Tuesday, December 05, 2006

December 2006

Vol XXIX NO. 259 Monday 4th December 2006

I hope the lone woman makes a difference

By Amira Al Hussaini

Out of 21 women who ran for parliamentary and municipal elections, not a single one has managed to secure a seat, with the exception of Hawar Islands representative Latifa Al Gaoud, who stood uncontested. If figures speak the truth, then this is precisely the worth of respect 300,000 voters, who make up 72 per cent of the electorate, have for women in my country.

According to officials, the elections were run fair and square and it was up to the people of my country to choose their representatives.

Other than pressure from religious scholars, who came to the conclusion that the participation of women in public life was unIslamic, our people have had their say. Unlike the last elections, where some female candidates went on to the second round, the voting public has made it easier this time and eliminated them in the first round.

My fellow citizens have decided that women can be anything from ministers to Ambassadors to housemaids, from wives, mistresses and lovers to teachers, engineers and accountants - in fact, they can be all that they can possibly imagine, except of course municipal councillors and members of parliament.

Somewhere in the mentality of Bahrainis, there is a script which says that those two public offices are restricted for men only (preferably bearded ones), who know more about how Allah wants His creations to conduct their daily affairs than all the other citizens put together.

But if the performances of both our esteemed parliament and municipal council in their first four-years of our new born democracy are a measuring stick, then I fully understand why the general public has unanimously decided to shield women from such drudgery.

I am not a pessimist, but other than laughable drafts and suggestions, what comes immediately to your mind when I mention parliament or municipal councils in Bahrain?

Veiled mannequins? Veiled drivers? Segregated universities? Banning freedom of association? Restricting the right to public gathering? Or the classic: municipal councillors going missing in Thailand!

Leave the actual work aside and look at all the squabbles and fights which have plagued our democratic process, in an assembly where some members are blinded by their own narrow ideas to the extent that their only response to an opposing view is physical power, screams and verbal abuse.

And you want genteel women to be part of this unruly gathering? No thanks.

After all, we women can do much better and more noble tasks away from bureaucratic set-ups where a bunch of hairy men compete amongst each other over who can grow his beard longer!

Let's see if they behave better this time round, with the presence of a lone woman in their ranks.

(Amira Al Hussaini currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.)

Friday, December 01, 2006

October 2006

Vol XXIX NO. 206 Thursday 12th October 2006

Let down in New York...

By Amira Al Hussaini

After spending two weeks among the Press corps at the United Nations in New York, I fully understand why we Arabs have our place of pride among the most annoying people on planet Earth.

Ask any journalist in the UN who the people most unlikely to provide any tangible information are and the answer would straightaway be "The Arabs".

Then we say we are misunderstood, but why shouldn't we be when our doors are bolted shut and our mouths are sealed to the Press.

This hurts, especially for someone like me, who travelled to New York with grand schemes to write about my country and its accomplishments in the international arena.

What better time, when Bahraini Shaikha Haya bint Rashid Al Khalifa is at the helm as president of the United Nations General Assembly and our Foreign Minister Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa heads the Arab Ministerial Council for Foreign Affairs.

With Bahrain taking centre-stage on a scale never witnessed before, I thought being close to action would give me an enviable insight into all that my country is achieving at the world body and to perhaps even be its voice to readers back home.

Closed doors, unanswered phone calls and unanswered questions are an everyday reality back home, even in this era of openness and freedom initiated by an ambitious reform project.

But I thought the situation would be different in New York.

How wrong I was! Three months of phone calls to a certain Bahraini official while planning for this trip, went unanswered.

I had even visited the man's office and met his number two, a good two months before the General Assembly opened, to plead for co-operation.

When I finally muscled strength and managed to speak to the man at the top, he denied ever getting my messages, in the sweetest, most genuine tone I have ever heard.

He even said his number two may or may not have given him the message!

With no choice left but to believe him, even though I can't see how my messages couldn't have gone through, I try to open a new chapter of relations.

I even increased the size of the circle to take pressure off this extremely busy man and move on to stalk the rest of the officials working with him.

Again, the phone calls continue to remain unanswered, the questions unuttered and the flow of information I so urgently need to fulfil my mission here obstructed, as if there was a conscious consensus to keep me away from the news.

Am I not a Bahraini journalist from a Bahraini newspaper, who has worked for almost 15 years representing my country to the best of my skills?

Have I not churned out one headline after the other praising my country's achievements and singing laurels to our successes, however humble they may have been to the rest of the world?

Am I not worthy enough of just a little bit of co-operation to serve my nation as it shines in the international arena?

To readers and my editors in Bahrain, I am sorry if I have failed you, but God knows how hard I tried.

What hurts me most is that I have failed myself and dashed my own expectations when I believed that respect for the written word could be salvaged amid bureaucracy and broken promises.

November 2006

Vol XXIX NO. 250 Saturday 25th November 2006

Voters have the right to question


I don't know if I read this correctly, but I am sure I did. I am not sure I fully comprehended it though, for it surely needs an explanation.

According to newspaper reports, those who dare question the 'integrity' of the municipal and parliamentary elections being held in Bahrain will be referred to the Public Prosecutor, in accordance to Article 30 of the Elections Law.

The punishment in store for those who cross the line includes either a fine of BD500 or a six month jail sentence, or both.

Sitting in my livingroom here after, seeing both the Canadians and Americans going to the polls for elections over the previous few weeks, I rolled my eyes in disbelief when I read this article in Bahraini papers!

You should come and see how the citizens of the Lands of the Free conduct their elections and how television stations and comedians have a field day, with enough material to ridicule for weeks everything from the candidates, to the way the votes are counted.

In fact, people are still cracking jokes about the Florida count which brought US President George Bush Junior to power six years ago.

Should all those people be serving time in prison for questioning the 'integrity' of the elections process too?

What kind of democracy are we preaching if we have no right to question why, where, when, what and how things are run in our country?

Why can't we ask legitimate questions and why is asking for our rights as citizens a crime punishable by law?

I am sure there must be something wrong in this announcement or perhaps it is incomplete, because logically it defies the spirit of the democratic reforms initiated by His Majesty King Hamad in 2001.

If we are a free and democratic country, why can't we have the right to question whether the elections being held are fair and square and whether the voting process and results are transparent or not.

Nobody is accusing anybody of any wrongdoing, but what is wrong with knowing, understanding and fully comprehending the process in which we will be electing 80 individuals who will voice our concerns in five Municipal Councils and Parliament?

I see nothing wrong in posing the right questions, unless the authorities have a reason which they have not brought to the forefront yet.

Instead of giving us the opportunity to come to our own conclusions, I would appreciate a full explanation which would perhaps spare us the humiliation of sounding so unpatriotic, at a time when our country needs us to stick together to ensure a better tomorrow for our future generations.

* Amira Al Hussaini currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

Vol XXIX NO. 228 Friday 3rd November 2006

Blog ban a slap in the face of freedom

By Amira Al Hussaini

What on Earth is happening in Bahrain? What is going on exactly and where, exactly where, are we heading to?

Aren't we supposed to be living the golden age of openness, transparency and democracy?

Are we not gearing up for the second parliamentary election in our modern history in a few weeks?

Aren't we a sovereign kingdom which is signatory to the Human Rights Charter and which has sworn to give people a say in their lives and freedom in their thoughts and beliefs?

If we are who we claim we are, then how can we also be a country which muzzles freedom of expression and dictates to people what information they can access and what they can't?

Banning a popular website mahmood.tv, along with others, was a slap in the face of freedom and against everything we claim we are!

How can we say we are open on the one hand, while controlling and censoring information on the other?

If we are really open and transparent, what are we afraid of?

Why aren't people allowed to question issues and express their opinions on what is happening in their country, communities and neighbourhoods?

Why can't we respect the rights of others to voice their ideas and concerns in a civil manner through writing?

Why is a pen more scary than a sword in our modern day? What is wrong with initiating healthy debates on issues which affect you, me and everyone else living in Bahrain?

What exactly are the authorities protecting us from?

With all my respect for Mahmood Al Yousif and all other bloggers, all that they are doing really is talking about everyday issues which go through any person's mind if he or she sits and thinks about what is happening on the ground.

These bloggers are not a threat to our national security. They are simply people keeping online journals which are open for others to read.

They are embodying the spirit of Bahrain - a democratic kingdom, which says that all its people are equal and free and have the right to speak their minds and question and debate concerns in a civil manner.

They are not taking to the streets burning tyres and hurling stones or Molotov cocktails. They are not leading demonstrations and blocking traffic and access to malls.

Most importantly, many of them are not even politically motivated, but are encouraged to write because it is a hobby they have grown to enjoy and which gives them wings and access to the lives of millions of bloggers, who share the passion around the world.

I don't have an exact figure but I would like to assure the authorities that there are thousands of Bahraini blogs in cyberspace, which are open for all to read.

Will those in power block them all? One is an online journal of the adventures of a Bahraini Dilmun cat!

Even if the Information Ministry blocks a website in Bahrain, I would like to enlighten the authorities by telling them that all that they are doing is giving free publicity to the unwelcome site and encouraging much more people to read it, just to satisfy their curiosity and see what the fuss is all about.

Blocking a site in Bahrain no longer means that the few thousand people who surf the Net will not be able to read it because it is extremely simple to bypass the proxy and access any blocked site with no trouble at all.

Besides, the block applies to Bahrain only, while people around the world still have access to the information being censored locally.

And yes... I am a tad jealous that Mr Al Yousif is getting more publicity than say me, or any other journalist in Bahrain and being punished for upholding his right to express his opinion.

For some weird reason, I have always thought this was the plight of journalists.

