European Council on Foreign Relations

Attention on Bahrain

Go to the Middle East and North Africa programme's page


Before the Arab Awakening, perhaps the only reason outsiders would take note of Bahrain was the country's annual Grand Prix. Accordingly, since the outbreak of revolutionary fever in Bahrain in 2011 and the ensuing state crackdown, the country's opposition has lobbied hard for the organisers and sponsors of the annual F1 Grand Prix to withdraw their support and cancel the race. The push comes as part of wider efforts to push back against broad governmental and commercial support the Bahraini government has received in the aftermath of the country's stifled uprising.

Aside from the absurd wittering of F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone who offered to mediate between the country's polarised groups and the steady outrage and documentation of Bahrain's human rights groups, it is not clear whether protests will refocus international attention on the country's ongoing political crisis. The government has continued sweeps and arrests ahead of the event this Sunday but Bahraini youth opposition groups have pledged to protest vocally. Rightly so - since the government of Bahrain has successfully blocked out foreign press and observers who are not blandly supportive of the monarchy, it will be a rare opportunity for Bahrain's opposition to highlight their cause.

But protests against the Al-Khalifa monarchy have continued in Bahrain since the first wave of public discontent broke in Pearl Roundabout in March 2011, and regardless of whether this weekend's protests get coverage, the island autocracy's political polarisation is set to continue. As Justin Gengler cogently argued in ECFR's recent Gulf Analysis, the Bahraini monarchy and its nervous neighbours in the Gulf are doing their level best to pre-empt the narrative that Bahrain's uprising is a sectarian provocation, not a popular uprising. This weekend's protests will serve as a reminder that genuine domestic discontent runs high and deep.  


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