It seems my last post has pissed off quite a few people. Anyway, to keep to the trend, let me continue with another controversial post that's probably going to piss off even more people:) As you can tell, I like building a solid fan base that agree with what I say.
Another question I was asking myself the other day is do we have social mobility in Bahrain? By this I mean something like being able to rise from absolute poverty to becoming a (materialistically) successful person. i.e. I'm talking pureley here in terms of moving up the social ladder money wise. In other words, something similar to what the Americans like to call the "American Dream." At first, a couple of examples of people who were able to do this came up to mind (e.g. Haji Hassan Al Aali). However, all in all, I think, we probably do not have that much of social mobility, and, if anything, the social structure seems to be predefined.
Again, I'm talking relatively here. As usual, the above phenomena exist to one degree or another in every country in the world, but in Bahrain it seems to be skewed more to an extreme. For example, it is well known the stereotype of how in England you've got the upper posh class in one extreme, and the lower "working class" at the other extreme, and where it seems a lot of societal conduct are defined around these phenomena, even the accent of a person. What is striking is that in Bahrain (and probably the gulf in general) societal structure seems to be based mainly on familial-relations to this day. In many countries this also used to be the case, but is becoming less relevant nowadays (e.g. in Scotland, certain surnames or clans have a lot of historical significance, and may still have some influence today, but society is not mainly defined around them). In Bahrain, your family still seems to define the social position, material well-being, and even job you'll end with.
What do I mean by this? I mean that if I were to hear a certain person's family name, I'd most probably be able to tell you in what sector his job is, how rich he is, and what social influence he has. If you hear certain tribal or originally beduin surnames, then a person could identify almost surely that he'd work in a high ranking government position, most probably something like the BDF or the ministry of interior or foreign office. If you hear certain surnames that are from certain clans from the "houla", then most probably he is a big shot businessman, who owns one or more of the big companies in Bahrain, or maybe a big shot banker. For example, I was looking through the newspaper the other day, and I came across the new political party formed by businessmen. Four out of the people on the board of directors were first cousins, and from a certain group of families. The same occurs if you look at the big player in "gurfat al tejara", or the trading committee. In similar vein, if you here certain other surnames, you'd think he's most probably an upper middle class professional. Others, most probably a small bussiness man. Still others, and they're most probably poor working in certain job sectors, etc....
Now this on its own is not much of a phenomena. The more important question to ask is is it that common to find social mobility. Is it often that you find peop who were once upon a time extremely poor, and not are at the top echelons of society? Maybe I'm wrong (and I hope someone can illuminate me on this), but this does not happen often at all. There about ten well-known big players in Bahrain, who own any big project worth noting, and who continue to make sure that any other big project that enters is continued to be owned by them. For anyone else, it is almost impossible to enter into that high category, and the only way to do so is if you decide to play ball with them.
For example, I come from what can be considered middle-upper middle class professional family. My grandfather was in a white collar profession, my father after him as well, and probably I'll end up with that as well. I'm not complaining and I'm happy. However, if I ever dreamed that I wanted to be an influential and big player on the Bahraini scenes, what would be my chances? There is a chance (there always is), but, to use a term I've learned this year university, asymptotically it approaches zero (sounds fancy doesn't it?). In other words, it is basically zelch. Even if I get the highest grades at school and even if I stack one degree after another, and even if I amazingly excel at the profession that I choose, I might end up with a good job in that scenario, but it is extremely improbable to enter the most elite group. Basically, if you do want to enter, you have to be one of them, and to be one of them, you have to be born in them.
My whole point is that it seems a person's position in society seems to predefined in some sort of convoluted way from the day he was born. Of course, there is a certain space within which you can manuevre and make life choices. E.g. I could've chosen if I want to be a doctor, a lawyer, a banker, etc. However, a person's choice is confined to a cerain area or zone, and it is very hard, if not impossible, to jump out of that zone into another zone (and most specifically into the upper echelons of society.)
Why is this the case? Maybe the blame should be put squarely, as usual, on the government? I don't think that's the main reason. To be honest, I don't know what the main reasons are. My guess is that there are two big factors: social perception, and guys at the top making sure not only that they stay at the top, but that no one else enters that creme de la creme category. As to social perception, I think that in a way people themselves help this cycle to continue. It seems that everyone, from the start, has a rough idea where his position is in society, and what other's positions in society is, and sets his goals, conduct, and even his behaviour towards others according to this social position (again, this is a generalization, and of course does not apply in every case). If I was born in the top echelons, I'd set my sights on the top jobs, and I can also identify the others that are in that top echelon, and also identify the others that most probably won't be, and act accordingly. If I'm from an uppermiddle class professional family, I'd do the same, and probably shoot for getting, at the most, a nice middle-managerial position in a company, and be extemely satisfied if i reach that, since I know that that the chances are basically zero that I'd be able to move even further.
