Fox (n): carnivore of genus vulpes; crafty person; scavenger; (vb) to confuse; -ed (adj): to be drunk.

Friday, 20 April 2012

In a rich man's world.

BAHRAIN is a funny place.

Smack bang next to the intolerant, inhumane Saudi Arabia it is also home to the US Navy's Fifth Fleet, staffed with men and women who count the right to vote, drive, and fornicate as basic freedoms.

It is ruled by an immigrant royal family much like ours, they're about 80 years behind us in letting women vote and at least twice as far back in terms of the general human right not to get shot in the street if you want to protest.

Britain has a long history of tinkering with this island, because it's full of oils and pearls and has a good strategic position in the middle of the Arabian Gulf. As a result I had to visit it a few years ago to cover a joint naval exercise with the US.

Lots of sailors, lots of 'BRACE! BRACE!' and when the war games were over we went ashore for a night out in the capital Manama.

As did most of Saudi Arabia. Well, the male, wealthy members of it. They all drive over the 16-mile causeway between the two countries at the weekend to enjoy all the things that are banned at home.

There are a couple of pubs but because you're not technically allowed to buy alcohol you had to buy 'tokens' to enter them, then trade the tokens for drink. I've still got one, it was good for one pint of really bad beer.

The belly-dancing bars were harder to find, based on the first floor of anonymous office buildings that you had to know how to find. We went in a couple, and instead of the exotic Arabian beauties you might expect they were staffed - as such places often are, in my experience - by bored-looking Latvian women.

For $10 the bored Latvian would put a plastic garland of flowers around a Saudi's neck, wave her arms and sway from side to side for a couple of minutes, flash a bit of ankle and then take the garland back. As belly-dancing went it was pretty lame.

I was the only female in a group of sailors and journalists, something I didn't notice until we left the bars to wander through the souk and buy presents to take home, where we haggled happily with the traders trying to offload their cheap tat.

I fell to the back of the group at which point the sellers stopped trying to flog me things and just stared at me, my hair and my clothes. Neither were much to write home about, but they didn't look at me because I was unusual. They looked at me because I was a thing.

They didn't make eye contact, they didn't stare in a sexual way, they just regarded me as an object they didn't much like. Suddenly there was threat in the air, the men seemed to be closing in, and my instincts told me to catch up with the men in my group sharpish.

I asked one of them quietly to watch my back, and he told me I was being silly. To his credit he made sure I didn't get left on my own again, and because he was a journo he made the effort to look at the men who were looking at me.

Ten minutes later he came up to me. "You're right," he said. "They're looking at you in the strangest way. I would never have noticed if you hadn't pointed it out, but it's not like men look at women back home."

None of which has much to do with the Grand Prix, which is being run there on Sunday amid great controversy. But it just goes to show how the exchange of money makes people look the other way, or put on a mask of friendliness in order to get your cash.

The authorities overlooked the pubs, because they needed the foreigners who went there. The Latvian girls pretended they liked the Saudis, the Saudis pretended they were local, and the market traders were happy to sell me tat when I had a man by my side.

If any of those charades had stopped, there would have been trouble. The mask would drop. And it's the things you don't usually hear about that mean the most.

Formula 1 - run by a British man whose fortune is largely based offshore to minimise his tax bill - has been paid £25m by the Bahraini rulers to have a race in their country. They in turn stand to make £200m in tourism. Ahead of the event around 1,600 democracy protesters have been arrested, another 1,000 have disappeared entirely, and race teams have been caught up in tear gas and stun grenade attacks by the police.

Four months ago a man who resigned from the Met Police for supposedly doing nothing wrong took a job improving the morality of the Bahraini police. Presumably, former assistant commissioner John Yates is spending most of his time passing around Rebekah Brooks' phone number and telling officers not to bother investigating things that are blindingly obvious. Yesterday he admitted F1 protesters might be fired on with live ammunition.

Yates has a taxpayer-paid pension of £123,000 a year, and is getting an even bigger bung from Bahrain. Our Queen is such good friends with their king he was invited to Wills and Kate's wedding and is coming over for a jubilee tea in the Buckingham Palace garden. And the family which runs Bahrain, and takes most of its oil wealth, owns half of the McLaren team.

