The author with some super politically-minded Bahraini dudes
For all the heroic young’uns struggling to bring down tyrannical dictators across the Middle East, there's an equal amount of twenty-somethings who would really rather people stopped making such a ruckus.I’ve been in Bahrain doing research since September. It’s a relaxed place without very much crime, frankly the only thing you have to worry about is being hit by a car.
I’m from New York and life for expats here is pretty much the same as my life back at home. The whole country is really into presentation, and the hipsters all dress up a lot and do the same things hipsters do anywhere else: They go to the clubs, get drunk, take drugs and dance (except, instead of dancing to FaltyDL, they dance to Yolanda Be Cool). People here spend a lot of time at the gym.
When the protests began in Cairo people started emailing me, asking if I was OK, but I wasn’t worried. "Things like that will never happen here," I thought. I was so convinced about that that I was shocked when I heard about the violence. When the protests broke out I was hanging out at the bar sipping whiskey like nothing had changed. When the news came up on the TV, we all cheered and did shots. Hey,it’s not every day that a "pimple on the east side of Saudi Arabia" gets into the news, but protesting isn’t for everyone.
The streets outside the bar in my expat neighborhood were eerily quiet – there were less prostitutes than normal, and their drunken Saudi clientele were AWOL too – but otherwise the beginning of the "revolution" was quite anti-climatic. Aware I was watching history pass from a velvet bar stool, I sent a mass text to a few friends: "I want to go protest!" Mohammed said that he was still in Dubai for work, but could I please prolong the riots until the weekend? He wanted a new TV. Samar suggested that I should definitely go protest on Friday and then go straight to that place that does that brunch with unlimited mimosas. Negma wrote to me from her dorm in London that the riot police are committing egregious crimes against humanity. Maybe it was best I was sat tight here, after all.
I stopped tapping away at my BlackBerry and went off to the toilet looking for someone who cared. There I found Fatima, a Bahraini socialite, who today was supporting the revolution in leather trousers. Apparently the first protester had just died at the hospital near her house and this had upset Fatima and her leather legs. She was really flipping out and kept dousing her lips in gloss while she listed the injuries sustained by the martyr. Who knew that if you shot enough rubber bullets at someone they would die?
"Well, never mind," she sighed a couple of minutes later. "We can't let our bottle of Jack Daniels go to waste. There are enough sober kids in Saudi, after all."
By Thursday, the situation had deteriorated. The American Embassy sent out a text: Violent clashes between protesters and security forces, shots fired, remain in your residences until further notice. Chris reposted it as his Facebook status with an addendum of: “Awesome!” He wanted to patrol Pearl Roundabout – the scene of the 3:45 AM police attack on sleeping protesters – for a canister of tear gas with which to decorate his coffee table.
Workplaces and highways started to close down around the country and the whirr of helicopters became a steady backdrop. Apparently, armoured tanks were rolling down the road and could be seen by people looking for the new Phillip Lim tote in the Saks Fifth Avenue store inside the mall.
I wasn’t shopping though, I spent a day tanning by my rooftop pool above the smoking streets, blasting Rihanna songs over the mournful call-to-prayer ringing through the city.
Maybe I’m naïve, but I’d have thought that a revolution on the streets might have stymied a nation’s taste for late night euro-trash disco bars, but Ground Zero was still open. Inside, I ran into this guy Turk I know, who works for the Bahraini National Guard, and for all I knew, could be coordinating with those inhuman riot police.
As I teetered on my heels, I asked if he had killed any protesters yet. “No, but they deserve whatever they get,” he responded, while twirling me in new salsa move. “What poverty? What injustice? They’re spoiled.”
I yelled that he was being complicit in his people dying. But he couldn’t hear me above the Usher remix and he wandered back to the bar, apparently unworried about streets full of young men desperate to put his back against a wall. Fuming, I spun off to find my other friends, almost in tears. I couldn’t bear the idea of protesters chanting “Peaceful, Peaceful” before being splayed with rubber bullets and tear gas, but Leila just gently patted my hand and said:
“If the apocalypse is now, shouldn’t we just dance?”