injury is when some policemen abuse their powers and use different yardsticks to punish different people.

How many times have I seen policemen turning a blind eye to people breaking traffic rules, just because they and those supposedly responsible for upholding the law, think that they are a cut above the rest!

Traffic Week started yesterday under the theme "Your driving reflects your manners" - a perfect motto for a world full of lunatic drivers.

People with no manners should lock themselves up at home until they acquire some.

Driving in a reckless manner is a serious offence as people's lives - even poor ones and labourers - are not that cheap.

23:02 Posted in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (6)

08/03/2005

Families losing out big time in battle of the sexes!

Vol XXVII NO. 353 Tuesday 8 March 2005

By Amira Al Hussaini

Have you ever heard of the International Men's Day? It is so obvious. It smacks you in the face and smirks at you every day.

It is celebrated 364 days a year (365 days every Leap Year) to glorify those selfish creatures who think that the whole world rotates around their little finger.

All they have to do is lift it and everything comes to a standstill, in anticipation of their petty desires - whether it is a war, spreading famine and disease, ultra-smart ideas like annihilating mankind by nuclear, chemical or biological warfare... all the way down to playing dirty politics.

On the family front, they break up families, cheat on their wives and abuse their children.

On the personal front, they break hearts and spirits.

The world is after all their playground to do with as they please, with women created to serve and please them.

But the overall picture is not that bleak.

In appreciation of women, who have shouldered the burden of seeing them in good health and in sickness, they have spared us one day in their busy calendar of events - March 8 - to commemorate the International Women's Day.

The rest of the year is all theirs to exploit women and act the masters of the realm they think they are.

In a country as small as Bahrain, where women constitute about 42 per cent of the population, it is a shame to note that appointments, laws and practices are not in favour of women.

Only two Cabinet ministers are women: Health Minister Dr Nada Haffadh and more recently Social Affairs Minister Dr Fatima Al Balooshi.

Add to this Supreme Council for Women secretary-general Lulwa Al Awadhi, whose post carries a ministerial rank.

Great strides really in a country which is yet to have an apparatus in place to protect women from family members, society, the law, lawmakers and keepers and from the very Ministry of Justice, whose only purpose is to ensure justice is implemented - if only on paper in an increasingly unjust world.

Believe me, women don't want equality. Not yet, at least. All we want is our basic rights - whether we are single, married, divorced, widowed or all of the above.

It isn't a lot - all we want is to live in dignity and with self-respect at a time when statistics released by the Interior Ministry show that an average of two women report physical abuse and one verbal abuse to police stations every single day.

Ensuring this isn't any easy feat, not in a democracy which is yet to approve a family law.

Contrary to popular belief, a family law will not only protect women - who by instinct have been created to protect their homes - but the family as a whole, including men.

23:07 Posted in Women's Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1)

24/02/2005

Time for the hare to wake up and win Gulf race!

Vol XXVII NO. 341 Thursday 24 February 2005

By Amira Al Hussaini


I am green with envy every time I fly back to Bahrain after a few days in one of the neighbouring Gulf states and I really don't know why.

As a Bahraini, I should be proud of the developments and huge leaps forward being taken by the likes of Dubai and Doha, which is following close at its heels and not the miserable melancholy soul I am as the plane circles to land on the dusty tarmac of our only runway at Bahrain International Airport.

I should be proud to recall that what was sand and desert a few years ago in our neighbouring countries is skyscrapers and multi-faceted glass and concrete buildings and breath-taking world-class resorts today - which testify to the burgeoning trade and forward thinking that is embracing the future and its challenges at full speed.

Why am I so envious? Is it in keeping with the Arab mentality that makes us jealous of our neighbours' successes and excesses and happy for any of their shortcomings, in the hope that we may one day beat them to the finishing line?

This reminds me of the story of the hare and the tortoise. Do you remember it? Well, let me entertain you with its Gulf version.

Bahrain has always been ahead of the times, the pioneer in introducing education, democracy, empowering women, building a modern infrastructure and diversifying its economy, to name a few.

It has been the heart of the region, its commercial and banking hub, its transit port and was the first Gulf country where oil was discovered.

It was the first in this and the first in that.

Then, like in the fable, the hare looked behind and saw the slow and sluggish tortoise trying hard to cross the start line.

As in the fable, the hare decided to go for a nap.

Just like in the fable, the hare wakes up to see the tortoise sweating its way to the finish line.

But not like in the fable, just as we thought that the era of discoveries was over, the hare springs into action and pulls a trick from the hat - we now have another first to gloat about until the end of time.

After all, like it or hate it, we were the first country in the Middle East to successfully attract and host a Grand Prix.

Cheers hare. I knew you would make a comeback!

09:47 Posted in Travel | Permalink | Comments (2)

21/02/2005

Real issues sidelined by useless debates

Vol XXVII NO. 338 Monday 21 February 2005

BY AMIRA AL HUSSAINI

Every Bahraini is a patriot. But not everyone is able to express himself or his love for his country the way he wants. Words and ideas may be taken out of context, sending wrong signals and bringing wrath upon the messenger.

Criticising something doesn't necessarily mean that a person is against it, but singing laurels doesn't spell out submission to it either.

I am not trying to be philosophical and I won't attempt to. The bottom-line is that I can't.

The squabbling of two Shura Council members over whether to thank the leadership or not over reforms ushered in by the National Action Charter, on its fourth anniversary, rang serious alarm bells.

What a waste of time and resources, I thought to myself.

While it will cost Bahrain BD6.6 million to build a complete settlement and put roofs over the heads of 154 families in the area south-east of the Riffa Fort, it is costing the nation BD8.75m to sustain the Shura Council for this year and next.

Multiply this figure by two and add another BD200,000 annually for parliament and its staff and you get a rough estimate of the two-year budget for the National Assembly.

Altogether, our National Assembly costs us in excess of BD18m every two years - a sizeable amount considering the country's meagre resources and the fact that more than 30,000 Bahraini families are on a waiting list for government housing and thousands of people are unemployed.

And what has the National Assembly achieved so far?

By next year's parliamentary elections, the combined assembly will have cost at least BD36m over its four-year term.

It has scared away some investors, who won't spend money in a country which bans television shows and where there are riots to stop music concerts; dashed the hopes of people by first promising everyone a BD1,000 bonus and then reducing it to BD500 for each family and finally to a pathetic BD200 for public sector employees only - and putting conditions on that too!

Green with envy, fresh back from Dubai, I was consumed in deep thought on what it is exactly that has us going around in circles, while the rest of the region is blossoming and developing at breakneck speed.

Dubai has never ceased to amaze me and the visionary ideas which come to life every day, thanks to the support of its leadership and the genuine interest of local businessmen, have created a true oasis in the desert.

Bahrain was the pioneer in the region, whose achievements were built on a solid ground, by the sweat and dedication of its own people.

It is a shame to have lost this edge, thanks to wise men too busy thanking each other.

Would women fare better in an elected parliament?

Let's wait and see.

18/02/2005

Confusion again over holidays...

Vol XXVII NO. 335 Friday 18 February 2005

BY AMIRA AL HUSSAINI

Here we go again! History repeats itself so often in Bahrain. The monotony of the situation is exasperating, to say the least.

Every time a public holiday is announced, we are inundated with telephone calls.

"When is the holiday?" and "How many days for the private sector?" ask callers.

On Wednesday, the government announced that Ashoora would be marked by a three-day holiday, from today until Sunday, with civil servants going back to work on Monday.

What about the private sector ? Do they get the normal two-day holiday? Shall we make that three?

This is causing total confusion with everyone picking up the phone to call the GDN and ask when the holiday for the private sector is.

