Most people still live and die within a few miles of where they are born, and ‘marry’ very locally. We are generally a parochial species. The last ten years have seen me ‘trapped’ near the place of my childhood, with only shorty forays abroad, rather than extended working periods. I don’t like this and will be on the move again soon. I’m just back from short stays in Syria and Morocco. The cold finger of terror is in the air in both. On return, I found old friends in my own home seeking safety from the grim situation in Bahrain. They are welcome. We’ll just cope.
Most of the time, in most countries I’ve worked in or passed through, politics hasn’t been much of an issue. In the UK it is the mark of the bore. When I last left Bahrain (years back), my friends were celebrating ‘freedom’. There was a new constitution, and even if this was a constitution to create a king rather than protect a people, most thought there was a big difference between Bahrain and the odious Saudi Arabia. There was for a beer swilling arse like me, yet this really was very minor. The booze is just more open in Bahrain, where there is a livable off-compound life. The repression in Bahrain always felt more like a lesser case of ‘getting the retaliation in first’ than in Saudi and the goons of the ‘protection of virtue and prevention of vice’ squads.
Politics and just how free we are anywhere is always difficult. Bahrain was only a 22 kilometer drive across the bridge to Saudi from the armored cars and repression. The place is so small you can get to meet the King, Prime Minister and other votaries more or less as easily as your MP here. On the basis of the oil revenues, each Bahraini family would be worth millions if they were uniformly handed out (there are probably only 350,00 Bahrainis – plus as many ex-pats on the islands). No one really knows where the money goes, and many people in Bahrain live in what we would think of as poverty. My friends fear they may never be able to go back.
I met no-one in the old Eastern Block really predicting the fall of the soviets, though regularly felt the chill of terror. I have some feeling we have lost ‘rights’ in the UK since was 20 or so. These were never rights as such, but you could get and change jobs without much fuss. If you were fit for education it was broadly free. You could think your kids might have a better life.
Reading through some UNHDR reports on the Arab World for a paper I’m writing, I recognize a lot of the disaffection is voiced in similar terms in the UK. Currently, we can cut our budgets and choices, rather than face choices on eating or not eating as inflation bites. The speculation in food prices has not been able to hit such a big part of our society yet. I’d guess we have food prices are rising at 25% per year now. It’s hit in poorer countries more because the link between filling your belly and cost of production and speculation is more direct. I winder how far we are from having enough people to turn out with nothing to lose?