* Amira Al Hussaini currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

September 2006

Vol XXIX NO. 167 Sunday 3rd September 2006

On the highway to catastrophe

By Amira Al Hussaini

Awoman, a car and a map are a dangerous combination.

A woman with no sense of direction, who doesn't know her left from her right, North from her South or East from her West, is a sure catastrophe waiting to happen.

With a visitor from Bahrain gracing our small Hamilton apartment, my husband Amer realised I couldn't and shouldn't be set loose on the Canadian highways without a Global Positioning System (GPS).

After almost 10 months here, I still lose my way to our neighbourhood supermarket and find it difficult to get home if I take another route!

While he was busy at work, the deal was that I would be driving his cousin Ghaneya around, showing her the sights and scenes which make Canada a visitor's paradise.

On the day we picked up Ghaneya from the airport, we stopped by a store and picked up the GPS.

For technology-savvy Amer, it was a piece of cake.

For his technologically challenged wife, it was a different story.

While he spent the night reading up on his new toy, I briefed Ghaneya all about the high-end boutiques in Toronto and malls in Niagara we would be covering over the next few days.

The next morning, armed with our GPS, the sky was the limit.

I got into the car excited about the day ahead of us, placing our mentor and guide in its place of pride on the windshield, until I thought: "Did he even show me how to turn the damned thing on?"

After a few attempts, I worked out how to operate the machine.

I programmed it to take me to a place I knew how to get to and sure enough, after following a few directions, it showed us a new shortcut to the nearby mall! The GPS had passed its test and from now on, I would follow its directions blindly, I told my companion.

Our GPS, which we called Labeeba, became an indispensable part of any outing.

With her guidance, we travelled up and down Southern Ontario, taking in as much of the shopping and tourist attractions we could pack into daytime hours. There wasn't a dull moment as it had up-to-date maps and knew exactly where everything was.

Turn left, it would tell me, and I would blindly do what it said - even when it led me to what looked like a dead end because, sure enough, after following a few more directions I would arrive at my destination in one piece.

But my honeymoon ended as abruptly as it started when we decided to go to MarineLand, in Niagara Falls.

After a few hours of loitering in the sun, watching killer whales and bears, we had our full and programmed Labeeba to take us to the picturesque Niagara-on-the-Falls for lunch.

Before I knew it, we were on a bridge with the US flag dancing in the wind above our heads and a border checkpoint three cars ahead of us.

Looking east, we saw the mighty Niagara Falls bellowing below!

We were on the bridge to the US, with no U-turns, no passports and no ID papers!

To add insult to injury, Labeeba was adamant that we were on our way to Niagara-on-the-Lake, which was in exactly the opposite direction!

Try explaining that to the angry immigration officer who greeted us! It was a genuine mistake, I pleaded.

Five hours later, after having our photographs taken and all our fingers printed (all 10 with a full scan of our hands just in case), our identities checked, rechecked and checked again, we were allowed to turn back to Canada.

With wobbly feet pressing as hard as I can on the accelerator to return home, I sure was glad we ended up sleeping in our beds and not on a bunk bed somewhere close to Guantanamo!

*Amira Al Hussaini currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

Vol XXIX NO. 184 Wednesday 20 September 2006

Migrant workers' plight a shame on our nation


As leaders converge on the United Nations in New York to discuss ways to make the world a better place, I cannot but hang my head in shame.

For, while nations discuss the plight of the world's 50 most vulnerable countries, thousands of migrant workers back in my own country Bahrain are living and working in misery.

The outcry over the death of 16 workers in a camp fire in July, which not only destroyed their lives but also their families' future, seems to have evaporated into thin air.

Now, people are angry as to why 28 construction workers were injured when they were hurled from the back of an open truck this week. Do you really want to know why? Because they are poor workers with no rights or safeguards to ensure their safety or livelihoods.

Because we only cry and make our voices heard for a few minutes and then go on with our lives, taking their suffering, blood and toil as a matter of fact and continuing with our lives as if nothing has happened.

The truth is that the death of a few workers doesn't hurt us because they are just objects who do our dirty work for us.

They don't have a face, for all migrant workers look the same - they are dirty and smelly. They don't have a name, for they all take it with a smile when you stoop down from your ivory tower and call them Kumar or Raj.

What happens if one or two or three or even a dozen of them die?

Easy! You simply ship some more from some of the poorest countries in the world.

After all, these countries have a pool of 600 million people who are willing to take the risk of leaving their countries, homes and families in their quest for a better future.

Sadly, we seem to forget that like you and me, they too have feelings, hopes and aspirations; that they too want to secure a clean bed and good food on their tables when they return home.

We forget they may need time for relaxation and entertainment; that they have families and children and relatives, that they smile and cry, eat and drink and have the right to work and earn a living - without having to be humiliated and ferried to work like cattle, in the back of open trucks.

I am enraged, especially after listening to the UN General Assembly's Bahraini president Shaikha Haya bint Rashid Al Khalifa pouring her heart out over how migrant workers around the world were suffering to make ends meet.

Not one person from the Bahrain Permanent Mission to the UN, nor any of the delegates from any of our neighbouring countries, who heavily depend on the downtrodden workers, spoke out about their suffering on our shores.

I am however glad the world has eyes and the voiceless are getting a voice at a time when many officials are living in denial and refusing to go for regular hearing checks!

l Amira Al Hussaini is currently covering the UN General Assembly session in New York, US

Saturday, August 05, 2006

August 2006

Vol XXIX NO. 155 Tuesday 22 August 2006

We need to save children from abuse

What level has Bahraini society sunk to? Eighty-five per cent of children, aged 10 to 12, surveyed in a recent study claim they have been groped!

Eighty-five per cent?! Am I reading this correctly? Are these the rights our children deserve in a society that claims it adheres to Islamic teachings, rich Arab traditions and values and a modern thriving democracy, which is a signatory to the Human Rights Charter? What human rights do those children have, if any, when they are denied the right to live their childhood in innocence and peace?

What lesson are we teaching those children who grow up suppressed and are allowed to have their innocence plucked before they are fully developed, understand what is right and wrong, learn how to weigh their options and make their own decisions in life?

How will they grow up to be responsible citizens with a sense of duty, and an obligation towards their society and community, when their rights have been violated in broad daylight - sometimes even by the very people who should have provided them with a safe haven?

Yes. Those who conducted the survey, whom I salute for being brave enough to embark on such a mission in a society that denies we have vices and sins, have every right to be shocked.

And even if the study covered only five schools, the results are enough to make parents and those concerned with childhood affairs and the future of our country lose sleep for many, many nights to come. And what happens when parents, elder siblings and neighbours are the perpetrators of such despicable crimes, which the study tells us will haunt the children for years - often turning the very victims into criminals of similar acts of aggression later on in their lives?

Too many questions, too few answers! Too many horror stories, too little being done to solve the problem!

While educating children and opening their eyes to the wrongs being done to them by older predators with twisted minds and showing them where to turn to for help will go a long way in redressing the situation, parents and care takers have a grave responsibility on their shoulders to ensure that children are safe and out of harm's way. The first step towards treating this curse is by admitting on a national level that there is a problem, which many would rather not acknowledge because of the shame and bitterness such acts of aggression against innocents bring.

Once we take our heads out of the sand, we can then put our minds together and work on a realistic plan to protect the safety of our youngsters in homes, schools, playgrounds, malls and even mosques.

Children are entrusted into our hands and they are the future - a future we are destroying by being too arrogant to admit there is a problem to begin with!

* Amira Al Hussaini currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

Vol XXIX NO. 154 Monday 21st August 2006

To the warmongers out there, please leave us alone

A friend of mine, a good friend if I may add, has sent me and others, the following e-mail:

"Dear Friends,

"Thank you very much for all the lovely e-mails you send me. I enjoy most of them, most of the time.

The recent events in the world have been too much for me to handle without my stomach turning and getting sick, so please be true friends and help me.

Please don't send me any e-mails that contain any of the following:- Bush - Blair- Nasrallah - Lebanon - Syria - Palestine- Israel- Iraq- Iran- Fatwas - Shia quotes- Sunni quotes- Lies about the Prophet (any Prophet) - Protests - Demonstrations- Anything to do with politics" Thank you very much. I love you all."Goodbye, be well. "When I read this e-mail for the first time, my lips curled into a smile.

It must be a joke, something she penned to make me roll on the floor with laughter !

It was only when I spoke to her a few days later that I realised that she was actually very serious in her demands for a total news blackout.

She, just like all the decent innocent people out there, has had it with the constant barrage of bad news invading our lives, round-the-clock, from every corner of the globe. With the full wrath of the Israeli war machine focused once again on obliterating the Palestinians from the face of the Earth and Lebanon counting its dead after a 34-day bloody assault, which totally devastated its infrastructure and killed and maimed more than 1,000 of its citizens, I can hardly blame her for asking us to shelter her from all this carnage. Add to this, threats of terror in the air, aboard flights which at this time of the year would be full of families off on holiday or returning home and I too want to stick my head in the sand and shut off all the bad omens coming my way. If only there was a way of stopping all this madness!

There seems to be no good news coming from any direction. Things are just happening.

Locally, two young women were killed in Bahrain in the same week, bringing the country to a standstill as the size of the enormity of the crimes seeped in.

The following week, two teenagers lost their lives in a car crash which could have been easily avoided.

Regionally, Iraq and Afghanistan are literally in flames, with Iran and Syria supposedly next in line.

While politicians, war mongers and profiteers are beating their drums to the latest tunes of destruction, which are loud and clear for all to hear, we the general public, the non-terrorists, non-military combatants, are suffering - regardless of whether or not we are directly involved with the zones marked for total annihilation in the New World Order manuscripts. Whatever our beliefs, ethnic backgrounds, level of backwardness and ideologies, people are people.