Well, we don't have a magic answer. The Labour Ministry is not available for a comment and every time the Chamber of Commerce and Industry issues a circular regarding holidays, it specifically says that the holiday announcement is for itself, meaning the private sector may follow suit, if they choose.

The last two Eid holidays caused real confusion, with many people still in limbo as to whether the holidays should have applied to public or private sectors or both.

To mark Eid Al Adha, the chamber jumped the gun and announced that the holiday would begin on Thursday and continue until Sunday - giving private sector workers a total of FOUR days off.

The following day the government announced that the Eid Al Adha holiday would begin on Wednesday and continue until Monday - giving civil servants SIX days off.

Traditionally, Bahrain has always marked the Eid with a three-day holiday. If the holiday period fell on Friday, then we were compensated by an extra day, making the holiday a total of FOUR days.

Now, the government sector must compensate its workers for Thursday - another brilliant idea from our elected parliament.

With more occasions, celebrations and the deaths of national leaders, come more days off.

The real problem here is lack of communication. Why can't the government and private sectors agree upon holidays and decide which days are public ones and which are not.

Surely, some prior announcement would give people - both government and private sector workers - the chance to plan better.

I fully understand that Eid and Ashoora are dictated by a Lunar calendar and depend on moon sightings but come on, they fall within a limited period of time.

The holiday could be announced in advance, provided it embraced the actual Eid day, or whatever occasion it may be.

We surely don't need magicians to come up with such a simple solution.

23:32 Posted in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (4)

09/01/2005

Rise in 'occult' practice is really scary

Vol XXVII NO. 295 Sunday 9 January 2005

By AMIRA AL HUSSAINI

It's already afternoon. There isn't anything useful to do. Been to all the coffee shops, seen all the friends you can stand being around and had it with shopping and trying on clothes which don't fit.

Life is boring. Every day is a repeat of the one before it and there is no hope things will ever change.

Whether it was that knight in shinning armour you have been waiting for all your life, a promotion at work or a child to brighten up your life, divine intervention seems to have left you on the shelf, ignoring your pleads and prayers for this one more thing which will make your life complete.

But here comes Umm Mohammed, the tested and tried "fortune-teller" who can bring a smile to your face in exchange and make all your dreams come true - even those far-fetched impossible ones - for a little money.

In addition to telling you your fortune, this sophisticated woman will give you advice on how to entice and keep a man, keep your mother-in-law at bay and make sure no-one takes that promotion you have had your eyes on.

She can also make sure that your children pass at school and that your neighbour's daughter doesn't get married before yours.

Umm Mohammed (a fictional name because I wouldn't dare make the real woman cross) is famous throughout Bahrain and beyond, with loyal and regular customers travelling from around the region to listen to her words of wisdom.

She knows what's troubling you from one look at a magical assortment of rocks, sea shells, coloured stones and metals, which she shakes in a woven basket.

The assembly of those stones, their proximity to other stones and how close they are to you when she tosses the basket's contents on the floor, have the answers to the problems which keep you up all night counting sheep.

For a BD10 consultation fee, Umm Mohammed can tell you why you suffer from insomnia and when you are going to travel on your next holiday.

Answers for more important questions related to your love life, promotion at work and magic potions to ensure that you or your spouse is pregnant before the next full moon are also available, for a price that may be in the thousands of dinars.

Traditional remedies I have heard of include carrying and burying talismans, burning incense until everyone in your household, including the cat, is suffocated and drowning your bedroom with rose water!

While the story of the man who accused his wife of sending demons to his house to terrify him, his mother and his maid may have spurred a few laughs amongst readers, the belief in sorcery is so common in Bahrain, it is frightening.

Men and women who claim to be possessed and have solutions for people's miseries are found in all of Bahrain's towns and villages and practice their "powers" in broad daylight, with the full knowledge of some very influential authorities, I should add.

With mounting pressures in life, I can sometimes understand why some people could be tempted to visit the "occult" for a consultation.

I don't know whether it is a total lack of hope that drives people to such practices, or whether there really is some truth in what those people claim to be able to achieve and I really don't want to know.

Thank God I have a full-time job and so much more on my plate, I haven't had time to take this route.

The only time I went with friends out of curiosity to check it out created some disharmony in my otherwise perfect life.

The fortune-teller we had visited was adamant that my better half was at a "gathering of friends" while I was insisting that he was at work, probably surrounded by his colleagues.

She was right. I was wrong.

The end result is that I will never allow anyone to tell me my fortune again. Yet.

09:52 Posted in Miscellaneous | Permalink | Comments (5)

28/10/2004

Will MPs' generosity really benefit the needy?

Vol XXVII NO. 222 Thursday 28 October 2004

By AMIRA AL HUSSAINI

Life is finally smiling and the lives of thousands of 'poor' people may now change drastically, thanks to the generosity of Bahrain's MPs.

Because of the huge surge in Bahrain's income due to the soaring oil price ($55 a barrel and rising), Parliament has passed a proposal to give a one-off BD500 to any Bahraini breadwinner earning less than BD1,000 a month.

One MP suggested that the payment should be BD1,000, but his ingenious idea fell on deaf ears because BD500 is a reasonable enough gift, as long as it is not coming out of the MPs' pockets and will not affect their salaries and incentives, which certainly have made them a cut above the rest.

Their proposal is as follows: "The money will go to the breadwinner of 'needy' families, whose monthly income is less than BD1,000 a month. This excludes ministers and Shura and parliament members."

I feel uneasy on three points...

1. Who is the breadwinner? Is it every man with a marriage certificate? Or is it every citizen within a certain age group? Does it cover widowed and divorced women?

What about families which have been deserted by their breadwinners (men) and who have to scrape the floor to make ends meet? How do those families without a legal status and a family head benefit from all those windfalls, generated by one generous gesture after another?

How will they profit from this generosity if it gets the Cabinet green light? One would think, if parliamentarians really wanted to help poor people, they would suggest giving the aid to families without a breadwinner.

2. What is the criteria being used to define needy people? Needy at BD1,000 a month? This beats the former Bahrain Human Rights Centre's description, which defined the poverty line as being below BD309 which I thought was a bit exaggerated! Maybe I am disillusioned, but a monthly salary of BD1,000 is a comfortable salary by Bahrain's standards, unless standards in Bahrain have gone up while I was asleep.

3. Why not include ministers and Shura and parliament members in the scheme? They are citizens too and have certainly benefited from many perks and gestures in the past.

Will BD500 make a difference to them? Come to think of it, how much of a difference would BD500 make to the lives of poor people?

I am not being ungrateful but what is a one-off payment of BD500?

Will it help get a gifted but needy student through university?

Will it help renovate that old crumbling house?

Will it pay off debts which have accumulated over the years?

Will it be used to foot the medical costs of a bedridden member of the family?

I know I have more questions than answers.

I hope voters too will ask themselves why MPs are so determined to get their scheme through at the beginning of the third year of their four-year term.

25/10/2004

Do men regard family law as threat to their freedom?

Vol XXVII NO. 219 Monday 25 October 2004

By AMIRA AL HUSSAINI

Why am I not surprised at all that the majority of those against having a written family law to protect the rights of women and children are men?

According to a study commissioned by the Supreme Council for Women and conducted by the Bahrain Centre for Studies and Research, 64.38 per cent of those who turned down the proposal to have a family law were men.

The sticky question here is: WHY?

Why does the looming family law seem to be a threat to them? Is it because it may, in a way, curtail the unlimited freedom they have on the fate of children and women who fall under their wing? Would it perhaps give those women and children rights and privileges, which will be protected by law and give law-makers the right to intervene and make decisions in 'family affairs'.

Would it maybe, as the study suggests, curb some of the malpractices against women and children, practised mostly by men who feel that their only way of proving their manhood is through terrorising their helpless families?

I am also equally surprised that there were women against the proposal to draft the law. Once again, why? Why are women their own enemies?