As to the top echelons looking after each other and squeezing any one out who dares to enter, I don't think many people need to be told about that. Stories are rife about people who had big plans and tried to bring in large scale projects in Bahrain, but then the cruel reality hit them. If you are (un)lucky enough to come up with an idea or an huge investment that could rake in millions, you almost definitely will expect a friendly call from someone sayin, "nice idea, now here's what you'll do. You'll sell me this project of yours at a below-market, or better yet, dirt cheap price. If you don't do this, I'll mobilize every ministry, high ranking official, or institution in society against you. This, of course, I can do since they're all my friends and I'm one of them." If he's feeling unusually generous that day, then he'll just say, "fine, keep your project. Just give me 50% of the return." As the late Marlon Brando would say, he'll make you an offer you can't refuse.
I don't know why, but nowadays I'm getting into giving metaphors and imagery to describe a situation, so here is my (extremely drawn out and silly) analogy. The king of the see is a hamour. Basically, now matter how hard you try, you can never become a hamour. You are born a hamour, and hamours are a secretive bunch that clan together and look after each other, and they make sure no other kind of fish is able to take over or even share, their high position. What is any other lowly fish to do? Well, you have two choices. You can either be one of those small fishes who stick to the scales and bodies of the hamour, cleans it, and gets its living from it. In other words, you can be one of those unoffending fishes who puts its hands up and says, "look, I know your better than me, and I don't mean any harm. I just want to live under your protection. I'll help you do lower ranking jobs that you need help with, and in return all i need from you is not to attack me, and maybe save a few of the crumbs of your booty for me to live off." The second choice is to be one of those fishes that just minds its own business in the sea. It looks for its own food, and does not really want to be associated with the hamour. Once in a while, however, the hamour becomes extremely hungry, and might have to feed off you. You accept that risk, and you live your life. The third choice is to be a paranea. You'd be a small fish, and always will be that. You know you will never be one of the kings of the sea. However, you are also vicious, and if attacked, you are able to defend your own, and show the big guys that you can stand for your own. If a lot of peranas combine as well, they can be a formidable force, and no hamour can dare touch them.
Anyone who goes away from Bahrain for a while and then comes back, I think, notices something new about the place. Well, not exactly something new, but something that has always been there but you've not noticed before. I don't mean here the new buildings springing up all over bahrain (and there are a lot of them, but I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not). I mean when you realize something about the place that you haven't realized before, but it has always been there.
This time, the thing that struck about bahrain (and probably the gulf in general) is how, compared to any other country in the world, we have become a nation of "6erarwa", or beggars. By that I mean that people in Bahrain expect, want, and get everything they need from the government. We get our water subsidized from the government. The same goes for electricity. If you want a land and a loan to build a house, you go begging from the government. You want a job, you go begging from the government (or at least that's the case for most Bahrainis). You want health service, you go to the government. From the second we are born, we owe it to the government, and even when we die, we expect the government to bury us. All of this, of course, we expect to be free, or to be at extremely subsidized rates.
Now there maybe cultural or historical reasons for this, but I think the main reason for it is directly from the actions of the government. Ever since the oil growth spurt of the seventies, the government thought we have (more than) enough money at the moment to subsidize everything for the people. In other words, we have so much money, let's just throw it out at the people. No, there was no long term planning going on here. Hence, we got free water, electricity, (cheap) housing, and even burial.
Why did the government do this? I don't know. Probably because it seemed the easiest and most logical way at the time. They get the money, and in order to satisfy the people and keep them quiet, they throw some of the money back to the people. Now for the government, this tactic might have some benefits. It makes the people completely dependant on the government, and hence always leaves the rulers in a superior position. Whenever anyone is in need of anything, be it something as big as building a house, or as minute as needing a was6a to cancel a speeding ticket, there is only one way for them to go. No, it's obviously not that inept entity called a parliament, but the all-mighty and powerful government. Thus, a dependency is created, and as long as it is maintained, the government will always have the upper hand.