We are all flesh and blood, full of dreams and hopes, smiles and tears and most importantly, we all deserve to live in peace! To the mercenaries and war-mongers out there, please leave us alone. Take your wars and destruction elsewhere!

*Amira Al Hussaini currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

Vol XXIX NO. 149 Wednesday 16th August 2006

Taxing time for doctors abroad...

So, 44 family physicians were threatening to go on strike if their promotion papers weren't finalised by the Civil Service Bureau?

Well, I am happy for them that they could collectively stamp their feet and get what they want.

While some of them are qualified enough and have worked for many years and deserve to be promoted to consultants, the sad fact about the Health Ministry's promotions criteria is that not all doctors have to complete the same levels of training to achieve similar steps in promotion.

While a surgeon for instance has to do a two to three-year fellowship abroad, a family physician gets promoted after completing a few years in service in Bahrain.

They don't have to travel abroad away from their homes and families and work in foreign hospitals to get the promotion they deserve.

They also don't have to live on salaries and allowances which barely cover the living expenses of students, let alone practising doctors with families and children, in countries much more expensive than Bahrain, which also have high tax rates.

I know for a fact that surgeons working at the Salmaniya Medical Complex for example are paid their basic Bahrain salary, plus a BD600 monthly allowance to cover their living expenses while on training abroad.

This is not a lot in a country as expensive as Canada, where taxes are as high as 14 per cent in some provinces and where apartments cost about BD600 a month!

The contract they have signed with the training department at the Health Ministry also stipulates that they aren't allowed to earn any other income during their training period, making them work for a much lower salary than their peers back in Bahrain.

Although family physicians get paid little more than their surgeon colleagues, at least they are being given their promotions - even if it is only on paper for the time being - without having to work abroad for less than entry-level doctors.

To tell you the truth, I really do hope that ALL doctors in Bahrain go on strike, for the working conditions and pay for those employed in the country's government hospital is appalling to say the least.

A study conducted by the Bahrain Medical Association last year showed that on average a Bahraini doctor earned about BD1.600 per hour, making them the least paid medical professionals in the Gulf!

With the introduction of the new cadre, the salaries of doctors, especially those at the beginning of their careers, have gone up, but they are nowhere near their colleagues in neighbouring countries.

In Canada, in the building where I live, the cleaning woman earns $60 (BD20.400) for dusting, sweeping and vacuuming a two-bedroom apartment - a job which takes about an hour!

She did not have to study hard all her life, sit exams, work awkward shifts day and night and put up with hospital politics - unless of course she was a doctor in Bahrain who has decided that cleaning apartments in Canada is more lucrative.

* Amira Al Hussaini currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

Vol XXIX NO. 146
13 August 2006

The things you see from outer space...

Bahrain sure looks amazing from space. All the fuss over the banning and unbanning of Google Earth made me, a woman with so much time to kill, spend a good 48 hours scrutinising each and every single span of land in my country.

Ban or no ban - nothing and no-one could have pulled me away from the computer!

I really never thought there was so much to see, discover and learn about Bahrain from a map.

But this map was no ordinary map. Google Earth offers maps and satellite images, which enable you to zoom into different areas and literally count the houses and cars on the streets.

When you zoom into Bahrain, you would be amazed to see how about 700,000 people are stacked one over the other in just a fraction of the land, with the rest going to waste.

Now I am no urban planner, but from the look of it and from the sizes of some of empty walled lands clearly visible from space, I don't see why 30,000 families are on the Housing Ministry's waiting lists for homes and lands in my country.

I also don't see why we carried stories last month about a Bahraini family living on the street and how a VIP, who did not want his name disclosed, 'donated' a villa for them in Hamad Town.

Echoing the words of His Majesty King Hamad, I now strongly believe that Bahrain is big enough for all its sons and daughters and the dream that every family would have a roof over their head should not be far from the truth.

Housing issues aside, I never imagined Bahrain could be so green from the sky.

Other than childhood memories of greenery around Adhari, where we used to go and catch tiny fish in the streams in the afternoons, I don't personally recall many green areas back home.

The satellite images have proved me wrong and I see that my country is green, greener than the green I turned into when I saw the massive expanses of gardens surrounding some of the villas in areas I didn't know existed before.

The satellite images also made me see how our quest for more land and reclamation have had their toll on the environment, with the effects of dredging clearly evident from the sky.

Other than raising those concerns, Google Earth made me flex some muscles on some of my Canadian friends.

I zoomed into the Bahrain Financial Harbour, the Bahrain International Circuit and the new tourist marvels - Amwaj Islands and Durrat Al Bahrain - to prove to those who don't know that we don't live in tents and use camels for transportation purposes!

* Amira Al Hussaini currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

Vol XXIX NO. 143
10th August 2006

Google Earth ban will send wrong signal

What signals are we sending the rest of the civilised world - if there is any such thing anymore?

Blocking Google Earth? Come on! Give me a break please!

What Bahraini moral value does such a site, which allows you to see satellite images of different places, break?

To block it re-emphasises the saddening notion that the state is in control of everything and anything you are able to surf on the worldwide web?

All it tells me is that people in Bahrain are treated like children, who cannot be trusted to use the Internet in a 'responsible' manner and whose usage and surfing habits should be monitored at all times, should they err and access information they have no business learning about !

It was only last week that a Bahraini doctor training here and I were killing time, zooming into our neighbourhoods in Bahrain, thanks to Google Earth.

She was fascinated to see an aerial view of Galali and the latest developments on Amwaj Island, while I moved the mouse down the main Isa Town road, all the way to my house and showed her the five-minute route I used to travel every day to my office at the GDN!

Seeing Bahrain from space was amazing and being so close to home and seeing the roads and buildings from so far away was a truly surreal experience.

In fact, it is the closest I can get to home, without actually leaving my couch!

Sadly, if the Bahraini authorities succeed in blocking Google Earth for whatever reason they would or would not give, my sisters and family back home won't be able to see what mischief I am getting up to in those faraway lands, where Internet access is not hindered with red tape or suffocated by a ridiculously

expensive billing system, ironically for a service which doesn't allow you to use the full spectrum of Internet services available.

Whether Bahrain cites security or moral reasons for blocking Internet sites, reality shows that the more you try to hide something, the more desirable it becomes.

I don't really know how many people knew about Google Earth in Bahrain before someone decided to clamp down on it, but I know for a fact that everyone in the country is now intrigued to see what all the fuss is all about.

I am also sure that my country's name is again becoming linked to news about the suppression of information and Internet censorship, which anyone who could switch on a computer and access the Internet could tell you is largely impossible nowadays!

* Amira Al Hussaini currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

Vol XXIX NO. 139
6th August 2006

Treatment of expat labour is shameful

No matter how hard I try and how much time I give myself to rein in my anger to calculate my thoughts before going on the offensive, I really cannot get around it.

Like thousands of decent people in and out of Bahrain touched by the tragedy of the 16 Indian workers killed in the Gudaibiya labour camp blaze, I cannot imagine how such a calamity can happen and we have the nerve to continue with life as usual, in a nation which prides itself on the upholding of human rights.

Aren't we now a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva?

Is it humane for 200 human beings to live up to 20 in a room, stacked up like sardines, in a building which lacks the basic fire and safety precautions?

Is it in line with the Human Rights Charter for people, even if they are Indian workers, to earn BD3 a day for construction work in a country where temperatures hit 45C in summer?

Does the International Labour Organisation sanction the illegal practices committed against foreign labourers in broad daylight in my country - with the full knowledge and even sometimes the blessings of officials, who go on to open one state-of-the-art building after the other, made possible by the sweat, blood and even lives of poor labourers?

This catastrophe, though waiting to happen for a long time, should have at least sent shockwaves down the backs of a spineless society, which calls itself democratic and forward-looking while continuing to profit on the backs of imported, often abused labour.

Shame! Shame! Shame! Other than the declaration that labour camps will be and should be inspected and the Public Prosecution's investigations into the case, I am afraid to say that the lives of those 16 labourers and scores of others before them in occupational accidents and similar tragedies over the years, have gone to waste.

Do you want to know why? It is because the labourers are Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Nepali and Sri Lankan.

Our labour practices show that they are cheap and for as little as BD40 a month they will slave day and night, without lifting a finger to demand more rights.

Their governments are slow to demand better working conditions for them and we as Bahrainis apparently see nothing wrong in exploiting them for as long as everyone is OK with it.

Don't you wonder why there weren't any massive rallies and protests to demand better living and working conditions for foreign labourers in our rally-happy Bahrain?

Oops.. I forgot! It is no longer legal for Bahrainis to stage rallies at will and even if it were, how many Bahrainis would take part in a demonstration to call for justice for labourers?

* Amira Al Hussaini currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

Vol XXIX NO. 138
5th August 2006

Arabs facing the might of Zionist propaganda machine

It's been more than two weeks since the bombs started falling on Beirut. Being away from home makes it more difficult to deal with such calamities, which hurt deep inside and leave the soul searching for answers and closure as the human suffering, death toll and aggression increases.

Remaining glued to the television, following stations which serve their own agendas and that of their Zionist masters and reading between the lines, offers no consolation for at such dark times as these, when you desperately need to be surrounded by family and friends to lament the loss and collectively share the feelings of shame and guilt hanging heavy on our heads.

Yes. Shame and guilt, for we as Arabs have let the Levant down and the rest of the world has followed in our footsteps and trampled upon the sovereignty of people who have existed since time immemorial.

Just like at a funeral, the presence of dear ones soothes raw pain, initiating a healing process and providing a support cushion which one can fall back on, with the full knowledge that others too are going through the same motions.

Just when I thought that I was all alone at the funeral, a friend called from New York, worried about her sister, who is trapped in Lebanon.

