Bahrain is a collection of 33 islands half way up the Saudi side of the Persian Gulf between the Straights of Hormuz and Kuwait/Basra just to the west of the Qatar Peninsula. It has a certain amount of oil and it is famous for its pearls but a lot of the modern economy is based on tourism because it’s one of the few Arabian countries where you can legally drink. It’s also a center for International Banking, go figure.
It’s a playground for Petro-Billionaires, a Vice City ruled by the Sunni Bedouin Al Khalifa tribe originally from Kuwait. The colonialist British established them as the ruling family in the early 1800s and Bahrain is considered a major center of British influence in Arabia, but in fact they frequently rebelled against this role and habitually sought the protection of the Shia Shahs of Iran against them and their other numerous enemies including the Turks, Saudis, and Omanis.
Iran first intervened against Portuguese colonial influence in 1602 and over the next 2 centuries built a solid Shia majority that persists until this day. In the 1860s Iran was unable to defend Bahrain against British aggression and by 1892 it was a vassal state and broke off all relations with Iran. In 1911 a sustained rebellion against the British eventually resulted in deposition of Sheikh Issa bin Ali Al Khalifa who changed his mind and had come to support Iranian territorial claims in the face of continued British domination. The state became a virtual Vice Royalty of Charles Belgrave for 30 years until 1957.
Part of Belgrave’s policy was to encourage sectarian and class divisions between Shia and Sunni, after he was booted Britain “set out to change the demographics of Bahrain. The policy of ‘deiranisation’ consisted of importing a large number of different Arabs and others from British colonies as labourers.”
Fun place huh? Can’t wait to party with these guys.
In February 2011 the ‘Pearl Revolution’ was part of the wave of ‘Arab Spring’ revolts. It was peaceful for exactly 3 days before the police started shooting protesters and when the locals proved insufficient to the task King Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa and Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, deputy supreme commander of the Bahrain defence force and, as chairman of the Supreme Council for Youth and Sports the chief architect the of initiative to bring Formula One racing to Bahrain and build the Bahrain International Circuit, invited Saudi mercenaries in to assist.
Human rights organizations reported that, in the 8 months following the outbreak of protests on 14 February, more than 1,600 peaceful political protesters, medical professionals, journalists, human rights defenders and innocent bystanders had been arrested, and more than 100 people convicted by a special military court established by the government.
On 23 November 2011, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry released its report on human rights violations during the February and March 2011 protests, finding that the government "systematically" tortured prisoners, summarily fired Shi’ite employees and university students, and committed other gross human rights violations.
In 2011 the Formula One race was cancelled due to civil unrest as the medical staff was deployed to treat casualties. Charitable minds attribute the willingness of the Monarchy to negotiate to the desire to hold the race, but I have no doubt that it also precipitated the initial police violence and the quick resort to foriegn mercenaries.
Things are now no better. Among the tortured and convicted is Abdulhadi al-Khawaja on a hunger strike since February 8, over 70 days, who is now refusing both IV fluids and water and is likely to die before his next court date this Monday.
Did I mention he’s a Danish citizen?
On Thursday a van carrying members of the Force India racing team was nearly struck and and another with Sauber crew members witnessed it from a few cars behind. Force India skipped the 2nd Friday Practice in order to transport its team during daylight.
The theme this year is- “Unif1ed – One Nation in Celebration“. “I genuinely believe this race is a force for good, it unites many people from many different religious backgrounds, sects and ethnicities,” says Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa. “For those of us trying to navigate a way out of this political problem, having the race allows us … to celebrate our nation as an idea that is positive, not one that is divisive.”
Bahrain braces for wave of F1 protests
Paul Weaver in Manama and Ian Black, Middle East editor, The Guardian
Thursday 19 April 2012 14.05 EDT
A government PR agency distributed comments by a former Wefaq MP, Jasim Husain, who said: “I can tell you that most people in Bahrain are happy and pleased that F1 is back in Bahrain, given its effects on the economy and the social aspects of it. Many are happy and pleased. I see this as a sporting and economic event, rather than a political event. Security has never been a big issue in Bahrain. The protests are very much peaceful; largely people are having political issues which have to be addressed one way or another.”
Unease Surrounds Bahrain Grand Prix
By BRAD SPURGEON, The New York Times
Published: April 19, 2012
The government is attempting to use the Grand Prix to show that life is back to normal in Bahrain, after the race was canceled last year because of unrest. An estimated 40 to 70 people have been killed in Bahrain since the Arab Spring uprisings began in February 2011.
“I am not angry with the government; it’s their future at stake,” said Khadija al-Mousawi, the hunger striker’s wife, one of whose daughters was at a protest in Manama on Wednesday. “What makes me angry is people like Ecclestone who decides to come to Bahrain because he thinks everyone is happy.”
“To what extent did commercial and political interests cloud their judgment?”
