Prime Minister of Bahrain – A Man of the People
Natural disasters or man made tragedies are a way of life. We hear, we see, we read about them on a regular basis – but as long as these incidents don’t touch us or affect our lives we feel sympathy for a few moments and move swiftly on.
The USA, being a vast country is affected by thunderstorms, floods, typhoons, and more disturbing cold-blooded murder of men women and children. The President visits affected communities to offer support and console the suffering victims. He flies in on a private jet surrounded by armed security and spends a while being toured before giving a speech and then leaves as quickly as he arrived. We consider this act as compassionate and the duty of a leader while the world applauds his effort and international media commend his concern.
Most expatriates in Bahrain don’t take much notice of local political news and thanks to satellite services are exposed to international media in almost whichever language they choose. The challenges in Bahrain have revealed the negativity and lob sided reporting of international media – and yet people still follow these same news channels. Media at all levels are experts in manipulating information with subliminal messaging, but on a social level society is even more convinced by the endorsement of legitimate and well-positioned people within their community. Bahrain has many community centres and clubs across the island, and sadly, it is at these venues during social gatherings that the most distasteful remarks and baseless accusations against the government are made.
The West does not fully comprehend the Middle Eastern concept of loyalty, dedication and love for a leadership or a country. This has not always been the case – in 1977 when the Queen celebrated her silver jubilee the whole of the UK planned street parties to celebrate, in a massive show of patriotism. The night before, all of us were out hanging banners and decorating streets. I remember wandering around with my friends in my neighbourhood in London, going to all the street parties, tasting food and playing games, we all wore HM pins and waved the union jack. It was a show of allegiance to a country that we were proud of. We did not expect the Queen to visit us and yet we were in high spirits for days – the community celebrated together. Local businesses flourished with souvenirs – I still have my silver jubilee mug.
Bahrain has a very strong culture with religion being a way of life. Families tend to live within extended families and elders are highly respected. Problems, disagreements and issues are discussed and resolved internally. It is a country where people automatically greet each other – even strangers when walking into a building, an office or other public places. As a resident of Bahrain the royal family always intrigued me. One meets members of the royal family at events, school, universities, education centres, social gatherings, local gyms and offices at all levels. There are members of the royal family in prominent positions but many are not involved in the government sector and focus on their own skills. Society is so open that we have princes and princesses who play football, ride horses, race cars, have thriving businesses and are even international fashion designers. All are discreet and so polite that one cannot really differentiate, since Bahrainis in general are warm hearted and kind. This country is known for her people.
When the opposition occupied the GCC Roundabout in February 2011 and called for the death of the ruling family, I was horrified. Never in rallies, that I participated in regularly when I was at college in the UK, did I hear of anyone chanting death to anyone. If party leaders in the UK had called for the death of the queen, I am pretty sure they would have lost all support, would have been jailed and thought of as being stark raving mad.
It was disturbing that opposition party leaders were promoting violence as a solution to issues that none of the expatriate community really understood. In any rebellion, young people are always a target but in this case the opposition was manipulating their youth into committing criminal offences – in reality a form of abuse. It was a time of confusion and opposition groups tried to entice the expatriate community into believing in their cause. I for one just like many others could not be persuaded to work against a leadership and government that I knew was doing so much for this country. In the UK people have heating on timers and pay a large percentage of their salaries in tax, public transport, TV licenses, council tax, food, electricity, mortgages and heating bills. Speak to anyone living there and one can see how families are forced to live within a very meager budget.
So, some of us did our best to spread the true message in the best way we knew how. Many of us lost our jobs, we lost people we considered friends and we even lost our homes – but we never lost faith. Despite our personal hardships, we were not ready to let anyone sell Bahrain.
Over the months that followed foreign workers, civilians and policemen were attacked and some murdered while others sustained serious injures and were hospitalized. The main highway from the Diplomatic Area to Saar was blocked and to reach home, I would go all the way across town to use Adhari Road.
During the height of the opposition occupation of the GCC Roundabout, thousands of people went to Riffa outside Shaikh Khalifa’s home chanting, “the people want Khalifa bin Salman”. Astonishingly he came out of his residence and greeted these terrified citizens and reassured them using a loudhailer when he said “the dreams of those who want to destroy Bahrain will not be fulfilled as long as there are people like you in Bahrain and I thank each and every one of you”. These words had a powerful impact on me, as they were the words of a father comforting his petrified children. The thousands who had turned out were calmed and returned home. This raised my curiosity further – why do people love this man so much?
One morning in March, I heard that the Prime Minister had used this highway and visited a mall in Seef district. I was amazed – the road had just been cleared as being safe and the PM drove over a once booby-trapped highway. I was even more surprised when I heard that when he met people in the Mall he had taken the time to ask about their businesses and showed real concern for all who had suffered losses.
On another occasion, a friend called me and casually mentioned that she had heard that the PM was going to visit Bahrain City Centre. I plucked up the courage to drive out to the mall – I was very nervous on the dimly lit road but I felt an irresistible pull.
I assumed that only a handful of people would turn out as at that time, so many of us were too frightened to venture out after dark. When I arrived, the mall was relatively quiet and I felt an air of confidence; I believed this was my opportunity to greet the PM. Sadly, my hopes were soon dashed.
