Perceptions and realities in Bahrain

In the modern world, newspapers exist to be sold. They do not exist to tell the truth, which was once their job. As a result of this the media in the Western world has largely sold its status as “the fourth estate”, one of the checks and balances of society. People still read the papers (albeit in ever fewer numbers) but only for a few minutes a day. In various European countries these days there is a newspaper called 20 Minutes, which is designed to give people a lightweight version of the news during their commute, which lasts an average of 20 minutes. One can read the entire paper in that time. Trying to explain complex political situations in a bullet point is impossible and so the reports analyse nothing: they report that there has been a fire on the streets, but not why that fire might have happened.

For the last 12 months there has been almost nothing in the newspapers about Bahrain. By all accounts, some progress has been made in Manama to move forward the reconciliation process. The opposition (whatever that phrase means) has returned to the negotiating table, the economy has improved a little, but most Bahrainis still want more progress. They want their businesses to flourish, they want the country to finish its big infrastructure projects and return to being the glitzy kind of place the kingdom has always wanted to be. At the same time, there is no question that a lot of people want more say in what goes on. They want more democracy. The government (like the opposition) is not one solid grouping, but rather a rainbow of views from the hard liners, who see Iran under every bed, to the more liberal folk, who understand that compromise is necessary. The problem is that all too often in the Middle East, the call for democracy is little more than a means by which those with more extreme views try to gain a foothold in power.

When there is a properly organised protest march in Bahrain, with all the right permissions having been granted, the crowds tend to be bigger and the marching peaceful. At the end of the day, however, when most have gone home, teenagers start to cause trouble, there are things thrown at the police, cars set on fire and so on. The goal is to get a reaction from the police, so that reports can read “tear gas” and “rubber bullets”. The reports never seem to make the point that the main march was non-violent. Most people in Bahrain do not want violence.

The Bahrain government believes that most of this violent activity is incited by Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia, who are seeking to destabilise and ultimately overthrow the government, not in pursuit of freedom and democracy, but rather for geopolitical and religious reasons. Such undercover folk are really no different to Britain’s Special Operations Executive in World War II which Winston Churchill told “set Europe ablaze”. They were deemed to be heroes and in the world of the Hezbollah, those doing this job in countries across the world are no doubt viewed in the same light today.

The government of Bahrain recently sent a report to the United Nations, arguing that there are concerted attempts by Hezbollah to stir up trouble. There is evidence to back up these claims, notably the recent arrest in Bahrain of a cell of eight “terrorists” who were trained in weapons and explosives in the Lebanon. They were exposed by a tip-off to Bahrain from Kuwait. Assuredly, there are others cells that have yet to be busted, as the so-called “bombs” in recent days indicate.

Teenagers without training do not make bombs.

The thing that most of the discussions about Bahrain miss is that there is a big picture, influencing all activities on the streets. Bahrain is strategically important. Not only does the US Fifth Fleet, which is headquartered there, deal with some of the goings-on in Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen, it also patrols the Gulf, to make sure that the oil tankers of the world can come and go. Forty percent of the world’s oil supplies pass through the Strait of Hormuz, at the bottom end of the Gulf, on their way to the United States, Japan, China, and Western Europe. If Iran had control of Bahrain, the world’s oil supplies could (in theory) be strangled. Bahrain is just 125 miles across the water from the Iranian coastline. In consequence, the Bahrain US naval base is the home not only of the Fifth Fleet, but also to 4,400 other service men and women, from 80 different military commands. More than $250 million has been spent on the facility in the last few years. What else is there inside this 60-acre site? It would be a surprise if there were not stations for the major information gathering services, wouldn’t it? Clearly, it is a place that Iran would like to destabilise. And a place that the Western nations want to hold on to. The odd opposition politician in London might bang on about human rights, but you can bet that the moment they get into power, they will play these things down because they will understand why Bahrain is important.

The Grand Prix – which is Bahrain’s biggest annual international event – is clearly a great opportunity for both sides to put their points across. The government wants to send out the message that all is well; the opposition wants the world to think that all is not well. The opposition are winning this battle, helped by a media who exaggerate away merrily, telling the world that Bahrain is in flames. Not surprisingly, the Bahraini government is unhappy with this kind of coverage while the opposition is only too keen to welcome anyone who will help them sabotage the peace process. It is a thorny situation, not helped by editors who sit in London and other places demanding sensational coverage from their reporters, even if there are no sensational events going on.

Bernie Ecclestone and Jean Todt, the men who make the decisions about F1 being in Bahrain, do not want to be involved in Bahraini politics. They don’t want to have to deal with the perceptions that exist that F1 is somehow supporting the government and condoning the violence. This is why Ecclestone has now started talking about having talked with both sides. As always Mr E is looking after Number One first. Todt argues that he has to deal with realities rather than perceptions, and in his opinion – based on what is happening on the ground – there was no reason not to race in Bahrain.

In the modern media, however, perception is reality, no matter what is really happening, and it is the perceptions that must be changed. But how can one do that when the visiting media who go to report the F1 are told to go out and find the trouble, providing the opposition with the perfect opportunity to provide some?

