What's Next for 'Business Friendly Bahrain'?

Bahrainis and expats living in the Kingdom of Bahrain have been living history over the past month as the events in Tunisia and Egypt inspired the mostly Shia majority in Bahrain to take the streets demanding political, economic and social reform.

Young Indian Muslims pose with placards during a protest rally against the ongoing political turmoil in Bahrain, Libya, and Yemen.
Noah Seelam | AFP | Getty Images
Young Indian Muslims pose with placards during a protest rally against the ongoing political turmoil in Bahrain, Libya, and Yemen.

As a reporter residing in Manama who has covered the series of historic events that kicked off on Feb 14th, I have been amazed by the resilience of both the Bahraini people and the expat community to weather the storm.

The anti-government protesters I am speaking to have not been discouraged by the recent government crackdown on street protests, the deployment of UAE troops, or the demolition of the iconic Pearl Roundabout - they continue to seek reform but are exploring alternate avenues to achieve their goals.

Still, they admit that there is a somber tone in the air that didn't exist before.

Most expats I talk to regularly have returned to the Kingdom and are trying to conduct business as usual but are considering whether or not they will stay in the Middle East long-term, while others say they are considering moving to less 'conflict-ridden' areas like Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

It's not in dispute that Bahrain is at a pivotal turning point in its history, but the question now is if the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Kingdom can continue to move forward as a business-friendly hub or if growth will be hindered by tanks in the streets?

One analyst I spoke to from a large investment bank in Manama who wanted to remain anonymous said: "it all depends on the National Dialogue and it will not commence anytime soon. It's all about 'restoring law and order,' then 'trial and punishment,' then 'national dialogue.' So no meaningful dialogue will be possible at any time before the end of the year."

"The effects of the unrest will permanently scar the country's history and economy - investors and international business will consider the political risk more adversely now," the analyst said.

"Having said that, Bahrain has a golden opportunity to fix this and by entering into serious dialogue and serious political reform to propel itself into one of the most politically stable countries in the region, but again it comes back to the dialogue," he added.

When asked about continued violence, he said "protesters are still showing defiance within the confinement of their villages across Bahrain, but these protests are sporadic and take place on a small scale; the widespread crackdown of pre-dawn raids is performed by the security apparatus on a daily basis to keep these protests contained."

But for the longer term, a "Truth and Reconciliation" process like the one that occurred in South Africa after the end of the apartheid might be needed, the analyst said.

"The divide created during this period will need several years to fully close," he said.