Well, the two games today were good. Now we know who's playing in half of the quarterfinal games. To be honest I don't think at this point you can put any team over the other. A lot of teams played good, but none outstanding, except for the czechs. At this point England can win it as much as France can win it, and who knows, maybe even the greeks pull of a surprise. If someone is betting, I don't think he'd be very confident with any team he chose at the moment.
On the same issue, I always love listening to people who don't really watch much football but still give out grand claims. For example, I was watching the England-Switzerland and the France-Croatia game (yes it was a long lazy day), and there was a girl in the room who decided to declare some comments on the players. Now, I am completely for girls being into watching and playing football, but this girl probably was watching the game for the first time in her life.
Her: Who is that? Is that Owen?
Her: He's not that good is he?
Me: He's alright...
Her: I prefer that other guy, what's his name?
H: Nooo.. obviously Rooney is better than Owen. No the other guy.
Me: Darius Vassel?
H: Is that his name?
Me: I don't know.. is it?
H: Yeah, it sounds familiar. The black guy right?
H: Yeah he's much better than Owen. I think that Owen is overrated.
Me: You obviously follow football really closely.
H: Yeah. I like it, I always watch it, specially when Manchester United are playing.
Politics, for me, is exciting. It's like a continuously folding story that no one knows how it well end, and more importantly, it's a true story, that affects our everyday lives. Every once in a while, however, something comes along, and seems to be just as entertaining, if not even more, than politics. This year, it's Euro 2004.
I doubt anyone will say this year's competition has not been so far exciting. For me, it's been exciting in a different way. It seems that the main thrills and excitement in this tournament comes from the different tactics and strategies each team and manager uses. If you're really into football, then that's great, since you get to see how the different managerial minds think. However, purely on footballing and action excitement, it seems that the tournament is not as stellar as the others.
True, there have been some absolutely amazing matches, such as the Holland- Czech repuclic game, but these were in the minority. Most of the games were dominated by defence oriented, heavily-involved tactics. It seems to remind me of Italia 90, where everyone decided to use a more cautious, strategic approach. The tournament has definitely become more defense oriented. England are playing as if they are Italy (obviously due to Sven Goran), and it has reached a point where even Italy are being touted as an attacking force.
If you're really really into football, and follow it absolutely regularly, then these different tactics are great. However, if you're a casual fan who only follows big events, such as the world cup, European championship, or champions league's final stages, then it might not be the most exciting (except in certain games). Obviously, this may change today and in the latter stages, where all the teams decide you know what, we've got great attackers, so lets go all out against them.
Any stars? Well the talk of the town here in England is Wayne Rooney. He has obviously done an amazing job, and kudos to him for being only 18/19 and being able to do so well. However, I do think people have gone off the top. It's suddenly as if he is the world established superstar. Everyone is being compared to him. "Can Baros do as Wayne Rooney did?" "Can Henry live up to the level of Rooney?" "Rooney is 10 times better than Michael Owen!" Whoooah..Settle down guys, he scored a header that he should've scored, and then got a helping hand in his second goal, and this was against Switzerland. I mean, the guy is amazing and really good, but he still has a long way to go to prove himself. He might be able to do it this tournament, who knows, but as of yet, I'm still not going to classify him in the same league as Maradonna, Baggio, or Ronaldo.
