Protesters take on Bahrain’s F1 Grand Prix
“What’s happened? They’re demonstrating now? I didn’t know that. There’s nobody demonstrating.” So says Bernie Ecclestone, F1 boss and reality-defying extraordinaire, when asked about protests against the Grand Prix in Bahrain. As the man responsible for pushing the F1 Grand Prix ahead in a country wracked by social unrest, he has a keen interest in projecting an image of peace and stability. And protest groups have an equally keen interest in pushing back, using the attention-grabbing international event as an opportunity to show the world the continued repression that they face.
Protests in Bahrain have been a latent affair in the Shia-majority, Sunni-led island kingdom since demonstrations first began in earnest against the monarchy on February 14, 2011. The subsequent violence following the then nascent demonstrations raised security concerns severe enough that not even Mr. Ecclestone could ignore them. Amidst some 35 deaths, the race was cancelled that year.
But it was held the following year. While the protests were ongoing, F1 pressed forward with the event, to the point where competitors questioned the wisdom in holding the race. The flight of the Force India team from a clash between protesters and security forces highlighted these concerns. One protester was killed, and clashes continued. The race went off uninterrupted.
In the lead-up to this year’s F1 race, protests have heightened – as have proactive security actions. Security forces have been clearing potential areas of aggression around the race course in Sakhir, have been battling Molotov-cocktail wielding demonstrators, and have been arresting those they can get their hands on. But that hasn’t stopped those opposed to the regime who are using the F1 race as a staging ground to attract global attention.
To a certain extent, they have. Anonymous, for example, has pledged its support. In an ongoing operation they’ve called “OpBahrain”, they have vowed the following, singling out Mr. Ecclestone: “We will remove you from the world wide web. We call upon Bernie Ecclestone while there is still time – cancel your blood race now.” The group successfully disrupted the Formula 1 website briefly last year, but such rhetoric suggests more concerted action in solidarity with the protesters in Bahrain.
This points to continued hacktivism coupled with on-the-ground activism. While the week of “volcanic flames” called for by the February 14th Youth Coalition may not result in a full-scale eruption, there is little doubt that the protests will continue throughout the F1 Grand Prix. Maybe Mr. Ecclestone will take notice.