She said she couldn't leave the television screen and had her phone in her hand, waiting for news and the safe return of her sister to the US.

Like many others who know I am married to a doctor, she asked me about hypertension and how to deal with it. And as the expert, thanks to listening in on the medical conferences I have in my livingroom almost every evening when two to three doctors gather here and chat about their day at work, I asked her to take a break from television and the news for a few hours.

I wish I could do that myself, for just as the Lebanese are taking in the full wrath of the Israeli war machine, we here are bombarded with news from a different perspective, repeating to us in detail the suffering of Israeli civilians caught in the crossfire.

Watching television here and talking to people I meet in this little town has taught me once again that as reporters and writers we sure do play a role in forming public opinion.

Thanks to the might of the Zionist propaganda machine, almost everyone I have met has shown sympathy to Israel and its terrified civilians.

"What about the Lebanese and Palestinian civilians?" I question.

"Oh, they have brought it on themselves," is the arrogant answer.

Of course they have! They just woke up one morning in 1948 and decided to become the neighbours of an unlawful state usurped by blood-thirsty maniacs, with the blessings of colonial powers.

What annoys me the most is the fact that they have given themselves the licence to label others as terrorists, when they themselves started the cult !

* Amira Al Hussaini currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

Vol XXIX NO. 136
3 August 2006

At home away from home in Canada

With temperatures soaring back home, the number of Bahrainis in Hamilton has doubled this summer.

From a headcount of six (four doctors and two spouses, including my humble self), we are now a record 12!

With the picnic and barbecue season in full swing, two families have arrived to visit their relatives.

They may be the only ones with Bahraini passports I have located so far, but the truth is that they aren't the only 'Bahrainis' in our vicinity, which apparently is swarming with former Bahrain residents!

Our first encounter with a 'true Bahraini' here was when we were received at the airport by former Gulf Daily News sports editor Santosh Shetty.

He whisked us off to his home, where we were showered with love, care and lots of food prepared by his wife Sherry to suit our Bahraini palate, for our first five weeks in Canada. "Bahrain is heaven!" Sherry used to exclaim every two minutes, followed by "I love Bahrain!"

To tell you the truth, however hard I try to press my brain and remember, I haven't heard any Bahraini describe to me their home country in those exact terms.

Of course, we all love Bahrain, but the way Sherry sings laurels to my homeland beats anything I have come across.

What fills me with pride is that she isn't alone. Recently, an invitation came our way to spend an afternoon with an Indian family, who had lived in Bahrain for years. They had just bought a house and relocated to Mississauga, which is about 40 minutes away from us.

To be frank, I didn't have the stomach to meet new people and engage in polite chit chat, not at a time when the world was turning a blind eye to the suffering of millions in a region historically referred to as the Fertile Crescent and today reduced to a place where Muslims, Christians and Jews are once again at loggerheads.

Before I knew it, we were in their driveway and Dr K M Kamath was waiting with his wife Jaya at the front door, welcoming us into their house.

We were soon joined by a Pakistani couple, who had also lived in Bahrain until 1996 and the conversation naturally turned to Bahrain. While Dr Kamath's house was dotted with artefacts and paintings from back home, creating a mini-Bahrain surrounding, the warmth of their hospitality took us to the heart of Manama, where families sat together over meals and poured their hearts out.

"You will be surprised how I met my neighbours. I knew them in Bahrain but didn't expect to bump into them here," explained Dr Kamath.

"We came to see this house before buying it and my daughter pointed out a huge Bahraini flag hanging on the inside of the window of the house next door."

I went out to check my country's flag, which was still out there, proving once again the loyalty and love former Bahrain residents have for a country many of them still proudly call home.

Bahrain is indeed heaven and its fans, spread around the world, are its guardian angels.

* Amira Al Hussaini currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

July 2006

Vol XXIX NO. 128 Wednesday 26 July 2006

Lebanon 'facing its darkest hour'

LEBANON welcomes all the support it can get at this dark hour of need, Lebanese Special Envoy to the United Nations Nouhad Mahmood told the GDN.

He said all funds received would be handled by humanitarian organisations on the ground, which are working relentlessly to help tens of thousands of people caught in the crossfire and internally displaced by the continuing hostilities against his country.

Mr Mahmood was speaking to the GDN in a telephone interview following the launch of a UN appeal for $149 million (BD56.322m) in humanitarian aid for Lebanon to combat the worsening crisis gripping the country.

The appeal covers an initial period of response of three months in priority areas including food, healthcare, logistics, water and sanitation, protection and common services.

Of the $149m, $5m (BD1.89m) is being allocated from the UN's Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) for logistics, water and sanitation and healthcare.

"At present we need all forms of help, whatever they maybe - either bilaterally from governments to the Lebanese government or through local and international humanitarian relief agencies, working in Lebanon," said Mr Mahmood, who thanked Arab and Gulf countries for their solidarity, support and aid pledges.

"We have no complaints about the way Arab governments reacted to the crisis," he continued.

"The civilian stance towards the conflict and the pledges of support we are getting from civilian and humanitarian groups is a natural reaction to the atrocities we are facing.

"All the aid will go to humanitarian and relief groups on the ground, which are carrying the burden at present and working hard to help whoever they can reach.

"We would like to thank all those who stood up to help Lebanon at this difficult time.

"Our Arab brothers and the international community have rallied behind us before."

The Flash Appeal for Lebanon, which was launched at the UN, seeks to meet the needs of some 800,000 people over the next three months.

Funding for the appeal will enable aid groups to carry out programmes to feed, shelter and protect civilians caught in the cruel conflict.

"Lebanon is yet again experiencing devastating cycle of violence, with the civilian population caught in the middle," said a statement issued by the UN.

"With the conflict now in its second week, the humanitarian situation continues to worsen.

"Hundreds of people have been killed and more than 1,500 wounded.

"Moreover, an estimated 700,000 people have fled their homes, including some 150,000 people who have crossed the border into Syria.

"The conflict has also affected more than 100,000 people from 20 different countries who had been living in Lebanon, a large number of whom require assistance to evacuate.

"In Lebanon, ongoing hostilities between Hizbollah and Israel have resulted in the deaths of more than 350 people (45 per cent of them children, according to Save the Children) and more than 1,500 injured," added the statement.

Mr Mahmood also expressed his thanks to Bahrain and its people for their moral and financial support to Lebanon.

"The whole of Lebanon is in crisis now and thousands of people are displaced and facing a real humanitarian crisis," he said.

"All organisations collecting aid for Lebanon should know where it is going and even if the funds get to Hizbollah, everyone knows that they have a wide range of humanitarian aid and social programmes and it doesn't mean that they will use the funding for other purposes.

"What is more important than pointing fingers now is to stop the humanitarian crisis unfolding, obtain a ceasefire and halt Israel's expansionist plans in the region from seeing light."

Vol XXIX NO. 117 Saturday 15 July 2006

Who are these tired Mps trying to kid?

Amira Al Hussaini

Give us a break !" This is the heartbreaking call made by MPs as they prepare to wrap up a four-year term of fist fights, meaningless arguments and endless amusement to those of us following their petty exchanges.

While I totally understand that the marathon meetings may have put pressure on our esteemed MPs, I really don't know who to feel more sorry for, them or us!

Should my sympathy go to those paid people's representatives whose main goal seemed to be to fulfil their own private agendas, or the general public, whose hopes were dashed by theatrical performances which could grace the Broadway stage.

"Give us a break indeed!" I can hear the Bahraini public echoing in chorus in reply.

It will be especially loud from those of us whose voices have become hoarse screaming for sanity in a mad, mad world and urging MPs to live up to their role as representatives of the people and stop embarrassing a nation which had high hopes for democracy and transparency.

Off the top of my head, all I can think of is what a waste of valuable time and financial resources those four years have been in the progress of a modern nation like Bahrain.

Have we unwittingly over-estimated our democratic progress? Were the 2002 elections a trial-run for a better performance next time round, or a sample of what we are to taste for the coming years?

Is the performance of this assembly a reflection of the true level of Bahrainis and the expertise this nation has to offer a new democracy ? Did qualified candidates shy away, in order to stand back and make their presence felt come the next elections?

The answers to these questions and the outcome of the next elections lie in our hands, no matter what people supporting or boycotting the parliamentary elections have to say.

For the Constitution gives every Bahraini man and woman the right to make their voices heard and elect the most deserving candidate to speak on their behalf, in this 40-member parliament.

As candidates and voters, it really would be a shame if we let our nation down a second time by not standing for elections and ensuring that our voices count in bringing the most deserving candidates to office.

Sporting a beard and having affiliations and connections to Islamic societies don't make a candidate knowledgeable in legislation which has a direct impact on our everyday lives.

Being from the same tribe or ethnic background as the majority of constituents shouldn't also automatically guarantee a candidate a seat in parliament.

My only wish is that constituents use their votes wisely this time, for Bahrain certainly deserves much better than the sorry show our parliament has put on for four consecutive years.

If we are to have a repeat performance, perhaps democracy needs a break too, for it is pointless to add more insult to injury!

Amira Al Hussaini currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

Vol XXIX NO. 111 Sunday 9 July 2006

Still hooked... but not taking the bait

By Amira Al Hussaini

Long gone are the days when I could just call up friends, pick up some bait and drive to the Bahrain Yacht Club, where a humble boat was waiting to take us to nearby fishing spots to spend a few hours away from the office and the clutter of everyday life.

It really seems like a lifetime away, a previous surreal existence which I can only cherish as a fading memory, now that monotony, boredom, red tape and regulations suffocate every other breath I take.

Here in Canada, with winter, snow and dark unpredictable weather finally out of the way, I found myself walking around a pristine nearby park, which was dotted with chairs, trees which provide lots of shade from the scorching sun and delight, delight... lakes with the young and old trying their hands at landing the catch of the day.

