Huffington Post, October 2, 2011
Posted: 10/02/11 05:00 PM ET
Sanabis, Bahrain — Lane 446 is one of the more restive areas of Bahrain, where the drama of dissent gets played out in a cacophony of senses. At night, the insults grate the ears, the rocks cause pain and damage, and the paint splayed against the police car is first a burst of color and then the guide for the firebombs. Horns are blown, taunts fired and the police push back.
The script now is locked, with a give-and-go, give-and-take that offers only the recurring tableau of hate and anger. By dawn, the light of the morning reveals the detritus of a neighborhood adrift. The garbage cascades into the streets, the simmering smells overtake and there is increased sense of isolation. The life of the people returns, but ever so less each day by a script they now live by habit more than choice.
It is a street, an enclave like this that makes the black and white arguments the easy shorthand for many, to state the claims on either “side” of Bahrain’s current political test. Gray in the reality of the solution but is not yet a strong enough color to burst through the maw.
Maybe it still can.
As Bahrain wheezes and convulses in its uncertain steps, the gray is slowly emerging more in the reports of those spending at least a little time letting all the senses embrace. Brian Murphy of the Associated Press reported, after a visit to Sanabis and the street struggles he saw, what he ponders of the angry youth. “But what they want is far less clear. They all denounce the stewardship of Bahrain’s king, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, yet have no alternative leader or plan to follow. The driving force of the moment appears to be trying to recapture the mass energy of Pearl Square during the first weeks of the revolt in February.”
Thus anger without a purpose. Foot soldiers for puppet masters with a greater agenda. Driven of course by personal desires, personal visions and inspiration from sources near and far. Legitimate anger, but anger vulnerable to manipulation, a truism in struggles around the world.
Now in these streets, it is the thing to do — fight. At a time when common ground needs to be found, the ground beneath the feet of those on Lane 446 is a mockery of the gray area where compromise and hope resides.
While critics claim that the government uses disproportionate force against protestors, there is also sufficient evidence that some of the protestors have violently attacked the police. There is graphic video attesting to each sides’ claims — yet selective viewing in order to prove one’s black or white point.
“People are talking at each other, not with each other – we need to emphasize that there were mistakes on both sides,” said Sheikh Mohammed bin Essa Al Khalifa, chief executive of Bahrain’s Economic Development Board. Or as Simon Henderson wrote, “So whether this battle takes place in the streets or at the ballot box, it comes down to rival narratives, and you can take your pick.”
There may be hope: Henderson discovered some shades of the gray area in the new candidates being elected. “Perhaps surprisingly, some middle ground and cultural diversity has survived the political polarization,” he reported.
The government has promised reform. Parliament is to introduce laws to tackle concerns about ministerial accountability and corruption. King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa has also asked an independent commission to investigate abuses and has formed a compensation fund.
October could prove to be the decisive month.
As soon as Monday, the government committee in charge of following up implementation of National Dialogue recommendations may announce the mechanisms and priorities to meet citizens’ expectations for reforms in the political, economic, social and legal categories.
Once the Cabinet approves the final report, His Royal Highness Prime Minister Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa will submit it to the King.
That starts the month. Looming at the end of October is the independent commission’s report on the actions and issues stemming from the protests in February and March. It is widely expected that the report will highlight abuses carried out by the security forces AND the protesters.
Not black and white, but the gray where both sides need to hear and accept to move forward. Those words will frame what is not being framed on Lane 446. Yet it will not be the words that decide how the gyre spins — but new actions by both and an end to old actions by some.
Tom Squitieri is a journalist and is also working with the Bahrain government on media awareness.