I don't see a single reason why women would object to having a law, any law, which may draw a line under what they are entitled to, what their rights are and what their duties and obligations should be.

Over the centuries, I feel women have struggled mostly because of man-made laws which are totally devoid of the message of equality and humanity found in Divine Law. Men made their own rules and interpreted religious doctrines to suit their own selfish needs. They have continued to oppress women and in turn their entire families, even in this modern day and age.

There should be a law to define relations within the family for each and every single person, man or woman, to know what is expected of them and what they would get in return.

It is a shame that the time has come for everything to be set in black and white, even within a family. One would think people get married and start families for peace, stability and tranquillity, for achieving a sense of fulfilment and bringing unlimited joy to their own lives and that of people around them and not the contrary.

20/10/2004

Housemaids are poorly paid superwomen...

Vol XXVII NO. 214 Wednesday 20 October 2004

By AMIRA AL HUSSAINI


For BD40 a month, a housemaid is expected to toil 24 hours a day, seven days a week. She should clean the house, cook the food, wash the clothes, clean the garden (if there is a garden in the house) and in some cases even wash the cars (almost every house has a car).

If this is not enough, she is also required to look after the children and do her madam's pedicure!

In short, she is fully responsible for running the house and ensuring that all its occupants have everything they desire - from breakfast to reading bedtime stories for the children before they go to sleep.

In return, she should not get tired or sick or become slow and sloppy in her work.

She should also not complain or nag, even if she is a woman. After all, she was brought from her country to serve and as a servant, she should not talk back and demand any rights. Any resistance to law, order and servitude as put forward by the madam and sometimes even the boss, is punishable severely.

You should remember here that for every house there are different rules and regulations. There isn't a labour law to cover domestic workers, because like women, they fall under the family's wing and as such are immune from the law or rather, the law has no power over them. No one is allowed to interfere in the way a house is run - not even the law.

Very often we hear horror stories about how housemaids are being treated like animals, shackled to slavery and misery for the duration of their stay in the region.

This may not be the case for all the two million Asian maids working in the GCC without any legal protection, stipulated by a labour law, bound by a contract and governed by a set job definition. Housemaids here seem to be a jack of all trades, robotic machines who are supposed to work around the clock with no time off for changing oil and maintenance.

A study reviewed last week by GCC labour and social affairs ministers in Kuwait shows that housemaids are subjected to many forms of maltreatment, including sexual abuse and even rape, non-payment of salaries, being forced to do 'hard' work and working long hours and at the weekend.

Not many local families approve of giving their maids days off. The argument is that they are women and women could get up to mischief if left alone. The other issue raised by many madams is: if a mother can get a day off, then a housemaid could. Very funny! It is no wonder then that many a time, children develop a closer bond with their housemaid than their mothers. Mothers can leave the home and live their lives - not the housemaids.

10:07 Posted in Miscellaneous | Permalink | Comments (3)

17/10/2004

When fast leads to farce...

Vol XXVII NO. 211 Sunday 17 October 2004

BY AMIRA AL HUSSAINI

IT can't get any better than this? Or can it? The National Assembly opened to much fanfare last week with renewed promises for a better deal for Bahrainis - women, workers, the downtrodden, the whole lot.

But our honourable MPs sure know how to take cues and work hand in hand to create a better Bahrain for the people who freely elected them.

In fact, they are already working on marvellous proposals to make the lives of their fellow citizens better.

With Ramadan here, people take it for granted that life in the Arab World comes to a standstill.

Conferences, exhibitions, meetings, seminars, business trips and all the rest of the activities, like going to work, which ensure that there is Iftar on our tables, come to a complete full-stop. You can't work and fast at the same time. It is that time of the year when many people take their annual holidays because they are in no mood to go to work while they are fasting.

Forget about the real reasons for Ramadan (that's only in textbooks and mosque sermons). Without being specific whether it implies to many, most or all Bahrainis, it seems to be the time to eat (while you are awake) and sleep (while you are fasting) and meet family for Iftar and friends for Ghabgha parties, which continue until the early hours of the morning.

Thanks to the MPs latest suggestion, the Holy Month is now expected to get even better. In their first session ever for this bright new term, they have come up with a proposal which will enable us all to scale greater heights and save humanity and the Muslim world.

They now want to 'decrease' working hours in the government sector from six to five hours during the Holy Month. I really don't know whether to cry or laugh at this. The reasoning behind this proposal: According to parliament second vice-chairman Shaikh Adel Al Maawda it was aimed at helping working women meet their family needs during Ramadan.

But then those proposing the idea saw that it wasn't fair to discriminate between men and women and decided that both men and women should be treated equally and thereby should both "work" fewer hours during Ramadan. Am I really reading, writing and understanding this right? Do you see light at the end of the tunnel the way I am seeing it? Men should be treated equally to women, cries the MP. After all, he says, they "decided to include everyone to be fair, because fasting is for everyone."

Yes, I cannot agree more. Fasting is for everyone but nowhere in the Holy Book does it say that He Who Fasts Shall Not Work.

To add insult to injury, the MPs drafting the proposal claim that reducing working hours would not affect productivity. Oh, PLEASE!

22/09/2004

Job projections far from realistic

Vol XXVII NO. 186 Wednesday 22 September 2004

By AMIRA AL HUSSAINI


BD200 a month? No thanks, I would rather sit at home.

After 12 years at school, four to five years at university, three to four years' searching for a job, is this all a Bahraini is worth?

A survey has just been completed on ways to reform Bahrain's labour market and the results seem to read like a page from the Doomsday Book.

Peasants will have to toil in private sector companies, if they are lucky to land a job, that is, for BD200 a month, says the study.

Seventy-five per cent of all jobs in the private sector pay less than BD200 a month, with labour productivity at one-third of that of the United States, it adds.

Food for thought, I would say. I hope this is not interpreted that many Bahrainis are lazy because this is sure to guarantee an avalanche of sleazy abuse as I have discovered first-hand. "We don't like the message, so let's kill the messenger," seems to be the attitude in this forward-thinking nation.

In all, the private sector will have to produce jobs for the 100,000 Bahrainis entering the labour market over the next 10 years. Throw a few MPs into the picture who will come up with ideas on how such projects could be un-Islamic, and businesses and development come to a standstill. After all, leaving money in a bank vault in Switzerland is much better than creating havoc, riots and rallies in the country - even if it will mean that jobs to feed hungry mouths could also be created. No patriot would allow that or is the gamble worth it?

If the current trend continues (whatever this means), only 800 jobs paying more than BD200 a month are churned out, continues the study.

That is very optimistic, especially when you consider how many thousands graduate from schools, universities and training centres every year.

What will the others do if all those 800 jobs went to Bahrainis that is? Now, I am not good at mathematics but let me see how far this BD200 can go for a Bahraini with dreams and aspirations for a better tomorrow. Will the BD200 be enough to pay for food, rent, car instalments, instalments for that personal loan the bank readily gave you despite not meeting the criteria, clothing, school expenses, health care, etc? You sure don't need a mathematician, a magician would be handy to solve this dilemma.

Not everyone wants to be a doctor - not that doctors are paid enough in Bahrain to begin with. Not everyone wants to continue a university education and not everyone wants to sit at home knitting either.

Every person deserves a decent living but current projections look grim. Without being abusive, I just hope people could be realistic and start at the bottom ranks and make their way upwards. Needless to say, not everyone will make it to the top and the climb, though not scenic all the time, is worth it.

By hard work and persistence, dreams can be achieved. I started with a salary of BD150 and am proud of it. If the clock was turned back, I am sure I would do the same again.

10:27 Posted in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (8)

16/09/2004

Truth is a hard pill to swallow in Bahrain...

