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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Eyesores in Bahrain

While in Bahrain we stayed in one of the furnished apartments hotels in Gudaibiya/Adliyya. All things considered, it was a pleasant stay ( thank you Mrs. Hassina, Mr.Singh, and brothers Khalid and Ali)

Our daily drive to town would invariably takes us past- the Gulf Hotel and the al-Fateh grand mosque. This is one of the few places in Manama that one can actually can enjoy an evening promenade. What is left from the seafront takes away much of the unpleasantness of driving through the unsafe highway.

Unfortunately our visit came in the tail of the grandiose, albeit controversial, celebrations of the official National Day. This meant that we were subjected to some of its leftovers.

For several kilometres the roads stretching from the grand mosque, past the Corniche , the Central Suq, the Seef , to Infinity, were littered with ugly billboards, eyesores.

Those hopelessly unaesthetic billboards featuring the royal trio, the king, the PM and the crown prince, were huge, ugly and irritating. And, they were too many.

I cannot help wondering who is the PR genius who convinced the three royals that billboards will make them loved? He/she must be a secret agent of the opposition who planted him to mislead the royal troika. And, apparently, he (or she?) has done a good job. For who would in his right mind would believe that he needs billboards to gain love or respect? The royal trio were really taken for an expensive ride. And counterproductive to boot.

One may consider other situations in other parts of the world to find answers to the question: who is in their right mind would think that billboards can generate love or respect? Answers are not attractive.

For here, one usually finds leaders who have totally lost touch with reality.

Saddam tried a lot of them,

so does Kim Jong-Il

and even Bush (in a away!)

One cannot argue with the right of people, royals or otherwise, to put their images on billboards, ugly or not. But do they have to erect thirty-plus billboards on one pavement of a 5km long street? Has no one mentioned to them what saturation point means.

I do not have any problem accommodating views of those who believe that billboards play an important role in our modern life. But what is modern about such eyesores as were lined throughout Bahrain? What is ‘modern’ about having the image of three Big Brothers watching you from above?

Many would consider billboard as a necessary tool for advertisers specially when one considers the constraining characteristic of marketing in an underdeveloped country such as Bahrain. But what was that the royal trio wanted to market? Love us? Fear us?

No one would argue with the fact that billboards are part of the urban landscape. Mysteriously, the billboard has placed itself in our minds as the must-have add-ons to ‘modern’ towns. But do modernising and urbanising the towns of the kingdom of Bahrain require erecting additional traffic hazards?

Before we left Bahrain I managed to have few photos of those urban eyesores.

I chose the billboards in which HM is attired in his admiral uniform. I simply love it. After all these years I have finally become a true patriot. Unlike Robert Fisk who does not like our king in his admiral attire. But that is Mr. Fisk's problem.

in case any one wondered what they do at the Bahrain Research Center

Let us pray that these billboards will not be re-erected once again in one of the obligatory feel-patriot-or-else occasions.......... ( Beware: February 15 is approaching).



SillyBahrainiGirl said...

Great sense of humour you've got taking pictures of yourself with the billboards!
I wish they are still up when I return.
I am so jealous and want to take photographs with the billboards too!
I think we all should!

Abdulhadi Khalaf said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Abdulhadi Khalaf said...

Thank heavens! I can report that many of those eyesores were removed hours before drove to the airport.

But do not despair SBG. They will be re-erected come February 15. (I hope they do not multiply just to spite AbuRasool;) )

If they do, and you happen to be Bahrain at the time, do not miss that huge billboard flashing a great royal grin and a rather nice looking and businesslike falcon.... It is pure hilarity (to quote Mahmood).

Bahrania said...

narcissim is a common trait among dictators... high up there waving their hand... not down in the streets shaking the hands of the common man..

Abdulhadi Khalaf said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Abdulhadi Khalaf said...


My response borders a JOKAM.
I abstain for now.

6:07 PM

Chanad said...

Great pics Abu Rasool! I do find this "public bumlicking" phenomenon quite fascinating.

