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
|Vol XXVIII||NO. 350|
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.
|Vol XXVIII||NO. 321|
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."
|Vol XXVIII||NO. 314|
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.
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.
|Vol XXVIII||NO. 300|| |
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.
|Vol XXVIII||NO. 286|
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.
|Vol XXVIII||NO. 253|
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
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.
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.
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".
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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?