From State to Kingdom

This story is the continuation of the story I posted on 12 October called  “My Valentine with Freedom” – 14th February 2011  Once again, the writer has written this particularly for this blog.

Growing up, satellites weren’t widely used by people; at least the community around me, and that consisted of middle and lower income families. We could get the two local channels, one in Arabic and one in English and if your TV aerial was working properly you can get the local channels of the neighboring states, Qatar, Saudi, Kuwait, Oman and the Emirates. 1999 to me is the year that everyone switched to satellites. Overnight, almost everyone I know had satellites. We were forced to. You see, the Prince, had a heart attack and died. So we had a week holiday to “mourn” and the local channels and those of the Gulf States all had Quran reading on them around the clock! All week! It was unbearable; he punished us, even in his death, this time with cruel boredom!

The new Prince ascended to the throne, people joked about his uncle’s contempt and desire to be the ruler instead of his young nephew, but no royal coup took place, the uncle resorted to remaining Prime Minister and controlling the economy at large while the young Prince took his time in the lime light and started moving to impress on both the internal and external level with empty promises. Of course, at the time people were wishfully thinking these promises were going to materialize.

As a naïve child, I assumed the best in people. I had hopes and dreams, I had watched all these cartoons about princes being different than their fathers and making things different for their people, so I secretly had a fantasy, that this Prince will be different, he will make our world different. Despite the fact that everything I grew up with and experienced in my short years told me otherwise and in spite of all the skepticism surrounding me about the future with the new Prince, I dared to dream in my heart.

In a year’s time, the Prince became a King! We went to school and all our books were changed, on the upper right corners of all the books where it usually read:

“State of Bahrain, Ministry of Education”
It read:
“Kingdom of Bahrain, Ministry of Education”

It was surreal for a while, countless jokes were made about a place as tiny as Bahrain being called a Kingdom, but we eventually got used it. There were other pressing matters; the King introduced the National Action Charter, to be followed by a constitution like that of 1973! The nation was taken over by debate; could they trust him? Should they vote for the NAC or should they boycott? Who’s going to work on the constitution? Even if all of this happens, is there going to be real application?

Of course, no one answered to those concerns and discussed anything with the people! What were you thinking? Royalty don’t go around taking your opinion, they simply put a project on the table and expect you to be grateful they even considered doing it. Then you must praise them and congratulate them for it, everywhere, on every page of every newspaper, for days on end, you must hail their wonderful ideas and forward thinking. Soon after the vote on the National Action Charter took place, people started comparing our King to Saddam; you see, it was declared that 98.4% of the population voted “YES”. This puzzled people who knew that those who boycotted the vote were definitely more than 1.6% of the population; so it reminded of Saddam who was hated by the largest segment of his people, yet he declared that he won elections by 99% of the votes. It kind of made me feel sorry for them, were they truly that self-absorbed and self-loving to believe or expect people to believe that these percentages are true? Such arrogance has always been beyond my understanding.

When the King changed the constitution and started adding royal decrees left and right to make it even worse, there was a lot of rage on the street. The young me heard a lot about how frustrating and infuriating that was, but at that moment in time it didn’t really sink in, I was busy being positive. I wasn’t positive about the Prince/King or anything political, I was only excited because I was looking forward to seeing my cousins! The Prince/King declared a pardon for all political exiles; they were allowed to come back!

