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I Get a Kick From Bahrain

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Headline:Saudi Troops Enter Bahrain to Help Put Down Unrest

Come with me into the Wayback Machine.

Back in the day, I worked for a company called EDS which had been founded by a guy named Ross Perot. Perot was gone in the mid-90s when I was there and got involved with what I'm about to describe to you.

There came a time when I got a call from a very senior executive at EDS to meet with a man who was coming to visit the campus north of Dallas from a place called Bahrain.

I had never heard of Bahrain.

This was way before Google. It was even before what Google was called before it was called "Google" which was - wait for it - "BackRub."

So, I ran to the corporate library and found that Bahrain is a group of islands in the Persian Gulf off the east coast of Saudi Arabia with Iran on the other side of the water. According to the CIA World Factbook it is about 3.5 times the size of the District of Columbia and (in 2011) has a population of 1.2 million of whom 20 percent are non-nationals.

I didn't know it at the time, but the ruling class of Bahrain is made up of almost exclusively Sunni Muslims while 70 percent of the residents are Shi'ites. I didn't know that at the time because at the time I didn't know there were Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims.

And, in any event, I had always called them "Moslems."

Imagine if, in the United States, the ruling class were made up of one Christian sect say, Episcopalians.

Oh. Wait.

To make a long story short ... I went to Bahrain and fell in love with the people.

Bahrain has been governed by the al-Khalifa family since 1783 when they kicked the Persians (now Iranians) out.

It had some oil when oil was new, but not enough to make a living at it and so it became a trading center. Movements of goods from the Middle East to Asia went through Bahrain. During the cold war, when western airlines couldn't overfly Soviet airspace, Bahrain became a refueling stop for planes from Europe heading for India and further east.

Beirut was the banking center for the Middle East but, during the civil war in Lebanon in the late 70s and 80s, the financial industry looked for a safe haven and they chose the relatively sleepy, safe, western-facing Bahrain.

Hence, the visit to EDS in 1993 by the Deputy Director of the central bank of Bahrain followed by the visit to Bahrain by the Director of Emerging Markets.

Bahrain has been a model of modernity in the region. Women were given the right to vote in 2002. The U.K. Guardian wrote:

Bahrain took the first step towards overturning 30 years of autocratic rule yesterday when it became the first Gulf state to hold truly democratic parliamentary elections in which women enjoyed equal voting rights with men and were allowed to contest national posts.

Unlike the overthrow of dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, and the attempted overthrow of a dictator in Libya the unrest in Bahrain is sectarian: Shi'ite v Sunni.

Saudi Arabia is overwhelmingly Sunni. Bahrain is overwhelmingly Shi'ite. The differnce is important.

Remember that the Thirty Years' War began in 1618 and the "Troubles" in Ireland finally ended with the Belfast "Good Friday" Agreement in 1998.

You think 380 years of violence among Christians is so very different?

I am a fan of Bahrain. I understand there are inequities, but there are inequities between the residents of Beacon Hill in Boston and people who live in East Los Angeles.

Although officials are loathe to say it, I have little doubt that Iran - a Shi'ite country - is, at a minimum encouraging the unrest in Bahrain if not sending in agents provocateurs to provide guidance (if not direction), support (if not money), and people to provoke sectarian hostility (if not violence).

I have no idea how this is going to turn out, but my heart is with the Bahraini government.

I like Bahrain. I like the people. I think some of them like me.

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