Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Winning the Battle, Losing the (Media) War: Formula 1 Edition

It seems that Bahrain's authorities have spent a bit too much time recently attacking the U.S. and Embassy Manama (in the press) and Shi'a religious processions (in real life) and not enough time convincing the international community that "Business-friendly Bahrain" is indeed back in business. Just days after apparently reinstating the Bahrain Grand Prix, Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone now says the race is "not on." And, as the BBC aptly summarizes,
If, as Bernie Ecclestone accepts, the Bahrain Grand Prix will not go ahead in October, it will be a huge and humiliating blow to the tiny Arabian island.
Indeed. It will also mark the utter failure of what Simon Henderson in a great piece in Foreign Policy today describes as "Bahrain's diplomatic charm offensive," an effort doomed by the apparent assumption that somehow the world would pay attention only to government press releases and not to actual events in Bahrain.

For, as Henderson outlines in systematic fashion, the days following the end of martial law on June 1 and King Hamad's coinciding "National Dialogue Initiative, Part Deux" have witnessed a Bahrain that has hoped to win over international observers at the same time that it "declares war on protesters back home."

Obviously, there is no need to cover the same territory as does Henderson, who touches on the military trial of 47 medical staff charged with aiding protesters back in March; the now-infamous BTV interview with U.S. Embassy Chargé d'affaires Stephanie Williams a few days ago (which you can find here); the Ludo Hood affair (which we first covered here); and the crown prince's meeting today with the Obamaman.

Still, we may offer a few additional details and links.
  1. First, for all your anti-U.S. propaganda needs, see this nice summary by Roy Gutman at McClacthy, which covers the latest vitriol from Al-Wasat (how's that new editor working out?), Akhbar al-Khaleej, and Al-Ayyam.

  2. And if you really need to make your hatred of the U.S. known, you can sign this more-or-less-comprehensible Twitter petition:

  3. Second, as alluded to in the introduction, the end of the June 1 martial has kept Bahrain's security forces busy. First, they crushed the attempted return to the Pearl Roundabout on June 1, then they crushed the second attempt at demonstrations two days later on Friday.

    Unhappy with just two crushings per week, though, the government forcefully prevented Shi'a 'azzah processions on June 5 marking the death of the tenth Shi'i imam. Reuters has the details, but even more illustrative is this Google Map depicting the locations of all the reported clashes, involving at least 14 villages in all.

    More illustrative still, however, is this YouTube video showing the riot police in action. As one would expect, they spare no tear gas canister in their fight with these Shi'a terrorists, who are clearly attempting to call upon the disembodied spirit of the Tenth Imam in order to overthrow the Al Khalifa.

  4. After seeing the video, is it really that difficult to believe that Bahraini Shi'a (and other anti-government protesters) might be pissed off with the regime independently of any outside prodding? Which is the more obvious source of "radicalization": instructions from Iran? or being shot in the face with a tear gas canister while attending a religious ceremony?

  5. Finally, a scandal is brewing in Bahraini cyberspace following the leak of a document allegedly detailing instructions of Shura Council member Dr. Salah 'Ali to Sh. Fawaz bin Muhammad Al Khalifa, President of the Information Affairs Directorate, in which the latter is instructed to highlight in- and outside Bahrain (e.g., on official visits to European countries) the foreign Iranian agenda behind al-Wifaq and BCHR activist Nabil Rajab.

    While I am in no position to verify the authenticity of such a document (Dr. Salah has already denied writing it in an Al-Ayyam editorial), in true Internet fashion we should probably just post it here anyway:

Among those not impressed by such developments are evidently the heads of major banks. An appropriately-titled article in the Financial Times, "Banks ponder Bahrain exodus," reports:
Robecco, the asset management arm of Dutch lender Rabobank, which has $5bn of regional assets under management, has decided to move its regional headquarters and 12 staff from Bahrain to Dubai by the end of the year. ...

Other institutions which chose Bahrain as their regional hub because of its proximity to Saudi Arabia and large pool of educated local talent have been mulling their options.

But rumours that BNP Paribas is moving its headquarters and 450-strong staff to Dubai are denied by one person close to the company. ...

Nonetheless, senior bankers say that even large lenders are considering their options as Bahrain’s liberal image dissipates.

Some are quietly shifting staff to other offices in Dubai, which is more competitive than ever because of its real estate crash. Officials in Dubai say that inquiries from Bahrain are building up.

While some executives welcome a return to stability, others see no future in a divided society where a state-ordained purge of pro-protester sympathisers is sweeping the private sector.

The million-dinar question, then, is the fate of King Hamad's new national dialogue initiative in the wake of all these setbacks. Just as the crown prince was embarrassed into political oblivion by the failure of the reconciliation plan he patronized, now the Bahraini king must attempt to maintain support from within the Al Khalifa for a renewed effort that seems to have come too late to achieve its most obvious goal--securing a rescheduled Bahrain Grand Prix--and to convince Bahrain's international critics (and investors) that the situation there is improving.

If there is no obvious immediate benefit now to a reinvigorated attempt at dialogue, one that will doubtless earn the ire of many pro-government Sunnis--to say nothing of the prime minister, his Saudi allies, and the Khawalid (followers of hawkish Royal Court Minister Khalid bin Ahmad)--will the King still be prepared to risk for it his already-dwindling political capital? Once the crown prince returns to Bahrain with his message from Obama, we are likely soon to find out.

Update: for those interested in the circumstances regarding the (brief) reinstatement of the Formula One last week, see this leaked report by an F1 fact-finding mission to Bahrain, which was naively swept off its feet by government officials and state-appointed human rights organizations. The New York Times has a lengthier analysis.

The Council on Foreign Relations website also has this illuminating interview on Bahrain with McClatchy reporter Roy Gutman. We've linked to McClatchy and Gutman several times in the past weeks (and we do so above) for their coverage of the Ludo Hood affair.

Finally, Nick Kristof has an open letter to King Hamad today in the Times in which he demands the release of one of his Bahraini friends. I bet the other thousand people in jail wish they were friends with Nick Kristof too. (The Bahrain "Independent" blog now has an open letter to Nick Kristof in response.)

Update 2: the BNA reports that the king has tapped lower house speaker Al-Dhahrani to preside over a yet-undefined "dialogue of national consensus" commission whose work will begin on July 1. The video press release is here:


  1. On BNP case, crown prince personally went to the CEO and asked him to stay.

  2. Justin,

    It seems that u didn't see this! I thought I will be seeing it here!

    The dude had alote of lunches and dinner inductions!

  3. The Formula One fact-finding report? Yes, I'd seen it but it didn't make the cut.

    I can add an update, though, if everyone is looking for it.

  4. Do you deny that the protestors are racists? They want immigrants "mujanaseen" out of the country?

  5. I think mujanaseen mean Naturalised Bahrainis. And one of their demands was the stopping of Naturalization.
    So I'd say they're not against Immigrants but rather, giving passports to them.

    oh and @Justin, I love the blog :)

  6. If King Hamad doesn't work towards reconciliation between the Sunnis and the Shi'ites and will not work on improving the conditions of the people then Bahrain will continue to witness protest demonstrations. This will make the situation more unstable and the economy and businesses in Bahrain will dwindle. I hope King Hamad will act before its too late.


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