Sunday, 20 March 2011
Friday, 18 March 2011
My attachment to spaces has to do with the idea that ‘spaces’ are actually an extension of those who lived among them. It is an attachment to all those who have experienced the locations I have in mind.
Today, we saw the demolition of a major landmark in Bahrain. Major in the way that any landmark that is on the national currency would be. The Pearl Roundabout (or Lulu Roundabout) was built in ’82, as a monument to the Gulf Cooperative Council (GCC). The six legs, or sails, represent each of the Gulf states: Oman, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and, of course, Bahrain. The pearl that rests at the top is meant to be their shared unity. I liked to think that the pearl on top signified Bahrain. All the Gulf states think of themselves as the ‘pearl of the Gulf’, but I’d say that Bahrain had the monument to prove it.
The Pearl monument, sat in the center of a round about, a major joint connecting 6 different roads linking the west of the island to the new and old financial centers, the central market and the east of the island. One can say that it is hard to miss. Smaller than one would expect it to be, out-of-town visitors would always have a little giggle about how small it was in comparison to what the pictures projected; but Bahrain is a small island, and as Bahrainis no matter how un-majestic the thing was, we all had feeling of endearment to our one and only landmark monument.
In 2004, Bahrain hosted the GCC Summit, an honour that is donned on each of the countries ever few years. In remembrance of this honour, the government spent hundreds of thousands of dinars installing a fountain at its base. Beautified, landmarked, celebrated, this monument of the GCC was something Bahrainis saw as their own. I personally took all kinds of pictures of it, with all kinds of cameras and lenses.
Given its central place in people’s eyes it is no surprise that it was later adapted as the public space in which national pro-democracy demonstrations were to take place. Bahrain’s lack of an intentional public space left the public no choice but to claim one. It was deemed ‘Pearl Square’ by the international press as something to resemble an actual ‘meedan’, alluding to a place where the people’s discussion would take place, where public opinion would be discussed and a public sphere may be galvanized. After the massacre of Feb. 17 on the sleeping protesters, the “Pearl Square” was labeled “Martyr Square”. The roundabout was cleared and no one was allowed back to the site of the protest camp. Once they were allowed back in , hundreds of Bahrainis ran towards it, kissing the ground. Images of men kneeling down with tears of joy to the grass and roads at is base made us, from afar, wonder what the ‘victory’ was all about.
But now that it has been torn down, I understand what it was about. I understand that I am not the only one attached to spaces because of the shared experiences within their grounds. There is no public space in Bahrain because a public sphere is not encouraged, and in fact not welcome. Pearl Roundabout being turned into the only glimpse of freedom of expression and right to opinion was not something that needed to be preserved. Quite the opposite, it needed to be crushed.
Everyone has their own personal memory of what the Lulu was, after all it was a national landmark. The common joke today is that the GCC army came over to pull down the monument to their unity. The Lulu Roundabout, the space of empowerment, even if only for a few weeks, all that it was, in function and in symbol, will remain even more engrained in our minds through the vacuum that has been created in its empty space.