I doubt there is much else anyone in Bahrain is talking about.
(For those outside of Bahrain, a total electricity blackout covered the whole of the island yesterday, resulting in the loss of electricity everywhere from 8:00 in the morning to about 7:00 in the evening, with even longer periods depending on the area you're in.)
Thank god I was already up when the electricity went out. I can tolerate just about anything, even torture, as long as no one disturbs me while sleeping. If those guys had woken me up before I get up on my own (especially if I had slept at like 4 in the morning), heads would have definitely rolled.
Anyway, what did most people do during the blackout? I just went from place to place in the car with friends, and ate an unbelievable crappy meal at Al Safir Restaurant in Sheraton (BD 9.9 +++ for the worst buffet I've ever had, and since when do you pay 15% service charge on a buffet??) Anyway, if anyone has any interesting stories about the blackout, please do share.
Not surprisingly, people are calling for heads to roll. Unsprisingly again, the blood call is for the head of the minster of water and electrticity. Although I am in no way trying to defend him, I don't think this is mainly his fault. Ask anyone in the know about that ministry, and they'd tell you the main cause of the fault is simple and has been known for a long time: the rediculously underqualified, ill-trained, and worthless workers he has under him (who have been there long before he arrived, and of course, since they work in the public sector, cannot be fired.
The total blackout may have come as a suprise to a lot of people (including me), but apparently experts have been warning about this for a long time, and precisely because of the illqualified and sometimes even corrupt personnel we have working in the ministry of electricity. For example, Saeed Al Asboul, a former president of the Bahrain society of Engineers, has been warning about such an even for some time. He has sent many letters, including one to the king two years ago, warning of the devastating consequences of the poor manpower (managerial as well as technical) that we have in that ministry, and of the perilous consequences it may have on the country, and he even explicitly states in the letter that there is a real danger of this reaching the stage of a total blackout on all the country. Other people have sent many other letters including to MPs (who'll probably now play the role of the champions of the people in the next few days).
Do you think people with authority listened?
I mean, come on, any alert and decent superviser knows that there are precautions a person has to take to prevent a total blackout occuring like it did. If one station overloads and shuts down, you don't allow the excessive load to travel immediately to the other stations, or they will shut down as well! You practice the containment of electricity, where you shut down the power on some areas of the country and you allow others to receive it. I mean, I'm not in anyway an expert for the subject, but I do know for a fact that there are procedures to deal with such events!
Anyway, as usual in Bahrain, we need a dramatic event, one where business activity and millions of dinars are lost on a grand scale, coupled with the serious possibility of some death cases, to be triggered into action. Taking precautions to prevent something occuring before it wrecks the country? Hah. No chance. We still stick to the mentality of it's not a real danger until it happens. The same story could be repeated about the imminent danger of our water supplies being seriously depleted in Bahrain, or the fast approaching crises about natural gas, which generate electricity in Bahrain, finishing (due to us pumping it into that ever wastful factory called Alba, which by the way might be the main cause of the blackout) and having to import it from Qatar. Nope. We'll deal with these crises when they hit us smack in the face.
Even more, one might wish that the authorities might head from this crises and reform the inept workers in the electricity ministry. I hope that this will happen, but this also might be daydreaming. Firing a hoard of inept government employees is not very popular nowadays, and that's probably the last thing a government would do in such a crises. The more likely turn of events if for the minister to be fired, while the people under him (the real cause of the problem) will stay. This might be done through a parliamentary enquiry or something, and the MPs will start boasting that they have achieved something big. People across the country might rejoice, thinking that their democracy is working amazingly, while the real cause of the problem remains.
Of course, there are many reasons why many different people hate the mullahs. The upper class in Iran, for example, still resent the fact that they've lost a country that they used to rule, and are now ruled by, as they see it, low class, uneducated fundamentalists.
There is one adverse effect that for me stood out from all the other changes the Mullahs had. It seems to have caused the disenchantment of a lot of the population with Islam.
Let me explain. In Bahrain, for example, you find a lot of people who are not particularly practicing muslems. They drink, don't pray, and some might even gamble or smoke weed. However, if you ask the majority of these people, "Are you muslim?", most of them would reply that they are muslims, but are not practicing. Most of them would probably also believe in the quran and that Mohammed (pbuh) was a prophet.
In Iran, however, I was surprised by the amount of people that openly scorn Islam. To make a comparison, if you ask someone who is not a practicing muslim there if he is a muslim, he'd tell you no I'm not a muslim. A surprising amount of people openly say that they do not believe in Islam as a religion, and some don't even recognize Mohammed (pbuh) as a prophet. Some even openly make fun of some of their Shi3a sect of 12th imams beliefs.
