The Bloody Bahraini Grand Prix

April 29, 2012 7:26 pm2 commentsViews: 2

Formula 1 should never have visited Bahrain, and the international community should stop ignoring the plight of the Bahraini people, argues Steffani Rodriguez.

Over the past week, the ruling family of the small island kingdom of Bahrain has attracted significant media attention, but for all the wrong reasons. Rephrase, for all the reasons it had hoped not to. Anti-government protests have claimed the lives of 80 Bahrainis and confined thousands more to the hospital rooms of Manama over the past 12 months. Nevertheless, the tyrannical regime still managed to proceed with its plans to host the Grand Prix last weekend. Most shocking, and a fact that only serves to highlight the oppression and blood on the hands of Bahrain’s elite, is the regime’s withholding of the body of 36 year old protestor Salah Abbas Habib, fearing that his funeral would (God forbid) overshadow the races. Although many have turned a blind eye to the suffering of Bahrain, as Formula One tycoon, Bernie Ecclestone aptly stated at the end of watching a weekend of races, “we will be back here next year, and for many years after, because they do a first class job”. It is obvious that a variety of superlatives can represent the Bahraini regime, first class Grand Prix hosting, and first class shooting of civilians, first class driving sectarianism, first class oppression. Al Khalifa seem to be doing a “first class job” of many things recently.

Although the regime has used the races as a tactic to demonstrate to the international community that top-down relations have normalized, the reality of the situation indicates a different story, over 8,000 people poured onto the streets of Manama on Friday to show their rage against the government for doing so little to respect their dignity and rights as to spend millions hosting the Grand Prix. What is more appalling is that when apartheid South Africa hosted the Grand Prix, various teams did not enter due to pressure from their own governments. Why should Bahrain be any different? The rhetoric of the Bahraini regime seems to equal that of the white South African elite during the apartheid era, or even that of the militant settler-mind set of Israelis living in the West Bank. Unlike South Africa, which was subject to a flurry of boycotts and critical media coverage, the international community keeps fuelling the oppression in Bahrain by sending Formula One drivers to race their propaganda-clad toys around a circuit a few times, as well as metaphorically shrugging their shoulders when Baba KSA sends their tanks across the sea to fight against peaceful protestors.

Since when can we pick and choose the suffering of people? Uprisings in Egypt, Libya and Syria attract an overwhelming amount of media coverage, and so they should, and whether the international community decide to get involved or not is a different polemic, however, it seems when we want to sit down and discuss Yemen or Bahrain, political elites and activists have more important affairs to address or more important lives to saves, and in this case, the international community has ignored the suffering of Bahrainis in the best way it could, by sending race car drivers who earn more in a day than the average Bahraini does in a lifetime, to make it look that Bahrain “is doing a good job”. Luckily for those whose sufferings and worries run deep into their souls, they made the world know the reality, they have sent the world a smoke signal in the shape of burning tyres and exploding Molotov cocktails. They have let the world know that Bahrain still weeps, and unless the international community addresses the problems in Bahrain, instead of sending multi-million dollar race cars, the Gulf will run red with the blood of its people, unless the world takes a closer look.

Steffani Rodriguez

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  • Guest

    People keep saying ‘Bloody Bahrain Grand Prix’ but I just want to put the following two points forward:

    1. The biggest complaint of Bahraini activists over the past year, and rightly so, is the lack of coverage they are receiving. To not have raced in Bahrain would have meant a continuation of the blackout. Racing in Bahrain meant that the focus was once more back on the country in a way that it wasn’t even at the height of the protests last year. Ultimately I think focusing on the grand prix was a bad thing and Bahrainis should have simply used the grand prix as a chance to focus as much effort into demonstrations as possible since the worlds eyes were on it and for that reason the government could also not do anything too violent. So the grand prix certainly did not harm bahraini protestors and and it arguably even helped their cause.

    2. Sporting events of much larger significance representing far more political causes have taken place in way more repressive countries. The best example is the Beijing Olympics. Now I will not assume you happily watched them but the vast majority of people, including I bet all the pro-Bahrain activists, talked for days on end about the unbelievable achievements of Phelps, Bolt etc and ignored the massive oppression in China in the name of sport. So the idea of a sporting event taking place in a country with a poor human rights record is nothing new or particularly wrong. To compare Bahrain to South Africa does not emphasise the severity of the Khalifa families crimes, it strongly dilutes the severity of apartheid.

    So yeah, I do think the decision to race in Bahrain was blown out of proportion. Last year when the repression and brutality of the regime was at its height the Grand Prix was cancelled. This year things HAVE calmed down and the government itself has owned up to its crimes, even if it is dragging its heels in doing anything. Formula 1 went to Bahrain, raced some cars and went home. You can think that is immoral but I think the whole thing has been blown out of proportion.

  • Human Being

    @ee3a04a007dc85a548e8f41f9ce24238:disqus You make some good points. However, it is important to understand that the F1 didn’t bring media attention to Bahrain. It was the controversy of the F1 caused by the Bahraini people contesting it that attention was brought to Bahrain. If no one had argued against the F1 and just accepted that it was coming, then there would have been no debates/reporting on Western Media about the situation in Bahrain in the weeks preceding the event. When Western Media agencies came to Bahrain, they would not have tried to investigate to see if there’s any unrest. It’s because people contested it that attention was brought to Bahrain.

    However, I wouldn’t say that that is the main reason the F1 should have been argued against; I disagree with your second point. In regards to the Beijing Olympics, despite China’s undisputed human rights violation track record, there wasn’t mass civil unrest at the time of the Olympics. People weren’t protesting on the streets and getting attacked by Chinese forces. And yes, perhaps it still shouldn’t have been held there, simply because of the violations, but no one asked for that did they? Linking back to my first point, if there was a campaign to stop the Olympics in China, then there would be controversy and maybe it wouldn’t have been held, or it would have at least opened the door for investigation of human rights violations.

    Your point of how comparing Bahrain to South Africa “does not emphasise the severity of the Khalifa families crimes, it strongly dilutes the severity of apartheid.”, is an opinion. And an opinion based on information that suggests the situation in Bahrain isn’t as bad as South Africa. But by what measure? Death toll? Level of segregation? At the end of the day, people are dying, unjustly and brutally and the people have unequal rights based on their religion etc. That is apartheid and oppression. So why shouldn’t it be compared to the reactions of sports event coordinators? If you’re going to oppose and boycott one, then have the consistency to do the same somewhere else too.

    Your last paragraph reiterates how you think things have calmed down. More people have been killed since the so called “reforms” were put into place, and protests have become a daily routine for thousands of people for the last two months. The crackdown tactics and documented human rights violations have escalated and worsened. The government only owned up to its crimes (without actually implicating themselves in anything – they just said the security forces made mistakes, not “members of the Royal Family were reported to have personally taken part in torture activities etc”) in order to give the rest of the world, mainly the U.S and UK the green light to keep diplomatic relations with them, support them politically and otherwise, and to carry on supplying arms to them without being questioned. Which worked, and the rest of the world happily believed that the government have accepted their mistakes and are fixing it, the revolution is over. Not really.

    That’s why none of this was blown out of proportion at all. In fact, there wasn’t enough uproar about it. There are still news channels and people denying that anything is happening in Bahrain. And most media outlets have already gone back to ignoring it now that the F1 is over.