72 thoughts on “Perceptions and realities in Bahrain

  1. Excellent analysis Joe – you put most of the broadsheet journalists to shame with this piece. Keep up the great work on all fronts.

  2. Perception, manipulation of the facts, the believe that what is written is factual.

    It’s always sad to me that the average joe out there always reacts to half facts and half truths manipulated by either bad reporting or others with a interest to do such things.

    The most telling part in your article is your first paragraph. Some people here will no doubt say negative things about your thoughts on these issues. I for one appreciate your perspective on different issues.

    1. GarryT “It’s always sad to me that the average joe out there always reacts to half facts and half truths manipulated by either bad reporting or others with a interest to do such things”.

      How do we know that Joe has not been inadvertently manipulated in say somewhere like Starbucks by reflecting the notions of 3 strangers he ‘happened across’ and he believes to be giving him their ‘honest’ opinion?.

      1. And how, judge13, would you be in a better position to judge that than I would be? Are you so clever that you can ascertain the character of people that you have never met? Do you honestly think that we did not consider whether or not the people we talked to were real? Or are you just susceptible to propaganda? If your entire argument has been undermined by three journalists who do something that you do not expect, you would try to find a way to blacken them, wouldn’t you? Being a cynic and all…

        1. Judge13 “knows” because that is how conspiracy theories/theorists work. As soon as you provide evidence that refutes their claim, they declare that your evidence is part of the conspiracy, and therefore further “proof” that the conspiracy exists. There is no conceivable evidence that would place doubt in their minds. It is a completely closed, circular form of thought that is not susceptible to argument.

  3. Joe,
    What is your opinion on Anonymous, who say they are going to disrupt the race somehow? They claim to have done something to the official website last year but did anyone notice?

      1. No opinion of people who do not have the balls to say who they are?

        Does that include TheJudge13?

        1. I prefer people who make comments not to hide. Why is it necessary? It also provides for a more civilised discussion.

          1. It is necessary because life isn’t just a sum of ideals and perfect balanced scenarios. People get annoyed, offended, angry, happy, pleased, and passive sometimes on a whim as simple as whether you used proper capitalization or didn’t scoot your chair in all the way when you left your seat.

            Every action has a reaction, for those who have experience or history with certain reactions towards non-scripted reporting, perhaps it is better to stay anonymous and entertain the question of credibility than the certainty of retribution.

                1. No, I’m simply doing the best job I can. It seems to me that whatever one writes, someone accuses you of bias. I could just not write anything, but that does not feel right either. I am happy to hear from anyone who does not get rude, offensive or disrespectful. Sadly, some readers allow emotion to get in the way of the points they wish to make.

              1. Joe, individual nobodies can become somebodies when they aggregate in millions; summed up well in the recent BBC4 documentary ‘How hackers changed the world’. Tangible retribution was evident.

  4. “If Iran had control of Bahrain, the world’s oil supplies could (in theory) be strangled.”
    When I lived in Bahrain in 1981 the authorities, tipped off by alert immigration officials at Dubai Airport, thwarted a takeover by a group of Iranians who planned to take over the police fort and assassinate Sheikh Isa. They found police uniforms, radios, guns etc and a plan to bring more troops over by hovercraft. Had they got away with it, things would likely be very different here now.

  5. In my experience, people in the Arab middle east are generally concerned about Iran. Contrary to popular belief, Iranians are not Arabs. The story I hear is that Iran was once a great empire (Persia), and they want that back. Might not be true. Might be.

  6. once again Joe, you seemed to have written a second piece on Bahrain that virtually sums up the entire situation within our small country. Last year I was pulling my hair out with your blog about Bahrain, as you seemed to have no understanding of the real situation at all as you (along with hundreds of others media persons) were taken in by the media hype and untruths. However you have taken the time this year to get to grips with the reality of the Bahrain situation and dug deeper for your information. I take my hat off to you Joe, on behalf of ALL Bahrainis I thank you for your efforts.

    1. Rubbish! Last year Joe was one of the very few who was not taken in by the media hype, he wrote extensively on how different the reality was from what the mainstream tv and newspapers were putting out.
      This year he has adopted the same attitude.

      1. I assume he meant about what Joe was putting on his blog about Bahrain before his famous coffee-shop meeting, not after.

  7. Another fascinating post Joe. I love the wider perspective you bring to F1 reporting, setting what happens in context – in this case geo-political, at other times economic. It’s what makes your blog a ‘must read’.

  8. Enjoyed the piece. Its a sad reflection on us as a society that we have an appetite and tolerance for the sensationalized infotainment with all the commercial tie ins that now passes for the “News”. We must be entertained not informed – have we hit rock bottom yet?

    It’s such a confused world even an F1 driver(Vettel) can straight up lie 5 minutes after being caught red handed with recorded video evidence figuring he can “sell it” to a gullible public, probably did!

