F1 and the Arab uprisings

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.

11 thoughts on “F1 and the Arab uprisings

  1. It’s really good Joe that you report on the political issues as well, which could one day affect motor racing. As you’ve said before it is important to peep into the real world once in a while.

    It is a worrying phenomenon that is now happening in Egypt. If the curent regime topples there is now guarantee that a better democratic government will come to power. As we’ve seen in 1917 with Russian Revolution and in Iran, revolutions are often lead by emotions instead of sensible thinking. And once again the US seems to be playing a game here.

  2. One of the main reasons why I keep reading your blog (and stopped reading other sources long ago) is that you are able to paint a broader, contextual picture that matters to the (narrow) world of F1. This article shows that again. Thanks Joe!

  3. @PT The US has immersed itself so deeply in the affairs of this part of the world that it has no choice but to play a game of one kind or another in situations like this, however it plays it’s hand it can’t leave the table.

    Thanks for pointing out the motorsport perspective on this Joe!

  4. “The problem that worry observers there is an imbalance between the Shiite minority that rules the country and majority Sunni population.”

    Joe, you’ve got this the wrong way around.

    In fact, it’s the Sunni minority that rules the country, over a Shiite majority.

  5. Joe, i think the structure in Bahrain is the other way around. it’s the minority Sunnis that Rule and the majority Shiites that are now making a stir. Shiites in the GCC are usually treated as second class citizens. In Iraq their plight is well documented. in Lebanon they just recently started being taken into consideration (being the majority and all), but if anything happens in the GCC it wont be anything similar to Tunisia and Egypt, as you said these two uprisings have been led by young people wanting to change for the better not to slip into the darkness of Islamic militancy…

  6. If there is an opportunity for fundamentalists to form a government in the region, history shows that it will be seized with both hands. The kind of democracy known in the west is an utterly alien concept, and as we have seen attempting to enforce it is deluded and disastrous.

    It’s important to remember at all times however that the last people who would see themselves as ‘Arabs’ are the Iranians. Yes many people speak Arabic and yes there is quite a large Arab population but while the majority of Persians are muslims it must be remembered that they are also caucasians.

    Ronman is quite right in that the Gulf nations see a Sunni minority preside over a Shi’a majority… which is spiritually more in line with Tehran’s leaders and thus far from preoccupied by comings and goings of the western world – F1 included. That said, in the UAE you can go for many months without ever seeing an Emirati national of any denomination as it’s wall-to-wall Brits, Americans, Indians and Filipinos!

    It’s important to remember that the current uprisings are all taking place far to the north where living standards are poorer. If you think that westerners get charged a premium in Egypt or Jordan, you should see the reception that a Gulf Arab gets! Prices that are doubled for a European customer are multiplied four or five times if you’re a ‘Gulfy’ because you’ve got the oil and should therefore share the bounty with your Arab brothers in the north whether you like it or not!

    Apologies for rambling. Will the uprisings affect the Gulf states and Middle East Grands Prix? No. Only when America loses interest in the region.

  7. I am Tunisian and I felt proud on the 14th of January the 1st time of my life. I smelled freedom and boy it feels so gooooooooooooooooood !
    I would like to thank Internet 1st and foremost and mainly FaceBook and Twitter. I would like to thank Al Jazeera which is the 1st media where Arabs have ever spoken freely.

    After Egypt, next target is Algeria (by April it’ll be settled there). Watch out for a huge protests on the 12th of February there but the Army there is both corrupt and savage ! Jordan is less prone because people fear that Palestinians who are a majority there will take over power. In the little emirates of the Gulf (F1 linked), they are way too rich for protests to occur. Only Bahrain might be in trouble because the Shiite majority are kept out of the politics, the police and the army and Iran is eager to push them to take over.

    As far as Islamists are concerned, as long as democracy is well established (which is far from guaranteed), Hardcore Islamists will be crushed. Their views won’t stand the reality. They might succeed in the elections (Egypt mainly) but if they push forward extremist views they will loose the next elections. Moderate islamists such is the case in Turkey are absolutely no threat to democracy, to their people freedom and as far as you’re concerned to the west and they are there to stay.

    As far as F1 is concerned, I don’t see any probem. UAE are absolutely stable and the Abu Dhabi GrandPrix is there to last. Bahrain might loose its GrandPrix in the future for a Qatari GrandPrix and it will happen sooner rather than later. The latter are too stable, too smart, too ambitious and too rich for that not to happen and I don’t see 3 GrandPrix in the Gulf.

    Qataris are the ones behind Al Jazeera (to the disgust of USA) . At the same time, they host the main USA Army Command HeadQuarters in the Gulf.

    They are politically extremely powerful for a little country as they succeeded in negotiating peace talks in Sudan where Egypt and USA both highly involved failed. They’re getting more involved in Israeli Palestini talks and Hamas PLO talks. They secured the FIFA WorldCup in a tiny country. If any Arabic country has to organise a F1 GrandPrix it is QATAR !

  8. Does it come as a huge surprise that the uprisings in Egypt are being called, of all things…

    “The Lotus Revolution”

  9. As an Egyptian living in Cairo, I hope that my country will pass this phase without further damage. Too much damage has occurred in that past eventful week. Economic collapse, hundreds dead, thousands injured, insecurity and distrust.
    A very high price for freedom.

    @Nick in Dubai
    The year of the lotus it seems.

  10. History always reveals that their are other forces at work, the recent BBC3 program on Abraham Lincoln shed a different light on history.

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