“Isa” grew up in Bahrain and lived there until recently. He spoke with several MERIP editors in April 1985. He asked to remain anonymous in order to protect friends and family still living there.
What sort of distinctions and divisions are there among expatriates?
You’ve got the Europeans and Americans and then you’ve got the Indians, Pakistanis, Thais and Koreans. The Koreans come in contingents of a construction company, not free labor. They wear Hyundai uniforms. They go to the market in groups. There’s a much greater language barrier.
Bahrain was, after Iran and Iraq, the first country in the Gulf to have its petroleum resources developed by Western companies. It has a longer history of economic and infrastructural development than any other state in the peninsula. Bahrain’s petroleum reserves and producing capacity are also the smallest of the Gulf oil producing states. Thus, Bahrain’s rulers were the first in the Gulf to confront the problem of building a diversified modern economy. Furthermore, while political legitimacy is problematical throughout the Gulf, it is especially so in Bahrain.
The contemporary opposition movements in the Arabian Peninsula have their origins in two processes of radicalization in Middle Eastern politics. The first was the rise of radical nationalists, Nasserists and Baathists, and of communist parties in the 1950s and 1960s, and the second is the spread of the radical Islamic groups in the latter part of the 1970s. The political organizations now engaged in opposition politics in the peninsula spring essentially from these two competing trends.
In 1975, around 1,000 Thai workers left for Bahrain and Saudi Arabia; by 1982, 108,520 workers, over one third of all Thailand’s expatriate work force, had left for 11 different countries in the Middle East region. Their remittances, totaling over $450 million, amounted to the equivalent of half the foreign exchange brought into Thailand by its foreign visitors and exceeded revenues from the country’s main commodity exports except rice and tapioca. Many of the Thais employed in the region are skilled workers, mechanics, engineers and drivers, and their absence is blamed for shortages of skilled labor in Thailand’s domestic labor market. The majority are unskilled manual laborers drawn by the lure of wages often five times higher than Thailand’s.