I’m now home after a whirlwind visit to Bahrain. I arrived from Oman on Wednesday afternoon, did a seminar on Thursday, then left on Friday morning.
The seminar was under the auspices of the ABA’s Rule of Law Initiative. My chaperones were James MacPherson and John Porter, who has just replaced James as the ABA’s resident advisor in Bahrain.
The seminar was hosted by the Judicial & Legal Studies Institute of the Ministry of Justice & Islamic Affairs of the Kingdom of Bahrain. My thanks go to Dr. Mostafa Abdel Ghaffar, director of the Institute, for his hospitality.
Some of the participants were from the Directorate of Legal Affairs, which is responsible for reviewing contracts entered into by agencies of the Bahrain government. The directorate is headed by Judge Abdullah Bin Hassan Al Boainain, who welcomed me graciously. The remaining participants were from various agencies of the Bahraini government.
Some of the participants listened to my seminar through interpreters. That might seem unusual, given that the seminar was about drafting contracts in English, but the Bahrainis sensibly enough thought that the seminar would provide a good opportunity to introduce some officials to the world of English-language contracts.
I didn’t envy the interpreters. I’ve written an article on the problems facing anyone looking to translate English-language contracts. (Click here for a copy.) How do you translate text that the drafter gave no thought to? In the same vein, what would the interpreters make of my references to WITNESSETH and indemnify and hold harmless? They evidently survived the ordeal …
For the benefit of the interpreters, as I was speaking I tried to limit my use of metaphor and simile, but some slipped though. I noted some hilarity when I suggested that a rational approach to drafting would allow drafters to focus on negotiating and determining strategy, as opposed to engaging in the traditional process of drafting contracts, which is akin to shoveling coal. The interpreter on duty sensibly thought that shoveling coal wouldn’t resonate with the Bahrainis, so instead referred to shoveling sand.
Whenever I speak to participants who aren’t native speakers of English, at some point I ask myself whether they’re going to find much value in, for example, a discussion of whether it makes sense to say including without limitation. Any concerns I had on that score were put to rest by how vigorously those present participated in the redrafting exercises that closed the seminar.
A 44-hour stay in Bahrain doesn’t entitle me to offer any cultural insights. But I couldn’t help but notice that like its neighbors Qatar and Dubai, Bahrain is a hive of activity, with towers sprouting from land claimed from the Gulf of Bahrain. After all, Bahrain has the fastest-growing economy in the Arab world.
That caused me to dwell for a moment on the shifting tides in the affairs of men. From around 3,000 B.C., Bahrain was apparently the site of Dilmun, a civilization that was the center of a major international trading nextwork. It collapsed sometime in the middle of the second millennium B.C. And now Bahrain is again playing a role on a broader world stage.