The one player who still does continue to shine, although he's bald and over thirty, is unequivocally Zidane. Guys, enjoy watching him while you can, because he is undoubtedly the best footballer these two decades will produce. The guy is just amazing. He has done everything, and still is hungry for more. He has one the Champions league, the domestic leagues (in two different countries!), the European championship, and the world cup. By winning this I don't mean that he was just on the team that one and received a medal. I mean that he was an integral part of the team, and one of the main reasons that they did win all of those. In other words, that Zizou was necessary for the many teams that played for them to achieve what they did. The guy really does seem to be the full all-round players. It's really hard to find a fault in him. He is surprisingly large-built, as he stands six foot one tall and can rough up the opponents. His passing and vision is legendary, and he can dribble a ball like no tomorrow. Added to this, he has amazing tricks and moves up his sleeves, but the important thing is that he uses them only when they are useful, and not to just show off (did anyone see that flick against slovakia? It looked amazing and arrogant, but if you look at it again, it was the best way for him to flick the ball for a header.) Most importantly however, and this is where there are many other great players who falter, he is a palyer who can rise up to the big occasion both on club and national level. There are many amazing players who do well either on club level (e,.g. Totti so far) or on national level (anyone remember toto skilatchi?), but not on both. Zidane joins that set of elite players who even if they retire today, would've proved everything on any scale necessary. It's funny how here in England they were touting Zidane and Beckham's clash as clash of the titans, and who of the world's best two players will prevail. I'm sorry guys, Beckham is a great player, but Zidane is just in a completely different league. Beckham is yet to prove much on the national level on a big scale (I know the freekick against greece was amazing, but put it in context, it was a goddamn qualifier, and agaist greece, not a world cup final, and against brazil.) Between baldie and pretty boy, less hair is always better.
On a different note, the Amazing Zidane does leave us, as Arabs, with some serious questions to ask. Obviously the talent is there, as one of the best players of all time has Arabic origins. However, it puts serious questions on our nations' strategy and commitment to sport as a whole. Why is it that it took for a player of Arabic origin, who does not live in an Arabic country any longer, to be trained in a European country and play there for all of his professional life in order for him to be such an amazing player. Why can't Arabic countries and sports academies produce such great players themselves? Having talent is one thing, but without the necessary and proper facilities and training to develop them, they are rendered useless. Maybe it's still not too late for us to develop our own great players, and then maybe we'll have dozens of Zidane around.
Sorry guys I haven't posted for a while, but I've been suffering from the after-effects of post-exams partying. Anyway, let me not waste any more time, and start blogging away. It seems to me over the last week or so, there have been four main developments. There is obviously the sad and worrying events in Saudi Arabia, but this has been commented to death on and I don't think one needs to write a whole blog length to convince anyone who is willing to be convinced that the events are dangerous, wrong, and worrying. Then there is the new European constitution, which I actually think, from a theoretical point of view, is one of the most interesting and landmark events to happen. Of course, the main thing in Bahrain nowadays is the developing political situation between the government and the opposition. Finally, and not least importantly, there is the European championship. I will try to comment on all of the last three, and maybe even make a connection between them!
First of all, since this is a blog mainly concerned with Bahrain, let us turn to the political situation there. The main talk nowadays, I think (again, I'm not in Bahrain in the moment, so I can only guess-timate from what I read and from what people back home tell me!), is the upcoming confrontation between the opposition and the government. Well, confrontation maybe is a harsh word, since apparently there is a big chance of dialogue occuring. In any case, I don't think the dialogue will be a friendly one, and I don't think the meeting will be similar to the one Al Thahrani, for example, would have with the government. I think in this one there'll be less tea drinking and chatting about how good the ghouzi is and more substantive political talks. Both sides, I think will go in trying to get as many concessions and exploit weaknesses from the other. I doubt the atmosphere that is going to fill this meeting is going to be one of, "hey, we're all pals, how about we try to build together one common strategy?."
Anyway, it definitely seems like the scale favours the government's side at the moment. The government, to their credit, have turned out to be more sly and foxy and political-wise than many expected. They have used every legal trick in the book available without resorting to extreme violence (although there were abuses in a couple of incidents, but they are no where near in the 90s) to check the oppositions moves. Other than the obvious uses of governments powers in the media, they have also used the government's powers in the law. first, as is obvious and expected, the government utilized all its newspapers to show its stance is right and the opposition is wrong. They then used their "interpretations of the laws" powers to hinder anything the opposition would do. They first blocked GCC nationals and other foreign observers from entering for the constitutional meeting. They then threatened any venue that dares to stage it by severe repercussions. They were successful in convincing the opposition to postpone it from its original date so that it does not embarass Bahrain on the international media when the formula 1 is occuring.
