Justin Gengler asks “Who needs the Bahrain Grand Prix?”

Academic Dr Justin Gengler writes for Foreign Policy on some of the local dynamics structuring opposition to (and support for) the Bahrain Grand Prix:

Since its first running in 2004, the Bahrain Grand Prix has been a mainstay of the country’s complex political calendar. Indeed, controversy brewed well before a single race could take place, with critics decrying the expense of constructing the vast Bahrain International Circuit even as many citizens struggled to find jobs, housing, and affordable land. At the same time, the track’s isolation in the far south of the island — well, as far south as one can go before hitting military fences — fed the notion that the race, hosted not far from Sakhir Palace, was conceived mostly as a diversion for society’s elite, and aptly demonstrated the misplaced social and economic priorities of the ruling family.

As such, the Formula One event consistently has been the occasion for popular protest and violence, giving the impression that the event is but a microcosm of Bahrain’s larger opposition-government divide, with the latter pursuing self-serving policies while ordinary Bahrainis try in vain to effect meaningful change.

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The reality, however, is more complex. Whereas Bahrain’s decentralized street movement vowed to target the Financial Harbor “to demonstrate revolutionaries’ rejection of the Formula One race,” the continuing protests of the moderate opposition aim instead to capitalize on the event for its own political ends. “We do not want to hold up the race,” explained al-Wefaq Secretary General Sheikh Ali Salman, “but we are trying to benefit from the increased media presence.”

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Accordingly, that Formula One has returned to Bahrain following its absence in 2011 is most notable not for overcoming domestic or international pressure, but for having escaped the fate of [Crown Prince] Sheikh Salman’s other flagship political and economic initiatives. These include innovative but (among business owners) unpopular labor market reforms that incentivized employment of Bahraini citizens over foreign migrants, as well as the Economic Development Board, once a virtual shadow cabinet chaired by the crown prince that today barely functions.

Like these now-defunct institutions, the Bahrain Grand Prix represents part of a larger economic strategy launched by King Hamad bin Isa shortly after his 1999 succession and eventually superintended by his son Sheikh Salman. The program, a complement to simultaneous (if largely illusory) political liberalizations, aimed to end Bahrain’s overwhelming fiscal reliance upon natural resources in general and upon oil and gas provided by Saudi Arabia in particular.

Among other efforts to diversify the sources of state revenue, Bahrain courted Western and Gulf Arab tourists through the promotion of a liberal social climate and high-profile international events. In addition to making the country’s economy more competitive and diversified, this long-term strategy also sought to chip away at the lines of economic-cum-political patronage upon which the king’s challengers within the ruling family, in particular the powerful prime minister, depended.

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Read full article

 

Security concerns raised after incident at Financial Harbour

AFP reports:

Bahrain vowed on Sunday to take “appropriate” security measures after a series of explosions raised security fears ahead of the kingdom’s premier international sporting event, the F1 Grand Prix motor race, scheduled for this weekend

The interior ministry said on Monday it would boost security after militants ignited a gas canister in a car in the central commercial district of the capital late on Sunday.

The blast outside the Bahrain Financial Harbour was accompanied by three other explosions on the outskirts of the capital Manama, with the February 14 youth movement claiming responsibility for the attacks, saying it was aimed at disrupting “activity in Manama’s financial centre in opposition to holding the Formula One race”, and pledging “more operations”.

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Officials have downplayed the incident, which the interior ministry has not designated as a “terrorist incident”.

Bahrain “will ensure that appropriate security measures are taken during the F1 race and will take enough measures as in all other countries which host such international sporting events,” government spokeswoman Sameera Rajab said.

“The security situation in Bahrain is very reassuring,” she said, quoted by state news agency BNA.

The violence was condemned by several groups including opposition society Al-Wefaq and US-based NGOs Americans for Human Rights and Democracy in Bahrain and Human Rights First

Human Right First’s Brian Dooley said:

Thankfully no one was injured in these explosions, but there have been casualties in previous violent protests. If these bombings continue, there will inevitably be more injuries and deaths. Such attacks are wrong, increase the polarization in an already deeply divided society, and aren’t the way to achieve democracy in Bahrain.

The February 14 Youth Coalition, an underground opposition movement, are running a campaign against the Formula One which they call “Flame Volcanoes”.

Flame Volcanoes

They posted statement on their Facebook page about the Financial Harbour incident. Their English translation reads:

Urgent: after potting our trust in God, the process of “warning 3” is began amid financial Harbour junction in the capital Manama, in act of popular rejection of “formula 1” racing on our home land occupied by Saudis, including direct support to the bloodshed and continue support crimes against human rights.

A YouTube channel, created on March 28th, purports to show footage from the two previous “warnings”, where cars were driven to locations, doused with petrol, and set aflame.