I see it as a modern manifestation of a much older tribal practice. In the old days, whenever the Al Khalifa was faced with a threat, all of the supporting bedouin tribes would run down to Riffa and start doing war dances. This was a very public demonstration of loyalty and allegiance to the rulers. The rulers rewarded this loyalty by bestowing various benefits.

In today's modern era it seems the tribal war dance has been replaced with equally public billboards. And the list of loyal demonstrators is no longer just the traditional retainer tribes but includes merchant families, businesses, and government employees -- basically anyone whose prosperity is in some way dependent on the benefits from the regime.

December 16 seems to have become institutionalized as the time when everyone annually renews their allegiance and loyalty to the regime. But recall that after Abdulhadi Al Khawaja made his infamous Al Oruba Club speech, lots of billboards popped everywhere pledging support to the PM. The same thing happened after the opposition held the first "Constitutional Reform First" protest march in Sitra. It all seems to correspond well to the previous practice of holding war dances when the regime is threatened.

Fascinating stuff. But what I find more interesting is when people in Bahrain and the Gulf put photos of their leaders on the back of their cars, or in their homes, or as part of their online identities. Here I think its not so much about bumlicking but a genuine feeling of love and belonging to the leaders.

Abdulhadi Khalaf said...

Thanks Chana'ad.

The link you make between the evolving epidemic of public bum licking and older 'tribal' practices is interesting. It calls for further reflection. I am basically a sceptic to 'tribalism' as an explanation to anything in Bahrain. (Well, it is there but it does not provide a casual explanation for anything. At least it does not explain why the ruling core behaves as it does nor how it runs the state).

Collective mobilisation of people to show signs of 'support' and affective loyalty is commonplace in all nondemocratic societies and social settings.

We have to look into a complex mixture of variables: authoritarianism, asymmetric division of resources of power, fragmentation of competing social forces etc etc..

There are of course those who prefer to look into the role psychopathy, i.e. to study how psychopath leaders force their subordinates to publicly show evidence of their affection and unquestioning loyalty. (As a sociologist, I am sceptic to this too. But I do not want to dismiss it altogether).

Abdulhadi Khalaf said...

causal, it is ;)

Melissa said...

I think it is kind of a thing to make people feel that everywhere they go that person is there. A watching you sort of thing.

Abdulhadi Khalaf said...

yes. And it is scary to have six eyes watching from above.

Chanad said...

Abu Rasool,

I agree that the bumlicking phenomena is not unique to tribal practices, but is displayed in all client-patron societies, where power is concentrated in a few people.

On a different point though I want to question why you imply that that the billboards are a result of decisions by the ruling core (or its PR team). Many many of the billboards are put up by private businesses and institutions. Yes, the ruling core has a role in approving/rewarding the practice. But at the end of the day the private firms can choose whether to put up billboards or not (as far as I know). So, as I see it, the ruling core's PR team should not take all the blame for the "eyesores".

Finally, it will be interesting to see how the regime chooses to react this year to the huge portraits of Ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamenei that will surely be displayed in Manama and other places this Muharram.

Abdulhadi Khalaf said...

I am not sure, Chana'ad that I can provide anything concrete to support my claim that the ruling core is behind the billboard nausea.

One thing is probably conceivable. The ruling core did not beg for those billboards, nor did issue orders for people, including Bahrain Research and Studies Centre, to erect those eyesores.

Yet, there are, I venture, any number of ways where Bahrain's powerful ruling core can make its underlings know what are its current wishes. A discreet hint from the PR people of the ruling core would suffice. Friendly suggestions, dispersed by people in the know among people in need of licking butts, would also the trick.

It is not an issue, really.

I do not really care whether HM, PM and/or the CP have personally approve launching the project. It does not matter whether they actually paid for the billboards, or ordered this or that municipality or public body to pay for them. The billborads were ugly and irritating. And wasteful.

The story in MR puts the wasteful spending on this and other butt licking project in a different perspective. (See Death in Sitra in )