Both Formula One’s Bernie Ecclestone and the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) have confirmed that next week’s Grand Prix will take place in Bahrain much to the shock, relief or mixed feelings of Bahrainis and human rights activists outside of the divided country which is continuing to go through the tremors of the Arab Spring. FIA officials stated that the race will be held after concluding that it was safe for the drivers and others despite the obviousness of the violent instability in the country.
Mr. Ecclestone dismissed safety concerns saying that there is “nothing happening in Bahrain. . . it’s all very quiet and peaceful.”
A couple of hours after that fateful statement, less than a dozen protesters were injured by riot police, a hunger strike in front of the U.S. embassy in Bahrain continued and other incidents occurred.
Human rights organizations including Amnesty International have criticized the Grand Prix as an attempt to cover up the recent political instability and give the world the impression that the conflict in Bahrain is over.
In November, FIA’s president Jean Todt met with members of Parliament, the Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and others to discuss the possibility of holding a 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix after organizers called it off last year due to clashes between the authorities & protesters.
The pressure to call off the Grand Prix in Bahrain this year was extreme especially considering the conflict in Bahrain between Shi’ites who want greater political representation and the Saudi Arabia-backed Sunni royal family in power is ongoing.
The conflict also runs deeper on both a political and religious level primarily between the Sunni and Shi’ite communities.
Since the start of the protests on February 14, 2011, more than 70 people have died and thousands more injured as a result of getting hit by bullets, tear gas & bird shots. Some dead even by torture.
Hosting a Grand Prix would be economically good for Bahrain which has scared off investors and tourists in the past year but moral implications of hosting the event have been the topic of discussion among many Bahrainis online.
As for the Grand Prix drivers, they, according to the FIA, have accepted to drive in Bahrain without “any complaint”.
(Cover Photo: Reuters)