Then came tactics to deal with the petition. Again, the government threatened the societies that it cannot be a national petition, since the it is somehow "illegal" for non-members to sign a piece of paper. The opposition groups somehow thought they were smart and decided to open the petition up only for member. The government responded by arresting 19 petition organizers on charges with punishment ranging up to life imprisonment. Now, maybe in pulic relation terms this was not the best move, but it definitely sapped the strength out of the petition. It seems the petition now is as good as buried. Not to leave any loose ends untied, the government shipped out the Minister of Labour Majeed Al Alawi to London to meet with the the human rights associations there, which are traditionally who the opposition would resort to, to present a case on how amazing the advances in Bahrain have been and what a great democracy we have that would even make the United Kingdom's system blush.
Finally, let us not forget how amazingly the government was able to turn the parliament (with a few notable exceptions), into a tool for its own use, where it has become more of a tool to fight against the opposition and show how wrong they are instead of worrying more with the people's grievances and needs.
Well, there are always two sides to each story, so what has the opposition been able to accomplish? Sadly, so far it seems the opposition is the clear loser in this struggle. I mean, you never know, things might change in the next few days, and they might have a surprising trick up their sleeves (I do hope so), but at the moment, I don't think anyone can say they have the upper hand. They have been put on the defensive. Their main impetus, the petition, has been nearly lost. More worryingly, though, there are cracks beginning to show now in the coalition. I mean, no one expected Islamists and leftists to get along so well, and kudos to them for holding it together, but it seems now the strains are showing, not just between the societies but within the societies themselves. The biggest example, of this, I think is the letter of eight political figures (english) that was sent to the G8 meeting (arabic)
So what was this letter all about? It's eight political figures that have had various sorts of impact for the last 30 years (some are more active and with a larger popular support than others) in the Bahraini political development. They are four shi3a and four sunni, and are supposed to represent the spectrum of those that are asking for reform in Bahrain. They include religious scholars, former MPs, engineers, businessmen, former political party leaders, and former leaders and founders of Bahrain's workers union's movement in the seventies. They do not include, however, any of the current presidents of the political parties. Althought some of them are founding members of certain current parties (Ali Rabeia and Hesham Al Shehabi of the NDA and Abdul Wahab Hussain of Al Wefaq) and some are even current members of the administration (Hassan Mshaima3 of Al Wefaq), this letter was sent so as to not represent their political parties. In fact, it was even sent without the consent of the four opposition parties, and it seems the four parties were completely against it. The eight who sent form together another viewpoint on the situation, called "aldistooreyeen" or the "constitutionalists", which have a different take on the situation from the other four political parties.
So how do they differ from the opposition. Well basically the gist of their argument is that the current problem is a result of a constitutional blunder and that the whole reform aspect of democracy has been sapped by the new constitution. There is no way under the new constitution and current democratic system and mechanisms (i.e. mainly the parliament) that any serious reform will occur. The only realistic reform that could occur is if the king or the government directly authorized it. Other than that, there have been too many changes in the constitution, and the new structure of parliament too weak, for any sort of reform to occur that the king does not authorize. Basically, that the main and sole player is still the government, and fundamental change will only come through their explicit consent.
So how does this differ from the other four political parties? After all, this seems also to be what they have been calling for as well. Well the main difference lies in two parts: the petition, and the involvement of religious figures as the main drivers of the reform. The two are obviously interconnected. The above eight or the "constitutionalists", wanted the petition to be public and national, and not just confined to four political parties. They wanted the results that came out of the constitutional meeting (back in the beginning of this year) to be followed closely. The results stated that a national popular petition is the way the issue should be approached. They felt that closing the doors to a wide national petition and only confining it to four socieities was a huge tactical blunder, and it would give the upper hand to the government. It would cease to be a national petition anymore. Furthermore, it would set a very dangerous precedent, as national petitions have been an important part of bahraini political movements for the last 70 years. Caving in to the government's interpretation that only members of a political party can sign a petition, and that it would be unlawful if anyone else signed it, bodes ill for future petitions, as now the government can use what happened in the current situation as a precedent to use against future petitions. Furthermore, playing legal games with the government is futile, as the government will always have the upperhand in such manouevres and it will lead to the fall of the whole project (and I have to say they have been vindicated with regards to this last point in the current petition.)
