How did the revolutionaries use this event to raise more awareness or invite foreign support? A large-scale protest that disrupted the logistics or running of the race would have obviously grabbed some headlines and will have certainly embarrassed the Bahraini security forces.
[dropcap]M[/dropcap]uch to the chagrin of organisations like Amnesty International the F1 event in Bahrain went ahead and was earmarked to make around £26million for Bernie Ecclestone, let alone the huge amount of money generated by Grand-Prix-tourism and advertising for the Bahraini government. Even as some news agencies reported that the Grand Prix would be less eventful than last year, claims were being made that the government had arrested suspected pro-democracy supporters and had ejected an ITV news crew. In fact, even last week when I was in Manama, the tense mood was still apparent as I was stopped by the police on three separate occasions and asked which newspaper I worked for. Flattered though I was, I had to work hard to convince them of the truth that I was just a tourist. It is standard Bahraini government behaviour but still an opportunity for the opposition to attract more media attention.
So would it have been better if the Grand Prix had been cancelled, or if the event had continued with some reports of disturbances? A cancellation would certainly have caught the attention of the F1 fans, which had been waiting a whole week to see the continuation of the competition; how many of those fans are active human rights activists is unclear but probably not high given the level of spectation. However, the fact that the F1 continued gave the pro-democracy supporters an interesting opportunity to broadcast their grievances to the world. The mere fact that the majority of newspapers last week referred to the event as the ‘controversial Grand Prix’ is inadvertent propaganda for the revolutionaries. Interestingly, after his earlier dismissive reaction to calls for the F1 to be cancelled, Mr Ecclestone actually criticised the government for giving the opposition “a platform” to protest. He also told news reporters he would be meeting the opposition leader after the qualifying stage, for what purpose he did not say.
So how did the revolutionaries use this event to raise more awareness or invite foreign support? A large-scale protest that disrupted the logistics or running of the race would have obviously grabbed some headlines and will have certainly embarrassed the Bahraini security forces. Before the F1 events began such a situation seemed highly unlikely given the large security force, long-running crackdowns and pre-emptive arrests, but it seems the protesters realised this too as demonstrations were stepped up the night before and the early-morning of the race. Tyre burnings in Manama also drew some attention, but the tactics were too mild or poorly timed to encourage the kind of attention that would bring their situation forward in the news.
Obviously the Bahraini government and the F1 organisers also had their own press strategies which were extremely harmful to the pro-democracy campaign. This included F1 legend Jackie Stewart weighing in on the side of the Bahraini government. His statement that the anti-government clashes are “no different to the Glasgow Rangers and the Glasgow Celtics [clashes]” is in my opinion a disgustingly naive (or purposefully destructive) assessment of the situation. The fact that this may have been taken as gospel by F1 fans threatens to undermine any pro-democracy efforts to get their word across to the very influential audience of the motorsport. It’s hardly surprising that Jackie supports the Bahraini regime though, seeing as he had a hand in the promotion of Bahrain as a location for F1 races.
The question of violence and destruction of property in Bahraini protests is also an interesting point to address. The branding of the pro-democracy protesters as ‘terrorists’ because the protesters burned tyres and clashed with police seem highly sensationalist to an opposition supporter. But strangely it seems to have worked in turning (at least the British) F1 spectators against the opposition efforts. A very heated and exhausting conversation with my warehouse colleagues showed that they were angry that the “selfish” and “irresponsible” opposition wanted to spoil a beloved international event; although they understood there was excessive and extreme police violence. It would seem that the Bahraini government’s attempt at alienating the opposition argument from F1 spectators has been, in this specific case, successful. Given the lack of international support though I would guess that has been the occurrence across the wider F1 spectator community as well.
The overall effectiveness of the opposition’s campaign to push their story into the global or western spheres seems to have been quite unsuccessful, at least in the long term. The news outlets are no longer running large stories on Bahraini affairs because the tournament has moved on and the Syrian situation has progressed very far in recent weeks. It seems that the only ways to really globalise this situation effectively are to either heavily disrupt a future F1 event to the point of cancellation or relocation (like 2011), or for the opposition movement to turn to much more violent means of resistance. The latter may gain intense media coverage, but is it worth the cost of human life?
Photo Credit: Shabbirhtz