It was an uncertain time for expats in Bahrain as the protest was brutally put down by the GCC armed forces, says D. RAVI.
A banner at the entrance to a popular park in Bahrain announcing a weekend carnival seems to also declare that the kingdom has put weeks of mayhem behind it and is back on its feet.
The sectarian upheaval culminated in the demolition of the Pearl monument (the protest spot), and what followed was an uneasy calm that has encouraged most of the expatriates to wait and watch. A fellow expat sums up the mood: “I feel as light as my purse” — now the anxieties surrounding the instability have shifted from personal safety to economic concerns.
With the crisis apparently driven underground, the government is now left with the huge task of infusing confidence in businesses and the citizens and expatriates alike.
I watched as the turbulence unfolded in mid-February, holed up in my apartment amidst a reassuring curfew, a huge army presence, hovering military helicopters and of course tweets that kept me informed of what was happening in the next street. But those who were caught in the sectarian flashpoint in many parts of Bahrain, especially in the streets of capital Manama, had to literally prop themselves against their front doors to hold back murderous assaults.
But stray incidents of murder and attacks on certain sections of the expatriates did spread a wave of anxiety, no matter where we lived. The sight of vigilantes at street corners armed with rods and knives robbed us of the great sense of security Bahrain is known for.
I experienced the impact of the turmoil in fits and starts. Street rallies graduated into a full-fledged agitation when demonstrators clamouring for more democratic reforms pitched tents at Bahrain's national landmark the Pearl Roundabout and converted it into their protest ‘headquarters'. It was dubbed the picnic protest by the local media for its flamboyant display of personal comfort and air of naivety. In fact I was told by a Bahraini friend that a couple tied the knot at this ‘altar'. However, the bitterness gathered momentum as days went by, forcing an evacuation. Today, a huge void greets us at the newly built junction where the majestic structure once stood — the massive pearl held atop by six sloping columns, representing the six Gulf countries.
Starting from personal security to food stock there was an exaggerated sense of panic among the expatriates in the initial stages of the turmoil, especially with many of them hoarding essentials sufficient for months. Queues at supermarket counters spilled into the streets and a friend said she cleared the queue after more than two hours!
Personal safety was as worrying as food for the well-fed expat. One of the first questions I was greeted with when the trouble started brewing was, “Which flight are you booked on?” Many expats had indeed blocked seats on flights which they were never going to take. Quite a few left to return, making use of the unexpected holiday and some others sent their families home, just in case, while they braved it all.
Now Bahrain has emerged from the shadows of the conflict, the remnants of which sometimes comes to life and succeeds in keeping everyone on tenterhooks, the concerns broken by welcome text messages from hypermarkets and food chains that invite customers to leave home and take advantage of a weekend bash or a huge discount sale.
Schools, offices, cinemas and hypermarkets may have begun full-fledged operation, but the scars of the upheaval and discontent remain to be healed — extending the wait for the little island nation to return to total normality and its people to pick up the pieces and carry on with their lives.
D. Ravi, an Indian expat, works part-time with a magazine in Manama.