Furthermore, they were very weary of making the religious figures the main drivers of political petition and reform. They do admit that religious scholars have a main role to play, but to make them sole players is dangerous. The decision to limit the petition to members of the political parties was taken, at the end of the day, by Sheikh Al Ghuraifi. Although they thought the support and input of religious scholars was essential, having the show run by Sheikh Isa Qasim, Sheikh Al Ghuraifi, and Sheikh Ali Salman was not the best move.
These cracks extend within parties and between them. Hisham Al Shehabi and Ali Rabeia are not completely in line with the path NDA, and in fact Abdul Rahman Al Nuaimi has criticized the letter to the G8 in his most recent column. Both of the above two were signatories as well to a letter warning of the dangers of politicizing the recent unions that have developed in Bahrain (both have been previous founders of the bahrain union movement in the seventies), even though the main winners were from Al Wefaq and NDA. Hassan Mshaime3 and Abdulwahab Hussain have their differences with the main Al Wefaq strategy as well, even though Hassan Mshaime3 is vice president. No one needs to be told about the differences Abdulwahab Hussain has, as he has resigned from his position in Al Wefaq, saying we have different views as to which is the best way forward, and because of that, it wouldn't be best for Al Wefaq for me to continue to be one of the main players, but I will continue to support whatever they do.
Basically, the gist is that all of the eight above continue to be active in their parties and support them, but also have their own views on certain matters. Maybe this can be interpreted as democracy is very healthy and is flourishing within the opposition groups, as although everyone seems to follow the main line that the parties are going for, they still voice their alternative views when necessary. However, it can also be interpreted as cracks showing up within the opposition.
Anyway, this also has to be put into context. Of the signatories, although all of them are well known within the political circles, not many continue to have a popular support base or continue to weild influence on the masses on a large scale. The only three that can be excepted are Hassan Mshaima3, Abdul WahaB Hussain, and Sheikh Isa Al Jowdar, the sunni religious scholar from Al Hidd (which amazingly, although he is a religious scholar, is more in line with the "constitutionalists" and their demands and much further away than Al Asalah and co). Even them, however, do not yeild as much influence as other figures. Hassan Mshaima3 and Abdul Wahab Hussain, although they have considerable support, it does not reach the size of support Sheikh Ali Salman, Sheikh Isa Qassim, and Sheikh Al Ghuraifi yield. The same goes for Sheikh Isa Al Jowdar, who although still very popular, does seem to have lost a lot of his influence to Al Asalah and Al Menber.
Anyway, we shouldn't take a gloomy picture on everything. Apparently there are talks that are about to occur between the governemnt and the four boycotting parties. There have been hiccups on this issue, such as the non-boycotting other parties whining that they should be included (although they can meet the governement and ministers anytime they want in parliament, and can voice their constitutional demands through parliament, but this is a classic case of "moma I don't want to be left out, they will steal all the spotlight from me."). However, there isn't much one can do except point out problems, how to solve them and what is the way forward, and then remain optimistic. Whichever way the reforms come, be it parliament, the government, the king, the four opposition parties, or the "constitutionalists", let's hope we can reach something better than the torrid situation we have now.
I'm back! Did anyone miss me at all?????? (I doubt it). Anyway, after going underground for some hardcore studying for two weeks, it all paid off in the end. I'm pretty sure I passed all three exams, and there is even a chance I got a distinction in two of them. God was smiling on me, as I seemed to have done better than some people who have been studying for 12 weeks for these exams. I really thought I would fail, but it worked out well!