Vol XXVII NO. 180 Thursday 16 September 2004

BY AMIRA AL HUSSAINI

I've been threatened, abused and cursed just for saying the truth - that not all Bahrainis want to work.

Yes, I am adamant that many Bahrainis are living in Never Never Land and are finding excuses to remain lazy and live off the hard work of other people - be it mummy and daddy or their older sisters and brothers or inheritance or very soon a social security system which may possibly give them as much as they would get should they "accept" to work for a minimum wage of BD150.

There are many people out there, who are in perfectly good health - regardless of what their mentalities are like - who simply do not want to work.

For them, it is too much to ask them to wake up early in the morning, dress up and drive to work for a job which would give them BD350 a month.

I have heard that over and over again from many Bahrainis, who think they are too precious, smart and god-sent to accept work for such meagre allowances.

They prefer to stay up the whole night counting the stars or doing whatever people with insomnia do and then sleep the whole day in air-conditioned rooms other people pay the electricity bill for.

Even many of those who do turn up at work, feel it is not their duty to do a full day's job. Whatever can wait for tomorrow, can wait forever. The day is also not all work and no play for them as there should be time for a sumptuous breakfast, constant cigarette and coffee breaks, hours surfing the Internet, continuous chatting on the office phone and mobile, running errands for everyone under the sun and then like devout Muslims who have toiled all day and done themselves and their God justice, they turn to Mecca at prayer time and thank Allah for his endless blessings - all in company time.

Maybe I wasn't writing in English in my previous column but nowhere did I say that ALL Bahrainis are like that. I said many. I did not say the majority. I said many. I did not say most. I said many. I hope this emphasises the point I am trying to drive home to people who cannot and will not ever be civilised enough to accept or even try to comprehend an opinion which is in anyway different from theirs.

When I wonder aloud about what this society is coming to, it is not to fill newspaper space. It is also not to hang our dirty underwear out for all to see. The aim is to highlight issues which are of concern to us Bahrainis - I happen to be a Bahraini too - and gauge opinions to collectively study a way of moving forward and changing perceptions and attitudes to make Bahrain what it always was - a beacon for change and development in this part of the world.

We have been the pioneers. We have had the first schools. But it is all in the past. To those still living in 1919, when the first boys school was opened in Muharraq, let's remove those blinkers and go to 2013.

Projections say there will be 100,000 unemployed people in Bahrain. See you then!

10:32 Posted in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (7)

12/09/2004

Bahrainis must abandon their life of idleness

Vol XXVII NO. 176 Sunday 12 September 2004

By AMIRA AL HUSSAINI

Many Bahrainis, even those from modest backgrounds, are behaving as if they were born with a silver spoon in their mouths.

They do not want to study. They demand a job. And they do not want any job. They expect a good office job with a fat pay cheque simply because they are Bahrainis and there are expats filling positions in companies across the board. Those very expats, most of whom are in menial jobs, are filling the shoes of Bahrainis, who are not willing to be garbage collectors, work in retail shops and as mechanics, carpenters, fishermen and plumbers.

Once they 'accept' a job which is suitable to their high level of education - usually something equivalent to a high school certificate if not lower - they do not want to be told how to do the job, because they simply know. They are after all Bahraini and have the right to work in their own country which they know about more than those expats.

At present, 15 per cent of Bahrainis hold jobs that do not match their qualifications. If this isn't horrific, gloomy projections show this figure will leap to 70pc by 2013. Brace yourself. If normal people are complaining today, I don't want to even bring myself to think how bright our tomorrow will be.

Many Bahrainis, if you allow me to be blunt, have no work ethics, no manners and above all, don't think they should wake up early in the morning to make it to work on time.

Many of those 'professionals', do not accept being told to report to work on time, and even when they eventually turn up, they watch the clock and leave at finishing time on the dot - if not before. Here you should also not forget that they are Bahraini and they have another life outside the office.

Unlike expats, who are expected to remain at work at all times because they were brought to Bahrain specifically to work, Bahrainis have extended families, friends and other interests to pursue during and after working hours.

When they do turn up, they are the ones doing their boss a favour. Without them, the institution they work in will not run.

In return, they want to live their lives. They want to have a mobile or two, a luxury car, a nice place to live in, a beautiful wife to show off and a few children into the bargain.

To those dreamers, it is time to wake up and smell the coffee. Hang on to that job and try and improve your skills and attitude at the very least.

Reality in the shape of figures published in black and white yesterday show that unemployment will quadruple in Bahrain by 2013.

The government sector - where bureaucracy reigns - is saturated with Bahrainis. There, 92 per cent of the workers - who don't work - are Bahraini.

10:32 Posted in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1)

06/09/2004

Terror tag on Muslims reveals bias

Vol XXVII NO. 170 Monday 6 September 2004

By Amira Al Hussaini

I happened to be on a business trip to London as 1,500 children, parents and teachers were held hostage by 'Islamic terrorists' in a school in Beslan in the North Ossetia region in Russia, bordering Chechnya.

On the day I left Bahrain, the newspaper headlines showed a photograph with a line up of bloodied bodies, news of a Nepalese worker beheaded in Iraq and another 11 shot dead, again by people labelled 'Islamic barbarians'.

On the day I left London, the 53-hour school siege had ended with a bloodbath, leaving hundreds of innocent people injured and killed, including, of course, women and children.

Among the so-called terrorists were Arab Muslims, announced reporters covering the ordeal, in a tone which made this vital piece of information more important than the human tragedy which was unfolding by the minute.

At the time of writing this, two French hostages are being held, again by 'Arab Islamic terrorists' in Iraq, in a bid to blackmail the French government to back off on the hijab ban in schools in France.

You should have seen the disgust and horror on the faces of normal everyday people in the UK capital as they watched the television screens beaming to the whole world what Muslim terrorists were doing to innocent beings, who also have the right to live and work and go to school.

Even 'foreigners' who have lived in the Arab world and interacted with the 'Muslim terrorists' day in day out joined the circus, voicing their disgust with the inhumanity and lack of compassion of 'Islamic terrorists'.

At the same time the world's attention was grabbed by how the Muslims were terrorising the rest of the world, Palestinian children were overcoming another type of terror, in their bid to go back to school, but never mind, this will not be reported as people are now immune to the suffering of the Palestinians.

After all, it has been going on for half a decade and the Palestinians should have become used to it too. Parents should have become used to burying their children just as babies should have become used to living without their fathers. Wives should have become used to living without the support of a terrorist husband, whose only dream was to have a home for his wife, parents and children and to put food on the table for them.

The terror the Iraqis are being subjected to daily, is also something they should accept with a pinch of salt because the cluster-bombs which had maimed their children, the desecration of their holy shrines and the civil war situation their whole country has been thrown in, are only a natural price to pay for getting rid of the monstrous Saddam Hussein and the introduction of a free democracy, civil rights and liberties to a people who have been governed by an iron fist for decades.

I am not defending the hostage takers of Iraq or the gunmen who held the Russians at the school. All I am saying is that atrocities are being committed by everyone - Muslims and non-Muslims - and it is the poor unprotected civilians who are caught in the middle.

Double standards also hurt. They hurt more when they are distorted.

Why is the whole world adamant on coining Islam to any terrorist act involving Muslims? Why is Islam blamed for what individuals do?

Why can't we say Catholic Americans are terrorising Muslim Iraqis and Jewish Israelis are butchering Muslim Palestinians?

10:32 Posted in Islam, Travel | Permalink | Comments (5)

24/08/2004

Bahrain grapples with confusion and chaos

Vol XXVII NO. 157 Tuesday 24 August 2004

By Amira Al Hussaini

Chaos and confusion. This is what yesterday's major blackout - sorry for using the word as it insults some officials - brought to Bahrain.

