For much of the world our story only began on the morning of the 14th February 2011, as with any other country there had been longstanding underlying social issues, but Bahrain was known as a tolerant and peaceful society.
Few had imagined waking on that February morning to find friends and family members on opposing sides of a political divide, fewer still could have envisaged the argument turning violent.
Mohammad Al Daaysi, a 19 year old student, is well known as a blogger, we met in a cafe in Budayah. On the surrounding tables are men of all ages, meeting with friends and drinking coffee, he recalled the events proceeding the 14th February.
“In the months that followed there was trouble almost every night - I soon realised that it had to stop; Bahrainis had to accept each other and move forward together.”
Mohammad formed an online community of young people from all sides of the divide. “We had disagreed on many issues but we agreed to meet and talk.”
“The community grew to become a respected public forum, known as "The Bahrain Debate", organised for the youth of Bahrain by young people.”
Mohammad's initiative resonated with youth across the country. “We encouraged young people to speak their minds and share their ideas in a constructive manner”. Young Bahrainis were trying to move forward from the troubles. The debate encouraged others to join together in cross community activities, often in culture, sport and the arts.
Amongst others, the Bahrain Debate inspired 26 year old Wafa Alobaidat, who has been active in Bahrain’s sports and cultural activities for many years.
Wafa is proud of her country and the humility for which Bahrainis are renowned - she is also pragmatic and knows that to reconcile, people have to adapt.
“Bahrain is one of the kindest nations on earth and this will never change, the people are open-minded and humble; it is sad that Bahrain has had to suffer this turmoil, it did - we can’t cry about it and wish we could go back.”
In the weeks that followed 14th February, people on all sides became polarised in how they saw the future of the country. Wafa explained that the divide affected every part of society. “Bahrain is a very tolerant society and always has been, there are many torn relationships between siblings and husbands and wives because of what happened, we need to reach out to people and communities to rebuild those relationships.”
Wafa believes that Bahrainis increasingly see it as their responsibility to address the social divide. “We need reconciliation, but that will come if we focus on people, I don’t want to see two of my friends not talking to each other, I don’t want to loose another friend, and I don’t want children going to different schools just because they hold different opinions.”
She is pragmatic and recognises the depth of the divide. “I may also be a part of the problem, I have had been caught up in an emotional roller coaster and lost people along the way, it may not be possible to rebuild all the personal relationships, but we must all try to reconnect with each other.”
For most people in Bahrain, life continues as normal, the country is not a war zone, during the week people go to work or attend schools and universities.
In the evenings and weekends families enjoy outdoor pursuits, cinemas and shopping malls.
Bahrain has thriving arts, sporting and cultural communities, many of these have embraced each other and are jointly trying the bridge the divide.
Wafa is part of a ladies football league. "This brings us together as does the Bahraini community of artists; we are finding areas where we can do what we love and give back for the benefit of all - we can focus on our passions and on each other and not on politics.”
Wafa is not just involved in the ladies football league, but also in creating cultural centres within communities across Bahrain. Much of her spare time is dedicated to bringing Malja, her vision of a cultural centre to fruition; as always her focus is upon young people.
“Malja is a conceptual art hub created by the young for young people where artists and designers can gather to exhibit work, and also conduct workshops to support the creative community.”
But her visions for Malja are much more than an art and cultural centre, it is a place of refuge, a place where people can meet in safety, free from destructive peer pressure, get to know each other and through new found friendships can work for peace.
For Wafa, space like Malja, which means refuge in Arabic, "will be a much needed step forward in the reconciliation process.”
Bahrain is a tolerant peace loving society and has been for generations, having spoken with so many people I am optimistic that the country will move forward together, it will take time, but Bahrain’s history of peace and tolerance will prevail.
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