Foreign AffairsWritten evidence from Philip Smith

This is my personal submission to the forthcoming Foreign Affairs Committee hearing with regard to my personal experience of living in Bahrain.

I am a former RAF officer and retired to come to work in Bahrain as an Instructor Pilot in 2003. For the first 4 years I worked for BAE Systems before going direct hire with the Royal Bahraini Air Force in 2008.

Firstly, I’d like to state that Bahrainis in general are courteous, kind, likeable and tolerant regardless of religious affiliation. They are strongly family-orientated and accept other nationalities readily, a trait I presume to come from their being on a major trade route for many thousands of years and the exposure to different people and cultures that has brought.

Until recently, crime was low, graffiti non-existent and vandalism rare. Bahrain was and I hope one day will again be a thoroughly nice place to live. This explains why so many western expats spend long periods of time here up to and in many cases beyond retirement age.

I have been baffled by the bias I have witnessed in the media, particularly the BBC and Sky news. The vast majority of the population are peaceful and law-abiding. The tiny minority who throw molotov cocktails at the police, block roads with burning tyres and tree trunks and most recently leave explosive devices that kill innocent people do not represent the way the country should be heading or most people’s views.

This behaviour would not be tolerated in any civilised country and it is not tolerated here, quite rightly. Freedom of expression exists in this country provided it does not interfere with the right of others to go about their lawful business. The egregious Alex Crawford of Sky News came to Bahrain and expressed her amazement at the fact that Bahraini women could go out and about on their own, driving cars and in some cases not even wearing a hijab(head covering). A resounding illustration of her ignorance.

Bahrain is the most liberal country in the Middle East and is as far removed from places like Saudi Arabia, Iran or China as Kensington. There is a case for further reform in the Kingdom which is being addressed but cannot happen overnight. The fact that dialogue is permitted is a clear indicator that this is not some sort of despotic regime. The media often uses sensationalist language and mis-portrays the true picture of the situation in Bahrain and I hope that the Committee recognizes this during deliberations.

18 November 2012

Prepared 21st November 2013