09 bahrain3 500 The Arab Springs forgotten pearl

A friend of mine is just returned from Bahrain. He seeks to go back there so does not want me to disclose his identity. What he saw makes salutary reading.

In many ways the uprising in Bahrain, and its suppression, is among the most shocking and under-reported of the entire ‘Arab Spring’.

He describes the streets of Manama largely deserted. Many cranes on building sites are stilled. The few people out tend to be Filipino servants who scurry about running errands or purchasing goods from behind closed Bahraini shutters.

The centre of the uprising – the Pearl Roundabout has been uprooted and now plays host to troops from an indeterminate Arab force. Where Bahraini forces end and Saudi or Qatari troops begin is a moot point. The Saudi ‘occupation’ continues but, as far as possible, out of public view. The Qataris are more open.

One Bahraini blogger calls the Pearl roundabout – ‘the heart of darkness’. But the gloom is endlessly perforated by spray-painted slogans. One reads F*** (King) Hamadi’. There are many stenciled faces of those who have been killed by the Arab forces. Every morning new banners of protest sprout and then disappear. Tyres are burned in the Shia neighbourhoods. In all but the most contested areas, the spray-painted slogans (always in black) are crudely whitewashed.

Much higher up the city’s buildings are posters depicting the ruling Sunni elite.

My friend describes nightly clashes on the edges of the Shia neighbourhoods.  Bahrain’s protest movement is far from subdued.

09 bahrain2 6202 The Arab Springs forgotten pearl

However bad things get, weekends see the causeway from Saudi Arabia thronging with civilian Saudis coming into what they have always regarded as their Amsterdam. A Saudi woman in a chauffeur driven Bentley draws up 20 meters past the Bahraini border post, sheds her hijab and reveals tight jeans and a tank top.

Saudi men cruise in their blacked-out Hummers. They all make for the clubs and dives as quickly as they can.

The other residents here en masse are the US 5th Fleet. Bahrain used to be their safe bunkering spot in the Gulf. Not any more. The Americans are finding the Arab Spring’s manifestation in Bahrain increasingly awkward.