Manama: From "Champs-Élysées" of the Gulf to "Tel Aviv", What's Happening in the Old Capital?

Former Israeli FMr Tzipi Livni in front of Bab Al Bahrain, most prominent landmark in Manama (2019)
Former Israeli FMr Tzipi Livni in front of Bab Al Bahrain, most prominent landmark in Manama (2019)

2022-08-31 - 3:54 p

Bahrain Mirror (Exclusive): Three years ago, Sheikh Khalifa bin Ahmed bin Abdullah Al Khalifa was just a greedy enforcer who, alongside one of his cousins, seized a huge residential land plot in the Arad area, on which he decided to build a private complex. Then, under the constant pressure of public opinion and angry sit-ins staged by the residents, since the land was the only getaway for them to establish local activities and events, they were forced to withdraw the project and return the land plot as public funds.

This same person is now the head of the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities instead of one of his family's princesses, Sheikha Mai bint Mohammed Al Khalifa. 

There is one task for the new Sheikh that the former had refrained from undertaking, over which she was dismissed from her post which she had assumed for nearly two decades. This task is to "Judaize Manama".

Sheikh Khalifa bin Ahmed bin Abdullah Al Khalifa will not build his commercial complex on the land of Block 243 in Arad after he was forced to withdraw it under popular pressure, but instead he will now build the "Jewish Neighborhood" in the capital, Manama, as part of a new tourism map aimed at transforming 40% of the city's neighborhoods to Jewish paths, buildings and symbols. 

This time, he has the green light and full-on strong support of the prime minister and the king.

The man has "family" qualities that qualify him to do the job. He is the brother of the Undersecretary of the Bahraini Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Abdullah bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, who is one of the most prominent Zionist faces in his family. One of his most surprising remarks was during an interview at last year's Munich Security Conference when he said that "the Mossad is in Bahrain." The interviewer even decided to stop to make sure and ask him if he understood the meaning of it and that it was not just a slip of the tongue.

Many of his other statements fall into this context, especially those he made one day after the dismissal of the head of the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities, such as his statement that "Israel is part of the region and will remain", "We are not ashamed of our relationship with Israel" and "We do not consider what happened  a peace treaty but the establishment of diplomatic relations".

This is the family background of the new head of the Culture Authority. This is his primary cultural capital for carrying out the new task. 

The new head of the Culture Authority has no ties with the local cultural scene and its actors, such as intellectuals, writers, artists and musicians. Until 2011, his main interest was in marine resources, the environment and wildlife. But like all the privileges the sons and daughters of Al Khalifa enjoy, he was made to head the Museums Department at the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities in 2016 after completing a master's degree in the same field the previous year.

Now that he has completed seven years of applied work in his theoretical field of study in isolation in a remote office at the Bahrain National Museum, he has been entrusted with the only and most prominent task with which he will appear to the local cultural scene, introducing himself. It is "Judaizating" Manama and rendering it the "Mecca" of Israeli tourists, emptying it of any Shiite cultural symbols. It is undoubtedly a cultural task, but its framework is political, its circumstance is political and, most importantly, its aims are political.

There is no one better to get this done other than the brother of the man of Zionist orientations and dirty missions in the Foreign Ministry.

The new tourist map of Manama that was recently hung at the entrance to Bab Al Bahrain, and which effectively represents the first decisions adopted by the new head of the Culture Authority, shows many cultural and religious landmarks, such as the Synagogue, the Hindu temple and the Al-Fadel Mosque, as well as gold jewelry shops and other places yet gives no mention of a single Shiite landmark. It is a suggestive move sufficient to illustrate his orientation and the task to be carried out through his position.

His predecessor, Sheikha Mai Al Khalifa, is like him, as they don't respect the symbols of local culture. Local intellectuals and writers have always complained that she ignored their demands and marginalized them, especially when it comes to important cultural events such as the "Spring of Culture", "Ta'a Al Shabab," and "Bahrain Summer".

However, she did not like her family's move to normalize relations with Israel. This is based on an old inclination of hers, as she made sure to host in the center she founded, Sheikh Ibrahim Center for Culture and Research, events welcoming many Palestinian groups and symbols of culture and music from within the Palestinian community on an annual basis. She even guested an anti-Israel and anti-Zionist Jewish thinker, Ilan Pappé, in conjunction with the signing of the Abraham Accords.

In the two years since the signing of the agreement, she has avoided meeting or shaking hands with the many visiting Israeli delegations, as well as the Israeli ambassador since he assumed his role as the Israeli ambassador to Bahrain.

However, the most significant thing she did was reject the project of establishing a "Jewish Neighborhood" in Manama. A replacement was brought from her family to take on this particular task. 

The Haji Café in Manama with its simple tables stacked in the narrow alley has always been a destination for tourists and a cultural landmark on the popular Bahraini list of spaces of varying flavors and colors. But soon, it will have a competitor from a nearby landmark of one color!

The recently developed Merchant House Hotel opened near the café entrance to form the starting point for what are known as Jewish neighborhoods and corridors. 

The hotel was designed to mimic the architecture of members of Jewish communities. Signs in Hebrew as well as numerous paintings that tell features of Jewish history with a musical background dedicated to highlight Jewish recitations and songs are hung on its walls. There is no objection here to the Jewish culture, especially that  related to the country's citizens, but the whole scene is fabricated and is far from cultural because it comes under a orchestrated trend that excludes the culture of Shia citizens, who make up the majority of the country, and lays siege on their identity and even their songs. 

Bahrainis have seen through a video footage how a visiting Jewish delegation was allowed to dance in front of Bab Al Bahrain, one of Manama's most ancient landmarks, and played the Israeli national anthem Hatikvah, which says, "As long as in his heart within, A soul of a Jew still yearns, And onwards towards the ends of the east, His eye still looks towards Zion''. They also watched the police pursue, summon and fine Shia citizens who played "Salam Ya Mahdi'' song in their own cars, noting that the lyrics revolve around the twelfth Imam, Al-Mahdi, of Shia Muslims, who they believe will appear at the end of time. It's a paradox worth pondering. 

This is the least of the whole issue. Many stories are currently being circulated about Jewish efforts to acquire ramshackle lands and houses in Manama for incredible sums. Bahrain Mirror was able to verify at least one story of a citizen who suffered badly from government interference in selling a dilapidated land he owned, only allowing him to sell it when a Jewish figure offered to buy it in return for an enormous amount of money. One can only imagine the rest. 

Arabic Version