The small but prosperous Gulf kingdom of Bahrain has appointed a new Ambassador to the United States.

And she is Jewish.

Surprised?

Most Americans can’t tell a Shiite from a Sunni, or a Farsi from an Arab.

And a lot of blogs seem to think “Arab =Muslim”, a generalization that would come as a surprise to Lebanese Christians or Indonesian Muslims.

One of the underreported stories in the Middle East  is the existence of the small independent Gulf states, whose policies are in stark contrast to the theocracy of the Farsi/Shiite Iran or the Arab/Sunni kingdom with strict theocratic law in Saudi Arabian kingdom.

All of the  small Gulf states have slightly different histories, but unlike their desert cousins in Saudi or the farming empires to the north, these states started with local traders, who like businessmen of all colours and religion have had to cope with customers of various cultures to survive.

More recently, oil replaced pearls and trade goods, bringing in thousands of outsiders. As a result, these countries have a volitile mixture of Sunni and Shiite, with a bunch of overseas workers, including Christian Filipinos and Indians in the mixture. But while the western press is busy reporting on terrorists and suicide bombers, or women in Saudi being beaten for showing ankles, the press ignores these pious but tolorant Arab countries that are busy building a viable Arab future.

Bahrain, a small kingdom located in an island in the Persian Gulf, is one such country. They have a thriving economy, 60% from oil, but are aware that this will some day run out, so they are busy diversifying their economy with manufacturing, tourism, and international finance.

Like the other Gulf states, Islam is the dominent religion, but there is a Catholic church in the capital for the foreign workers (about 20 percent of the population, mainly foreign guest workers, are Christian, Hindu or other religions). And despite a small percentage of overzealous religious types who act up now and then, the population tends to tolorate and even welcome visitors from other Gulf states and sailors passing through (both civilian and military).

But what I didn’t know is that there has been a Jewish presence in the area that dates back before the prophet.

The modern Jewish population dates back only 100 plus years, when traders from Iraq emigrated to the island. At one point, there were many families, however many fled after the anti Jewish riots of 1948 (“instigated by foreigners”) leaving only a few families behind.

One family who stayed was the Nonoo family.

The most prominent member of this family, Abraham David Nonoo,(Ebrahim Daoud Nonoo ) is CEO of the Basma Company, a conglomerate of companies that supply equipment, cleaning services,  and security services to other companies.

But when it came time to appoint an Ambassador to the US, the King chose another prominent member of the Nonoo family to represent his country:

Huda Ezra Ebrahim Nonoo, is set to become Bahrain’s ambassador to Washington, sources close to diplomats told Gulf News on Thursday….

Huda, a businesswoman, was the first Jewish woman to sit in the Shura Council, the 40-member upper house of the bicameral legislature, replacing her uncle. A Christian woman, Alice Samaan, also sits on the council which has 11 women, compared with only one woman MP, Lateefa Al Gaood, in the 40-member lower house.

Huda also is the first Jewish woman to head a rights organisation, the Bahrain Human Rights Watch. She is its secretary-general.

The government claims she was appointed because of her qualifications, not as a token.

However, one hopes that the Islamophobic (or one should actually say the Islamoignorant) western press will notice that Bahrain, like other Muslim  Gulf states, do use the talents of their women in building an Arab future based on their own tolerant history, not merely a second hand western imitation.

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headsup from GatewayPunditBlog. 

Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket. 

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