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.