It also, however, creates severe drawbacks. To give an analogy, the government is the father, and the citizens are his children. Now the father used to be very poor. He then, however, by a huge stroke of luck, struck (black) gold in his backyard. He suddenly had an amazing amount of money. He could even afford to buy a whole roasted sheep to feed his two children. The father always took two whole roasted legs for himself, but each child was extremely happy to be able to eat a whole leg roast by himself. As time passed by however, the children began to multiply. Instead of two, there were now twelve. A whole sheep should be able to feed twelve children. However, the father, being a bit greedy, insisted on keeping two whole legs for himself. Hence, the twelve children now have to spllit two legs between them. This still should be enough, but the children, by now, were used to a certain standard. They were used to eating a whole leg, and it is hard to adjust from a whole leg to only a sixth of a leg. They also kept giving envious glances towards the father, chowing away in his two legs. They kept wondering, what right does he have, since he does not work either, to have two whole legs, while we only get a sixth?
There is another problem, however. The normal circle of life dictates that when the children become adults, they're supposed to be able to go and look for their own food. They're supposed to get a job, and become independent. In our scenario, however, this is not the case. The father has pampered his children so much, and made them so used to a lazy lifestyle, that the children find it hard to grow out of the dependancy on their father. They're used to waking up every day at 3 in the afternoon, and to have a whole roasted leg of lamb in front of them. They are yet to grasp the point of going out on their own, and hunting down their own feast.
This basically, is I think what's happening to Bahrain. People have become so used to the lifestyle of begging and the government providing everything, that they continue to believe that that will be the case in the future. Just open any Arabic newspaper and look at the readers' mail section. There is always one guy complaining that he has applied to work in the defence force two years ago, and he is yet to get a job. Obviously, he is perplexed and pissed off, since his father's mother's cousin has a job there, so why can't he get one. Another person is angry because he's been on the waiting list for a housing loan for ten years, and he is yet to get one, although his neighbour just got one. This story goes on and on, and is repeated day after day in every section of life, from electricity bills to health services.
The problem is that, as I've said before, the money pie the government has to throw around has increased by relatively modest terms since the seventies, while the population and its demands is unrelentlessly exploding upwards. It is going to become harder and harder for the government to keep treating people as beggars (and pretty expensive and demanding ones at that), and then fulfill their demands.
So what is a way out of this? There is no way around the fact that people will have to (sooner or later) take more responsibility, and expect less of the government. Water and electricity prices will have to go up, and other sources of jobs and housing loans will have to be found.
This however, is a two-way deal, and the government's actions will have to change drastically. Most importantly, and this will definitely be a drastic change, the concept of accountability will have to be introduced. So far the government does not have anyone keeping a watchful eye on how it gets and how it spends its money. That's why it has been able to treat people as beggars, and dispense the money as it sees fit. That will have to change. Some sort of watchdog will have to be set up, to make sure that the money is spent in the wisest and most efficient way. That will mean that the fatcats who've been able to channel millions of dinars out of the country's revenue to their own private accounts will have to go on a bit of diet.
Now what is the best way of implementing all of this? Well, there is no way around it. The most unpopular political policy will have to be introduced: taxes. Taxes obviously have many drawbacks, not least of which is some government professing to know best how to spend my (well at the moment my parents) hard-earned money. They do, however, have one important advantage: that of accountability. At the heart of the theory of taxation lies that issue. If the government wants to take my money, I want to know how it spends it, and it better spend it wisely. It creates a direct link where the government is directly answerable to the people, and where the people can hold the government accountable to something: their money. In other words, it breaks the circle of the 6erarwa, the beggars, or the circle of the father and his roasted lamb-loving children. Now the government cannot just give away the money in any way it sees fit, as it is no longer its money. It cannot use the excuse of, "be thankful I'm giving you this money, land, and job, as I can take it all away (since its mine) and let you to rot on the streets." The money will have to be spent in a wiser, and more efficient way.
I know this probably is not the most popular post, as I can imagine people right now cringing at the idea of taxation. Sooner or later though, it will have to happen. Like they say, there are two certain things in life: death and taxes. Just like death, you can delay and run away from taxation, but it will catch up with you eventually.
I know, I've been bad. So here are a bunch of excuses I offer, and you can choose the one that seems most sensible to you:
1. I went on a week holiday to the Falklands. No internet connection there.
2. I was so distraught at Denmark losing in Euro 2004 I couldn't eat, let alone blog, for 4 days.
3. I was caught by the Bahrain CID, but was6as finally got me out.
4. I've decided blogs are 7aram, and are the work of the devil. However, the devil has tempted me back to his side again.
The truth is, I've just been having way too much fun the last two weeks, and I just didn't have time to go online (how sad is that?). Anyway, (hopefully) I'm back for good now.
P.S. I'm back in Bahrain now! It's good to be finally back home. Let the long, lazy, sometimes verging on boring, summer days begin!