  9. Thank you for a well balanced article/opinion. It’s so unfortunate that we, in the Western world, often think we know the truth, as opposed to those “poor oppressed people”. Except the truth is often in a bit of a grey area. What we read in the western media isn’t the almighty truth, like you said, newspapers now often exist to sell. They go for the sensationalist story, rather than, maybe, the dull truth. Sad, really.

  10. Hello Joe

    Firstly thanks for your blog it is intelligent and informative in a way that most F1 sites fail to be.

    Secondly,y I would like to congratulate you for adressing this issue. F1 journo’s are not usually brave enough to touch on any subject that could threaten Bernie’s benificence.

    However, respectfully I would make the following points;

    Legitimate protests are often undermined or hijacked by yobs or extremists and there is nothing new in this be it in Bahrain or anywhere else in the world. Indeed quite often the yobs or extremists are planted by the authorities in order to achieve the undermining of the legitimate complaints of the protestors.

    Bahrain has ruthlessly opressed its citizens reasonable wish to have an accountable and elected government, even going so far as to use the highly undemocratic and totalitarian state Saudi Arabia to shore itself up.

    The acceptance of totalitarianism and the turning of a blind eye to oppression to what are viewed as ‘friendly’ regimes or supporters of our strategic policies has been to the shame of us all in the so called democratic west a long standing tradition. That of course does not make it right.

    Ecclestone’s frequent pontifications on matters of political and international importance make many lifelong F1 fans cringe with embarrasment. More importantly, though he continues to move the sport further and further away from its core supporters in the pursuit of greater wealth and personal power. Doesn’t he know there are no pockets in shrouds? He may have made many of the team owners and drivers extremely wealthy but the clock is ticking for F1 as it is increasingly in danger of becoming the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) of motorsport.

    Sport, any sport, is not and should not be political, however, it can not allow itself to be used as a legitimating presence for oppressive regimes, for that is an inherently political process in itself.

    Anyway, I could go on but I want to stop now to give people a chance to hurl vitriol, scorn and bile on my comments! lol!

    Keep up the good work Joe

    Steve G

    1. These are very good points. It is extremely hard to know what is really going on in authoritarian societies, but we do have a few reputable voices in European and American media that do an honest job, regardless of their need to sell newspapers. And a fundamental fact to remember about authoritarian regimes is just that: they are authoritarian–i.e., dismissive of the rights of their citizens, and willing to go to great lengths to keep it that way (though Joe’s reminder that the opposition in such cases is often blameworthy is a timely one). The bottom line is that F1 goes and always has gone to countries where the government denies basic rights to its citizens (China,Bahrain, and others today, South Africa and others in the past) and that’s to be expected. It is a sporting authority, not a tool for political change. But there are limits. Imagine if there had been a Libyan GP under Qadafi, or if North Korea should suddenly decide to embark on a PR strategy and give Ecclestone a call? Bahrein is not (yet) anything like these governments, but it is legitimate, and even necessary, to keep an eye on F1 to make sure it does not cross a line. So Joe: thanks for the thought-provoking post, and please keep starting threads like this one in the future.

  11. I tend to follow the news in Bahrain via Gulf News
    and Al Jazeera (which in spite of American hype, actually seems to be fairly level headed)

    It would be inconceivable that half a dozen interested countries do not have undercover agents within the various factions involved, especially since so much investment and sensitive hardware is sited in Bahrain and the middle east is always a powder keg anyway. Thus any number of parties will be interested in controlling the perception of the situation in Bahrain. Thus it will be (or maybe is) easy to plant stories in places frequented by lazy newsmen and to have locals lined up with their pre-paid collaboration. The CIA is obviously highly adept at his sort of thing, though their attention has now been diverted by the bombs at the Boston Marathon. The forthcoming London marathon will consequently have grabbed MI5’s resources along with other of our security forces. No doubt the international security fraternity will be on high alert, paranoia to be expected.

    This has reminded me of “green zone” and what I thought of as a modern phenomena but thinking a little harder it may have happened over the years since the WWII without us realising.

  12. Your position is, as you always make out, to report on F1. From F1’s perspective Bahraini politics is not the issue it is the fact that F1’s stated position is that it does not get involved in local politics. Nobody, over the last three years has denied that F1 is being wielded as a blunt political tool by both sides.

    The fact of it being a huge event of international proportions guarantees that, as you say, making trouble in the weeks and days leading up to the race will ensure international headlines and incidents taking place over the race weekend will garner serious column inches outside the sports pages.

    On the other side F1 in Bahrain has come to represent much more than a grand prix. Instead, the fact that it continues to take place has made it an international statement that everything is okay in Bahrain.

    You keep talking about the moderates, but unfortunately, while they may be in the majority, they are not the people who are either in control or attempting to keep control. As with your N. Ireland analogy of a few days ago: during the “troubles” the vast majority of the N. Irish, both Nationalist and Unionist, were moderates, but that doesn’t serve to negate or undermine the original aim of the Nationalist minority, to seek equal status and equal rights.