Anyway, lots of stuff has happened in the past week. I have to say I have no clue about much of it whatsoever. The only thing I know is that France beat England in the European championship in an absolutely thrilling game (I watched the last five minutes, which means I watched the whole game basically). The posts should flow in regularly now, since I have a long lazy summer with not much to do, so please do tune in!
Folks, I've got (huge) exams coming up a week monday. There is a big chance i'll fail them, so i need to hole my self up until then, without any distractions. I need to be thinking solely of Dynamic Stochastic General Equilibrium, AutoRegressive Conditional Heteroskeacticity, and Perfect Bayesian Nash Equilibrium for the next ten days. I doubt many of you are interested in reading posts about that stuff. Hence, I'm going to disappear for a while, and hopefully resurface again. Until then, (I hope) I won't be posting anything. Thanks for all your comments and encouragement, and I hope you still do check in every once in a while.
Before I leave, let me say two things. Congratulations to Muharraq on winning the Bahraini league without a single loss. What made it even better is that we beat West Riffa in the last game, so bel embarak to all the players and officials in the club who've put in the hard work. "Yak eltheeb gharbawi yak eltheeb."
One more thing. Has anyone been reading the stuff Mohammed Jaber Al Ansari has recently said? That what we have in bahrain is Naf3iya Khashi3a and Radikaliya Rafitha, and that both are bad and we don't want them both? Well, he got one part right definitely, the first one. I am not going to believe that we have "Radikaliya Rafitha" until I see deaths, explosions, and massive riots occuring. Signing a piece of paper and boycotting a gimp parliament is "Radikaliya Rafitha"? So what is FARC in colombia then, or how about the radicals in Saudi Arabia? Maybe3 is the extremists in Algeria? What do they qualify as? dialectic diahreea (to keep in the tradition of his sophisticated wording)? maybe dilapetated gangria?I mean I know everything is supossed to be relative, but the way he put those two polars is supposed to resemble extremes. We definitely have an extreme of the first concept in bahrain, I am yet to see anyone produce evidence of the opposition being "radical rejectionism."
People got boners over the fact that he is supposedly a big and famous "thinker", and that he uses sophisticated words. Since when did "yes men" and radicalism become such new revelations and concepts?
The opposition has supported what it saw as good moves by the government, and criticized others. I hardly call that saying no to everything, or "Radical Rejectionism." I can see how people can interpret their moves differently, and might say they are a bit on the extreme side, but radical rejectionism??? who say no to everything? What do you think was one of the main impetuses for these reforms? Who was calling for them from the seventies up until the nineties? Or was it all just a noble "gift" by a government that faced no domestic or international pressures at all?
On the Naf3iya Khashi3a side, however, he's definitely right. What it boils down to is, in layman's terms, the "yes men", who agree with whatever the government does, never criticize it, and will suppot it, even if it to their own interest's detriment (the naturalization issue for example). We have a lot of that in Bahrain. There are people who even if the government told them to put on a pink g-string, do the moonwalk, while at the same time shoot themselves up with heroine would do it no question asked, and in fact find a way to rationalize it and convince people of it. Unfortunately, in Bahrain nowadays people seem to be easily convinced by such deformed arguments.
In fact, Al Ansari might do well to set an example by following his advice first, as he is definitely a yes man. Twenty years of trying to postulate theories that support whatever the government does qualifies you as "naf3iya khashi3a"! So how about looking at ourselves first before advising others? Sure you can postulate grand theories with sophisticated reasoning that would even embarass Kant in their incoherence, but anyone could find a theory to justify anything, however bad it is. All we have here is a yes man who can formulate his oppurtunism in big words and grand theories, which when you boil them down, are either bland, dull, and with nothing new, or are utter rubbish.
Anyway, take care folks, and until next time, ma3a elsalama!