I’m back in America. Had an awesome time in Saudi Arabia and despite all the turmoil that is going on in the region right now, I felt safe the entire time and can’t wait to go back.
I went to Saudi Arabia to celebrate my dad’s 50th birthday which was the same day as the Bahraini revolution. As a gift to my parents I did not join my friend James in his trip over the causeway to Bahrain for the “Day of Wrath” “Day of Rage” “Revolution” etc etc. Part of me was devastated that I was passing up such an incredible opportunity but the other part of me wanted to do the right and safe thing. In the end I’m still not sure whether or not I made the right decision but I have a feeling I did…
If you have ever been to Bahrain, you know it’s this really fun, friendly country. Amazing shopping, fabulous restaurants, they serve alcohol, are BIG into family stuff with water parks and all that jazz. As a person of comparative privilege (which is probably everyone reading this), you probably would have no idea there was an issue there.
One of my last photos from Bahrain was from the upscale Monsoon restaurant. This is the Bahrain I know.
Something like half of the people living in Bahrain are ex-Pats. The disparity between classes is so extreme that you almost don’t even see it. It’s like at night time, you don’t notice the black of the sky but instead the white of the moon and stars.
Just look at the diners. The “Day of Rage” is literally only hours away and a restaurant absolutely full of ex-pats (and a small contingent of Saudi families), enjoy their dining experience as if nothing was going on.
Perhaps it’s this blissful ignorance that is partly at fault for revolutions like this having to happen. As someone who visits Bahrain a few times a year, I honestly had no idea that there were such issues between the majority of citizens and the minority leadership. I saw Bahrain as this wonderfully peaceful, rich in culture and wealth, island in the Middle East. I saw it as Saudi Arabia’s cooler little brother.
But I was completely wrong. Right? As of today at least three people have been killed by the government and their military has been armed and propped up by the Saudis (for their own protection really). The United States even has a military interest in the Bahraini people not getting their revolution (we have one of our major Middle East Navy bases there).
My friend was arrested in Bahrain for shooting photos of the protests without a permit. The following is what I was told happened from his dad to my dad to me so some of the details are probably way off.
He was roughed up, taken from the street into a car and then into a police office. When it was discovered he was America and where he lived (Saudi Arabia) they called the Interior Minister (the Prince) who took him from the prison to one of the Palaces.
In order to keep photographers, mainly American photographers, from shooting and reporting of the riots, the government was baiting them with the opportunity to meet with and photograph the King at the palace. There he would give a press conference and then there would be some sort of gala afterwards. Calling it a gala is probably a bit too much but you get the point.
The photos he took ended up getting into the New York Times which is awesome, though, sucks for me because between the two of us, until now I was the only one who had shot for the NYT haha. He left Bahrain and went back to Saudi Arabia after he was hit with an expired can of tear gas which he said was worse than a “good” can of tear gas (or so I hear).
I stayed in Saudi and then left the day after the Day of Rage.
As my driver took me from Saudi Arabia into Bahrain at 10pm February 15th, a few things were noticeably different. First, the King Fahd Causeway, which took four hours to get through the week before, took no more than 45 minutes from start to finish, all five check points.
The cost to enter Bahrain increased from free to 50 Saudi Riyals if you were visiting and then returning to Saudi Arabia or 20 Saudi Riyals if you were going to Bahrain to catch a flight out of the country. So, while both of these used to be free, now they are charging. This is to prevent people who are poor from being able to get into the country. The people most likely to protest are the poor and if they can’t even afford to get into Bahrain, well… you get the gist.
The streets were absolutely empty. Maybe five other cars on the freeways we took. A handfull of the exits into the villages and Manama were completely blocked off with either military vehicles or other barricades. We had to take a few alternate routes before we made it to the airport.
Considering it was a 1am flight, there were a lot of people at the airport. It was 5 o’clock traffic. The regular gates were full of people and even our first class lounge (thank you Petroleum Club) was near capacity. I was at this same airport four days earlier at midnight dropping my brother off and the place was nearly a ghost town.
It seemed clear that people were getting out of town. My last few days in the Middle East, my mom and I were relying on Twitter updates using the #Bahrain and #Feb14 hashtags to get up to date information on the situation. We were given incredible access to photos posted on Twitter, videos on YouTube and personal accounts of the events.
I will never forget the first photo I saw on Twitter, the user captured a photo of a police officer in plain clothes (next to a uniformed officer) the moment he fired his gun at the Twitter user. You could see the smoke still leaving the barrel as the photo was taken. I presume these were one of the rubber bullet armed guns. I wish now that I had saved that photo. It painted such an incredibly picture of what was happening in Bahrain.
What was most interesting to me though was how the Saudis didn’t think much of the entire thing. It was talked up as if it would be a few dozen people and that’s it. I think they were all surprised.
Anyways, I’m home safely in San Francisco. My mom left as well, she is in Texas. My dad, however, is still in Saudi chugging along as usual. So, we’ll see how this goes. I’ll keep you up to date if I hear any more. Thanks for your thoughts! Glad to be home, though for some reason, part of me was eager to stay.
- “”Saudi Arabia is very, very scared now.”” and related posts (reason.com)
- Unrest spreadin’ all over the world? (energybulletin.net)
- As Mideast seethes, 3 dead in Bahrain bloodshed (calgaryherald.com)
- Arab capitals braced for violence as unrest spreads (guardian.co.uk)
- Arab capitals braced for violence as unrest spreads – The Guardian (news.google.com)