A view from inside Bahrain

I am currently in the media centre at the Bahrain International Circuit, and as such I thought I would give you guys an update on the situation here in Bahrain, as it seems to be the top news story on most international news channels this morning.

We arrived in Bahrain last night, and the airport was relatively quiet. Despite this, I and about five of my colleagues had our passports taken away with no explanation. After a 15 minute wait, our passports were returned, again with no real explanation as to where they had been taken or what had been done with them other than that it was part of new procedure. How this will work over the Grand Prix weekend when the airport is set to become far busier and with a sudden and vast influx of international media remains to be seen.

Police presence, at least in terms of officers in uniform, was no greater than usual at the airport but outside the terminal the number of blue flashing lights on every roundabout was noticeable. We emerged in the middle of a pro-government, pro-King demonstration, with traffic jams all the way into Manama. People were waving the national flag and carrying pictures of the King.

There were no issues getting to our hotel or checking in. However the roads, which are usually busy, were noticeably quiet. We were told to avoid Pearl Roundabout and the Sukhs, and to stay in the hotel, but I took a 5 minute walk around the corner to grab a kebab and I found no trouble and everyone was in a very friendly mood.

Today we could not take the normal route in to the circuit as the main motorway out of Manama and down to Sakhir includes a flyover which crosses Pearl Roundabout where the main demonstration is taking place. News reports overnight suggest that the demonstrators were moved on from the Roundabout last night, with two further people reported shot dead. This roundabout has many hotels around it, some of which are used by F1 teams and media on race weekend.

There was a heavy traffic jam going into Manama as cars were turned off the motorway, and by the side of the road we noticed at least 30 tanks and various other military vehicles pounding over the sand, moving towards Manama. I have just seen that Reuters is reporting 50 armoured vehicles are moving into Manama, and I would agree with this estimation. “Armoured vehicles” however, seems something of an understatement. They are tanks.

Tanks on the motorway rolling into Manama

At the track itself there are rumours that today’s GP2 Asia practice and qualifying sessions may not take place as medical crews may have to stay in Manama and without their presence at the circuit, no running can take place. I will keep you updated as to how this situation develops. For the moment the internet is working fine, but the guys at the track have warned us that the web is intermittent all across the country.

The general feeling from those I have spoken to at the track today is that these demonstrations are something of an inconvenience. Those I have spoken to today seem to be pro the ruling family and government, and told me that, in their minds, these demonstrations are nothing new but have taken a greater significance in the eyes of the international media due to recent events in Tunisia and Egypt. The BBC is reporting that the demonstrators are seeking:

• political prisoners to be released
• more jobs and housing
• the creation of a more representative and empowered parliament
• a new constitution written by the people
• a new cabinet that does not include Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa Bin Salman Al Khalifa, who has been in office for 40 years

The King has reportedly handed out 20,000 new homes recently in a bid to appease those who are demonstrating for a better quality of life. February 14th marked the 10th anniversary of Bahrain’s new constitution.

There remains an underlying tension in the country however and one can feel it keenly. Recent pushes towards greater democracy in the Middle East appear to have given the people a voice they perhaps felt they did not have before. Whether in the majority or minority, this is a voice they now want to be heard. Speaking to another local last night, he told me that all the people really want is to have a Prime Minister who is not a member of the King’s family. Sheikh Khalifa Bin Salman Al Khalifa has been Prime Minister of Bahrain for 40 years.

Naturally we are watching how events unfold, and while as of yet there is no real feeling of fear from our side, the underlying tensions make the atmosphere here quite unsettling.

UPDATE: 11:20 LOCAL TIME – All track running has been cancelled today as the medical crews usually present at the track are on stand by in Manama’s hospitals in case the situation at Pearl Roundabout escalates. Practice / Qualifying will take place tomorrow morning with the race in the afternoon…

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27 thoughts on “A view from inside Bahrain

  1. Stay safe! An American journo got attacked during the Pearl Square protests last night, and at least two people were killed when they tried to clear Pearl Square this morning.

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  3. Stay safe Will. Realistically, with the medical crews reassigned, what are the chances of the GP2 Asia actually happening?

    • I honestly don’t know Leigh. I mean, if the demonstration grows and the army moves in then things could get very messy indeed. We’re keeping an eye on major airlines to see if anyone stops their routes to Bahrain. At that juncture, I think we’ll all try to get the hell out of here. It’s only motorsport at the end of the day. There are far bigger things playing out in Bahrain this week.

  4. My parents live in Bahrain Seif part I believe it’s called and have been told to stay in doors. My brother flew out on Sunday for a bit of a break and this happens… they were meant to be going to GP2 as well.

    I am meant to be going out for the F1…

    Difficult being here and there’s not much I can do…

  5. After reading about the horribly violent way the demonstration at the Roundabout was broken up I’ve lost my “open-mindedness” about Bahrain and am thinking of ignoring its F1GP even if it goes ahead. Its government’s not fit to run the country if this is how it responds to peaceful and justifiable protest, and I’m beginning to think that the showcase GP is an insult to its disenfranchised people. I’m not surprised to hear that people around the track are pro-Government. They would be, wouldn’t they.

  6. Looks like it’s getting ugly if they bring the tanks in. I booked myself to fly to Bahrain 2 March from Europe to be there for the testing. I have no idea if they will maintain the F1 or not. Not sure what I will do in Bahrain if the F1 is cancelled. Thank you very much for your report. Please keep us updated. A lot of us are booked to travel and we need to know.

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  8. Hey be careful out there,Its not worth risking your life… there will always be another F1 GP2 that can be watched commentated and enjoyed!… Concerned also for other friends out there in teams!

  9. Pingback: Situation worsens in Bahrain as GP2 Asia race is cancelled | 2011 Bahrain Grand Prix | PooZ

  10. Although we enjoy your reporting immensly, I’d say on behalf of Speed viewers that we want you safe. Get to Australia and we’ll watch the Bahrain race without the grid walk, if the race does indeed go forward.

  11. Thanks for keeping us in the loop Will, much appreciated. Big fans of your work on Speed and really looking forward next season. Safe travels back to the UK.

    Hope we see you on the tube in a few weeks from Manama or Abu Dhabi or ???

  12. Pingback: Situation worsens in Bahrain as GP2 Asia race is cancelled | 2011 Bahrain Grand Prix | Team41

  13. Just get the hell out of there Will. That GP should not happen, and if it does, it’ll say a thing or two about F1 and those things won’t be nice at all. I don’t see a point why you’re still there. Its not worth risking your life at all, you won’t lose anything by not reporting on it even if it does go ahead.

  14. Will, I’m with Steve Rogers above, and on the verge of becoming an ex-F1 fan even if they don’t race there, as the only considerations Bernie and Jean Todt seem to have are the safety of the teams and sponsors. It’s useless for me to post links to things I think you should see, as they are surely blocked from within Bahrain – Nick Kristof’s piece in the New York Times, the AJ E blogs and a video AJ put up with a warning about it’s graphic content. Niki Lauda may have the reputation of a big mouth, but so far he’s the only one I’ve seen expressing the belief that to race in Bahrain now would be *wrong*. And if he’s the only person even remotely involved with F1 thinking this way, it is pathetic!

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  16. Please, blaming Bernie and Todt for this? Have you been watching F1 with your heads buried in the sand? It is only now that you notice that GPs take place in politically oppressive countries? Naive.

    And what should Bernie do? Pull out of China, Malaysia, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi,…? Meanwhile, GPs in the stable democracies are hemorrhaging money.

    You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Do you want Bernie & company to secure the future of the sport or play social activist? Both are simply not possible.

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