I had two uncles who lived abroad, not by choice. They escaped the country in the early 80s, because had they stayed, they would have been arrested, tortured and/or killed. Those of their groups who couldn’t escape were sent to prison by the late Prince for up to 15 years, they faced all kinds of unimaginable torture. One of my uncles was older than father, the other was younger. The older one married a Bahraini woman, she travelled with him everywhere he went and they started their family together. Their children were born in more than one country, so they had lots of stories to tell. The other one married an Arab woman, whom he met abroad, and they started a family the same way. I saw my younger uncle for the first time when I was nine years old. They had just settled in his wife’s country, and we went to visit. He had a daughter my age and we became friends instantly. My older uncle, I didn’t see till I was eleven. He lived in a farther country, so the visit included me, mother and 3 of my siblings only. I became friends with his daughters instantly as well. When we left to go back home on both occasions, I felt a great sense of loss, I had all those cousins who were wonderful and I couldn’t see them easily. And my uncles were both kind and funny. They looked like father SO MUCH, it was freaky, but in a good way. I could see my feelings mirrored in father’s eyes, but that was presumptuous of me, now I realize his pain was a lot deeper and his loss much graver.

I wasn’t the only one who was distracted by the idea of the return of loved ones. My grandmother was just as taken over by anticipation as I was. We were the ones asking dad every day if my uncles are coming back or not. My older uncle had just finished building a house for his family, which he’d been working on for years, he bought the land with another Bahraini who lived with them and they shared it. My other uncle had started a small business in his wife’s country, so it was also a hard question for him whether to come back or not. Soon, my younger uncle came to visit, since he lived close by. We had a huge reception for them at my house, not the formal western style, the Bahraini crowded-home people-pouring-out-of-every-corner-you-can-think-of style. It was a day larger than life for me and I had so much fun. My father had a smile that I’ve never seen before on his face and my grandmother had tears of happiness for the first time in years.

She had always said that what blinded her was crying so much over being separated from my uncles. To a certain extent, that was true. Her eye sight lowered majorly after they left, leading up to that operation that caused her to lose it completely. They never even sued the doctor or complained to the Ministry of Health, they said mistakes just happened those days!

My grandfather’s old house was remodeled and fixed for my uncles to share. The family wanted them to feel welcome and reassured that they have a place in Bahrain. My younger uncle wasn’t going to come back, because of his business, but he did visit quite often. My older uncle, after much persuasion and pleas, finally announced he will come back. A year had passed since the pardon. He waited until the summer, so that his children were finished with school and they all came back. I still get the goose bumps when I think of the day they returned. We waited at the airport for hours as they finally landed and went through strict security detail. A whole bag of books that he had attempted to bring home was confiscated at their entry. But all of that didn’t matter, the trouble, the wait, the fear, all didn’t matter when father hugged his one year older brother, his childhood and youth companion, for the first time in 21 years. I don’t ever recall seeing him have a lighter expression or happier eyes.

For years I was so overwhelmed with my family’s reunion that I cared little for the political issues on the ground. Outside my pink bubble those who came back and those who saw change and progress on the way were all disappointed. Following the National Action Charter and the constitution mirroring a three-decade-old vision, the King and his democracy-crippling royal decrees making the situation even less promising and to many, it felt like outright deception. In years time I had my own experience of that deception and my pink bubble was burst violently to say the least. The chains around my pen won’t allow me to finish this part of my story, but one day, I am sure, I will be able to tell the world, about the lie that pierced my heart and the truth that changed my life, about life under a tyranny, and patience and hope for the day to overcome it. One day…

Many sunk into a skeptical existence, including me, and many others chose to work for progress. It wasn’t until I graduated high school and went to university that I began to believe in change again. Of course, I was still skeptical and very critical of the government, however, the change I started dreaming of was the kind that comes from the people, the only ones I believed in anymore. Everything I did from that point onwards was to contribute to changing myself and people, working on the little things, the basic principles and rights that if planted in people could one day blossom and make them see the world and themselves in a new light. I spent those short amazing years learning of people’s struggles for freedom around the world, suffrage movements, women rights, abolition of slavery and different forms of discrimination. The dreamer part of me hoped to use my learning one day and the skeptical part always assumed it’ll all just stay in my head. I never thought I’ll see the day where people, MY PEOPLE, will be marching in unison expressing all my dreams and the possibility of making up for our wounds and the wounds of all the generations before us.

To be continued…