You should have seen the smile, which moved muscles I no longer knew existed in my face and the tears which clouded my eyes, when I realised that I could once again lose myself in fishing, a pastime I took for granted in Bahrain.

My happiness was, as expected, short-lived after putting my journalistic curiosity into first gear and chatting up some of those fishing about the catch, gear needed and where to get the squiggly moving bait they were - to my disgust - cheerfully stringing onto their hooks.

"You new here?" asked an older man.

"Sort of. I was hibernating at home throughout the winter and the sun has brought me out," I sheepishly replied.

"Well, before you go out buying rods, bait and picking your fishing location, you will have to get a fishing licence," he advised.

A fishing licence? After my six-month quest to get an Ontario driving licence (which I now finally have), I really couldn't stomach the idea of studying for a fishing exam and then sitting a practical fishing test under the watchful eyes of an examiner, who secretly harboured sympathies for the hard-line animal protection rights fanatics.

No. It really wasn't as dramatic as I make it sound, but for a fee, you can seriously get a recreational fishing permit, available in two categories: one allows you to catch and keep three fish and the other gives you the option of keeping up to six fish - provided you don't fish every day!

The permit should be renewed annually and each person fishing should have his own permit, just in case an inspector passes by the creek you are looting in broad daylight.

These and other regulations are all available for people to read online before venturing outdoors to simply kill time killing fish and squashing live wriggly worms used here as bait.

Still want to go fishing? I don't know about you. As for me, I will pack my fish cakes and tuna sandwiches in a picnic box and spend what is left of summer soaking in the sun in the park, by the lake, surrounded by the fish killers.

At least I won't have blood on my hands!

Amira Al Hussaini currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

Humiliated in America for simply being Arabs...

Vol XXIX NO. 107 Wednesday 5 July 2006


Has your heart ever beaten so fast, you actually felt it pounding hard in your chest?

Have you ever been terrified even when you knew deep in your heart - the one beating with fear and anxiety - that you haven't done anything wrong?

Have you ever been paraded in a flock like cattle to the slaughterhouse in front of people following you with prying eyes, accusing you of things you have had no hand in?

Have you ever felt like you were Public Enemy Number One and had to smile extra hard just to show others around you that even if you are coloured and Arab-looking, you were still a normal, law-abiding, fellow human being?

A recent trip to New York, which is just across the border from where I now live, conjured all those feelings and much more in split seconds.

No matter how many horror stories you hear, nothing prepares you for the encounter with the awe-inspiring immigration officers who greet you with a frown at the border.

The reception is certainly worlds apart from the warm welcome Americans get when they visit our countries, except perhaps Iraq, where fundamentalists and other fanatics quite wrongly view the courageous liberators as mercenary occupation forces.

While I am in absolutely no position to debate the practices of the Homeland Security officers, in charge of investigating people entering the US from select countries, I would like to share with you the surreal experience of being paraded in front of hundreds of passengers, on the train which took me to the Big Apple for a short break.

First a shouting officer came on board yelling questions at us. I still don't understand why he was shouting and can only assume that he perhaps thought we were deaf, or was doing it for the amusement of his colleagues or the other passengers.

After all, he knew those travelling to Manhattan would be spending at least 12 hours on the train and needed some entertainment.

After showing him our return tickets and visas to the US, he confiscated our passports without telling us what was expected of us. Following about 40 minutes of suspense, another officer asked us to follow him to the back of the train.

On our long march, I saw the line getting still longer, with others pulled out from their seats.

Soon we were all in a room, where two officers were already screaming at an Indian, calling him 'dude' and 'yo' and threatening to send him to jail.

After further questioning, filling out forms, listening to everyone else being interrogated and embarrassed, finger-printed, photographed (Arab males were apparently so photogenic they had to be photographed twice) and three hours, we were back in our seats en route to our relaxing holiday.

What a way to start a vacation!

If I only had the authority and any respect for my citizens, I would have a shed outside every Arab airport and point of entry and give all visiting Americans a similar welcome, especially now that 'home-grown' terrorists have become fashionable in those parts.

* Amira Al Hussaini currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

June 2006

University dashes summer jobs hope for students

Vol XXIX NO. 91 Monday 19 June 2006

By Amira Al Hussaini

With Bahrain University shut for the summer, God only knows what its 20,000-strong student body will be up to in hot, smothering Bahrain this holiday season.

Surely not all will be privileged enough to travel to cooler climes to escape the boredom and heat and soak in the culture, arts, good weather, fresh air and change of scenery, to name a few of the benefits people get from holidaying abroad.

While some have parents who are ready to spend on them until they are well into their late 30s, many feel obliged to fend for themselves - especially in larger families where wallets are already stretched and parents are counting the days until their older sons and daughters graduate from university and help shoulder the burden they have carried alone for years.

For those poor souls, a family holiday is off the books and the wait for their dear ones to complete their studies and join the labour market will be a little longer, as without summer courses at the university many students have to wait for the beginning of the next academic year in September to resume classes and complete the credit hours necessary for them to graduate.

Personally, I never bothered myself with summer courses while studying at Bahrain University for I was lucky to land a summer job as an intern at the Gulf Daily News, which started in the summer of 1991 and continues to this day!

I took my own sweet time, working and studying at the same time, taking a good five years to complete my Bachelor's degree, which wasn't a waste of time really if you consider the fact that I have worked throughout that period.

I fully understand that I am not alone in this experience and that some of the students are already employed and are studying at the university part-time. Therefore, I cannot and should not presume that all 20,000 will be wandering the streets of the kingdom, twiddling their thumbs and scratching their heads with nothing much to do this summer.

But with no figures available, it is quite difficult to gauge just how many students will be embarking on new exciting careers or driving around aimlessly in Adliya and Exhibition Avenue, joining devil-worshipping cults or simply melting into the crowds that make the Seef District an off-limits area for claustrophobic people like me.

Unfortunately, Bahrain's soaring unemployment problem may mean that not many students will be able to secure summer jobs, especially those who made no early plans and were caught out by the university's decision to axe the summer course, as part of its cost-cutting plans for this year.

Funny enough, our robust parliament will also be off for the summer and I don't think parliamentarians would cut short their well-deserved break to discuss what mischief our youth could be up to away from their books and studies.

Well, at least they won't be attending mixed classes for two whole months.

What a real waste of resources!

* Amira Al Hussaini currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

Is this the face of Islam we want to project abroad?

Vol XXIX NO. 83 Sunday 11 June 2006


The circus has come to town. Seventeen people, including five minors, were arrested in Southern Ontario on terrorism charges, allegedly belonging to a Taliban-inspired terrorist organisation, plotting to bomb sensitive and commercial targets including the Toronto Stock Exchange and the Parliament in Ottawa, taking over a television station and last but not least beheading the Canadian Prime Minister!

How much of this is fact or the hallucinations of a demented mind is hard to determine now as the court hearings are continuing and the investigations, which have now spilled over to at least five other countries, are shrouded with secrecy in what has become today's hottest issue on all television channels and in newspapers.

The arrests came as a shock to many Canadians, including a family we were having dinner with on the same night the news made the headlines.

Considering that my husband and I were the only Arabs and Muslims in their living room, there were a few minutes of awkward silence until the size of the calamity which has hit otherwise peaceful Canada seeped in.

In a country that has worked hard to dissolve all and any of the differences between the scores of ethnicities and races which melt in its cosmopolitan pot, what many cannot understand is how can Canada breed its own brand of "homegrown" terrorists?

If those arrested have in fact planned to commit such atrocities, many find it difficult to imagine how citizens who were apparently fully integrated into Canadian society and were born, raised and educated here have turned against their countrymen and hold such extremist ideologies, which spew hate and destruction of the country that has embraced them and treated them as equals.

I don't want to jump the gun and sentence those still being heard in court, but in this mad, mad world, although such terror plots are mind numbing, they aren't impossible to imagine.

Muslim extremists have also openly shown their fangs and wholehearted support for similar unfortunate acts in the past.

If anything, such an endorsement of terrorism by extremists is exactly what has brought untold harm to the very religion whose principles they claim to be upholding.

Is this the face of Islam we want to project wherever we go? Are we really a bunch of lunatic hardliners, whose only obsession in life is destroying anything and everything that goes against our teachings? Isn't Islam the religion of peace, tolerance, compassion and mercy?

If convicted and found guilty, this entire episode is extremely disturbing as once again a handful of Muslims have tainted the reputation of the entire Islamic world and painted us all as terrorists.

Shell out for World Wide Web or go fly pigeons!

Vol XXIX NO. 78 Tuesday 6 June 2006


I sure don't understand what all the fuss with our national telecommunications company Batelco is all about.

So what if they have changed their Internet packages and the customer will have to dig deeper into his pockets to satisfy his quest to keep abreast with happenings in the developed and not-so-developed worlds, access information and news on taboo subjects that are not available in the mainstream media and waste his entire day freely downloading overpriced games, songs and movies (which are a total waste of time and energy if you ask me)?

For those who cannot and will not live without the Internet under the disguise that they need to keep in touch with business and personal contacts through their e-mails, MSN or Google Talk, I say tough luck!

Either live with the assigned threshold, pay more money or better still, get a carpenter to build a few cages on your rooftop and call the Pigeon Society of Bahrain (I swear they exist somewhere) for professional help on how to raise and train carrier pigeons, which could fly for thousands of miles carrying messages.

If kings, scholars, rebels and military leaders of epic and mystical proportions have used the flying rats for relaying crucial information before Alexander Graham Bell came up with his Satanic development - the telephone - I don't see why you can't use them effectively too.

Moreover, the bird flu scare is just a hoax and even if it was true, it won't happen in Bahrain for our efficient Health Ministry has taken all the measures possible to avert its outbreak in our beloved kingdom.

