chapter  2
20 Pages

Mapping the transnational community: Persians and the space of the city in Bahrain, c.1869–1937

Persians and the space of the city in Bahrain,
Withc.1869–1937 Nelida Fuccaro

These two quotations, written some 130 years apart by an English traveller and by a member of the Persian community of Bahrain, capture two snapshots of the multi-ethnic and cosmopolitan society of the port city of Manamah before the radical demographic transformation of the 1960s. Palgrave’s description of Manamah’s coffee-houses in the mid-nineteenth century portrays them as cosmopolitan venues in contrast with the ‘closely knit and bigoted universe of central Arabia’, which he had just visited. Despite conveying somewhat stereotypical orientalist images, Palgrave invokes the notion of ‘men of the world’ as individuals socializing in open-minded milieus who developed ways of thinking and relating to the ‘other’, able to overcome communal bonds, beliefs and cultures of origin. In contrast, Bushehri’s autobiographical narrative provides a communal perspective on Bahrain in the early 1960s. His sense of place and self is filtered through strong political and religious loyalties which blend together under the banner of Pahlavi nationalism. As Bushehri explains in his unpublished memoirs, the majority of the Persian Shi‘i population of Manamah looked at Iran as their homeland until 1967-8, when the United Nations sent a special commission to Bahrain to ascertain the views of the local population regarding its political future. Most Persians opted for Bahrain’s independence under its historical Arab rulers, the al-Khalifah family, and by 1971, when Bahrain was released from British control, Iran had relinquished her historical claim over the islands.3