Bahrain Grand Prix 2012: city burns but Bernie Ecclestone insists the show must go on
By Tom Cary, F1 Correspondent, The Telegraph
Manama 10:00PM BST 20 Apr 2012
Bernie Ecclestone, the sport’s chief executive, and Jean Todt, the president of the governing body, have a lot on the line. Ecclestone, in particular, after 81 years of scrapping his way to a fortune, is used to tough questions but should things go wrong very tough questions will be asked. To what extent did commercial and political interests cloud their judgment?
It is why everyone tried so hard to pass the buck last week, with Ecclestone saying it was up to the teams, the teams saying it was up to the FIA and the FIA saying nothing at all.
Ultimately, however, those two carry the responsibility for Formula One being here. Sure, the teams and drivers and sponsors could have boycotted the race but they, too, rely to a certain extent on the information they receive from above.
Ecclestone was his usual flippant self when asked for his thoughts on events this week. “It’s a lot of nonsense,” he said. “I think you guys want a story, and it’s a good story, and if there isn’t a story you make it up as usual, so what difference?”
The sad thing is this crisis was entirely predictable. Formula One journalists have copped a certain amount of criticism this week for venturing into areas of conflict to ask for people’s thoughts about the race, to try to report on what is happening. For deigning to be reporters, in other words.
What did the Bahraini and Formula One authorities think? That they would sit in their hotels all week, only venturing to the track to talk about rear wings and F-ducts?
In Bahrain, Business Is Not as Usual
By BRAD SPURGEON, The New York Times
Published: April 20, 2012
For the monarchy – and for Formula One – there are also overriding economic concerns. The Grand Prix is the kingdom’s biggest sports event, drawing a worldwide television audience of roughly 100 million in nearly 200 countries, bringing in half a billion dollars in revenue and attracting thousands of visitors. When the race was canceled last year, Bahrain still had to pay Formula One a $40 million “hosting fee.”
So with the world watching and big money at stake, the government has hoped to use the race to demonstrate that life has returned to normal in Bahrain. But the media spotlight on the race in recent weeks has to some extent resulted in the opposite: a closer look at the political situation and the protesters and their claims of human rights abuses.
The humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières stopped sending doctors to Bahrain and said that the kingdom’s hospitals were considered so dangerous for the Shiite majority that many injured in protests would not use them.
Amnesty International said in a report that Bahrain was falling deeper into human rights abuses and that if the race was run, it would feed what it called the monarchy’s propaganda aims.
“With the world’s eyes on Bahrain as it prepares to host the Grand Prix, no one should be under any illusions that the country’s human rights crisis is over,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa deputy director. “The authorities are trying to portray the country as being on the road to reform, but we continue to receive reports of torture and use of unnecessary and excessive force against protests.”
“The regime was isolated because of the crimes it committed and the Bahrain Grand Prix is giving a way out for the government, especially the royal family,” said Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. “We need this regime to be punished for the crimes it has committed in the past year and half.”
Shell, a Ferrari sponsor, will not entertain clients and partners.
Bahrain Grand Prix to Go Ahead as Protests Flare
Published: April 20, 2012 at 9:46 PM ET
Manama is under tight security, with dozens of armored vehicles stationed around the capital and the road to the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir. Activists say barbed wire has been installed near some parts of the main highway.
Two of the 12 teams were left rattled after witnessing protesters throwing petrol bombs. Two members of the Force India team went home to Britain although the other team, Sauber, continued with race preparations.
Ahead of Bahrain Grand Prix, Incidents Put Formula One Teams on Edge
By JONATHAN SCHULTZ, The New York Times
April 20, 2012, 1:47 pm
On Wednesday night, a vehicle carrying personnel from the Force India team passed through an area where Molotov cocktails and debris were thrown. According to the BBC, a tear-gas canister fired by the police entered the vehicle. Two Force India employees elected to leave Bahrain ahead of Sunday’s race. Speaking afterward about the incident, the team driver Nico Hulkenberg questioned the decision of Formula One authorities to race in such a volatile climate, saying that teams “shouldn’t have been put in this position.”
Speaking of the earlier incident involving Force India, the crown prince deflected the notion that Formula One teams were being targeted. “I absolutely can guarantee that any problems that may or may not happen are not directed at F1,” he said. “It goes to show that there are people who are out to cause chaos.”
“It is why everyone tried so hard to pass the buck last week, with Ecclestone saying it was up to the teams, the teams saying it was up to the FIA and the FIA saying nothing at all.”
Bernie Ecclestone: ‘not in my power to call off Bahrain Grand Prix’
Friday 20 April 2012 09.29 EDT
With Sauber now also confirming that some of their personnel witnessed an incident involving masked protesters on Thursday night as they returned to Manama, Ecclestone said it was not in his power to cancel the race.
