The Meanings of Bahrain: Report on Outstanding Reception March 3, 2009
Wharton Club members & guests enjoyed the hospitality
the gracious staff of Embassy of Kingdom of Bahrain
We learned about the nation's fascinating history, culture,
economy and unique status in the Mideast plus a sumptuous reception
Arabic is a beautiful and complex language. Unlike English, it is written from right to left, changes the forms of letters depending upon their location in a word, has sounds with unique pronunciations, and has a challenging way of creating plurals.
In fact, Arabic plurals differ somewhat according to the total number of the object described. Thus, it uses different words for three or more of something, and for two of that same thing. An example is the Arabic word for sea, bahr. Three or more seas are bihar. Two seas are bahrayn, as in Bahrain, the land of two seas.
Soon the Trade Representative of Bahrain, Ms. Rose Sager, appeared. In flawless English, she engaged the guests in conversation, fielding questions with aplomb, describing in detail the culture, history, and economy of Bahrain.
The Ambassador's Secretary, Ms. Sahar Hakeem, was also present, though the Ambassador herself, Her Excellency Houda Ezra Nonoo, was unable to attend; she was required at a meeting in Egypt and was sorry she could not join us.. Ms. Hakeem resembles Ambassador Nonoo and joked that she is often thought to be her sister. Ms. Hakeem spoke warmly about the multiculturalism of Bahrain. As a native Syrian, she also spoke with pride about the great beauty and history of her land of birth.
The Embassy itself tastefully illustrated the history and economic development of Bahrain in posters and wall hangings. For those enamored of its incredibly ancient culture, there was a plaque with words from Dilmun, the entrepot of the Gulf region contemporary with Sumeria.
Our Bahraini hosts graciously insisted that we partake of a wide selection of drinks before dinner. Then we were ushered into an adjoining room for a sumptuous buffet. Pleasing both to the eye and the palate, it represented Arabic cuisine at its finest.
The Honorable Mr. Almahood then spoke. He outlined significant dates in Bahraini history, stating that in 1783 the Al-Khalifa family arrived from Kuwait and took control from the ruling Persians. Bahrain became a British protectorate in the 19th century to defend its newly acquired territory.
In 1932 a relatively small oil reserve was discovered, initiating a period of modernization. In 1971 Bahrain achieved independence. King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, after coming to power in 1999, instituted economic and political reforms, including elections for parliament and suffrage for women.
The next speaker was Ms. Sager. She presented the facts of Bahrain’s geography, history, and economic development straightforwardly, occasionally with humor and passion, but always eloquently. She described Bahrain as an archipelago of thirty-three islands, though at high tide the number sharply diminished.
Ms. Sager spoke fondly of British rule and the role of missionaries, indicating that they laid important foundations for modernism. She discussed the Parliament, with seats set aside for minorities, including both Palestinians and Jews. Her humor was evident when she informed the audience that Bahrain is constructing an engineering marvel, a bridge to neighboring Qatar, across which women would unquestionably be able to drive.
She quipped that Bahrain offers foreign business the red carpet, not red tape. Indeed, Bahrain serves as the “Gateway to the Gulf.” That is, if a company sets up its base in Bahrain, it would enjoy the benefits of being a Bahraini company, thus allowing it the free trade status with the entire GCC (The Gulf Cooperation Council includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.) In addition, Bahrain is a wonderful and exotic tourist destination, with Formula One events coming up in April.
The thrust of Ms. Sager’s presentation was that Bahrain is a tolerant, modern society, open-minded and open for international trade, commerce, and tourism.
An engaging video displayed the beauty of Bahrain, both natural and manmade. Incredibly blue waters, spectacular beaches, desert sands, ultra-modern hotels, shopping centers, and office buildings all splashed across the screen.
Mr. Almahood and Ms. Sager then opened the floor to questions. A member of the audience asked about the source of Bahrain’s drinking water. Ms. Sager responded that the seas surrounding Bahrain contained freshwater springs. She related that when she lived in New York, the water tasted very odd: it lacked saltiness. After years, there she moved back to Bahrain, and found water from the tap to be intolerably salty. Incidentally, the existence of these springs in salty seas explains the literal meaning of Bahrain, two seas, one saline and the other freshwater.
The next questioner was curious about Bahrain’s exports. After oil, Ms. Sager and Mr. Almahood informed him, aluminum is Bahrain's most valuable export. Other major segments of Bahrain's economy are the financial, construction, and education sectors. Bahrain is striving to diversify its economy to reduce its dependence on oil. In August 2006, Bahrain and the US implemented a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), the first FTA between the US and a Gulf state, as part of this ongoing effort.
The final question posed was directed to Ms. Sager. How did she explain the enlightened, tolerant, and modernist policy followed by Bahrain, and was she optimistic that such an outlook would resonate with other countries in the Gulf? Another state in the area, Yemen, though sharing a history of governance by Britain as well as a similar geography fronting the sea and facing outward to the world, was quite different in its approach.
Ms. Sager spoke emotionally at this point, attributing the uniqueness of Bahrain to its current ruler, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa and his father, Emir Isa ibn Salman Al Khalifah. However, she was optimistic that the Gulf Region would eventually follow in Bahrain’s stead.
Mr. Schlaifer made use of the remaining minutes to thank Ms. Anne Orleans, who, with her extensive contacts and international experience, made so many wonderful embassy events, including this one, a reality. Mr. Schlaifer also introduced Mr. Harvey Kipper, who had written previously about Wharton Club of DC visits to embassies in the DC area and adventures on foreign ground outside the U.S., namely, a Wharton Global Forum in Rio de Janeiro.
Mr. Schlaifer then offered a tribute to the personnel of the Embassy of Bahrain who had worked so hard to make the evening delightful. Following an exchange of gifts, the evening drew to a close.
One last point about Bahrain needs to be made. Its literal meaning, “the land of two seas,” was explained previously.
Yet there is much more that is significant about Bahrain. It is an outpost of enlightened policies, of equal rights for minorities and women, a small bastion of political, religious and economic freedom in a part of the world where these are rare. Perhaps that is the true meaning of Bahrain.
About the Author, Harvey Kipper
A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Harvey Kipper is a member of the Wharton Club of DC, the University of Pennsylvania Alumni Club of Washington, DC, and American Mensa, Ltd. Harvey's interests include archaeology, foreign affairs, languages, and travel. His personal e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and his home phone number is (703) 920-4097.
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