My conjecture is that the way Mullahs have warped the country, and because of the Mullah's corruption and other bad deeds, people have started associating Islam with the Mullahs, and some people, unfortunately, have started seeing Islam as being just as bankrupt as the Mullahs. For example, I was once sitting with a bunch of people in the lobby of the Sheraton Hotel (of course this was its name before the revolution), and above us on a sign it was writtten, "Islam is the highest form of civilization. One of the girls with us read that out with a snicker and a dose of irony. I asked her, "so you don't believe Islamic civilization is one of the most developed in the world?" She pointed at her hejab and replied, " Is this in any way civilization?" I replied, " But the main point of Islam is not about the Hejab. It's about equality, respect,restraint. It also advocates social cooperation, ......." Her reply was , " Save your lecture for yourself. We have the Mullahs here who repeat your same words and more, and all we've seen from them is chaos and backwardness."
I did not know how to reply back.
One final point I would like to make. From my (very limited) general reading of Islamic History as it developed over the ages, one of the most defining thing to me has been its leniency and acceptance of people of all sects, races, and faiths. Even back in the eightth century and beyond, all that Islamic ruler imposed on non-Islamic followers was to pay a small "jezyeh" or amount of money to live in an Islamic country, and then they were left to conduct their life as they saw fit. This, compared to the other empires and civilizations developed at that time, was extremely lenient, especially when compared with the persecution and killing a lot of them carried out. In fact, the earliest Islamic rulers did not even actively encourage people to convert to Islam (as they saw in this an increase in the number of people sharing power, since most of the people they ruled were not muslims). People themselves (for whatever reason, being that they were impressed by Islam, or because they saw in conversion societal and economic advantages) converted. Where has this tolerance and leniency been lost in our modern age? Why is it that most Islamic countries try to impose certain customs and laws on people who live in it? If we are so keen on emulating earlier Islamic rule, why don't we follow them in a general principle of tolerance?
My experience, from Iran and other places, seems to show that the more a ruler tries to impose a certain idea on his dominions, until he reaches the point of openly coercing them, the more his subjects rebel. The more a ruler tries to slowly teach his follwers certain ideas, and the more he shows the advantages of such thinking without coercion, the more successful he is. For example, in Bahrain, where certain Islamic schools (e.g. salafi and wahabbi) spread their thinking through charity and clever preaching, they have been relatively successful, especially when compared to Iran, where some people have reached the stage of openly rejecting Islam due to the Mullahs' coercion.
Maybe we can learn from this in Bahrain, and see that forcing people to live under a "promotion of virtue and prevention of vice" squad, or coercing people into single-sex universities, might backfire and make people rebel even more against the more fundamental, and more important ideas of Islam, such as people's equality, the importance of the family, civil rule, and (which for me is one of the most important, if not the most important quality; maybe I'll write a blog on it)progress.
So why else are the Mullahs hated? Another main factor is corruption and hypocrisy.
The people ruling the society, the Mullahs, are supposed to be the religious scholars and icons of the country. They're supposed to be the most pious, and most honourable people in the country. They're supposed to be a rolemodeal for the rest of the population. Instead, the population view them as the most corrupt of all.
Here are just some of the examples going around. Apparently, one of Khamanei's sons is one of the most notorious playboys in the whole of Tehran. He goes through women like he goes through underwear. Another example is Rafsanjani's daughter (or maybe I've mixed them up and it's Khamanei's daughter and Rafsanjan's son, anyway, you get the point), who is rumoured to be a big opium addict. Now the point here is not that these stories are true, as they might not be, but that most of the population does believe them to be true. Perception, at the end of the day, is what counts.
Another rumour that is believed as good as truth is that for every new batch of Paykans (the Iranian car, the pride and glory of the Iranian automobile industry), Khamenei gets 1000 cars for himself (to sell of course, he'd never be caught in a Paykan). In short, that corruption runs down right to the root of the system. Most people would say that deceased Khomeini himself was a good man at heart that did not steal and abuse the system (even though they would not agree with his ideals), but everyone other than him has been corrupted to the bone.
Naturally, this corruption runs down right through the system. Everything is run through bribes. To open a business, like a decent restaurant, you have to "oil the machine." . As a friend of mine told me, it's not that bad if you're caught by the police, since you just bribe the official and they will let you go (the only case this does not work with is the hardcore religious police (yes there are differenty types of religious police), where bribing is a lottery as some might accept it, while others might not and then treat you even worse). If you want to hold a wedding with alcohol in it, then just bribe the police. Basically, every form of government, whether a petty official or high up, can be bribed, and bribing is in fact the established standard.