Within minutes, it felt like thousands were suddenly in the mall and I was now at the back of a wall of men, women and children. When I heard loud cheering I knew the PM had arrived, but I could not see him. As he walked into the ground floor area I saw him – he was just metres away but I could not get through the crowd so I decided to stay back and observe. Out of the blue, there was deafening chanting and everyone including the PM looked up – as I looked up I saw an unbelievable sight – each floor was packed with people shouting “the people want Khalifa bin Salman”. Completely mesmerized, I stood in silence and I experienced first hand the effect of his presence. I am convinced that there is an aura and strength about him that is unexplainable and yet very powerful. He strolled across each floor, up the escalators, spoke with ordinary men, women and children and the mall was alive once again. One lady ran out crying and I comforted her thinking that she had been crushed in the rush but she sobbed “Now I know Bahrain will be fine because Shaikh Khalifa is here”. I now understood why everyone called him the “man of the people”.
That is the level of loyalty and devotion people have for this enigmatic man. There was no security, there was no protocol ushering well wishers away, it was just the PM mingling with citizens to assure them that he was with them. It was a thrilling night and one I will never forget. As I drove home on a dark and deserted highway, I decided that I would not give up doing whatever I could to spread the truth about a country that I love and for a monarchy that despite having given so many years of their lives working for the people and the country were now being criticized unjustly by the opposition with support from international media and silently by locally based residents.
When policemen were injured the PM went to visit them personally in hospital where he held their hands and reassured each one. He offered his support as a PM as a father, as a brother, as a friend who truly cared. He even visited injured civilians and discussed their injuries with genuine concern and instructed critical cases requiring specialized treatment to be sent to the best hospitals in the world. During his visit it was evident that his sons and grandsons also felt the pain and fear of the injured. I suppose growing up with a compassionate father has engrained the same qualities into the people around him.
Being a leader is not an easy task but to have the support of the masses takes an immense amount of commitment and fortitude. I set about to understand the achievements of a leader whom I have never met but had now experienced the effect he had on the lives of so many. As Peter Drucker said; “Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes.”
Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa is the second son of Shaikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the former ruler of Bahrain. Shaikh Khalifa was educated in local government schools. He began working at his father’s office at the age of 19 but had been accompanying him to meetings since the age of 7years. He learned the ropes quickly and like his father worked for the people and for the country; something he obviously does to this day. Shaikh Salman was a visionary man who wanted the highest standard of education, health and housing facilities for all citizens. When the profits of oil rolled in, he made a decision to share this wealth for the development of the people and into a National Reserve Fund – a momentous and unprecedented act ensuring that the country was propelled wisely into the 21st century, making Bahrain the most developed country in the GCC.
Shaikh Khalifa under the guidance of Shaikh Isa stepped into the late Shaikh Salman’s governmental role in 1961. With his vision and determination to make the country competitive in the international arena, he went about putting a vision and long-term plan into action.
In his own words “ we have a goal to see that every Bahraini has a house, has a job and we will never have poverty in Bahrain”.
Heads of States, Universities and International Organisations have honoured the Prime Minister. One of his key achievements was the 2006 – UN Special Citation–Habitat Scroll of Honour. During the presentation Shaikh Khalifa was saluted by Ban Ki Moon, Secretary General of the UN ” I should like to praise your government for the significant progress in achieving the education for all goals, especially as regards universal primary education, adult literacy and gender parity. The fact that you started your distinguished career as the President of the Education Council of Bahrain is certainly not foreign to the efforts made by your government in this field”.
In October 2009 Shaikh Khalifa was awarded the Avicenna gold medal in recognition of his strenuous efforts to support culture, human heritage and UNIESCO activities. The PM has been recognized “for uplifting the standards of all Bahrainis through a concerted focus on alleviating poverty and modernization while preserving the cultural heritage of Bahrain”. His accomplishments are undeniable proof that people near and far value his contribution to the people of this small island and give him credit – and what did Shaikh Khalifa do after receiving these awards – he seemed to work even harder.
These are just two accolades of numerous, of a man who has stood by the people of Bahrain through the worst adversities.
People seem to forget that the PM has been instrumental in spearheading international businesses into Bahrain, making us a financial hub, creating a competitive business environment, developing the real estate sector and bringing international exhibitions to our doorstep. This was even more obvious during the global recession when Bahrain was the least affected due to his foresight that pushed us out of the darkness into the light.
Instead of criticizing, people in Bahrain should actually be applauding a man who has built the country to face any challenge. Call me a stool pigeon if you will (I have been called much worse) but I only share what I passionately believe.
To quote some people I came across;
“People see him as a sign of strength, law and order. His grip is a manifestation of just that”.
“He made us remember the words, stay united, when we needed it the most in the 2011 crisis”.
“He earned our love and respect – as simple as that”.
In Bahrain we have a leader who instills loyalty. People trust this man to the core and know he is not only a man of his word, but also a man who genuinely stands by his people and his country. Over the years this man has shone through and shown people the way forward. He has stood in the face of the most grotesque criticism and continued to prove his loyalty and dedication to the people of Bahrain. This man who commands so much admiration and respect is our Prime Minister, Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa – truly a man of the people.