And even if the ministry's claims are shaky, our robust and alert parliament, which has been elected by the people and for the people, will surely look into the matter and come up with a foolproof plan to save the existing population and all future generations that will walk the land.

Health scares aside, caring for and breeding pigeons can be a very rewarding pastime. If you get young ones involved, it will surely distract them from dangerous pursuits they can learn about over the Internet, such as drugs, pornography and Satanic worship rituals.

You see, we can kill more than one bird with one stone!

Look at me here, all alone in boring Canada, with unlimited access to the Internet for about BD7 per month.

What did I do throughout the cold winter months? Bingo! Instead of going to ski resorts and making the most of the frosty spell, I spent all my free time indoors online, stalking friends, relatives and whoever else was available on the World Wide Web. Now I guess I will have to stand by my window, waiting for my pigeon to bring the good omens!

Amira Al Hussaini currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

Driven round the bend with red tape...

Vol XXIX NO. 75 Saturday 3 June 2006

By Amira Al Hussaini

I HAVE just returned from a written driving exam. Yes. To get a driving licence here in Canada and in many other parts of the world, wannabe drivers have to actually sit down, study and sit an exam, which will ask them about anything and everything ranging from weird road signs I have never ever come across in 15 years of driving to the permissible alcohol content in a driver's bloodstream.

They then have to spend two years driving with a licensed driver, before having to do a road test, which if and when they pass, could get their full licence.

Why am I sitting the driving exam six months after first arriving in Canada? Well, my laziness isn't the only excuse.

When I went to apply for a learning permit (stop laughing please) immediately after arriving here, I discovered that my name was spelt differently in my Bahraini passport from my Bahrain driving licence.

To tell you the truth, I was never bothered with how my name was spelt in English on official documents as all our official dealings were conducted in Arabic, so the blame completely falls on my head.

The Canadians rejected my licence as fake and asked me to come back with the "correct" documents.

I sent my licence to Bahrain to my sister, who dutifully went to the General Directorate of Traffic, requesting a new license with the correct spelling.

They referred her to the CPR office, which they said should change the spelling in their documents before a new licence could be issued.

To cut the story short, the CPR threw the ball back in my court, saying that I have to be there in the flesh and blood to complete the transaction - without offering to pay for a first class return ticket to Bahrain! Canada isn't exactly around the corner, but then who cares?

When I returned back to Bahrain earlier this month, the first place I visited was the CPR office.

I got a new CPR with the spelling on my passport, which is by the way not how I spell my name, but then who is really bothered with what my preferences are?

Upon my return to Canada, I went again to the Driving Centre and applied for a licence, this time with two other Bahrainis who have just come to town.

We all produced stamped certificates to the centre, stating our names and years of experience, along with our Bahrain driving licences and passports.

The fussy lady at the counter accepted the documents, but after further scrutiny, returned them to us saying that the signatures on the letters weren't the same!

We explained to her how we had no control over who signed the documents at the Bahrain Traffic Directorate and since we got the letters on different dates, it could be that the officer in charge of signing them was either on holiday, has been promoted, demoted or even perhaps retired!

After checking with her boss and a lot of confused looks, and just as I was debating in my little head the best dates to return to Bahrain to get the correct certificates, she came back to us handing us our exam questions.

Phew! That was close. A driving licence is certainly a privilege here and not a right!

* Amira Al Hussaini currently lives in

Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

March 2006

Pitfalls of a borrowed lifestyle...
Vol XXIX NO. 7 Monday 27th March 2006

By Amira Al Hussaini

News that demand for personal loans has fallen from BD681.3 million in 2004 to BD656.2m last year must have been welcomed with relief in many quarters - except banks of course!

Who would want to see his profits drop, even if it was an indicator of a number of things, including perhaps that people have started to realise the dangers of the vicious circle of being in debt, the futility of trying to keep up with the richer Johns, or have become so poor that no bank will risk giving them loans.

A number of banks have actually expressed their disappointment, blaming the Bahrain Monetary Agency for the fall.

While it doesn't take a genius to figure out the reason for their dismay, I find myself thinking how long will the Bahraini society continue to survive on loans, with many living way beyond their means to sustain false appearances.

Many youngsters, myself included, took the bait and reaped the short-term benefits of loans early on in their lives, only to regret it later as the repayments became a burden and one loan led to another, spanning a few decades to pay off.

I personally had to take a loan to buy myself a car at the beginning of my career, since every job demands transportation. As I climbed the ladder, I thought I needed a better car, to reflect my new status, if not my salary!

This called for another loan, even though I hadn't completed the first loan and you would assume that once bitten, I would be twice shy.

Since I had already borrowed money and was in debt, there was no harm in adding insult to injury and treating my mother to a new car too.

Well to say the truth, she deserved it and I shouldn't be bragging about it years later.

As I was already up to my eyeballs in loans, there would really be no chance for me to see the world and enjoy myself without having to borrow more money.

So a third loan sealed the deal and booked me holidays to Europe and the US, which I still boast about today - without mentioning that my travels and expenses were made possible thanks to bank loans and not my ingenuity in saving money.

Needless to say, I never enjoyed the thrill of a full salary as it was distributed as soon as it was deposited in my account, while the banks doubled, tripled and quadrupled their profit at the expense of fools like me who always think they have made a great deal, when in reality they have been taken for a ride!

* Amira Al Hussaini currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

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A giant leap forward for Bahraini women...
Vol XXVIII NO. 357 Sunday 12th March 2006


I have already circled September in my calendar! I know exactly where I will be and what I will be doing.

It is a date which every Bahraini should be proud of as a Bahraini and Arab woman will for the first time assume the role of president of the United Nations General Assembly.

Shaikha Haya bint Rashid Al Khalifa will be the second woman to hold the post in its 61-year-old history, after Angie Brooks of Liberia, who was president in 1969.

Congratulations Shaikha Haya on this great achievement, which is truly a huge leap in terms of showing the rest of the world the high calibre of Bahraini women and the heights they have reached.

We have indeed come a long way.

I hope this will answer all the questions people ask me about women in my country.

For if the picture is not all that perfect, there is great hope in the future with two female ministers and finally a woman president of the UN General Assembly.

It is a gain of such a great magnitude it is sure to generate interest from around the world about Bahrain in general and the status of its women in particular.

The responsibility placed on Shaikha Haya's shoulders is indeed huge, as the world's eyes will be focused on her during her tenure.

She will be responsible for running the General Assembly, attending endless meetings and facing the questions of some of the world's most seasoned journalists in one Press conference after another, to name but a few of the challenges ahead!

While I wouldn't want to be in Shaikha Haya's shoes, as I am more comfortable covering events from the sidelines, the post of General Assembly president is an unenviable one which I am sure she has already been briefed about and ready to deal with its realities, come September.

This takes me back to days when I was a cub reporter and won a scholarship to the UN to cover the proceedings of the 49th General Assembly meeting almost 10 years ago!

Being in the General Assembly hall was daunting to say the least. But heading the meeting is another story altogether.

Thank you Bahrain for placing your trust in a woman and showing the rest of the world our civilised face, which I am more than sure Shaikha Haya would be able to project, given her earlier performance as our ambassador to France.

It is indeed a bright page in Bahrain's modern history.

* Amira Al Hussaini currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

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Family law opponents living in the dark ages


NO. 356 Saturday 11 March 2006

Bahrain is once again making the headlines for hosting the biggest event in racing history - and it is the number one race on the Grand Prix calendar.

While thousands of people are working behind the scenes to make the event a success, a smaller number of locals are openly rallying support for a demonstration to coincide with the race - to call for banning the newly drafted Family Law, which seems to be getting closer to reality by the day.

What is it they are calling for exactly? A race against time and a trip back to the dark ages?

Have we gone totally mad in Bahrain or it is just me getting negative vibes from everything happening back home?

What are the turbaned clerics against exactly? A written codified personal law which guarantees the rights, responsibilities and duties of every member of the family?

Or the fact that the carpet will be swept from under their feet and they will lose the unchallenged control they have over people's life and destinies?

The fact that we are in the year 2006 and there isn't a written law to safeguard family rights is a joke, especially when legislators are busy calling for covering up mannequins and segregating institutes of higher education.

They could have better used their time and our public funds on discussing more worthwhile issues.

Why is a family law such a threat to the clergy and men in general? What are the side effects they are so worried about? How will it upset the family unit in Bahrain?

What will outlining what the duties and rights of the husband, wife and children in line with Islamic Sharia upset the clergymen so much?

And what baffles me is why have so many women gone out on the streets to demonstrate against a law which will finally give them recognition as wives and mothers - and some standing in a court of law, which will have a written code of conduct and not depend entirely on the whims of one man?

Sigh! The future looks bleak indeed if we have reached crossroads where our people are actually rallying behind oppressing women and not giving mothers and children their legal rights, as ordained by the Holy Quran and Islamic Sharia.

*Amira Al Hussaini now lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

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How women footballers are scoring over men


NO. 355 Friday 10 March 2006

Bahraini women have once again shown the rest of the world their resolve, dedication and ability to score even better points than men!

Although I am anything but a football fan, I can't deny how excited I was with the news that my countrywomen have brought pride to the kingdom by winning the first Arab Sevens Football Championship in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

How I wish I was with the spectators on the stands, cheering and rallying behind them!

To think that Bahraini women are enjoying a popular team game such as football - practising, running, sweating, beating teams from other countries and clinching a trophy is laudable to say the least. You rock, girls!

Winning a regional tournament and being named the first Arab ladies in football, of all games, is a great achievement.

The challenge is now to remain on top, continue to bring in more trophies and encourage more women to get involved in sports, for life should include recreational activities and fun - as all work and no play makes Jill a dull girl!

