Stewart: Bahrain protests like a football rivalry

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As the Bahrain Grand Prix ramps up this weekend, an ITN news crew were asked to leave the nation after they reported on a protest and violence that occurred near Manama this week. The show, as Formula One pundits are apt to call the race, must go on it seems and Sir Jackie Stewart has seen fit to weigh in on the side of the ruling government.

According to The Independent, Stewart likened the protest to the Old Firm which is a footbal match between the Celtics and the Rangers saying:

“It’s no different to the Glasgow Rangers and the Glasgow Celtics. One is a Sunni, the other is a Shia and they had to put a bloody great fence up to keep the two back,” he said.

“The Glasgow constabulary wouldn’t allow Hampden Park to be cleared at the same time. The Rangers had to be first and the Celtic guys later. They didn’t want them to mix because they would kill each other. That’s Roman Catholic and Protestant. In Bahrain we have got Shia and Sunni.”

There is little question that this football match is a bitter rivalry but it could be marginalizing the entire human rights element of the situation in Bahrain which anti-government groups claim are being violated.

Like all conflicts, context is crucial and much of the ideology can be a parallax at best from two or more groups. Stewart says that the island nation is an easy target for media derision but that Bahrain is more progressive than many gulf nations as Mr. Sylt points out in The Independent article. Stewart said:

“They have already started a move towards democracy. You can go in shorts and a bikini in Bahrain but women can’t even drive in Saudi Arabia,” he added.

That may sound relatively benign but it actually isn’t given the traditions and religious requirements in many kingdoms surrounding Bahrain. However, as Christian points out in his article, the opposition says wearing a bikini is one thing, living under the oppression is another.  Ali Alaswad, an opposition politician and former MP, said:

“Bahrain is an absolute monarchy, with a Prime Minister who has been in power since not long after Sir Jackie Stewart won his first Formula 1 championship,” Mr Alaswad, who resigned as an MP in 2011, said.

“Sir Jackie may feel safe walking in Bahrain’s villages, but he should try doing that whilst calling for democracy. Wearing a bikini does not mean democracy and I’m sure Sir Jackie Stewart would feel very differently if he was forced to live under this brutal dictatorship, rather than pay a yearly visit for the F1.”

The struggle continues but in the end, Stewart may be right about one thing… time:

“[Bahrain has] got to change, but it will not happen in five years never mind 12 months. Some of these journalists are going to say nothing has happened since we left here. That’s not true but on the other hand Bahrain are at fault for not communicating.”

“I think that the Prime Minister [of Bahrain] and his Majesty have to communicate more fully with the whole media to explain what they have done since last year. But they are not media conscious…that is not their culture. Their culture is ‘Why would we tell everybody what we are doing?’ You tell everybody what you are doing because it would sound better. It would be nicer and people would know that and therefore understand your motives and direction.”

I was honored to be invited on Huffpo Live this week to discuss the situation in Bahrain and you can find the video here. In that interview, I pointed out that Bahrain is steeped in Formula One financially and specifically in McLaren as a 50% owner. The money is too large and Sir Jackie said the same:

“If you didn’t have Bahrain you wouldn’t have McLaren,”

That’s a harsh reality that will find even the most ardent human rights proponents on McLaren’s payroll effectively silent over the issue.



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