Unfortunately, this practice waters down even to the everday man on the street in the form of tips. Everything in Iran works through tips and oiling the wheel, everything. If anyone has been to e.g Egypt, he'll get the feel, but multiply that by five. Someone opens the door for you, he expects a tip. I was once in a car parking, and a guy, unasked, came and started clownishly waving his hand as if to help me park. For that, he expected a tip. You go to an outdoor restaurant and there is a security guard outside in the parking lot, and he'll expect a tip from you "for looking out for your car while he was standing there." The guy was actually all the time sitting in his small cabin, probably sleeping, and the only time he came out of it was when we came back to take the car, for no reason of course, but to take the tip. This was not only expected from foreign tourists, as resident Iranians as well were expected to tip.
The other factor that helps fuel this is the fact that most of Iran's people, compared to us, live in extreme poverty. The average person there makes about $100 a month, which is less than what a free visa labourer in Bahrain makes. Added to this, Tehran is by no means a cheap city, as it is only slightly cheaper than Bahrain.
Of course, bribery and corruption exists in many countries including Bahrain, but comparing the corruption in Iran to Bahrain is like comparing a cat to a lion. Even so, many countries in the world suffer from extreme corruption (Egypt, Bangladesh, Nigeria) so why do the Iranians feel such immense hatred to their government because of it? I think it's mainly because (and this is just me conjecturing) the government is made up of mullas, who are supposed to uphold the many principles of islam of not bribing, stealing, etc, but instead they seem to stand as a rolemodel for bribery and corruption, which unfortunately is made to trickle down through society.
It's hard to avoid the fact that that the most striking thing about Iran is its theocracy form of government, or as they call them, the Mullahs. Not surprisingly, the Mullahs loom large on life in Iran. From the TV, which is dominated by religious sermons and "3azaas" which are broadcasted nearly the whole day in three languages (Farsi, English and Arabic, which is pretty impressive), to the religious police which roam the street. What was really surprising however, was the extent to which the Mullahs are hated in Iran. Basically, everyone hates them.
Some people might think that I am being a biased liberal, but honestly I'm trying to be as objective as possible in my assessment. In fact, hate might be too soft a word, loathe might be appropriate.
By everyone, I mean EVERYONE. From the rich echelons of society, down to the taxi driver on the street, passing along the grocery seller, and even the religious elements. Everyone has a story with the mullahs, and none of them are flattering.
Of course, I've only been to Tehran and the north, so I can't speak about all the country. Obviously as well, there are people who have benefited from the regime, and I cannot say that that EVERYONE hates the regime. Added to this, the majority of the people I met (though not all) were from the upper classes of society, which have the most reason to hate the mullahs, but trust me, EVERYONE is a pretty good approximation to the truth.
The extent of this hate was absolutely astonishing to me. I mean, in Bahrain, there is a sizeable group who is against religious figures running the country, but there is a also a very large chunk of society who supports religious groups (as is evident by the strong support of Al Asalah and Al Wefaq). In Iran, however, it seems the only support that the Mullahs have comes from its own ranks, or by people who in public support them to get rewards, while in private, like everyone else swear at them.
Not only the amount of people who hated them suprised me, but the extent as well. I mean, every single person I met wished death upon them. In fact, the extent of their loathing reached the point of most people telling me that they would actually support an American bombing of Iran to overthrow the government, since they themselves have lost hope of being able to change the regime. Others however argue that change has to come from within, and not from outside. What's not debated, however, and everyone is in agreement, is that the regime has got to change.
I found myself asking what is it that made people hate the Mullahs so much? After hearing people's stories, I found myself questioning instead: Is there anything to like in the Mullahs?
So what is the there to hate in the Mullahs (or maybe more appropriately what is there to like in the Mullahs?). The problem is where to start. First, there is the religious police, or as they call themselves the 110. These guys jobs is supposedly similar to that of the promotion of virtue and prevention of vice police in Saudi Arabia. In reallity what they end up doing is just harassing people and sometimes even worse.
Their job is basically to chase people, more precisely women, who they deem not to be wearing proper Islamic attire. They also go and harass any groups of boys and girls standing together and break them up. I have seen these guys in action, and I can see why they are hated. They are unbelievably rude, who come up to people and just start shouting at them and using swear words (some religious police!). They are mostly made up of poor, uneducated people who are not even particularly religious,and they treat everyone like the dirt of the earth. No matter that the people they are harassing might be a young married couple, like what happened to me and friends of mine. Me, a friend of mine and his wife (both in their mid-early twenties) were standing outside a restaurant waiting to get in. Suddenly a jeep of the 110 pulled up, and pleasant looking fellow (note: irony is used here). He started shouting something loudly at us and at the other people gathered around the place. I, not understanding most of his shouting, was simply amused, especially when i picked up the word "cabaret" from all of his drivel. My friends, however, were shitting in their pants. They immediately got out of there with me, bewildered, chasing behind them. I was just slow enough to notice that the policeman actually arrested two women and have taken them with them. Later, they told me that he was basically screaming," Get the hell out of here, what do you think this is, a cabaret? Men and women sitting next to each other. Come on go before I arrest you!"