    I don’t think any of us would argue that the methods used by extreme’s within both minorities were unlawful and constituted terrorism, but that, once again is only attributable to an extreme minority of both minorities.

    If you accept that history is bound to be repeated by those who do not know their history, the lessons learned from N.Ire seem to have been forgotten by the Bahraini Chief of Police, John Timoney (Irish-American) and the Reformer John Yates (British).

    What is occurring in terms of the perception of the Bahrain situation, as is evident from your article, is that you are blurring the lines between the extremists and those genuinely seeking reform. As these lines become blurred it allows those in power to operate with impunity against all protesters by tarring them all with the “terrorist” brush.

    The lessons of history would dictate that as that happens it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as the disaffected lean towards extremist views and begin to swell the ranks of any fringeTerrorist minorities.

      1. “And you have been there?”

        So they let you in this year then Joe? Shame really as Dubai is a much more pleasant place to be at this time of year in my experience (as is Portus).

        Should we read between the lines in your post as to what you are ‘obliged’ to say from the ministry’s memo in return for entry privileges? Or maybe you have been offered the run of an Al- Khalifa palace for the week?

        1. What a lot of tosh! If there were things that I was obliged to do in order to get into a country I would file a complaint with the FIA and make it very clear on this blog what I had been asked to do. That is not how it works. It is so easy for people like you to sit and be smug and make accusations. If you don’t believe me, get off your arse and go and find out. Don’t read The Guardian and spout forth garbage…

  13. I think that’s a good, even handed analysis of the situation.

    However, I would dispute what you say about “a media who exaggerate away merrily, telling the world that Bahrain is in flames”. I’ve read an awful lot about the Bahrain situation over the last few years, and I don’t recall ever being told the country was in anarchy and civil war or any such hyperbole.

    I just hope you’re not letting your personal beef with Kevin Eason et al influence your opinion on that. Seems to me your opinions are probably quite similar anyway.

  14. Most newspapers can only deal with stories in terms of black and white.
    Reality, as your post illustrates often includes all the shades of grey, often with deliberate misdirection on top.

    You seem to have cultivated, or maybe educated a rather more thoughtful bunch of readers than the average F1 fan, who judging by the comments they make on other sites is incapable of anything other than ‘black and white’ thinking. I have given up reading most of the other F1 particularly the comments.

    Thanks for your efforts Joe, I usually feel as if I know more after reading one of your posts, rather than just having my existing preconceptions reinforced.

    1. Yes, well said. I agree: Joe’s blogs are a breath of air compared with most f the mainstream. As for this analysis it is excellent. And we do know that the Theocracy in Iran has “form” don’t we?


  15. As you mention, its really hard to tell for most people what really is going on in Bahrain (or any remote place really), and watered down quality of reporting cerrtianly plays its role, as it opens room for both sensation hunting and easy reporting by using PR from whomever to give a feeling of body to a publication.

    I must say that while its a bit of PR from Bernie to say he will sit down with protesters, the single fact he does not deny there are people protesting, and offers the perspective of peaceful protests AND an agreement to get on in the country are still a very good step.
    When F1 cannot be NOT part of the politics, it should certainly not see itself used for the purposes of others without even taking the chance to be (seen as?) a positive rather than a negative focus.

    1. Seeing as this is outlawed in article 1 of the FIA (usually things listed as number one are deemed as fairly important nay fundamental) this should never be the case.

      In fact F1 can be NOT part of the politics – by not going or at least by refusing to give support to the rulers of the country.

      Here’s a solution. If the Bahrain regime is not interested in making political capital from F1 why not suggest anyone of the name Al Khalifa (or related to an AK) avoid coming into contact with anyone from the F1.

      They can watch the proceedings on giant screens in the opulent palaces whilst clicking their fingers for refreshments…

      Let’s see if ‘the family’ still want to cough up $40m dollars for a race then… its just some track day outing for these people… or a celebrity golf pro-am event.

    1. Are you in favour of firebombing policemen and blowing up cars in public streets?
      You did not mention that in your comment.
      There are two sides in the arguments, which is the point that I was making.

      1. Having only reported one side, you’ve made it pretty clear who’s side you’re on. I’ll ask again: do you condone the riot-police’s tactics in using tear-gas as a weapon? And do you condone the incarceration of human rights campaigners in Bahrain?

        I don’t condone violence, but where has it come from? Why do some demonstrators become violent? Decades of oppression, and in more recent years a much more hardline stance from the police, backed by the ruling elite. The only talk of reform is simply that – talk.

        1. What a ridiculous question. Of course, I don’t condone any of it. The question of where it has come from, however, is not as simple as you think. Read my post again.

  16. Having only reported one side, you’ve made it pretty clear who’s side you’re on. I’ll ask again: do you condone the riot-police’s tactics in using tear-gas as a weapon? And do you condone the incarceration of human rights campaigners in Bahrain?

    I don’t condone violence, but where has it come from? Why do some demonstrators become violent? Decades of oppression, and in more recent years a much more hardline stance from the police, backed by the ruling elite. The only talk of reform is simply that – talk.

