Tag Archives: Bahrain

Losing the Pearl

The Pearl Statue, better known in Bahrain as the Lulu, was long gone by the time I got there in mid-April. The roundabout where it once stood, and where tens of thousands of protesters gathered to call for democratic reform from Bahrain’s authoritarian government, was a construction site. Red-and-white traffic barriers kept cars away. Taxi drivers refused to go near it. And heavy equipment churned through the old concrete and asphalt, reducing the squared to a dusty, empty field of debris.

When I heard that the Sunni-dominated government had torn down the statue which had become the centerpiece of the demonstrations by the largely Shiite opposition,  I was fascinated. There’s something very Hausmann-esque about destroying your own cityscape in the name of civic order. And something surreal about a decidedly ugly statue, with the bland, modernism beloved by police states, somehow becoming a genuine symbol. I look at the phenomenon in a story that ran in today’s Washington Post.

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Culture and Politics in Bahrain

It is not a happy time in Bahrain, especially if you belong to the political opposition, are Shiite, or any way were associated with the protests that began in February and were violently suppressed in March. Like many Gulf states, the rulers of Bahrain have invested heavily in what I call trophy culture, large museums, international events, even a Formula One race which was popular and prestigious. But culture is on the back burner as the government continues a vigorous crackdown on dissent.

I don’t say it in the piece which ran in the Washington Post today, but I worry that it might be true: Culture is very often an illusion.  The “culture” one finds in the Gulf feels false and fabricated, not just because it is an import and part of a public relations strategy. It’s false because it papers over the undemocratic, artificial structure of the society. Undemocratic countries obviously can have deep culture, but it is usually a vestige, a remnant. It is kept alive as a form of protest, or as a survival mechanism. But in the Gulf, there isn’t even a vestigial culture to be nourished. It is a commercial overlay, a mask. It felt that way in Bahrain.

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