“I can’t call this race off. It is nothing to do with us, the race,” he said according to a report on the Autosport website. “We are here, we have an agreement to be here and we are here. The national sporting authority in this country can ask the FIA if they want to call the race off.”
Ecclestone said he did not understand why Force India was so worried about safety – and that he had personally offered to drive with the team from the circuit if they wanted reassurance.
“They have asked and been told they can have security if they want it,” he said. “I don’t know if people are targeting them for some reason, I don’t know – I hope not because none of the other teams seem to have a problem.
“So maybe they have had a message and are being targeted for something – it may be nothing to do with being in this country, maybe it is something else.”
Archie Bland: Why won’t Bernie Ecclestone lead by example in Bahrain?
Archie Bland, Deputy Editor, The Independent
Wednesday 18 April 2012
What Ecclestone and Co apparently fail to appreciate is that doing nothing can be just as meaningful an act as making a fuss. In Bahrain, as in South Africa during the apartheid years, the options aren’t a powerful political statement vs a position of strict neutrality; instead, the two options are equally forceful.
By pulling Formula One out of Bahrain for a second year, Mr Ecclestone and his colleagues would be sending a signal that the country is still in crisis. That’s a position strongly reinforced by an Amnesty International report earlier this week. Doing nothing, by extension, makes the opposite statement.
Since last year Formula One deemed a race in Bahrain would be a bad idea, the decision to go ahead this time implies that things are getting better. Max Mosley, a former Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile president, gets it: the Bahraini authorities, he wrote in The Daily Telegraph, “hope to show the world that the troubles were just a small, temporary difficulty… By agreeing to race there, Formula One becomes complicit in what happened.”
“What did the Bahraini and Formula One authorities think? That they would sit in their hotels all week, only venturing to the track to talk about rear wings and F-ducts?”
Bahrain Grand Prix revs up polarisation of Gulf state
Ian Black, Middle East editor, The Guardian
Friday 20 April 2012 09.15 EDT
For the government in Manama, the message was one of business as usual as the engines revved up: “The long wait is over,” announced an excited statement from its information affairs authority. “The region’s biggest sporting and social spectacle is finally here!” Not, however, for the foreign journalists – not motor racing correspondents – who were turned away at the airport or denied visas to enter the country.
Manama has been able to count on the acquiescence of governments and the active support of others. US and British PR companies are working overtime to get across the official point of view. “Imagine if a British police chief was in Damascus dumping on the protest movement in Syria,” said the Labour MP Denis MacShane of the security role of former Metropolitan police assistant commissioner John Yates. “There is a complete double standard when it comes to Bahrain.”
Protesters are seeking democracy, but there is an unavoidable sectarian aspect to the conflict in a small country where the ruling dynasty is Sunni and the majority of its subjects are Shia Muslims who are under-represented and face discrimination in all walks of life. In recent days regime thugs have been caught on camera trashing Shia-owned shops while policemen stood by.
F1 grand prix: Bahrain denies entry to journalists
Mark Sweney, The Guardian
Friday 20 April 2012 12.29 EDT
Journalists who have been refused entry include Stuart Ramsay, chief correspondent at Sky News, who is being forced to file coverage from Dubai.
He has been prevented from entering Bahrain despite Sky Sports, like Sky News owned by BSkyB, providing exclusive live TV coverage of Sunday’s controversial Grand Prix to UK viewers. Sky Sports signed a seven-year deal to broadcast live TV coverage of every Formula One race from this season.
Bahrain Grand Prix 2012: authorities refusal to allow news media into the kingdom causes uproar
By Tom Cary, The Telegraph
Manama 12:26AM BST 20 Apr 2012
Ramsey’s struggles are ironic given the fact that Sky Sports has just started a seven-year deal channel-sharing deal with the BBC to cover Formula One in the UK.
It is understood that neither BBC Sport nor Sky Sports will address the off-track issues in Bahrain in their coverage this weekend, with BBC News and Sky News to cover that angle. Assuming they can get in, of course.
Some other links I found
- F1: Clashes Hit Bahrain Formula One Exhibit, Associated Press
- Bahrain activists vow "days of rage" for GP, EuroSport
- Why is Bahrain F1 race under fire?, CNN
- The Bahrain Grand Prix tests Britain’s policy of engagement, The Guardian
The actual race is a 7:30 am start tomorrow on Speed with a repeat at 1:30 pm. GP2 starts at 6 am.
The cars will run on Mediums and Softs with Mediums favored because the track is coarse and it is hot and dusty. Visibility can be a problem. Red Bull will make an exhaust decision and not run 2 setups. Some teams are scrambling to reverse engineer the Mercedes front wing DRS, but others are uninterested. Silverstone may get approved as a testing track, McLaren will use its Test Drivers, not Hamilton or Button. Massa is under pressure from Scuderia Marlboro.
Other competition links-