Protesters in Bahrain on Thursday came out against the holding of the Formula One Grand Prix on Sunday, and met repression by police, who used stun guns and tear gas to clear them away. Bahrain has seen over a year of protests, but the Sunni monarchy has largely managed to quell the Shiite majority (the latter are mostly demanding a constitutional monarchy and an end to discrimination against them). Bahrain’s human rights record is widely seen as poor, and activists have called on Formula One to cancel lest it bestow legitimacy on the regime.
The largest and most influential Shiite party, al-Wefaq, led by cleric Ali Salman, however, says it is all right with the race being held. The monarchists accuse the protesters of defaming and harming the nation.
The United States, while it has been harshly critical of other Arab governments that crushed their dissidents, has treated Bahrain with kid gloves. The island nation is the headquarters of the US Fifth Fleet, charged with providing security to the Gulf, from which 20% of the world’s petroleum comes. The Obama administration’s non-committal stand pleases Saudi Arabia, which incorrectly sees Bahrain Shiites as pawns of Shiite Iran. In fact, their demands are local and they for the mostpart don’t even adhere to the same school of Shiism as Iran.
Reuters reports on the controversy
Reuters also has raw video of the Thursday protests.
Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr has called for a boycott of the race in Bahrain.