Monday, February 21, 2011

Who'd try to manage Bahrain's economy?

Australia's John Edwards.

Remember him?

Former Keating advisor, Curtin biographer, HSBC Australia economist.

That's what the Bahrain website says right now:

If he is still there, he'll be facing a (very well paid) challenge.

Today's Crikey:

In Bahrain, a bloody day for martyrs

From Bahrain, Al Jazeera producer Soraya Lennie writes

His death certificate says Ali Ahmed Abdulla Ali. He was known to everyone as Ali Ahmed Mu'amin. Nationality: Bahraini. His funeral was the largest of the three held on Friday. For his family, it was the death of a dream. Despite high unemployment in Sitra, they had high hopes for him. He was studying engineering and was due to graduate this year.

Instead of an engineer, they have a dusty plot to visit in their neighbourhood. His broken body was wrapped tightly in a white sheet and lowered into the earth. Screams and sobs resounded through the cemetery. One mourner would not let him go. He sat inside the grave, caressing Ali's face through the sheet, rocking back and forth. A young friend slumped against another on the edge of his grave, his wails louder than the others. They watched as his body was covered with dirt.

Ali Ahmed was only 22 when he died. The primary cause listed on his death certificate is extensive bleeding leading to intractable hypovolemic shock. He bled to death from a projectile that had torn into his thigh.

The night before, at Salmaniya Hospital morgue, his body bore the signs of doctors' attempts to save him. Four large surgical slices ran up his calves and thigh, another at his groin. Also listed on his death certificate as a contributing factor: metal pellets and plastic embedded in his chest. A Human Rights Watch representative visited him at the morgue and is still trying to investigate exactly how Ali Ahmed ended up there.

This young man did not seek out martyrdom. He was not supposed to be at the Pearl Roundabout early Thursday morning. He ran there when he heard security forces had attacked people as they slept. Women and children were left behind. There was a stampede, people were trapped. But Ali Ahmed didn’t make it. Mourners say he was shot in the street and left to die.

"I'm Bahraini, I'm 42 years old. I've never seen such evil," Mohammed, a businessman, said after Ali Ahmed's funeral on Friday. Three of the four men killed on Thursday morning were from Sitra.

Ali Ahmed’s uncle, Jaffar, was resigned to his nephew's fate: "When I think of him, I see his smile. I can't forget that." But on Friday afternoon, he was not happy to describe Ali as a martyr. Jaffar said his nephew was well-known for helping people in the windswept town, a predominantly Shia island on the east side of Bahrain. There, grievances against the state run high.

The 2011 Index of Economic Freedom, published by the Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal, listed Bahrain as the freest economy in the Middle East and North Africa region. It is listed 10th overall in the world.

Unlike many other Gulf States, Bahrain’s economy is not entirely driven by the petroleum industry. The government has fashioned Bahrain as a business and commercial hub, which attracts a steady flow of foreign investment.

The main demand of protesters has been fair access to employment opportunities. According the US State Department, Shias account for close to 70% of Bahrain’s native population. They paint a stark contrast between themselves and their Sunni rulers.

A middle-aged broker summarised at the funeral for Ali Ahmed: "It’s hard to get access to the system … to opportunities. The people here," he said, pointing to the tens of thousands of mourners, "most are educated, with degrees, but because they come from another sect they can’t get jobs."

Fatimeh Jaffer, an English teacher, also emphasised the point that Bahrain’s crisis is based on sectarian differences. She spent the day walking in funeral processions and could not contain her rage.

"The [ruling] Al Khalifa family have a lot of money, but it’s all for them. People are dying, look around you," she added, "look at the old houses, we don’t have jobs. The government just wants to increase the Sunni population by bringing in Sunni workers, when we, the real Bahrainis, are living in poverty."

In a televised address, the country’s crown prince countered this claim: "Youths are going out on the street believing that they have no future in the country, while others are going out to express their love and loyalty. But this country is for you all, for the Shiites and Sunnis."

Despite the prince’s claim, they say the situation on the ground is very different; take the army and police force as a example. The Bahraini security forces are mostly made up of Sunnis from countries such as Jordan, Yemen and Pakistan. Allegedly, the people who opened fired on Bahraini's in their own capital.

Emad, a 21-year-old student, has been arrested three times since 2008 for political activism. He is a supporter of the Shiia opposition, including the banned al Huq party. He says he was tortured in prison, hung by his hands for extended periods, given electric shock and sleep deprived. The primary torturer was Jordanian, he says, the others Yemeni.

"They are given money, houses and job when they come to Bahrain. We Bahraini can’t even get jobs, especially in the army and police force, they don’t trust us," he said.

Protesters say the fight is for Bahrain. They want a free and fair political system that represents all of them, not just some. They want freedom of the press, human rights and the release of political prisoners. At the beginning of the protests they wanted the prime minister to quit and a real constitutional monarchy. Now they want the entire Al Khalifa family gone.

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