The expression “Business as usual” summarises the view of the revolution in Bahrain held by the Bahraini authorities, Western governments, international media like Al Jazeera, and the Gulf states. The Formula 1 Grand Prix (GP) has been confirmed by the International Automobile Federation (IFA) and its CEO Bernie Ecclestone. They declared that the decision to reinstate it “reflects the spirit of reconciliation in Bahrain”.
The Bahraini government has indeed tried to portray the 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix, set for April 20-22, as part of a national reconciliation process, branding it under the slogan “Unified: One Nation in Celebration”. The objective is to present the uprising of the Bahraini people as something of the past, now finished and irrelevant.
The reality on the ground is totally different. The uprising that started last year never really stopped, despite the repression. Demonstrations continue nearly on a daily basis throughout the island.
On 9 March, a demonstration honoring martyrs turned into a huge demonstration against the regime. Over half the population came out carrying placards which read ‘No Dialogue with Killers’, ‘No to Dictatorship’, and ‘No to Sectarianism’.
In this same week, the February 14 Youth Coalition called ‘The National Week of Resistance against the Occupier’ to commemorate the Saudi-led Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) militarily intervention in the country on 14 March 2011, which sought to crush the popular movement with the assistance of Bahrain security forces.
The February 14 Youth Coalition and other various popular organisations have also organised almost daily protests aimed at the Formula One race. They have called for "three days of anger" from Friday to Sunday, in order to obstruct the Grand Prix and raise their demands for democratic change in Bahrain.
International civic groups and local human rights and political organisations have initiated a number of popular campaigns, to pressure various racing teams to boycott the Grand Prix.
Al-Khawaja’s hunger strike has provided a focus for solidarity and protest too. He has been on hunger strike for more than 65 days, which he has declared as “freedom or death”. He was moved to a military hospital on 6 April because of his rapidly deteriorating health.
Al-Khawaja was arrested last year - in his home by masked police officers and armed men in civilian clothing - and kicked, brutally beaten to the ground, and pushed down the stairs to roll in his own blood. He and other leadings activists were tried before a military tribunal and given life sentences for allegedly ‘organising and managing a terrorist organisation’ (in other words, directing a human rights centre). The BICI Report documents Al-Khawaja’s subjection to physical and sexual torture.
Activists continue to be tortured. Suspected dissidents are still dragged from their homes in the middle of the night, without warrants. Security forces are firing more and more tear gas at protesters - and in villages sympathetic to the opposition - with two thirds of gas-related deaths occurring since November.
The regime hired hundreds of former soldiers from Pakistan to serve in its National Guard. Bahrain’s police, military and national guard are staffed in large part by non-Bahraini citizens, mostly from Pakistan, Yemen and Syria.
The use of sectarian discrimination by the government against Shia citizens has been condemned by a Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report. In 2011, before the beginning of the uprising, there were only four Shiite ministers out of 23 cabinet positions (plus one out of the four deputy prime ministers), and those ministries run by Shiites have been considered of low importance.
Discrimination against the Shia community is also present in education. The current curriculum is actually based solely on the Maliki school of Sunni Islam. Proposals to include units on Shia Ja’afari jurisprudence have yet to materialize.
The authoritarian regime is playing on sectarian divisions to prevent people from uniting against it. It is also characterized by its high level of corruption developed through neo-liberal policies and privatisation of public lands and companies.
Despite the fact that the Shias in Bahrain have suffered the most from the regime’s intransigence, frustrations cut across sectarian lines. The slogans have continually been inclusive calling for unity between Shia and Sunni, as well as for social justice.
As well as attempting to feed sectarianism, the regime has viciously attacked workers’ rights. By last November, nearly 3000 workers in the public and private sectors had been dismissed because of their participation in the uprising. Leaders of various unions have been the target of the regime and imprisoned. According to the General Federation of Bahraini Trade Unions (GFBTU), only 134 workers had been reinstated by November.
Many of these workers had to agree to unacceptable, indeed illegal, conditions in order to get their jobs back - including agreeing not to take part in any future political activity, waiving the right to participate in legal cases against the government and agreeing not to re-join their trade union.
In November, BICI released its report on the widespread abuses of the preceding eight months. The report denounced the many cases of torture and arbitrary detention by the state, as well as sectarianism and other issues. The recommendations of the report were, nevertheless, not implemented by the regime.
Since the beginning of the Bahraini uprising in 2011, more than 80 civilians have died. Somewhere between 1,600 and 4000 protesters have been detained.
Bahrain holds particular importance to the United States as the host of the US Navy's 5th Fleet, which Washington sees as the main military counterweight to Iran's alleged efforts to expand its armed forces and reach into the Gulf.
The Western powers have participated directly or indirectly in the repression. The tear gas used by the security forces is purchased from Combined Systems, a company based in Pennsylvania. Bahrain is also being supplied with weapons imported from the UK and receives advice from former Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner John Yates.
Britain has actually sold over £1m worth of weapons including rifles and artillery to the kingdom during last year's unrest. None of the major Western governments have called for regime change or threatened sanctions.
The commitment to go ahead with the Formula One Grand Prix, despite vicious repression, shows the system’s priorities. Since the race was first introduced in 2004, revenues have continued to expand. The last time Bahrain hosted the event in 2010, it reportedly raked in around US$300 million.
The Crown Prince of Bahrain Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, who is also the chief executive of BIC, predicted that the revenues for BIC alone in hosting the Grand Prix will reach US$500 million. The US$500 million figure does not take into account the lucrative television broadcast rights or the revenue generated by a large influx of tourists and other associated industries.
Despite these growing profits since 2004, the income levels of the local Bahraini population have not increased (in real terms), with poverty being one of the key issues driving the protests. 22% of Bahraini households are actually earning an income below the poverty line.
Bahrain's government also spent millions of pounds on public relations, particularly with public relations companies in Britain and the US, with which the regime has close diplomatic, military and commercial links, in an effort to try and improve its bloodied image.
The list of companies or individuals hired by or linked to the Bahrain government since the start of the uprising includes: Qorvis, Bell Pottinger Group, Potomac Square Group, British military general Graeme Lamb, United States House of Representatives member Eni Faleomavaega, American Democratic campaign consultant Joe Trippi, David Cracknell and Big Tent Communications, Earl of Clanwilliam Paddy Gillford and Gardant Communications, Good Governance Group, Sorini, Samet & Associates, Sanitas Internationa, New Century Media, Dragon Associates, M&C Saatchi, Barbour, Griffith and Rogers (BGR Group).
The participation of some Western powers in the repression - by selling arms to the Bahraini regime while advising it on dealing with world opinion to improve its image - and the military intervention by Saudi forces to crush the popular movement represent imperialist intervention in support of an authoritarian regime.
But the Bahraini people will not give in. The movement will continue until the demands of the popular movement for democracy, social justice and independence are met. Viva the Bahraini revolution!
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