Bahrain’s Formula One Grand Prix Crackdown

For the third time in three years, Bahraini citizens are protesting the Formula One Grand Prix. And it looks like for the second time in two years, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile will ignore massive human and civil rights repression and let the race go as planned.

Bahrain’s citizens have been abandoned by the world. Pro-democracy protests started in February 14, 2011, with activists calling for a constitutional monarchy and greater economic freedom. Three days later, protesters were violently evicted from Manama’s Pearl Roundabout, and it only got worse. A state of emergency was enacted and King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa let the Gulf Cooperation Council’s Peninsula Shield Force enter the country to essentially enact martial law. This is on top of the use of torture on activists, show trials of medical professionals, and the recruitment of mercenaries.

And as it did this, other nations did nothing. The civil war in Libya attracted the most attention in the region, followed by Syria. Even the United States and other Western nations turned their backs. The United States maintains an interest in Bahrain – its Fifth Fleet is housed there. With the international community’s focus elsewhere, the monarchy spent millions on foreign public relations firms to mask any internal trouble.

The Formula One Grand Prix is a major money maker for both Bahrain and the sport, but the protests are causing problems. The FIA canceled the race in 2011, but let it happen in 2012, despite renewed protests and dissent from teams themselves. And with the race set to happen this weekend, Bahrain’s rulers aren’t taking any chances of losing their image. Human Rights Watch reported that police are arresting activists to prevent any major rallies during the race weekend.

But the trouble won’t go away. The monarchy, backed by Saudi Arabia and other GCC states, is trying to foster the blame of protests on Iran, which is splintering the opposition – predominantly Shia – along sectarian lines. The monarchy wants the opposition to devolve into infighting, but right now both the GCC and Iran are raging a proxy war that will only continue to harm Bahrainis and spur more extreme action from protesters.

The international community can’t continue to ignore Bahrain. With the triumph against dictators in Egypt and Tunisia, it’s clear that oppressive regimes are fully delegitimized in the eyes of their people. Stopping the crackdown will improve long-term security in Bahrain, something the United States should realize is a worthy goal, not short-term peace via violence. Turning a blind eye to the repression in Bahrain will only invite more suffering and polarization in the country. Other nations don’t need to stage a military intervention, they don’t need to pay a fortune. They need to pay attention and pressure Bahrain’s monarchy to end the crackdown.