Bahrain: Formula None
Bahrain’s royal family hopes you too will believe the 14-month uprising that began (or more properly stated, resumed) last February in the tiny Gulf nation, is now over.
Order, peace, tranquility and the legitimacy of monarchal rule are what they desperately want the international community to think have been restored. The unrest that followed last year’s violent eviction of peaceful protestors encamped in Manama’s Pearl Roundabout by Bahrain’s imported security force and Saudi troops is a thing of the past. The majority’s demand for serious democratic reform, proportional representation, equality between Sunni and Shia, and an end to the policies of sectarian gerrymandering are issues best left for another day.
The reason for the public relations push is that Bahrain’s showcase event, the Formula One Grand Prix, is set to begin this Sunday. Last year it was cancelled due to widespread clashes. This year, the government wants to reassure those with second thoughts that Bahrain is worthy of hosting it. Despite strong objections by the country’s opposition, Formula One Management President and CEO Bernie Ecclestone, was convinced. He announced last week the race would take place in Bahrain as scheduled.
“There’s nothing happening,” Ecclestone brazenly declared, “I know people who live there and it’s all very quiet and peaceful.”
“UniF1ed” is the nation’s slogan for the race, Orwellian in its attempt to gloss over the kingdom’s gross socioeconomic, political and religious inequities.
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) has meticulously documented abuses at the hands of the al-Khalifa regime just since the November 2011 report by the (government-appointed) Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry was issued.
Extra-judicial killings, arbitrary arrests, torture, kidnappings, firings, student dismissals, media harassment and censorship; all are in striking contrast to King Hamad and the Crown Prince’s narrative. The cabinet even released a statement saying the holding the contest in Bahrain reflected “confidence in the country’s security and stability.”
The myth peddled that all is well can be singly dispelled by the plight of one man: civil rights advocate and founder of the BCHR, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja.
Al-Khawaja is in the 72nd day of a hunger strike in protest of his unlawful detention, abuse and life imprisonment for peaceful activism against government brutality in the wake of pro-democracy demonstrations. Read the story of his arrest, torture and trial here. As of this writing, he barely clings to life.
With her husband’s health rapidly deteriorating, al-Khawaja’s wife Khadija al-Mousawi said of the upcoming race, “I am not angry with the government … it’s their future at stake. What makes me angry is people like Ecclestone who decides to come to Bahrain because he thinks everyone is happy. I can assure you that I am not happy. My family is not happy.”
“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 Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director, on the heels of the organization’s newly-released report, “Flawed Reforms: Bahrain Fails to Achieve Justice For Protestors.”
Bahrain’s public prosecutor has ordered charges related to freedom of expression be dropped against all prisoners. Yet al-Khawaja, a dual Danish-Bahraini citizen, remains held. Appeals by Denmark for his immediate release on humanitarian grounds have gone unheeded.
In light of grievous human rights abuses and the ongoing crackdown against the indefatigable Bahraini people, Formula One should be Formula None.
But let the royals have their day. Let them think their reign is secure. Let the voices of their cheering partisans, their American and European enablers, and the roar of engines drown out the cries of the oppressed and make inaudible the chants of “Leave Hamad, leave.”
The rest of Bahrain will instead stand behind the quiet dignity of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja’s 10-week-old hunger strike, a single day of which is nobler than all 228 years of al-Khalifa rule.
Rannie Amiri is an independent Middle East commentator.