Who, are more appropriately, what are we? A lot of readers would reply that they are Bahraini. What does it exactly mean to be a Bahraini?
Maybe Bahrain is not the best example. Let's take the issue wider to the gulf. What is it be Qatari? What is it to be Emarati? How about Saudi?
How about if we take the whole middle East. What is a Jordanian? How is he different from a Syrian? How about an Iraqi? Is an Iraqi from Mosul the same as an Iraqi from Al Basra?
It is really striking how the absolute majority of Arabic and Middle Eastern countries are the results of artificial construction, within the last one hundred years, usually by the whim of a couple of people.
In Bahrain, we do not notice this directly because Bahrain is indeed a distinct place that has been so for thousands of years. After all, Bahrain is a collection of Islands, that has always had its own particular circumstances and politics. No matter if it was called Dilmun, Aradous, Awal, or Bahrain, you can always identify the place throughout history, simply because of its natural characteristics (being an archipeligo).
This does not apply to the rest of the Middle East. Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Sudan, in fact most of the modern day countries were born out of the struggle of the Superpowers at the beginning of the 1900s, particularly the wheeling and deeling between France and the UK. This was geopolitics at its best.
It's 1918, after the first world war had ended. The stage was Paris, where the treaty of Versailles was being negotiated. The British's main concern was to protect their route to India, and to fend of the French. The French's main concern was to keep tabs with the British, and jointly the two were worried about those darn Russians. Then there was also the small snag of the local people calling for independence. Most of the negotiations were conducted by a handful of men on each side. The spoils of the war, particularly from the Ottoman Empire, had to be divided up, and the Middle East was the map on which one of the most important games of MONOPOLY was ever played. Little did these men know that there actions would shape the area in such an upredictable and important manner.
The examples of the results that emerged are all over. Look at Jordan, which is a completely artificially constructed country, where nothing resembling a statehood existed before. In fact, legend has it that the reason Jordan has it's odd shaped borders is because of Churchill's hiccup. Apparently Churchill, who was in the foreign office at the time, just had a big and fulfilling meal. While drawing the map of Jordan, he hiccuped, resulting in the border which survives until this day.
Then you have Lebanon, which was born out of the French's want of Influence in the Levant, and their excuse of needing to protect the Christian minority living around Mount Lebanon.
It is an old cliche that the present day problems of the Arabic world are results of decisions made by the former empires, particularly the British and the French. I definitely do not like blaming our problems on others, but the Empire's construction of borders definitely did not help in reducing our troubles.
Let's take Lebanon. Although the French's main worry was the area around Mount Lebanon, where most of the christian community lived, their greed for more influence resulted in them bargaining for the surrounding area as well. This resulted in a country that included christians, sunnis, as well as Shias.
Sectarianism was not the only problem, however. Included in the newly emerged lebanon were Areas that were traditionally seen as part of Greater Syria. Does anyone wonder why Syria still wants to have a hand meddling in Lebanon's internal affairs?
In an area where politics and culture is mainly defined by religion, sect, and cultural background, this was bound to become a recipe for trouble. We are witnessing the results of such conflicts up until this day.
The countries of the Arabian Gulf, although not directly the product of the above time period, also emerged in an extremely artificial manner. In fact, the name "The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia" arised from a Western idea, as it was George Rendell, the head of the Middle East Division in the Foreign Office of the United Kingdom who suggested the name in 1932 to Ibn Saud, as Dr. Mdhawi Al Rasheed tells us.
There is absolutely nothing unusual about countries being created and constructed. Throughout history countries have been defined and redefined, as one can witness throughout the history of Central and Eastern Europe.. What is striking, however, is how many countries in the Middle East, almost singularly (along with countries in Africa) have risen out of the simple strokes of a few men. They did not arise naturally out of the internal events of a country, but were formed by the whims of a few men over dinner.
One of the most striking features of modern day states is how they redefine and reshape its citizens own attitudes. The institutions in place, the concept of patriotism, even football matches, can shape people to believe into ideas and entities that did not exist before. If you speak with Jordanians they would also see themselves as Jordanian. Many lebanese would loathe you if you mentioned any connection whatsoever with Syria. Indeed, states, even though artificially created, have the power to create a reality out of an idea.
The modern creation of a state, however, can lead to problems that did not exist before. Take Bahrain for example. We have been dragged into a fictitious conflict with Qatar that is simply the consequence of two families settling old scores. Although Bahrain and Qatar are as close as you get to each other blood and mentality wise, as most Bahrainis have relatives in Qatar, we somehow have come to see them as our mortal enemies. Although large chunks of Lebanon and Syria were traditionally seen as part of the same entity, nowadays leads to a poltical wrangle.
This history of many countries in the Middle East does lead one to suspect: are these countries stable as states? Is Jorand going to remain the Jordan we know it today in a few generations? Is Saudi Arabia going to remain Saudi Arabia? Are small countries of about 200,000 nationals each, which is the main characteristic in the gulf, sustainable in the long run? No where else in the world is there such a concentration of relatively small artificially constructed countries.
Although "what if" is the work of the devil, this also leads one to wonder of how things could've been. What if Churchill did not decide to pig out that day and hiccup? What if Bahrain and Qatar decided to join the UAE in a country?
What does the future , particularly with another superpower meddling around, hold for this area?
What if any of us actually bothered to read up on the history of our area?