That's right. Nasty old woman-hating, gay-bashing and democracy-suppressing despots own half of handsome, smiley Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button. They don't mention that at the photocalls, do they?

I'm not a big fan of motor-racing myself, mainly because watching quite safe cars rush around a length of tarmac in a circle is of limited interest.

But even if I was an avid fan I wouldn't watch the race this Sunday. I don't want to turn a blind eye and pretend it's all about sport and engineering and ignore the disgusting things that are going on around it.

Money might make the world go around, but I find the sight of people crushed under its wheels rather sickening.

Yeah, hooray for you two.


jaljen said...

I went to Marrakech on (civil partnership) honeymoon. BIG mistake.

Two middle-aged women in Marrakech? No men? Never again. I have never felt so threatened. Nothing happened but the atmosphere of disdain was palpable. I was frightened.

Zeds said...


loulou said...

boom tish !
enjoyed that, cheers.

and know exactly what you mean, experienced the same in Marrakesh and the old town of Istanbul. If you are with a man, ideally your brother or husband, you are their 'property', and that is all in order in their eyes.

Without your 'owner', you are perceived like an escaped slave or zoo animal - esp if as woman on your own.

this way of regarding woman, reminds me a bit of what Bettany Hughes said of Ancient Greece on BBC TV yesterday :
a womans' most prized virtue was her silence and a popular saying was that a man couldn't stop his wife barking even after knocking her teeth out with a stone....

Justin Dunn said...

That's Jan Moir sorted for tomorrow, then.

Miles said...

I actually agree that the Bahrain GP should not be taking place.
But how about a piece on when politics/morality should be allowed to interfere in sport?
Tours to apartheid S Africa clearly wrong.
Black power protest at 1968 Olympics clearly right
Should England cricket team have gone to Zimbabwe when Mugabe waging war on his people?
Should the US have boycotted Moscow Olympics? Ironic now as largely due to Afghan invasion!
What about the Chinese GP?
Hungary playing the USSR in Olympic water polo semi final when Soviet tanks crushing Hungarian uprising in 1956?
My point is that it is rarely clear cut but a matter of judgement; in my opinion you are right that GP should not go ahead; the fault lies with the governing body; if drivers , teams do not go they are opening themselves up to all sorts of legal/contractual problems; so a bit tough to castigate them.
Love the column!!

richard said...

Bernie Ecclestone saying that what is going on in Bahrain is nothing to do with Formula 1, as a means of justifying the event going ahead, is as disingenuous as MPs who, at the the height of the expenses scandal, justified unreasonable expenditure under the banner of "not breaking the rules".

Human rights are the concern of everyone.

However, sadly and predictably, wherever there is a whiff of big bucks, morality and ethics get lost in the exhaust fumes.

Really enjoyed the piece by the way.

Keira said...

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Stuart said...

A good post in many ways and knowing the region so well its entirely accurate and in fact in my own experience I have witnessed far worse... a plane only 5 minutes off of the Riyadh tarmac heading to Dubai is suddenly awash with locals rushing to the front of the plane ingoring the seat belt warning, is it a terrorist act I wonder? No.. its to get their first drink!! as they head to the regions oasis of fun called Dubai, full of Ukrainians, Russians and Eastern European ladies waiting in hotel bars for their arrival.. how hypocritical they behave to what they portray as values!!

I do however have an issue wth sport being used as a political toy... the F1 GP should go ahead its not a political machine its a sport based upon a commercial business model which employs many, if they didn't go ahead they would be rightly sued by the promoters for breach of contract.. if we really believe sport should be politically swayed... then you need to cancel the Olympics... we have just had the same as Bahrain, civil unrest and violence during the riots, so why are we any different? life in Bahrain is very liberal compared to other states in the area, yes its not perfect, but then where is? if it was like in Syria with its ongoing genocide I could agree with the point, and I dont think for a moment the teams would go into such a conflict area. In Manama the protests are mainly peaceful with a scattering of youth after dark using the peaceful protest (which are not crushed) but allowed to happen in an orderly way.. sound familiar? yes, just like our own student protests a majority of peaceful protestors hijacked by some radicals.

I spend a lot of my time here and recently, dont believe all of the hype, go and see for yourself... I'm here watching the Practice session 3 and have had no problems whatsoever!

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