This apparently, is not something unusual. Basically these policemen would get the order to arrest e.g. 10 people that day (just like there in Bahrain, a traffic policeman might be ordered to issue out ten tickets today before he can leave), so they just go out and arrest 10 people on basically no charges (they can arrest you for not liking your face).
What is more horrific though, is the stories you hear about what has happened to some arrested people. I was told this story about someone a friend of mine knew. She was arrested while driving at night in Tehran (for no reason but that she was a good looking female, and that's suspicious). She was taken to prison, where the guard there had the following conversation with her:
Guard: Do you want to get out?
Guard: You'll have to have sex with me.
Her: Please, I can't do that. It's wrong, and I'm a virgin.
Guard: Well then you can do it from behind.
Her: No please, I can't do that.
Obviously, the guard didn't had much to her pleas, and raped her anyway. Apparently the poor girl has been a bit mentally disturbed ever since. Her personality and attitude completely changed, and she has become a withdrawn person.
You might think this is a bit exaggerated, but this is apparently not too all uncommon. You'll find many people with stories to till. The most horrific one I've heard, however, and I definitely hope this activity is not too widespread (but you can never tell) is once again about a father of some person my friend knew. He was a political activist, and the father simply disappeared. Later, they found out that he was stoned to death. Can you imagine that? Being buried up to the neck in sand, being surrounded by mobs of people who have been told that if they hit you it's like hitting the devil, and chucking stones at your head, while delighting at it? And this is not because of some crime such as murder or adultery (which some, though thankfully few, religious scholars still thinking stoning should apply to), but simply for being a political activist.
These, of course, are extreme cases, but every single person has had a story of being harassed some way or another by the religious police. Whether being stopped at night while driving, whether having their sisters, daughters or mom harrassed, or whether being stopped simply because the policeman needs to reach his quota of ten catches for the day. Heed well Bahrain, do not let people fool you into thinking a "promotion of virtue and prevention of vice" police force will be any good, even if it's wrapped in sweet words.
I wish the policeme were the only problem the people hate, but unfortunately, that is only the tip of the iceberg.
I've just come back from a (rather long) holiday from, of all places, Iran. Now this was my first ever visit to Iran, and it definitely was an eye opener. I didn't visit many places; only Tehran and a northern city on the Caspian sea called Chaloos.
General stereotype of Iran is that it is a place filled with hateful, religiously zealout, and crazy mullahs, while at the same time having a very friendly (and very good looking) population. Basically Saudi Arabia, but with a funny-sounding language.
My stereotype of Iran (before arriving) was a place much more liberal than what people expect, while at the same time having a very friendly (and very good looking) population. Basically Bahrain, but with a funny-sounding language.
After visiting, I think that both viewpoints were partly right (definitely on the good looking part), partly wrong, and way oversimplistic. Over the next few days, I'll (hopefully, fingers crossed) post my views and impressions on this vast and very interesting county. Hopefully other people will find them interesting!
First, let me run through the obvious, stereotypical stuff, which any person can tell you about Iran. Yes, the girls there are amazingly beautiful, but (unfortunately) the guys there are considered by girls to be just as good looking as well, so to find a good looking girl you'll have lots of competition from other guys! Just as beautiful is there scenery and landscapes, which ranges from snowcapped mountains (where you can ski or go mountain trekking) to forests to sunny beaches.
Yes, they are extremely friendly and generous people, and if you are fortunate enough to get to know an Iranian, he'll immediately introduce you to his family and make you feel as if you're in your own home.
Yes, they have a long, interesting, and complex history and culture, spanning more than 5000 years and encompassing ethnicities as different as Turkmen, Uzbeks, Arabs, and Baluchs. They are also extremely proud (verging on arrogant) of their history, just as any other country I guess.
Although these ideas are extemely interesting in themselves, I'm going to make more of a social commentary on the place. The above traits are fairly well known, and in depth writing on them can be found in a lot of places. I'll confine my writing to what I thought was surprising, peculiar, and unexpected to Iran, along as well to similarities between Bahrain and Iran.
Disclaimer: I, being naturally a very skeptical and critical person, will naturally tend to mention more of the unusual and less positive features of Iranian society. If there are any Iranian readers (I sincerely doubt it) of this blog, please do not take this as a direct attack in Iran. In fact, it has been one of the most beautiful, interesting, and amazing countries I've visited. My skeptical nature, however, will make my commentary seem (maybe) rather negative.