As the Formula 1 cars are running around in Valencia, this is all that seems to matter to the F1 world. However, out in the real world there are developments going on which may well change the sport in the longer term. The popular uprising in Tunisia in January when swept Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali from power has sparked unrest across the Arab world as populations realise that they can overthrow governments that have been in place for years. And it seems that the strong men of yesteryear are not going to be protected by the superpowers, with the United States of America apparently doing nothing to help Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, one of its primary allies in the Arab world. This has surprised many political commentators and worried other rulers who feel that the same could happen to them. Mubarak’s future is being settled now on the streets of Cairo, with tens of thousands of protesters demanding that Mubarak leaves office.
The big question for the motorsport world is whether the uprisings will spread further into the Middle East. There has been talk of similar problems developing in Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Lebanon, Jordan, Yemen and even Bahrain. The question being asked in the western world is whether these uprisings will lead to more stable, moderate democratic regimes or will it lead to more volatile Islamic regimes. The two revolts to date seem to have been inspired by frustrated young people, wanting a better chance in life, rather than fundamentalists being involved but the west also remembers that this was supposed to be the story in Iran back in 1979, but that resulted in a far more intolerant and dangerous religious dictatorship. In all probability the youngsters who are seeking freedom in Tunisia and Egypt are not going to be willing to submit to the restricted medieval ways of a regime such as Iran. They have more western aspirations and want to live life as it is lived in the Gulf. This is perhaps why the US has not been getting involved thus far as they seem to think that the outcome of the troubles will be more open governments.
The Gulf seems not to be too much in the firing line at the moment as the wealth that has been generated by oil has to a large extent been reinvested in the economies of the various emirates and that has created opportunities for the young to build a better future for themselves. There are some fears about Bahrain, which has diversified its economy dramatically and made big investments in development and employment. The problem that worry observers there is an imbalance between the Sunni minority that rules the country and majority Shiite population. There are occasional flare-ups as a result in Bahrain, but in general the kingdom remains calm and focussed on working together to build a better future.