The phones did not stop ringing all morning, as if they ever do in our office. People who couldn't get through to the Electricity and Water Ministry expected to find instant answers to their questions with the GDN. They wanted to know what happened, how long will the cuts go on for, what to do and where to go. Somehow, we had lost our crystal ball and had no answers for them because we too found it difficult to speak to officials in the confusion which followed.

Among the callers was my granddad, who was stuck in his fourth floor office, because the lift wouldn't work.

"Take the stairs," I ventured.

"And how do I return back to my office if the power is not back soon. I will not climb up the stairs again," responded my old wise man.

Yes, climbing downstairs is easier than climbing upstairs and every person who has made his way to the top, on his own, would know that.

My young sister too announced that she will pamper herself with a candle-lit bath. Great, I thought to myself, the last thing I would want is a fire at home if the half-wit forgets to put them off afterwards.

Others decided to spend the day around pools. Those too were complaining that they weren't comfortable because the filters were not on. Those more privileged, who wanted to go out on boats too, had their dreams shattered when they discovered that their air-conditioned luxury yachts ran on fuel and most petrol stations were shut.

Contacts described themselves as being warm and "sitting like lemons" in their offices, too afraid to leave for cooler pastures, thanks to "gridlock traffic" because the lights were not working. Like we need the traffic lights to go off for the maniacs on the street to show off their acrobatic skills behind the wheel.

The area around Seef Mall and Al A'ali Shopping district was also literally "raided" by people, who were excused from their offices until the electricity was back on. Unfortunately, for them all, the malls too were SHUT. At least, they could test their driving skills in the mayhem caused by road works in that area.

Despite the complaints, our office was cooler than usual. The generators kicked in as soon as the power was off. Never mind we were confused, had no peace, felt the pain others were going through and could not order food because most restaurants were closed thanks to the blackout!

10:37 Posted in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (3)

22/08/2004

Smart girls in a world of their own

Vol XXVII NO. 155 Sunday 22 August 2004

By AMIRA AL HUSSAINI

Figures speak volumes... or so they say. The fact that Bahrain University has accepted 2,039 girls and just 971 boys only for the new academic year makes me think that maybe, just maybe, I am wrong and it was a good idea to segregate our national institution of higher education after all.

In fact, it seems to be a matter of time before this futuristic vision sees light.

Imagine a university full of smart girls only. Never mind that they will all graduate one day and work in 'mixed' environments with men who couldn't make it to university because their grades were too low.

At least then girls will be able to compete against ambitious girls of their stature, who have nothing else on their mind other than to graduate with top grades, and then marry their knights in shining armour.

Now that is a very noble cause. Every girl, no matter how smart she is and at least each and every girl I know, has only one thing on her mind - and that is to ultimately get married one day.

If the mothers of our future generations are graduates from a women-only university with tip-top grades, then there is no harm in that, is there?

They will all be educated in an environment which protects them from men and shelters them from some of the perverse reactions, such as - God forbid - friendship and admiration, they might share with members of the opposite sex.

The fact those girls can focus on their studies, earn high grades and beat all the other boys to places at the university, while at the same time being totally obsessed with the idea of marriage, is amazing to say the least.

That they can work and fantasise at the same time shows that they are a gender to reckon with and show some admiration to, even if they are only girls, who will end up being mothers and grandmothers one day.

I have met girls of all ages and backgrounds and no matter how smart they are and how high their grades at high school and university were, conversations with them always end up with discussions of how their lavish wedding ceremonies would be and of their choice of future husbands.

This is only natural and for as long as there are women and men, people will continue to fall in love, get married and perhaps even have sex - to keep the human race going.

Now this is a frightening thought. How can we trust girls with such morbid thoughts? A woman thinking of marriage, sex and children? It must be the end of the world, for such 'feelings' are reserved for men only.

Thank God, boys are not faring so well at high school and hopefully one day the number of boys accepted at Bahrain University will drop so low that it will not be feasible to have a co-ed university anymore.

I feel that it is a natural process and one which could see light soon. Then our girls will grow up pure and chaste in a women-only environment.

Until then, I hope a smart man comes up with a potion which inhibits girls from thinking the way they do because it would be really dangerous then to have so many educated women with pent-up emotions and dreams and nowhere to realise them, because it has become unnatural for them to aspire to do what God has created them for.

02/08/2004

Airport porters give fellow Asians the brush-off

Vol XXVII NO. 135 Monday 2 August 2004

BY AMIRA AL HUSSAINI

Have you ever heard of the crab mentality?

It is when crustaceans climb on top of each other to reach the summit, regardless of what happens to those crushed at the bottom.

I witnessed a similar phenomena - this time involving human beings - at the Bahrain International Airport the other night.

Rows of porters, from various Asian countries, lined up the roadside, along the entrance to the departures lounge.

The minute a car pulled up, they all rushed to help unload the luggage. If the passenger was an Arab or European-looking, he got the help intended for all passengers, regardless of their colour, race and creed.

If he was Asian - Indian, Bangladeshi or Pakistani - he was left to fend for himself.

It was a repulsive scene which said a lot about the mentality of people here. Isn't it ironic that there is a hierarchy even in menial jobs? You are rendered services depending on who you are, what your colour is and what your race is - even by people who are oppressed and discriminated against.

You would think that those down-trodden people would at least be sympathetic towards others in the same boat. Think again.

There was an instance when a Bangladeshi worker got out of a car and started loading boxes and bags onto a trolley. As he was trying to make his way up the walkway into the airport, he lost his step and all his boxes and bags came tumbling down. The reaction from the porters - the Asians from the sub-continent turned their backs to him. It was a Filipino or Nepalese porter who came to the rescue and helped him put together all that he had toiled so many years in Bahrain for.

I couldn't stop wondering why those people behave in such a manner and look down on people of their kind. Why is an Arab or a Westerner worthy of respect and service, but not a passenger from their own countries.

Those porters are employed by the airport for the convenience of all passengers. I checked for notices and it didn't say anywhere that the passengers had to be Arab or white to be served by the porters.

Another issue that screams for attention is why is there an army of Asian porters at the airport. Have all the Bahraini job-seekers found jobs overnight?

The airport could recruit Bahrainis and train them to meet, greet and bid farewell to visitors. They would be great ambassadors, especially if taught humility and respect for people - regardless of whether they will pay them tips or not.

10:42 Posted in Miscellaneous | Permalink | Comments (3)

13/07/2004

Will 'real' Bahrainis stand up and be counted

Vol XXVII NO. 115 Tuesday 13 July 2004

By Amira Al Hussaini

The clock is running backwards. Bahrain, the Garden of Eden, will finally become the land of peace and tranquillity it always was. The land of the great Dilmun civilisation, where the crows don't croak and people live in eternal bliss.

There will be no vice, no prostitution, no daylight bank robberies, no drug peddling, smuggling or sniffing, no rape, no incest, no adulterous wives and husbands and no cold-blooded murders and stabbings.

In this utopia, policed by the Mullas, there will be no bribery and no one above the law (except the Mullas themselves).

More important, there will be no women in public office, no women in universities, no women in schools, no women on television, no women on the radio, no women on the street, no women. Full stop.

Instead, there will be men and boys. Little boys, who will have more authority and respect than any woman, just because of their gender.

The righteous will take the rule in their hands and go about bullying ordinary people, mostly women and expatriates, who are down-trodden and lack many of their basic civil rights anyway.

A religious police in Bahrain? What are we talking about exactly? Are those pushing for the idea telling Bahraini authorities that they have failed to uphold security and justice and that a bunch of bearded men can now tell people how to behave, what to wear, when to go to pray, where to go and what to do in their spare time?

Where is this taking us to? Extremist parliamentarians have already managed to alienate many real people from the real Bahrain and what real Bahrainis want. They have already told the world that Bahrain is not looking forward to a brighter tomorrow and that investors are better to take their money elsewhere.