  17. Nice article – however I disagree with the implication that there was ever a ‘golden age’ when newspapers existed to tell the truth. Seems to me they have always adopted biases to suit their respective perceived markets.

    Mark Twain summed it up admirably by pointing out that the decision to read them is the choice between being ‘uninformed’ and ‘misinformed’ and Nietzsche, somewhat pessimistically, argued that ‘there are no facts, only interpretations’.

    One positive thing digital media offers us is the opportunity to quickly access a myriad of opposing views. Unfortunately, digesting information and ascertaining the ‘truth’ has always taken a lot of time and effort and unless it impacts us directly it will never receive the attention it might deserve.

    1. Dai – my parents worked in the newspaper business and what you have said is so true. I was taught to always think “why” someone is saying what they are saying and to read conflicting articles on the same subject. Both may be true but truth can be what the writer believes is the truth and he will write it in such a way.

      For Bahrain’s rulers the truth is someone or a group of people are trying to take away their country/wealth. For the protesters, their truth is that they are being oppressed and don’t get a fair chance in life. Both sides are true, depends what lenses you look at it though.

  18. Excellent article, Joe.

    You may be interested to learn that the BBC are running a fairly fair-minded piece here, although as you say like most they miss out the strategic importance re. oil supplies and the Fifth Fleet. But it’s calmer than a lot of the pieces we’ve read in the past; nice to see.

    Safe journey and visit, Joe.

  19. Very well written. As a British expat, resident in Bahrain for more than 8 happy years, I completely agree with your article.

    Since the last Formula 1 the country has moved forward in leaps and bounds, yes there are still issues, and yes there are still teenage lemmings setting fire to tyres to disrupt traffic but it is not “in flames” as International media would have the world believe.

    It still has a long way to go, but we are in no way living in a war zone, and the F1 just serves as a platform for the media to start their scathing reviews, until Monday, when the cars are put back on the plane, and Bahrain is not heard of again…. until next year….

  20. “The problem is that all too often in the Middle East, the call for democracy is little more than a means by which those with more extreme views try to gain a foothold in power.”

    What a perfect statement Joe. Thank you for doing what you do. Good information.

  21. Great piece and great comments. This is obviously a complicated situation with multiple factions jostling for personal agendas, thus making Bahrain no different from anywhere else. However, I’m not sure that ‘teenagers without training do not make bombs’. Youtube is amongst us and exploding cylinders in burning cars do not sound very sophisticated to me.

    Still, Bernie has offered to talk to the opposition again, so I’m sure it will all be alright.

  22. Surely it’s just a matter that the West will install democracy where it is in its strategic and financial interests, but deny democracy to those who are in a majority (but unfortunate enough to live under a system we would never accept ourselves) so long as that is also in our strategic and financial interests.

    F1’s view seems to pretty much concur with that, I’m sure if they were told not to go to Bahrain they wouldn’t.

  23. Whether or not it’s what you intended to do (and I suspect it was not) what you have written sets out convincingly why the geopolitical and strategic importance of Bahrain to the West, to Japan and to China (inter alia) makes it far too dangerous to risk holding a mere motor race if it provides an opportunity for dissidents to destabilise the current balance of military power in the region.

    I love motor racing and I care deeply about people’s civil right but some things in the world are a great deal more important than playboys’ games and a senile fascist’s insatiable greed.

    There are plenty of alternative and excellent circuits in democratic countries at which to hold grands prix.

  24. just read an article that bahrain is burning on bbc…I wonder why the editors of top news agency find time around the grand prix to report such negative stories about bahrain. if the conditions are actually bad there…then why dont you follow the story for the rest of the year…considering that the actual violence took place 2 years ago..,
    I just dont understand the agenda of bbc, it feels like they republish the same articles each year and then go back to sleep and when the grand prix comes along they start writing the same story back again…its ridiculous.

  25. Bahrain nationals experienced massive human rights violation, almost like being crushed under a dictatorship. So, the government of Bahrain is indeed at fault. The opposition doesn’t really have much of a chance to get their voice heard by the world as the media is Bahrain is state controlled. So what can they do other than wait till an opportunity to arise, and then display all their vent up frustration to the world in 3 days.
    Fact remains that Bahrainis wants the world to know their plight, the government wants to show that nothing is wrong, The the F1 media wants to have exclusives and Bernie wants the money to flow in. But, is it safe? Yes! The government will easily be able to subdue any protests or any potentially dangerous situation from reaching the circuit. But, does that make it right for the F1 circus to be racing in Bahrain, a place where rights were violated with threats and physical violence? Nope.!
    How do I know? I lived there for 19 years, until I moved to North America.

  26. with the situation being as it is, if one does not wish to get involved in bahraini politics, one should not race there. it is as simple as that. it doesn’t matter who is right and who is wrong, and whether or not f1 races in other countries ruled by authocratic regimes. there is political turmoil in bahrain and both sides are trying to use f1 for its purposes. so going there means getting involved in politics. f1 can do that of course, but than they should admit that they indeed did let themselves get involved in politics and chose a side. everything else is hypocrisy.