My only hope is that women athletes would be able to share the limelight with their male counterparts and benefit from the spoils allocated for developing sports activities in Bahrain.

I completely understand the sensitivities among the local community of seeing women dressed in sportswear and exercising en masse in public and have no objection against it, as it is part of a code of traditions and behaviour that we should respect.

What would be fitting is to see women-only clubs and recreational facilities opening up, which include football pitches, tennis courts and squash and badminton areas - to name a few - to encourage more women to have a life and get involved in sports and other activities.

Sport will not only boost their morale, but also help fight off extra pounds, which many of us have amassed over the years simply because sports and outdoor activities have been exclusive to men in a society which has for long frowned upon women who run, jump and toss balls.

Our aspiring women politicians too can learn something from our budding women's football team and make the headlines, come the October parliamentary elections - for it is with hard work and sincere effort that many of us can achieve their dreams.

*Amira Al Hussaini currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

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Sales ban on Doulos senseless
Vol XXVIII NO. 351 Monday 6 March 2006

By Amira Al Hussaini

It is great to see common sense prevailing at last and the Doulos being allowed to sell books!

But I still cannot bring myself to understand the rationale behind the decision to allow the world's largest floating bookshop to dock at Mina Salman, but ban it from selling its books!

It was like chopping someone's hand off and giving him a pen!

What have we got against the written word? Wasn't it the Holy Quran that ordered the believers to read? Wasn't it Prophet Mohammed who instructed his people to seek knowledge?

Why was the Doulos allowed to call on us, if we were to snub it and show the rest of the world our fangs and our "great sensitivity" towards books as if they were the plague?

Why were people who read in Bahrain herded like horses to water, but denied to drink from it? It's not like we are spoilt for choice when it comes to books in Bahrain so that the floating bookshop posed a threat to local businesses.

The sad fact is that if anything, we need more cultural activities and books to encourage people to learn, expand their horizons and fight intolerance and backwardness.

Revising the decision will not eradicate it overnight, but is a step in the right direction.

A quick search on the web exposes a sad reality, not only in Bahrain, but in the rest of the Arab world.

According to the 2002 Arab Human Development Report, Arab countries produced 6,500 books compared to 102,000 in North America and 42,000 in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Citing Unesco figures, the report says that book production in Arab countries is only 1.1 per cent of world production, although Arabs make up 5pc of the world's population.

To add insult to injury, Arabs produced no more than 1,945 literary and artistic books, making up 0.8pc of international production.

This is less than a country such as Turkey produces - with a population about a quarter of that of Arab countries, according to the report.

What a shame!

I will never forget how, after every holiday abroad, my bags were searched at Bahrain International Airport - not because they contained contraband items, but because they were full of books that made custom officers jump up and down with excitement!

The fact that the books were in English and contained very little graphics made them ponder on them longer than they would with other items, until I intervened and told them they were for my studies.

And I wasn't lying, for it was from books that I have learned more than I have at school, university and my working experience - all put together.

*Amira Al Hussaini currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

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Allowance a massive relief for homeless families

Vol XXVIII NO. 350 Sunday 5 March 2006


For the 40,000 families on waiting lists for government housing, there can't possibly be better news than the BD100 monthly windfall promised by the Premier.

While the amount will go a long way towards helping them meet increasing rent and possibly even afford better accommodation, I can't bring myself to imagine the costs the government would have to shoulder to meet this gesture, considering housing projects are coming up at snail's pace and the waiting lists and periods are, if anything, just increasing.

But it is a gesture, which once again reinforces the government's commitment to ensuring a decent dwelling for every Bahraini family, as stipulated in the Constitution.

Because of a lack of lands, haphazard planning, poverty, unemployment and the sad reality that there are so many dilapidated homes - which I will not bring myself to call slums - in many areas of Bahrain, it brings hope to many impoverished families which would otherwise have to continue stomaching appalling living conditions.

It is a remedial measure, which will at least help many families make ends meet and move to better accommodation.

It will be particularly helpful for the swarming families, who live like sardines in one room in an ancient family house that is too shocking, but accepted as reality in many villages and even towns in Bahrain.

BD100 a month will help them rent another shanty dwelling, which they will finally be able to call home, as they continue to wait for their promised home.

I really wouldn't want to be in the shoes of housing officials in Bahrain, for the issue is really a sticky one.

Most lands are privately owned, land prices are escalating at breakneck speed, the harsh arid desert climate is taking its toll on existing homes faster than government homes are actually being built and people are getting more and more frustrated with the long wait for a refuge, which will elevate their status from sardines to people who can at last aspire to dream of a better tomorrow.

For all the pessimists out there, who think that this gesture is another cosmetic fixture to appease the disgruntled, I say that something is surely better than nothing.

It is a laudable move that will enable the poor to breathe a sigh of relief at last.

My only hope is that the government itself deals with paying the deserving citizens their housing allowances in a transparent and systematic manner as soon as possible and not leave it to parliament or the municipal councils to fight over.

*Amira Al Hussaini currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

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Caught in the web of Internet rip-off...
Vol XXVIII NO. 347 Thursday 2nd March 2006

BY Amira Al Hussaini

Batelco is doubling its authorised capital from BD100 million to BD200m! Hurray! What does this mean to me and you and all the other consumers under their mercy?

Will it mean lower phone and Internet bills?

I doubt it, not as long as their profits are climbing steadily - despite the "increasingly competitive telecommunications environment" if I am to use the words of its chairman Hassan Ali Juma.

But let's face it, telecom companies are the same the world over and as a lucrative business, their primary concern isn't to bring you closer to your dear loved ones as much as to bring them closer to your dwindling purse.

When we first arrived in Canada, we shopped for a few weeks for the best telephone deal.

With all the promotions and competing companies that was possible, even encouraged by companies, which actually give you the chance to compare their rates with the competition.

I opted for the $25-a-month unlimited local calls mobile phone - one for me and another for my better half.

I was cursing and swearing for the first month about how much I have been ripped off for years when I now have a better deal for a much lower price. That was until the first bill came. It was a whopping $200!

Angered at being taken for a ride again, I picked up the phone and called the company, explaining in as many words as I could put in a sentence how enraged I was.

What on earth was I thinking? Did I really think I would get a deal from a telecom company?

They said there were installation charges, connection fees, a fixed amount for caller ID, charges for receiving overseas incoming calls, another few dollars for ability to access the emergency number and other miscellaneous charges I would rather not draw the attention of telecom providers in Bahrain to - and all this multiplied by two! Oops!

And before I forget, there is of course the 15 per cent tax on almost everything here, including your phone bill.

But like it or not it is necessary and without it, I frankly feel naked, lonely, insecure and vulnerable to almost everything.

It is my guardian angel and the only means in which I can get access to my family and friends with the click of a button until I get home and make myself comfortable on my sofa and log on to the Internet!

This is where a new world opens, hugs me with its open arms and throws me into the heart of my Isa Town home - where my family huddles around the PC listening to me and seeing me live, doing monkey faces and relating to them how good or bad my day went.

My one-year-old nephew Ali thinks I actually live inside the computer, which I really do, waiting for the minute my loved ones come online - when Batelco's servers are having a good day!

* Amira Al Hussaini currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

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February 2006

Silence over abuse of women is shameful
Vol XXVIII NO. 344 Monday 27 February 2006

By Amira Al Hussaini

Once again, a newspaper report draws our attention to some of the injustices women in Bahrain - and much of the Arab and Islamic world - suffer when their rights and dignity are stripped away, for no other reason than that they are women.

I realise I keep repeating myself and I sometimes wonder whether my comments serve a purpose, or whether they all fall on deaf ears.

No woman deserves to suffer the indignity brought to our attention of a 38-year-old Muharraq widow, who is being threatened with becoming homeless overnight.

Whatever the reasons for the feud with her in-laws, she is a mother with children, whose destiny was to lose a husband at such a young age and face the dilemma of not having a roof over her head, where she can live in peace or do whatever she chooses to do with the rest of her life.

Instead of rallying behind her, for her circumstances are cruel, her in-laws are making her life a living hell, with beatings and abuse, not only for her but her daughter as well.

So what if she brought men to fix the pump at home?

Instead of attacking her, the incensed brother-in-law, who happens to live in the same house, should be asking himself why he had not been the one responsible for fixing the broken pump.

For him and his wife to gang up against the helpless family is unacceptable and for the police to turn the grieving widow away, without as much as investigating the case and showing the attackers that there still is some law and order, is appalling.

I am happy a lawyer has intervened in this particular case, but my heart bleeds for all the other women, whose voices and cries don't reach us because they suffer in silence in a society which is adamant in treating women as second or even third-class citizens.

Law-makers, the government and parliament should take a closer look at atrocities being committed against women every day and should ask themselves whether they are doing their jobs properly, when half the country's populated is wronged.

Ownership laws should change in Bahrain if we are to aspire to empower women and give them their rightful place in society.

A home should be jointly owned by the husband and wife, for it is paramount for the stability and security of the family as a whole.

For society to wash its hands of such atrocities being committed against helpless women and girls is ridiculous and for us all to watch injustice committed and keep our lips sealed is shameful.

*Amira Al Hussaini currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

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That magic oasis of peace has disappeared!
Vol XXVIII NO. 337 Monday 20 February 2006


Nothing warms the heart this winter more than meeting former Bahrain residents and reminiscing about the Bahrain they knew until they left - the land of peace, calm and tranquillity and where the hospitality and friendliness of Bahrainis smothers you to death.

It fills me with pride and joy to know that Bahrain has carved a niche for itself in the hearts of all those who have passed by the Land of Dilmun and experienced life as it was in that magical oasis of peace.

