A slight difference of opinion on Bahrain

Posted: February 20, 2011 in Formula 1
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

It’s been a while since we played a game.  Let’s try a bit of Odd One Out:

The U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs

The U.S. Department of State alerts U.S. citizens to the potential for ongoing political and social unrest in Bahrain.  We urge U.S. citizens to defer non-essential travel to Bahrain at this time.  There are confirmed reports of violent clashes including weapons fired between protesters and security forces in various parts of the city.  Spontaneous demonstrations and violence are expected throughout the next several days.  This Travel Alert expires on March 18th 2011.

British Foreign and Commonwealth Office

We advise against all but essential travel to Bahrain until further notice.  There is ongoing violence in Bahrain and the media have reported shooting in the area of the Pearl Roundabout in central Manama.  There is still a risk of further demonstrations and outbreaks of violence.

We also advise British nationals currently in Bahrain to monitor the media, to limit travel round the island to essential journeys only, and not to go out when demonstrations are taking place.  If travelling within Bahrain, British nationals should maintain a high level of security awareness, particularly in public places and on major highways, and avoid large crowds and demonstrations.

The British Embassy Bahrain is located in central Manama, and will be open from Sunday 20 February onwards, offering restricted essential Consular, Press and Commercial services only, until further notice. If you intend to visit the Embassy for essential business, please call first to ensure it appears safe to do so.

Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada

OFFICIAL WARNING: Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada advises against non-essential travel to Bahrain due to civil unrest and demonstrations and the threat of terrorist attacks.

There has been an increase in violent riots and demonstrations in Bahrain, which are causing significant disruption to daily activities. Canadians should expect transportation delays as streets may be closed by local authorities to isolate protests.

Bahrain’s “day of rage”, inspired by events in Egypt and Tunisia, took place on February 14, 2011. There have been reports of deaths and injuries sustained during the protests.

Canadians are advised to avoid all gatherings and demonstrations and to stay away from areas where they may occur, as they may turn violent without warning. Canadians should particularly avoid visiting districts in and around Manama and Al-Seef.

Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Australians are advised to reconsider their need to travel to Bahrain at this time due to the unstable and unpredictable security situation. Australians in Bahrain should exercise extreme caution and minimise their travel around the island.

The situation in Bahrain remains volatile with reports that the Army has used lethal force against demonstrators. Further demonstrations are likely to occur in the coming days and could turn violent.

Particular flashpoints are likely to be the Pearl roundabout in Manama, the Sanabis area, Hamad town and around the Sulmaniya hospital.

Australians should avoid all demonstrations and gatherings, including funerals. If you are in an area where a protest is occurring you should either leave, if it is safe to do so, or remain indoors and away from windows.

Pay close attention to your personal security at all times. You should closely monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks and follow the advice of local authorities.

Bernie Ecclestone, Formula One Management

Two of my guys were there and they said they were looking out of their hotel window and that they saw a group of people supporting the king, with nobody causing any trouble. They said that all was quiet, that one of the main roads that was closed was now open again, and that was more or less it.

They did say they would have to wait until later on today because of the funerals taking place, and that they did not know what the position would be until after that. So when I made my earlier statement [intimating that all was well, the situation in Bahrain had stabilised and the Grand Prix in Manama would go ahead 3 weeks from now] it was based on the information I had at that time, as opposed to what is happening.

From a realistic point of view it appears that things are changing hourly. I feel the most important thing now is to wait until after the weekend, to see what happens over the next few days, and then make a decision next Tuesday or Wednesday.


We could talk about logistics.  We could say there’s a test scheduled to start in Bahrain on March 3rd and the F1 teams need to send their freight no later than this Wednesday.  We could subscribe to another Ecclestone viewpoint, which is that F1 has never concerned itself with political disputes when determining whether to race.  That’s not strictly true – opposition to apartheid was the reason South Africa lost its race after 1985, not returning until F.W de Klerk’s administration took steps towards dismantling racial segregation – but we could look at why that view might be valid.

We could if Bernie had a leg to stand on.

We could instead consider that the Australian state office’s travel advice ranks Bahrain on the same level as Eritrea, a country which has been either at war or subject to extreme civil unrest on an unbroken basis since 1961.  We could also speculate upon how you insure anyone or anything connected to a motor race without the underwriters seeing through your best “but of course this isn’t non-essential travel” routine .  What we really should do, though, is wonder why there’s any debate over whether the opening round of the 2011 Formula 1 world championship should go ahead.

The ongoing protests in Bahrain are driven by anger at the Sunni Muslim royal family and their discrimination against the Shi’ite majority among the populace, fuelled by recent events in Egypt and Tunisia demonstrating that the will of the people can bring about political and governmental change.  While Bahrain has a legislative assembly in place, with an elected lower house and a monarch-appointed upper house, the King acts as both head of state and head of government, therefore having ultimate power.  The object of the protests is not, it would seem, to overthrow or abolish the monarchy but to bring about reform.

King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa has made efforts to improve relations with the Shia community since coming to power 12 years ago, but the feeling remains that compared to the Sunni minority, the Shia community faces greater economic hardship, job discrimination and political repression.  In attempting to change that, the Bahraini people are looking to fundamentally alter an ethos which extends back to 1873 and the ascendency of the ruling Al Khalifa family.  Their work will not be that of a moment.  Nor, after well-publicised army and police intervention during peaceful protests in Pearl Square, Manama, will it be without loss.

Tonight, security forces withdrew from Pearl Square under the orders of Crown Prince Salman, whose late winter would normally be spent promoting the Formula 1 event he did so much to organise.  The protesters, who’d made it plain that they would stand toe-to-toe with the police and the military if required, have settled in for a long stay with their camping equipment.  Military withdrawal doesn’t signify victory, nor does it bring anything to an end.  It might represent the beginning of a dialogue which leads to reform, but the road ahead is long.

All of which makes 24 men driving around in circles seem somewhat insignificant.  It’s time for Mr E to concede that not only does the world occasionally dance to someone else’s tune, but that no matter how big the travelling circus, there can still be something more important to take care of.

  1. […] mid February, there was no way the Formula 1 circus could consider visiting Bahrain.  By the end of the month, those in power […]

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