Among their few triumphs have been blocking Big Brother, allowing veiled women to drive and squabbling amongst themselves on who got the biggest share of the limelight in the media.

To all those who want to take us back to the Stone Age, the message is loud and clear. We, the real Bahrainis, want to move forward with the times. We, the real Bahrainis, are the future generation and want to have a better Bahrain for our children. We, the real Bahrainis, are proud that our mothers drove cars, travelled to Europe, can speak English, are working and have brought us up with the freedom of choice. We, the real Bahrainis, have also learned to adapt with this freedom and have never let our families or country down. We too insist on handing this freedom of choice to our children. Parents, society and schools taught us right from wrong and the rest was up to us.

Most of us grew up in homes where there are people with religious inclinations and those with none at all. We all considered ourselves Muslim because it is Allah who judges us on the Last Day of Judgment and not men who have decided to terrorise people and tell them they are implementing Allah's law. We all celebrate Ramadan, Eid and Muharram, and all the religious occasions which fall in between, together as one big family - even those of us who don't wake up early enough for the dawn prayers.

Religion is a personal choice and not that instilled in others through terror and the rule of force. It comes from within and for the virtuous, it remains within. It is not something to show off and it is not a reason to show spite towards others, simply because they have not yet seen the'light.'

17/05/2004

Injustice for women is the law of the land

BY AMIRA AL HUSSAINI
Published: 17 May 2004

It really is a national disgrace that an MP can literally walk away from serious criminal charges - thanks to a law which grants him immunity.

How long will this farce go on? What do we tell all those women out there about democracy and upholding the civil rights of individuals, when women cannot speak up about being harassed by men in power.

A Syrian woman has been wronged - just because she did not have the backing of the law. Perhaps, if it was another woman with a social standing and the backing of an influential family, the case may have differed.

Her case against an MP, accused of pestering her for sex and making lewd suggestions was thrown out of the Lower Criminal Court - because he has immunity.

Do you know how difficult it is for a woman - any woman - to stand up for her rights in this society, which is controlled by men who indulge in their own petty, selfish, embarrassing pleasures?

I am sure that this woman thought a million times before speaking to anyone about the harassment she has allegedly endured from this respectable MP. She then had to go through the humiliation of explaining to one man after the other about how he fondled himself in front of her. She had to re-tell the story and re-live the horror and shame over and over again.

When the case went to court, she finally took a breath of relief. Justice will be seen to be done at last. But she sure was wrong.

Let's just look at the hundreds of cases in court involving women for a proper definition of the word justice.

Back to our respectable MP. How could a 47-year-old man be elected to public office despite being accused of fondling himself in front of a woman, repeatedly pestering her for sex and making lewd suggestions on a number of occasions.

How could he be let off the hook, just because he has become an MP since it all allegedly happened in 2001.

Why hasn't Parliament met and discussed lifting his immunity in a session and passed a decision on it?

Isn't this part of the democratic process we have been churning out front page after front page on?

Or is the role of MPs, who promised their constituents 101 things before their election, restricted today to flexing their muscles at the government?

Next time I am in parliament, I wouldn't want to cross paths with this MP nor with all the others who covered up for him and brushed away this woman's complaints, just because she was a woman.

Had he not been an MP, what would the punishment have been like?

I will recount to you a personal horror story which happened to me and my sister one night not in the too far past.

We were chased by five Saudi thugs, who pulled my sister out of the car and started hitting and biting her. When passers-by stopped to rescue her, they escaped. We filed a case at the Hoora Police Station, the culprits were arrested, rushed through court on a Thursday and released on BD 40bail each.

The follow-up to the case? My lawyer cannot do anything because the case papers have disappeared.

Will anyone respond to my queries and complaints for justice? No.

Me, my sister, the Syrian woman and all the other women out there should just swallow their humiliation and accept the fact that if they want to live, go out, drive, go to college or go shopping, they have to put up with harassment and shut up.

There is no one to hear their complaints and no one to stand up for them. Bravo, Bahrain. Welcome to the new era of democracy and reform.

25/04/2004

Bahraini women finally making mark on political scene

Vol XXVII NO. 36 Sunday 25 April 2004

By AMIRA AL HUSSAINI

Women, the better half of society, finally make their mark on the political scene in Bahrain with the appointment of Dr Nada Abbas Haffadh as Health Minister.

This recognition is long overdue and to be frank, is rather belated, considering that formal education for girls was introduced in 1928.

In fact, the first Bahraini women to get a formal education had to wake up at dawn and walk to the nearby American Mission School, Manama, about 20 years before this date.

A quick calculation shows that it has taken women about 100 years to climb the corporate ladder and reach the pinnacle of the civil service hierarchy! Nevertheless, better late than never.

Thank God, we have another clear-cut job for us which doesn't take a century to qualify for - and that is baby-sitting all those men with big moustaches and pumped up muscles.

On a serious note, women have worked alongside men in making Bahrain what it is today and it is only just that the day has finally come when a woman sits alongside her peers in the Cabinet to draw up plans for a better Bahrain and make decisions which affect both men and women.

I hope all men out there won't think that the charismatic Dr Haffadh is only a pretty face to look at because her appointment is truly a dream come true for women in Bahrain.

Having a woman minister means that Bahrain has finally started grasping the fact that society is made up of men and women and both could be relied on to serve its interests.

The only concern is that Dr Haffadh will be expected to prove herself every step of the way, just because she is a woman.

She will have to work harder than all the other ministers to ensure that a woman can become a minister - and a successful minister too. Just because she is a woman, her every single move and smile will be scrutinised.

And as the first woman minister with a portfolio, she will also be expected to make it work - simply because she is the first to shoulder such a post and her success could determine whether or not more women ministers will follow.

To Dr Haffadh and all the other women who will follow in her footsteps, I have one thing to say: The recipe to success is easy.

Dr Haffadh can bank on her experience, knowledge and, of course, the all-powerful X chromosome, women have inherited and passed on from one successful matriarchal generation to the other.

No matter what men say, women have amazing organisational skills (we can walk and talk on the telephone at the same time); a sixth sense that is never wrong (especially if there is something fishy) and foresight (even without using the skills of a clairvoyant).

Women can also withstand pressure and have the resolve to make things work - even when men say they won't.

To all the pessimists out there: from now on, it is an onward march for women and the sky is the limit.

10:47 Posted in Women's Affairs | Permalink | Comments (3)

12/04/2004

Bahrain crime scenes outdoing Hollywood thrillers

Vol XXVII NO. 23 Monday 12 April 2004

By Amira Al Hussaini

LIVING in Bahrain now seems like being forced to take part in a three-dimensional American movie.

I realise that not many Arabs (and most people who have lived here) want to be players in an American world, but reality has to be accepted and the truth has to be taken with a pinch of salt.

The fact remains that we are all enlisted to play a role in this huge production - whether we want to or not. Some may take the leading roles, while others would agree to work as cameramen, voice engineers, support cast, stunt men and directors behind the scenes.

There are a lot of vacancies and the roles you take depend on how far you want to get along in life.

After all, everyone has a different plot, a different script and a different role and no one has time to see what the others are doing or to put one and one together to draw a full picture of what is happening around.

In this no-expense-spared Hollywood hit, there are armed robberies in Muharraq and Riffa during the day and night, drug hauls of hashish worth millions - if not billions - in Budaiya, muggings, rapes, vandalism and abused housemaids.

There are also masked men robbing coldstores at knife-point, paedophiles sodomising school boys, jewellery shops broken into at night and women being harassed as they walk down busy streets in broad daylight.

The crime scene unfolding right now is too complex and full of intrigue and suspense - which could make the likes of NYPD Blue and Law and Order look shallow and lacking in substance.

