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Saturday, December 18, 2004



For some reason I couldn't find a reasonably-priced direct flight at the time I booked, so I ended up flying by Gulf Air, which is not an experience I want to dwell on, although they are not quite as bad as Varig. This involved a three-hour stopover in their home port of Bahrain. Here's my impressions of Bahrein, to the extent that you can form impressions from an airport.

Bahrein, frankly, was a pleasant surprise. Consider: this is an island off the coast of Saudi Arabia (and if you don't know just what a repulsive medieval hellhole Saudi Arabia is, take a look at the Religious Policeman link on my blogroll, if you have a strong enough stomach). Bahrain is not not Saudi Arabia. For instance:

-In Saudi Arabia, any kind of public reference to religions other than Islam is illegal. In Bahrain, however, they do Christmas. And they do it very thoroughly I might add. There was a huge tree in the departure lounge and illuminated Santas all over the place (trust the Arabs to favor anything big and shiny) and some of the Filipinas in the duty free stores were wearing Santa hats. Mawkish carols were being played everywhere: I even heard the quintessentially American White Christmas.
-SA is famously dry. Bahrain isn't. They have alcohol on sale and unlike in some other moslem countries (Malaysia for example) they don't card you to prove you are not a moslem before they let you buy alcohol. (This is an extremely good thing: believe me, you don't want to fly by Gulf Air sober). Bahrain is also the only place I can remember seeing Tuborg: that the Danes are prepared to export it here suggests there is some kind of market for it.
-Saudi women are known as BMOs (Black Moving Objects) because of the ugly tentlike chadors that they are forced to wear by the Saudi religious police. I saw fewer chadors in Bahrain airport than in Heathrow. (The Gulf Air stewardesses wear pants suits and silly stewardess hats, with a sort of bizarre silk scarf hanging down behind, which makes them look as though they have just come from awarding the prizes at a medieval tournament).

All in all, the tiny amount that I have seen of Bahrain I find intriguing and quite encouraging: here is a place where Islamic rule hasn't produced the usual hell on earth, but rather something like Utah with headscarves. Maybe there's hope for Afghanistan and Iraq after all.

Update: No sooner have I posted this than Bahrain gets a mention over at The Diplomad. (One of the commentators mentions that they recently had elections to the legislature: recently, that is to say after the invasion of Afghanistan, which may have concentrated a few minds in the MidEast.

Glad you enjoyed your stay on our isle! Visit again soon sometime. Merry Christmas :)
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