Photo credit: Hasan Jamali/AP Photo
Bahrain’s indefinite postponement of Juan Mendez’s planned May 8th-15th visit to the small island nation on behalf of the UN Human Rights Council sparks international concern. The Bahraini government’s decision to cancel this visit, for the second year in a row, follows a spike in national protests and flying rumors of torturing of torture within Bahraini prisons. It also falls on the heels of the internally controversial Formula One Race that was held just a few days ago on April 21st in the coastal region of al-Manamah, nearby the University of Bahrain.
The Formula 1 race had to be cancelled in 2011 due to the political unrest unfolding in Bahrain that year, but the race continued on as planned last year and this year with increased security despite the mass political protests of the people. During this year’s April 12th protests of the race where demonstrators carried signs with slogans like “Stop Racing on Our Blood” and carried signs of solidarity for jailed Bahraini human rights activist father-daughter duo Abdulhadi and Zainab al-Khawaja as well as the activist Nabeel Rajab. To the credit of the Bahraini government, the April 12th protests were officially approved by the recently enacted laws cracking down on large protests, which is at least a small step towards allowing its people to have larger political voices.
It was reported by the Saudi Arabian online news organization, Arab News, that two Bahraini girls were arrested for plotting a terrorist attack at the race track. The unnamed girls were claimed to have been arrested while doing a “dry run” in which one girl had concealed a pillow under her clothes to test the thoroughness of the track’s security. The Arab News article continued on to that the Bahraini police claims to have seized 1000 petroleum based bombs, 72 fire extinguishers intended to be used as bombs, and 137 tires that protestors were intending to set fire to. While the protesters in Bahrain are known for low scale violent acts such as setting tires ablaze at demonstrations, I think we must question the numbers and possible validity of the rest of the claims in this article. Not only are there a reason for the Bahraini government to exaggerate the scale of violence of the protestors, but the Saudi-run paper also has reasons to vilify these protestors in Bahrain. It is a well-known fact that the Saudi Arabian government and the Bahraini government have very close ties, close enough that Saudi forces were deployed onto the small island during the 2011 protests to help the Bahraini government quell protesters.
Increased protests aren’t the only concerns of the Bahraini government this past week. In the Bahrain News Agency an article was published April 24th with Samira Ibrahim bin Rajab, the Minister of State for Information Affairs and Government’s Official Spokesperson, making a statement in response to the United States’ State Department’s 2012 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. Her statement contained the expected reaction of a country of Bahrain’s limited political freedoms, as well as a claim that the State Department’s report lacked objectivity and “totally” sided with “terrorists who seek to sow chaos in the region.” The official statement included a commitment to comply with human rights principles and standards while confronting terrorist threats to Bahrain. The statement also called out the United States’ contradictory stance in the global war on terror, with its own questionable security measures, while it continues to “deny” the “right” of other countries to do the same. Frankly, this is a fair, albeit indirect, way for Bahrain to call out the US for its activities in places like Guantanamo Bay, and raises equally troubling questions to the US’s validity in calling out other nations for Human Rights abuses. However, the US doesn’t restrict the press, free speech, or professional and civilian journalists the same way that nations like Bahrain do.
Despite these two major events this past week or so, the Bahraini government is decidedly optimistic about its economic and socio-political future. With the boastful headline “Bahrain Ideal for Doing Business” The Gulf Daily News: the Voice of Bahrain published a pat-on-the-back style article on April 25th in no real news was relayed, but a few statistics and vague statements about economic prosperity and possibilities for future growth. Quotes from Industry and Commerce Minister Dr. Hassan Fakhro following the Bahrain-United Kingdom Business Forum in London filled the article, stating facts such as Bahrain’s $28k GDP/capita and its historically strong relationship with Britain in many economic sectors. This relatively mundane article isn’t the only article within the last week or so discussing growing and new economic opportunities within Bahrain. A snippet of an article announced an agreement Bahrain signed with the Islamic Development Bank on April 24th to help support the countries small agricultural sector. The projects supported by this agreement are hoped to create new jobs for young people in the nation to help combat the high youth unemployment.
But what is probably the most exciting—and politically controversial— economic announcement this week was from Bernie Ecclestone, the head hauncho of Formula One. He is quoted as having said that Bahrain has done a “super job” in hosting the race and hinted at extending Formula One’s racing contract with the nation for an additional five years. An extension to the contract could possibly become a point of political contention in the upcoming few years. Already the Formula One race is a sore spot amongst protesters as they see their political issues ignored or downplayed in the light of this international race. Since peace talks between the Bahraini government and al-Wefeq have stalled, it will undoubtedly be an interesting series of events to watch unfold over the next few years.