"But what is happening in Bahrain now?" asked a man, who left Bahrain in 1995.

"What do you mean?" I answered, trying to sound as naïve as I possibly could without laughing.

"All the attacks on foreigners," he ventured to explain.

"It isn't that bad, just isolated incidents," I replied, trying to steer the conversation to another topic.

"And all the stabbings and armed robberies," he pressed.

"What stabbings?" I interrupted.

"You know. Locals stabbing expats!" he said.

"No, I don't. And no society is immune to crime."

All of a sudden the friendly Bahrainis have become knife-wielding vandals going about stabbing and attacking expatriates, as a part-time job or a form of recreation, I presume.

As much as such generalisations annoy me, what annoys me more is the fact that workers are being attacked and the incidents are brushed aside as if nothing had happened.

The perpetrators aren't punished simply because those victimised do not have the protection necessary to make them equal in front of the law.

Over the previous two weeks, two attacks were reported in the GDN. One involved a Nepali employee attacked by a Bahraini at Al Muntazah Supermarket in Hoora, for no reason.

The other was about an Indian driver dragged out of his minibus and punched by a local, following an accident in Salmaniya.

Would those two have been attacked had they been locals? Would the man involved in the accident punched the driver had he been a Bahraini, wearing a thobe and driving a Mercedes?

They would have thought twice, just as they should have done if they had any respect for themselves and understood the gravity of their actions and how they are interpreted by people around the world.

Violence is an unacceptable form of dialogue and as such should not be tolerated, if we are to protect the reputation of our country.

Whatever happened to reasoning, in a civilised manner?

* Amira Al Hussaini currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

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Why do men in uniform think they are above the law?
Vol XXVIII NO. 335 Saturday 18 February 2006


The sheer arrogance of some people baffles me. It really gets to me, especially when it comes from people wearing a uniform.

Wearing a uniform should be a declaration of loyalty to a code of ethics and conduct, be it the white coat worn by doctors, school uniforms enforced upon students, the khaki worn by policemen or the fatigues donned by soldiers.

Each represents the duties and the code of ethics and conduct the person wearing them has sworn to adhere to and which they should live up to, in or out of uniform.

For instance, a doctor is still committed to saving life, with or without his white coat and a policeman is still responsible for upholding the law, in or out of uniform.

This is exactly why I find myself outraged at a Yemeni soldier in Bahrain, who stabbed a Moroccan woman after a scuffle at a hotel, then arrogantly boasted that since he was working at the BDF, he was above the law.

He reportedly stabbed the Moroccan woman several times, after a dispute over money, in a Manama hotel.

"The man was saying how proud he was for being Yemeni and working for the BDF and continued to say how he is not scared for doing what he did because he knows that he will be set free for being a soldier," the hotel's security manager told the GDN.

I am in shock over his remarks and also hurt to see an immigrant worker, who has come to my country to earn a decent living, utter such nonsense and flaunt all the things we really believe in like justice and right and wrong, just because he is wearing a uniform.

Is he really above the law for being a soldier? Will he be set free as he arrogantly boasts?

I certainly hope not and I really do hope that the ministries of Defence and Interior take those allegations seriously, to bring back some respect to the police and army.

Bringing back respect to men in uniform is a national duty and can only come about by more openness and a serious effort to punish those who think they are above the law.

This is imperative, if we are to put our trust in men and women in uniform.

Otherwise, all is lost in a country which upholds the doctrines of democracy and human rights and wants to show its sons and daughters that the law is applied equally to everyone.

* Amira Al Hussaini currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

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Unfaithful Valentine given the bird by pet Ziggy...
Vol XXVIII NO. 328 Saturday 11th February 2006

BY Amira Al Hussaini

With Valentine's Day around the corner, there couldn't have possibly been a better time for one particular story to hit the headlines.

I can actually see men and women queuing up at pet stores, booking parrots as gifts for their loved ones.

Chris Taylor, of Leeds, England, thought his lover Suzy Collins was faithful, until their big-mouthed parrot ratted her out.

The couple was cuddling on the sofa when Ziggy the African grey suddenly sqawked: "I love you Gary".

To add insult to injury, the parrot also made smooching sounds every time the name Gary was repeated.

Ms Collins admitted that Gary was a lover she had been making hay with at home while Chris was out.

As a result, the girlfriend was booted out, along with the eight-year-old parrot, since Chris could not stand to hear him repeatedly calling Gary's name.

What really surprised me though is that Chris did not see any tell-tale signs, especially as the couple were conducting their affair at his apartment.

It must have been a rude awakening when Ziggy let the cat out of the bag, proving without doubt that parrots and not just dogs can be a man's best friend.

But there is a lesson to be learned from Chris' heartache - animals are more faithful than humans.

Having grown up in a household full of pets, I find this story amusing to say the least.

The pets we have had and still have are a source of great joy for all of us.

The parrots we have had and still have didn't create family feuds and our Persian cats were mute.

My hamsters would sometimes create a racket, but they didn't reveal anyone's secrets and my turtles, bless them, were oblivious to their surroundings. The most hilarious creature to walk into our house was the aptly-named Iguana, who made heads turn and squeamish girls scream their heads off when it as much as moved his head.

One day, Iguana decided to inspect our neighbourhood.

Before long we had our neighbours knocking on our door screaming, that our 'dinosaur' had escaped.

I wish they had done the same when one of our cats went out for a stroll.

As soon as it stepped outdoors, someone snatched it, put it in a cardboard box and went running off to sell it at the Isa Town flea market.

Amira Al Hussaini currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

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Parents' ignorance could have cost child's life...
Vol XXVIII NO. 323 Monday 6th February 2006


I am so annoyed and disgusted at the sheer ignorance of some parents, who would rather see their children die than allow medical intervention to save their lives.

I couldn't believe my eyes yesterday when I read the GDN's report of the Sitra parents who refused to let doctors operate on their five-year-old despite being diagnosed with appendicitis.

Doctors had to snatch her away from her parents and operate on her without her loving parents' approval, five days after she was first diagnosed and her parents refused to allow the doctors to do their work.

Had this happened in the West, there would have been a major outcry.

The police, social services, child rights groups and every Tom, Dick and Harry would be up in arms, calling for the rescue of this poor child.

But our civil organisations seem to be a tad too busy waging war against Denmark than looking into more pressing issues at home.

I really can't understand what was going on in her parent's head, but their excuse that operations were conducted unnecessarily is so lame, adding insult to injury.

This is a government hospital. Doctors don't get paid per patient. Doctors don't even get paid proper doctor wages, compared to other doctors in the region.

It is also a central hospital, where doctors don't perform surgeries as a recreational activity.

Had it been a private hospital, I would have been more sympathetic towards the parents.

But turning down free surgery that would have left a scar and meant immediate relief to a child in pain? This is really unbelievable.

I just feel like screaming. People like this baffle me and being of a poor background and from a village is no excuse.

A parent is a parent is a parent. How did they bear their daughter's screams and pain for so long without doing the right thing?

Why did they return to the same hospital again, if they knew deep in their heartless hearts that the operation was unnecessary?

How could they have sat back seeing their child in agony for so long, before budging and coming down from their lofty towers and seeking help from the same hospital they refused treatment at earlier? Why didn't they seek a second opinion?

And how do they feel now that their daughter, a young innocent child who had no say on what had fallen upon her, is lying in a critical condition in intensive care at Salmaniya Medical Complex.

Some people would do just anything to get children of their own, while to others it obviously means nothing to lose a child.

Or is it because she is just a girl? Had she been a boy, would the attitude of her parents been any different? Just wondering.

*Amira Al Hussaini now lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

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Parliament proceedings have never been a big draw

Vol XXVIII NO. 321 Saturday 4 February 2006


It is no wonder that advertisers are shunning Bahrain satellite television and Channel 38, whenever Shura and parliament sessions are being broadcast.

Even though I haven't conducted any research, I am sure they are right in anticipating a low target audience.

Personally, I have never seen anyone rush home, the way they do here when yet another season of American Idol or Survivor starts, to tune into the latest discussions at Shura or parliament.

I can't help but laugh when I hear that MPs have actually spent their precious time drafting a request to have their sessions broadcast in full, which is customary in many countries around the world, where parliaments really debate and reflect society's woes, concerns, needs and worries.

Even then, the average Joe isn't very keen to know what legislators are going on about, but Bahrain's unique experience and the quality of some of our representatives could draw attention and make a few jaws drop and tickle some, should the MPs manage to make their long-cherished dream come true.

Having covered the sessions for years, I understand the concern of advertisers.

Even journalists were caught dozing off and trying hard to suppress their yawns, as one honourable member after the other repeated the same argument, using more or less the same words.

My biggest concern after covering each session was facing the music from the deputy editor, who would cross-examine me as if I had control over what they discussed and not.

"Is this all they had to say ?" he would ask.

"Yes," I would reply, not knowing what else to say to hide my complete disappointment and even embarrassment at the level of some of the discussions.

"Didn't anyone stand up and challenge this?" he would continue.

"No. Not really," I would tell him, fully understanding his exasperation at the childish amateurish exchanges we had to sometimes report.

I used to envy television reporters covering the sessions, because they just had to broadcast what they filmed and not try to decode some of the encrypted messages uttered by the members.

Giving television audiences 90 minutes of sessions, which sometimes exceeded five hours, is enough punishment I suppose, especially when many members echo each other and rarely come up with something new, outrageous or even ridiculous to say.

When this does happen, television officials censor it, protecting the public from some of the fun we journalists used to experience first hand.

A better programme, which would guarantee a full house, would be a two-hour show summing up four years of squabbles, fights and heated exchanges between the members, as well as all the juicy scenes censored by Bahrain Television! It could even be dubbed "Bahrain's Funniest Home Movie."

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