We are all now living in a big reality television show, where anything and everything is possible - even things which are haram and totally alien to our Bahraini traditions and culture.

And when you think of it, our MPs went on a rampage and booted out Big Brother without bothering to get down from their ivory towers to investigate what is happening behind Bahrain's closed doors. We are living a full-scale movie, with all the Islamic and not-so-Islamic scenes and the censor is fast asleep.

Three armed robberies on banks in the span of a month? Impossibly huge hauls of drugs in two days? What is next? What is happening to my country? Until a few years ago, our front door at home used to remain open round the clock. Today, it is locked - day and night.

This movie is quickly turning into a horror film and the good cops must swing into action to ensure that such incidents remain isolated crimes perpetrated by sick minds. Those behind such grave violations should be immediately caught and put on public trial - and the punishment should be harsh and equal to the damage those criminals are bringing to the kingdom's reputation.

They should be named and shamed, to set examples for the ill-minded and to continue to ensure that Bahrain is the oasis of peace all decent Bahrainis aspire to live in.

10:47 Posted in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (3)

29/03/2004

Playing dirty politics in the name of Palestinian cause

Vol XXVII NO. 9 Monday 29 March 2004

BY AMIRA AL HUSSAINI

Politics can be a dirty game which gets even messier when novices jump on board to play. A few days ago I had the pleasure of speaking to the creme de la creme of political and social society heads in Bahrain to gauge their reaction to Hamas founder and spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin's murder.

They were all united that it was a cowardly act perpetrated with full US support and that the masses would be enraged. They all warned of the consequences of lack of Arab governments' support for the Palestinian cause - a highly sensational issue for all Arabs. And they spoke about rallies, which they cautioned, may get out of control and turn into riots if nothing is done! Like Bahrain could free Palestine and is not doing anything about it.

What really intrigues me is the outpouring of emotions from these Bahraini reactionaries who represent a broad spectrum of political backgrounds. Secularists and the Islamists shared the same views - if not the same agendas.

The next few days showed that their prophecies were true. There were huge rallies, sit-ins and even riots and acts of sabotage and vandalism.

The question I wanted an answer for is why? What do those little boys who went on a rampage know about the Palestinian cause? What did they know about Sheikh Yassin and his politics? Was it really the murder of Sheikh Yassin which drove them out to the streets or was it something else which needs to be closely examined if we are to overcome this stage of political reconciliation in a calm and dignified manner?

One of the society heads spoke about pent up anger among the young. He brought up every issue under the sun - from lack of job opportunities to discrimination, poverty, vice and concerns about the constitution. What I could not connect then was what has the murder of Sheikh Yassin got to do with all the problems Bahrainis suffer from.

Now I know it was only an excuse to make a scene. I should have known that when one of them told me that there would be a rally staged next to the Seef roundabout. The naive me immediately reacted: Why Seef? It is already congested there and traffic moves at a snail's pace any time of the day or night. His knowing answer was: To draw attention to our plight. To make our voices heard.

We all know that Sheikh Yassin was a terrorist in the eyes of Israel and its close ally, the US - but for all Arabs he is a hero who has literally given up his life to fight for a just cause. It is a shame that such a man is being used as a scapegoat by masked mobsters who only want to make trouble.

10:47 Posted in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (3)

21/03/2004

Puppet masters are playing a dangerous game

Vol XXVII NO. 1 Sunday 21 March 2004

BY AMIRA AL HUSSAINI

What does a father do when his son goes on a rampage at home? How would he behave when the spoilt brat breaks his favourite vase, burns his prized book collection or digs up the flower bed?

Should he pat him on the back and apologise to him for being a bad father and for cheating on his mother?

Or should he deal with him using fist and leg or any other sharp object that comes to hand?

Or maybe he could reason with him to see what made the little boy have a tantrum in the first place. After all, everyone knows that boys cannot think, let alone plot for anything.

Those boys who went on a rampage on Wednesday, terrorising restaurant patrons and destroying public property, are mere puppets in the hands of bigger shark who are playing a game too big to be digested in one go.

The problem is that there are too many players at the moment and if we don't have a confession session and sit all together around a table, we will never know who is behind what is making Bahrain take one step forward and two steps backwards.

Reform and change take time. A child learns to crawl, then sit, then stand, then walk and when he finally gains his balance, he can conquer heights - only if he has the courage to do so and leaves all his phobias and insecurities behind.

Those people behind Wednesday's events are not freedom fighters. They cannot be calling for more political rights for Bahrainis because if they had anything logical to call for, there are civil ways and channels for making their voice heard.

That is how a 'democracy' works and not by burning cars, trespassing on public property and terrorising women and their children.

10:52 Posted in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (5)

16/03/2004

Officials turning blind eye to vandalism ..?

Vol XXVI NO. 362 Tuesday 16 March 2004

By Amira Al Hussaini

Our legendary Tree of Life is being vandalised and no one is taking any notice. With nothing much to do in Bahrain during the holidays, we decided to visit Sakhir and pay homage to the tree which is celebrated around the world and virtually ignored at home.

True to its legend, the lofty tree - which is now old, fragile, a picnic spot and a refuse disposal point - continues to attract scores of people during the weekends and holidays.

Every tourist who visits Bahrain makes it a point to visit this mysterious tree whose source of water has continued to baffle scores of scholars over decades.

To my dismay, I wasn't at all pleased with what I saw. The tiny fence put up by Tourism Affairs a few years ago has done little to fend off vandals, who still climb the tree, break its branches and pen their names on it. The mighty tree, which can be seen from miles, is now a dying shrub which is being treated in an undignified manner by many of the people who visit it.

The place is like a garbage collection point, with plastic bags flying around it and caught in its broken, dying branches.

Fat people, well past their childhood, are using its branches as a jumping castle. Those people, most of whom were foreigners when I visited the tree, should be ashamed of the way they are re-paying Bahrain for its hospitality. This isn't what we Bahrainis expect from you.

Some of the Bahrainis there weren't faring better either, driving their four-wheel drives up to the tree - like it would hurt them to park their cars a few metres away and walk up to it.

But I am losing the point here and instead of lashing out at the illiterates who are vandalising the tree, I would like to know what the authorities are doing to prevent these atrocities being committed against our Tree of Life.

Bahrain is trying hard to draw clean tourism and I don't see this possible by keeping the Tree of Life area dirty. It is one of the few, if not the only, natural attractions in this country.

Plans to set up a small museum, a souvenir shop and a guards station near the tree must have been forgotten now. This is what we have been promised by officials years ago and it is the least we expect.

08/03/2004

Battle of the sexes

Vol XXVI NO. 354 Monday 8 March 2004

BY AMIRA AL HUSSAINI

Rise and shine Princess, it's International Women's Day today!

It's an occasion more important than all the other silly days man has come up with over the decades put together.

It's the day we stand up high and mighty and bask in the glory of our achievements across the ages.

It's the day we brag about our successes and call for more equality and justice without fully realising the power in our hands and our hands alone.

It's time we got together to fight the one and only tyrant who is making this life a living hell - whether it is a husband or a father or a brother or a male boss or an MP, who has no idea what it is to be a woman and deal with the mood swings and discrimination we face every step of the way.

It should be the day we fully realise our power and use it for a change.

We run the world and this isn't an understatement. All those little men are rings we spin around our little fingers - mere players who strut and fret upon our stage following our whims and then are heard no more based on our commands.

Behind every great man, there is a woman and without us women, this world will never go round. There will be no man nor woman nor any use or purpose for this world. It doesn't take a scientist to figure this out. Everything will come to a standstill, because men - the movers and shakers of this world - will not budge an inch. They will not be able to make babies on their own to ensure the continuity of mankind. More important, there will be no audience for them to show off and flex those muscles.