  27. Joe,
    For once I opened an article regarding Bahrain this week and didnt get the urge to smash my laptop. I think you have done a brilliant job in trying to explain the situation on the ground. As a Bahraini, I’ve seen it all.. I’ve seen the brutality from the police and I’ve also seen the violence and terrorism from some of the opposition groups.
    The world is focusing on Bahrain and the violations that are happening here. Sadly, the world seems to have forgetten the chinese dissents’ ordeals in chinese jails. Shall we call for the cancellation of the race in Shanghai? Should we also target the UAE and cancel the race because the media is reporting that 94 people have been detained and tortured? Where were the human rights groups and the media when Amerian soldiers raped and humailiated and targeted Iraqis in Abu Gharib prison? or even Guantanamo? I didnt see anyone complaining or associating the F1 race with these political blunders. I do not see the correlation or the relevance to associate them with each other.
    The world seems to think that the government only want the F1 to go through for political purposes. On the contrary, Bahrainis want this race to go on because we are big fans of this sport. It is not about politics or who wins what battle. We just want this race to go on so we can enjoy it. The media focused on the government’s wants and the opposition’s and once again neglected the average citizen who doesn’t wish to partake in this media war.
    The media is truly distorting the events on the ground, however I will say this, the police are no angels. What disturbs me the most actually is seeing F1 reporters or correspondents writing political pieces or analysis based on personal opinion or insufficient information and only including a sentence or two about the race. Let’s keep the politics to the politicans and enjoy the sport. I hope your stay in Bahrain is a pleasant one and you don’t get stuck between the crossfire. Bahrain is home to everyone and I do hope you feel at home while you’re here.

  28. Well it’s nice to know what’s really going on and I thank you for this article but despite the bias of the media don’t we still have to ask why F1 goes to countries such as this? I mean from a moral point of view.

    Leaving aside all the trouble that’s being stirred up we’re still dealing with a group of people who believe they have a God given right to rule over other human beings based purely on the family they had the fortune to be born into.

    All countries have their issues, even stable democracies, but I really wish F1 would draw a line at going to places like the Emirates and even Russia.

  29. As a long time reader of Joe, I remember Joe writing a lot last year about this GP and the political situation, seeming to write more about the opposition side – despite Bernie discussing the issues with Joe. This year Joe seems more levelled in his approach, which is in line with (IMO) the calmer situation there this year.

    I am not giving an opinion here, but if readers look back to historical posts they would get a more balanced view of Joe as a journalist, reporting the current situation.

    By the way, loving ‘Grandprix Saboteurs” at the moment.


  30. I agree with you Joe on your assessment regarding media and the political situation in that area. It is often sensationalized and folks tend to not want to understand the complexity of the issues at hand. However, as a grad student studying political science and international relations, I chose to do some research on this very issue last year . There are several questions/talking points that I think are highly relevant and need to be considered.

    (1) Were the decisions made by the FIA and F1 to race last year in Bahrain compliant with their organizational laws and governing principles?

    – Short Answer? No, they knowingly allowed themselves to be used as a political platform. It may have not been their intention but they knew what they were getting into. At some point responsibility has to be drawn. Can they control perception? No, they cant. But they can go a long way in taking the responsibility in not allowing themselves to be used as a platform.

    According to the FIA official website, they are the “governing body for world motor sport and the federation of the world’s leading motoring organisations.” In short, the FIA and F1 are organizations composed of teams, drivers, staff, etc. that hail from various countries. They each have their own philosophy, religion, and general way of life. Due to this diverse composition, both organizations must remain respectful when it comes to sociopolitical issues that are outside the purview of motor sport.

    This neutrality is reflected in their own laws and is summed up nicely in Article 1 of the FIA Statutes where it is stated that “The FIA shall refrain from manifesting racial, political or religious discrimination in the course of its activities and from taking any action in this respect.” So not only are they responsible to maintain a stance of neutrality when it comes to political issues, they must also maintain a moral responsibility pertaining to the rights of human beings in that they can not discriminate based on race, political ideology, or religion. In fact, they must also refrain from manifesting this type of discrimination in the course of it’s own activities and from taking any action that may bring this on.

    (2) Were their actions with Bahrain consistent with actions taken in the past regarding political situations?

    Once again, no. Lets go back to Turkey 2006. During the podium ceremony, Felipe Massa was presented his race winning trophy by Mehmet Ali Talat. Talat was a Turkish Cypriot leader and was announced via television caption as the “President of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.” This was extremely controversial as this nonexistent nation was only recognized by Turkey. At the time, Greece and Turkey were in bitter dispute over the political legitimacy in Cyprus. A dispute that had continually taken place since Turkey invaded in 1974. Needless to say, there was a lot of political outrage over the actions taken by Talat.

    The FIA immediately launched an investigation and responded appropriately. Upon concluding their investigation, they fined the Turkish organizers $5 million USD, which at the time was the largest fine in motor racing history. They also threatened to remove Turkey from the 2007 WRC and F1 calendars.

