There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

On the Current Troubles: Part 3 Bahrain

I haven’t been to Bahrain, so perhaps I should not comment, but…..

Ten years ago Lynne and I were sitting in the lounge of a Tehran hotel waiting for the tea we had ordered. Two Arab men came in, sat at the next table and also ordered tea. A minute later a tea-laden waiter arrived and looked hopefully round the room. The two men beckoned him over but before he deposited his tray I politely pointed out that we had been waiting for ten minutes or more.

The men apologised, the tea was passed to us and a conversation developed. We introduced ourselves and they said they were Bahraini businessmen. One said he had lived in Wales when he was a postgraduate student at Aberystwyth University which, coincidently, was where our daughter was studying. With a link established - and he clearly knew Aberystwyth well - the conversation became more open and free flowing.

What, they wanted to know, were we doing in Iran? We said we were on holiday. They were incredulous. Nobody, they told us, comes to Iran unless they have to. They then asked Lynne how she was managing with all the clothing she was required to wear. She was forthright about the discomfort, even in the cool of an air-conditioned hotel, but wisely left the religious/political issues to one side. One man said his wife often accompanied him on business trips, but would never, ever to come to Iran. We should visit Bahrain, he said, it is like Europe on the Persian Gulf. There is freedom in Bahrain, and you can do whatever you like and wear whatever you like.

And there are indeed freedoms in Bahrain. At weekends swarms of European expats cross the causeway from Saudi Arabia, drawn towards the relatively relaxed and permissive atmosphere of Bahrain like moths to a flame. But there are not freedoms for everybody, nor indeed are these the freedoms many Bahrainis want to exercise. And Bahrain is more complicated than that. A Sunni monarchy has ruled over a Shiite majority since the eighteenth century, so alongside political freedom Bahrain raises issues of long-standing sectarian bitterness.

Would Sunni Saudi Arabia tolerate a Shiite state, even a tiny state of half a million people, off its coast? Would Iran seek to encourage it, and further seek to destabilize the Saudi regime? Is the corrupt and autocratic Saudi regime one whose stability we should encourage?

I offer no answers; I merely seek to understand the problems.

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