We are the mothers, wives, sisters, girlfriends, colleagues and mistresses. We rule. It's just that we haven't figured out yet how to use all this power.

Respect is to be earned and not demanded. Over the ages, women have sacrificed a lot and the least we expect today is to be treated with respect and dignity.

To all those mothers out there, start at home with your little boys. Teach them to say thank you and express their emotions. Teach them to be courteous and respect women. Hopefully, a new breed of men could be trained to make this a better world for all of us - men and women.

10:52 Posted in Women's Affairs | Permalink | Comments (3)

04/03/2004

The wrong signals...

Vol XXVI NO. 350 Thursday 4 March 2004

BY AMIRA AL HUSSAINI

It's un-Islamic? Is this what we want to tell the rest of the world every time someone asks us why we are not moving with the times?

Why blame Islam for ulterior motives, masterminded by sinister elements aimed at creating discord among members of the one family and hitting development and progress every step of the way?

The latest fuss regarding TV reality show Big Brother is surreal. A BD15 million investment is dropped overnight, 200 people, many of whom are Bahrainis, are left jobless and Bahrain's reputation smeared in international circuits.

I have no explanation as to why the programme - even though I am not a fan - was stopped.

Why has the Middle East Broadcasting Corporation and the Information Ministry succumbed to the bullying of a few?

The programme, if anything, was boring and of no interest to the majority of people in Bahrain. (P.S: I am saying this to ensure that no one brands me as un-Islamic for defending Big Brother.)

People have bigger un-Islamic headaches in real life - like adulterous husbands and wives, alcohol and drug abuse, children sniffing glue, huge phone bills and housing problems, to name a few - and are not bothered with what a bunch of children are up to in a house under 24-hour camera surveillance in Amwaj Islands.

All the problems facing normal everyday Bahrainis are un-Islamic - from the problems caused by some thieving scheming officials to the highly exaggerated interest rates banks impose on unwitting poor people aspiring to improve their level of living by borrowing money.

Why is no one talking about this?

Stopping Big Brother is a big slap to freedom of expression and all the gains made through pioneering reforms initiated by His Majesty the King. The attack the programme has come under is just a scapegoat for a more sinister scheme. It is a matter of principle and by giving in to pressure, we are giving up on all the gains made over decades.

I am not defending Big Brother here but the drastic measures - stopping the show - taken after a little bit of bullying is unacceptable by all standards.

Is this mentality of 'pack up and leave' what we will do every time someone attacks anything - whether a project or an individual - under the banner of Islam?

Surely, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Next, there will be issues of segregation, women driving, women on television and women shutting up and being cocooned at home.

Will taking women out of the picture make Bahrain more Islamic?

09/02/2004

Braving the masses...

Vol XXVI NO. 326 Monday 9 February 2004

By Amira Al Hussaini

THE manners of Bahraini men or rather boys whose bodies have grown faster than their mentalities have certainly gone down the drain.

Our bad luck took us to the Autumn Fair on its last day (Jan 30).

Two of my sisters, my aunt, a cousin and I decided to brave the masses and spend the evening shopping there. It was a nightmare.

Forget about the traffic and the fact that there weren't sufficient parking lots. We were ready for it all when taking last-minute bargains into consideration.

What really got to me is the number of boys and in many cases grown men who were loitering around with the idea that any woman - however conservatively dressed - was game.

Don't those people have sisters, mothers and wives? What benefit do they get from rubbing their bodies against 12 and 14-year-olds?

Shouldn't there be security cameras and police on hand to see what these ill- mannered specimens do in crowds?

Such harassment is unacceptable, particularly in a Muslim country. It was a Friday and many of these little pests were just a few hours from performing their noon prayers.

Each and every one of us was harassed in one way or another. I really felt disgusted.

When my 15-year-old sister, who wears the Abaya and Hijab, turned around and asked one youth behind her to stop touching her, he simply laughed and tried touching her again.

Who rescued us? A Pakistani porter who walked us all the way to the car, carried the things we bought and also apologised for the manner in which the Bahraini boys were behaving.

On top of all this, he refused to take any tip.

Why didn't I report the incident to the police? Because I know it will be a futile exercise.

More than a year ago, me and my sister were attacked by a gang of five drunken Saudis, who pulled my sister out of the car and bit her.

The thugs were caught, taken to court, fined BD40 each and released. That was justice in the eyes of the law.

At the Autumn Fair, I took action. I turned around and hit one of the pests following us with a copper artefact I had bought from the Iranians. Now I wish I had bought a heavy marble ornament from one of the Pakistani traders. It would have been really handy and more effective.

I would have felt much better - whatever the consequences were.

At least I would have taken justice with my own hands.

10:57 Posted in Silly Boys | Permalink | Comments (5)

10/01/2004

University life a mockery...

Vol XXVI NO. 296 Saturday 10 January 2004

By Amira Al Hussaini


BAHRAIN University students are being treated like kindergarten children. No, I am not exaggerating. It hurts me as a graduate to lash out at the institution I spent the best five years of my life in, but the recent developments and draconian rules imposed on its students can make the most rational people lose their cool.

It is as if all the 19,000 students on campus have no families to see that they are in line and that they respect the society they are in.

The campus has turned into a junior school, where students are not free to decide on what to wear, who to hang out with and what courses to study or not.

Boys and girls cannot sit together or walk together, let alone engage in a meaningful civil conversation.

Three of my friends have had to leave the university and opt for other education opportunities after the constant harassment from 'security' personnel employed on campus to police the students and check on what they wear.

Skirts, jeans and T-shirts are out of question and long drapes and baggy clothing are in.

When I was a student, I would go to the campus wearing jeans and a T-shirt and this did not stop me from topping my class and achieving a coveted prize for my outstanding academic performance.

However, the tables have now turned at Bahrain University and to be accepted as a female student, you have to lose your identity and blend with the masses.

Many girls, including my 18-year-old sister, have opted to wear the Abaya when going to college to escape the harassment of the so-called campus police.

What century are we living in? How can we expect those young men and women to have a say in their future if they don't have a say in what they wear.

How can we claim that we are living in an era of freedom and reform when a whole new young generation is given long lists of DON'Ts which they have to abide to every living moment?

The latest new law says that no female student can enter or leave the campus in the company of a man, unless he is related to her - that is, he should be her father, brother or husband.

This means that parents have to either buy their children cars for them to be able to drive to and from university alone and perhaps contribute to the soaring number of accidents or leave their jobs and other obligations and drive their children all the way to Sakhir everyday.

The other option is to use the university transportation system, which means that students will have to leave their homes at 7am and return after sunset for the sake of two or three hours of classes daily.

The idea that a whole young generation is being herded like cattle in our national institution of education is frightening.

That there are new rules and regulations that make simple everyday human engagements taboo is despicable.

Those young people are the future of Bahrain. They have to be given freedom to study and become creative and shoulder the responsibility with us. They should be given the freedom of choice to thrive, build their personalities and take their first independent steps towards the futures which await them.

We should take their hands and guide them down the right path and not impose rules on them and mould them into unrecognisable beings with no personalities or characters of their own.

The only reason I am who I am today is because of the trust and freedom my parents gave me.

Because my family trusted me when they left me alone on campus, I learned how to weigh the rights and wrongs of life. I learned to make my own decisions and when I was wrong, I learned to face the consequences of my ill judgements. I also learned how to stand up for my rights and what I believe in. I learned all this and more during my formative years at Bahrain University.

What will my sister and her generation - who are shackled by laws and under the constant surveillance of the campus police - learn?

What will they do tomorrow when they start working and climbing up the career ladder?

Will there be campus police to check on them?

11:02 Posted in Miscellaneous | Permalink | Comments (11)