    The FIA released the following statement regarding the incident:

    “Political neutrality is fundamental to the FIA’s role as the governing body of international motorsport….No compromise or violation of this neutrality is acceptable.”

    The FIA set a clear message that it would not be used as a political tool and that it would severely penalize those who attempt to use them as such. They clearly stated that political neutrality was necessary in order to fulfill their role as an international organization. There can be NO EXCEPTIONS made.

    (3) Did the FIA have enough information to properly evaluate the political situation in Bahrain?

    Yes, they had access to the Freedom House reports and the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry. The BICI was clear when it said:

    “It is clear that the media in Bahrain is biased towards the GoB. Six of the seven daily newspapers are pro-government and the broadcasting service is State-controlled. The continuing failure to provide opposition groups with an adequate voice in the national media risks further polarising the political and ethnic divide in Bahrain. The lack of access to mainstream media creates frustration within opposition groups and results in these groups resorting to other media such as social media. This can have a destabilising effect because social media outlets are both untraceable and unaccountable, characteristics which present problems when such media is used to promulgate hate speech and incitement to violence.”

    This should have been another indicator that the government AND opposition would likely use F1 to their own political end. This wouldn’t be as big of a problem if there wasn’t such a dire political situation taking place that affects a significant amount of the population there. It also wouldn’t be as big of a problem if F1 didn’t have such a big impact on Bahrain. Both the governing regime and the opposition protestors saw F1 as a chance to bolster their position. There was enough evidence and time available for the FIA to logically conclude that the exploitation of their sport would more than likely take place.

    I shouldn’t even have to get into the statements made by the BNS about the upcoming F1 race or the UniF1ed banners. The statement by the BNS claimed that the F1 race “portrays the capability and the success of the Kingdom of Bahrain in organizing and hosting such a unique global sports event thanks to the Kingdom’s political and security stability.” The Bahrain government had already begun to release news statements bolstering their political position which undermined their opponents. This, combined with the “UniF1ed” banners placed throughout the circuit that used the F1 logo to show “One Nation in Celebration”, were two additional pieces of evidence that displayed Bahrain’s use of F1 as a political tool.

    If that wasn’t enough, the opposition promised to step up their protests and were working hard to grab the attention of the outside media. Several sport journalists were now being asked by their employers to cover the broader sociopolitical situation in Bahrain as the interests of media outlets began to escalate.

    It is clear to see that the powers that be had enough information to conclude that F1 would be exploited as a political platform by BOTH sides.

    At this point, given the way that they were already being used by senior government members after having arrived, the FIA should have extended a fine as they did with Turkey in 2006. At the very least they should have issued a warning to the race organizers that, per the statutes and governing principles of the FIA, they must maintain political neutrality and that no compromise or violation would be acceptable.

    In this case, the FIA would have been seen as staying consistent with it’s statute and principles. Furthermore, they would have sent a clear message that the FIA must protect the integrity of it’s governing body from outside political influence and that they will not tolerate the manipulation of their sanctioned racing series for political gain. All they would have to do is cite the aforementioned criteria and examples given.

    (4) Did the FIA and F1 maintain an apolitical status?

    The Crown Prince of Bahrain, a senior government official, held a politically charged press conference at the circuit where he used some pretty crafty words in order to dispel the opposition and promote the views of the GoB. Bahrain International Circuit chief, Zayard Alzayani, asserted that the race was a triumph for Bahrain. The opposition stepped up protests (some violent), worked hard to gain outside media coverage, and declared the F1 race as a victory for their side. These are just a few examples out of many. All of them shared commonality in that they contained political statements that piggy backed off the F1 event. No one did a damn thing.

    The governing officials played the political game well and on multiple occasions throughout the course of the race weekend, they used the medium of F1 to convey the message that they have acknowledged problems, are on the way to major reform, and are leaving themselves open to the world.

    The problem with this statement is if they were really leaving themselves open to the world then they wouldn’t have any problem allowing outside media, human rights organizations, and a number of other investigative agencies into the country (although I definitely understand the problems associated with that in terms of vital stability). However, if they used the international spectacle of F1, an entity that they have deep financial ties with, then they could use the venue to help relieve external pressure. Which they took every opportunity they could to do this.

    Oddly enough, they also took the time to point out problems in other parts of the world. Which is a highly fallacious yet advantageous evasion tactic known as the Red Herring. In other words, they shifted the focus of the argument on something completely unrelated to Bahrain. So not only were Bahrain making politically charged statements about their domestic issues, they were also making statements at an international level.

    Given the events that transpired over the weekend, the FIA had overwhelming evidence to find the organizers guilty of violating the political neutrality of their sport. There were multiple offenses that took place time and time again. However, the organizers of the race were left unpunished and not held accountable. Given the example of Turkey.. something just doesn’t add up:

    (A) Turkish government officials used F1 as a political platform in order to push their own agenda on a politically tense situation which had nothing to do with F1. The FIA responded by punishing the national organizers with a record fine.

