Bahrain diary: Karma, and calmer, in Manama

The place is unrecognizable. (Shutterstock)
Updated 27 June 2019
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Bahrain diary: Karma, and calmer, in Manama

MANAMA: What a difference eight years make. I had not been to Bahrain since the dark days of 2011, when civil strife ruled the streets and some parts of Manama were virtually inaccessible because of barricades and demonstrations. 

In 2019, attending the “Peace to Prosperity” workshop in the presence of US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, the place is unrecognizable from the rather hazy memory I have of those days. 

The airport has had a complete makeover. Transport away was fast and efficient, and instead of the tang of tear gas in the air, as there was in 2011, there was the balmy aroma of bougainvillea. It was, as one participant said, karma, and calmer, in Manama.

Back then, I stayed at the Crowne Plaza hotel, which was located pretty much on its own in Manama’s diplomatic area. This time, as I checked in there again, what struck me immediately was the amount of development that had gone on all around the area: New residential buildings, more hotels and big flyovers.

The Financial Harbour, which used to be the center of town, has given way to a whole new area — Bahrain Bay — on reclaimed land nearer the airport. At the heart of the new district is the Four Seasons hotel, where the workshop took place. It is a five-star luxury property, as you would expect, and is a good venue for a forum such as the one that just finished there. It was opened in 2015 as the centerpiece of the new reclamation project.

According to the hotel brochure, it “offers you an urban oasis experience with endless views of the Arabian Gulf on one side and the infamous (sic) Manama skyline on the other.” I can vouch for that. The facilities are good. The main plenary hall, rather than an old-fashioned stage and audience setup, is a circular arrangement where the speakers and panelists were in the center and visible from all around.

At least, I have to assume they were visible everywhere in the room. I, as a member of the media distinguished by a yellowy green wash to my lanyard badge, was not allowed into the main hall. Media were confined to a side room with half a dozen TV screens beaming live coverage of the proceedings.

One quirky thing was that there was no sound from the screens, so the huddled hacks had to use headsets to hear what was being said by the eminent thought leaders speaking just next door. It made tape recording very difficult indeed. Media members were isolated from the rest of the workshop during mealtimes too, with access to the main dinner and lunch gently but firmly denied by door wardens.

If the idea behind this segregation was to prevent news-hungry hacks from door-stepping the eminent sources in attendance at the workshop, it was a failure. The hotel lobby, sweeping corridors and marina-facing terraces were all perfect locations for a bit of good, old-fashioned news networking.


Turkey: EU sanctions over gas drilling ‘worthless’

Updated 16 July 2019
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Turkey: EU sanctions over gas drilling ‘worthless’

  • EU foreign ministers said they are suspending talks with Turkey over air transport agreement
  • They backed EU’s proposal to decrease financial assistance to Turkey

ANKARA: Turkey on Tuesday rejected as “worthless” an initial set of sanctions approved by the European Union against Ankara, and vowed to send a new vessel to the eastern Mediterranean to reinforce its efforts to drill for hydrocarbons off the island of Cyprus.
EU foreign ministers on Monday approved sanctions against Turkey over its drilling for gas in waters where EU member Cyprus has exclusive economic rights. They said they were suspending talks on an air transport agreement, as well as high-level Turkey-EU dialogues, and would call on the European Investment Bank to review its lending to the country.
They also backed a proposal by the EU’s executive branch to reduce financial assistance to Turkey for next year. The ministers warned that additional “targeted measures” were being worked on to penalize Turkey, which started negotiations to join the EU in 2005.
Speaking at a news conference in Macedonia, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the sanctions aimed to “appease” Cyprus and were of “no importance.”
“The EU needs us concerning the migration issue or other issues,” he said. “They will come to us and hold contacts; there is no escaping that.”
“They know that the decisions they took cannot be applied,” he said. “They were forced to take the worthless decisions under pressure from the Greek Cypriots and Greece.”
Cavusoglu added: “If you take such decisions against Turkey, we will increase our activities. We have three ships in the eastern Mediterranean, will with send a fourth.”
Earlier, the Turkish Foreign Ministry criticized the EU for ignoring the rights of Turkish Cypriots and accused the 28-nation bloc of “prejudice and bias.”
It added that Turkey was determined to protect its rights and the rights of Turkish Cypriots.
Two Turkish vessels escorted by warships are drilling for gas on either end of ethnically divided Cyprus. A third Turkish exploration ship is also in the area. Turkey insists that it has rights over certain offshore zones and that Turkish Cypriots have rights over others.
Cyprus was split along ethnic lines in 1974 when Turkey invaded in the wake of a coup by supporters of union with Greece. A Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence is recognized only by Turkey, which keeps more than 35,000 troops in the breakaway north. Cyprus joined the EU in 2004, but only the internationally recognized south enjoys full membership benefits.
Cypriot officials accuse Turkey of using the minority Turkish Cypriots in order to pursue its goal of exerting control over the eastern Mediterranean region.
The Cypriot government says it will take legal action against any oil and gas companies supporting Turkish vessels in any repeat attempt to drill for gas. Cyprus has already issued around 20 international arrest warrants against three international companies assisting one of the two Turkish vessels now drilling 68 kilometers off the island’s west coast.