    (B) Bahraini government officials used F1 as a political platform in order to push their own agenda on a politically tense situation which had nothing to do with F1. The national organizers were not punished. In fact, they were praised for their efforts.

    Anytime someone in power goes above the law and justifies their actions by pointing out that the end justified the means then that person has effectively placed his or herself above the law. Once that happens it is extremely hard to go back. The FIA allowed F1 to be manipulated as a political tool despite knowing better. This is problematic because it only sets a new precedence for the sport and severely damages the credibility of the worlds premiere motor sport organization. No longer can the FIA go back to past examples and show that they are consistent in their actions. The example of Bahrain will always be pointed out to them and will be used against them, despite their best intentions.

    The FIA violated the integrity of it’s own organization and not one person is being held accountable for this. Let us be real, what one intends to happen and what actually happens are two different things. Just because one doesn’t intend for something to happen doesn’t mean they are relieved of taking responsibility for their actions. In other words, the FIA and F1 can not play the ignorance card and hope that it justifies their actions.

    I don’t have to have been there to understand this.

    After thoughts:

    – Jean Todt should not have been making that decisions considering his conflict of interest. His son shared ownership of a GP2 team with the Crown Prince. I am not questioning Todt’s integrity but that is most certainly a conflict of interest.

    – Bahrain is a relatively small country in which the F1 race has more of a socioeconomic impact on than any of the other problematic countries. The race is hosted and organized by the ruling regime that has heavy investment and interest in the event. A significant part of the population was protesting the regime and was eager for media coverage to compete against that of the government owned agencies. The government was trying to reassert it’s authority in the area and wished to use the spectacle of F1 as a tool to convey a message of unity and stability. China’s population clearly exceeds that of Bahrain. The FIA and F1 do not have a meaningful socioeconomic impact on the country as they do in Bahrain. China was and has not been suffering from political uprisings to the scale that Bahrain has (I think proportionality needs to be considered here). Thus, F1 does not risk being used as a negative tool of political significance in the region and does not break any of the statutes or governing principles set forth by the FIA.

    1. Very considered piece. The only thing wrong with it is the name Zayeed, rather than Zayard. However, theory and reality are different things. In order for the FIA Statutes to be invoked, someone inside the organization has to do it – and no one has.

  31. Thank you for taking the time to read and reply. I left a lot out but didn’t want to lose anyone who read. It was part of a research paper I wrote in which I had to review the BICI in it’s entirety. As you can guess that was a very monotonous read but had some very interesting points. A number of your posts were a tremendous help and I definitely appreciated your take on the situation. I may have disagreed with a couple things but overall I found myself referencing you in my works cited so it was definitely information I couldn’t ignore.

    I agree with what you say about theory and reality. It is frustrating because it seems like a no brainer when reviewing the statutes and understanding the how and why behind their formation. As I said above, it just seems to set a very dangerous precedence whenever they are selectively applied. It is just downright frustrating to see clear violations be ignored.

    I guess that is why it is a hard pill to swallow.

  32. This all smells like an attempt to paint Bahrain in a good picture.

    The government in Bahrain will no doubt use its brutally repressive security services to keep a lid on protest – but is that something Joe should be cheering on?

    I don’t see protests in Saudi, Cuba or North Korea – is it because things are going well there, or because they have brutally repressive state security?

    The only difference between Bahrain and Syria is that in Bahrain the opposition is armed with stones and bottles rather than weapons supplied by Saudi Arabia (who’ve helped crush democracy aspirations in Saudi).

    Joe – at least you get to vote in your homeland. Spare a thought for those that don’t.

      1. Apologies, I was under the impression you were British.

        My wifes family is from Bahrain. Her relatives are part of the lack of protest you’re celebrating. Want to guess why?

        1 of them died in the recent troubles, 2 are missing and at least 4 are in custody.

        My wife fled and gained asylum in Britain after a crackdown on dissent in the 90s.

        But I’m sure they’ll be cheered to hear that some people passing through haven’t seen much trouble and that its probably all invented or exaggerated by the press. They say the Queen believes the world smells of fresh paint – it doesn’t of course, but that is all she ever sees wherever she goes.

      2. I should add that as a long time resident of the UAE I found my fellow expats more than happy to ignore the appalling abuses of power that go on there. They didn’t see, because they didn’t want to see. In Bahrain the situation is somewhat different as you have 60%+ of the population being oppressed by a minority, backed up by the “freedom-loving” Saudis.

  33. Joe,
    Whilst i do believe that the race weekend is good for the Kingdom of Bahrain, not only for the ‘Face” value for the race to proceed, which means so much to the Middle East ruling families, it also boosts the local tourism and hospitallity entities that have suffered during the recent period of unrest.
    But if oppression and censorship would endanger the Bahrain GP, then surely this would also apply to China and the UAE, what is the difference ?
    Sureley in this age, size doesn’t matter and clearly Mr. Bernie is a prime example,

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