As the leader of Bahrain's human rights movement hovers between life and death amidst a 67-day hunger strike against government autocracy, the lieutenants of this tiny country's self-appointed king are doubling down on their pitch that the oil-rich monarchy the ideal place for Formula One Racing despite more than a year of violent unrest.
That unrest, which led to widespread arrests, torture, and more than 60 deaths, led to the cancellation of the Bahrain Grand Prix in 2011. The issue now is whether the 2012 race will ever happen. It is expected to bring $300 million into the country.
But while the race promoters and the government -- and their PR machines -- are trumpeting the thrills and fun of Formula One Racing, Bahrain's human rights community, and some of the Grand Prix drivers, have taken an opposite view.
They charge that Bahrain remains a serial violator of human rights despite promises of reform and shouldn't be hosting high-profile sporting events.
This week, David Rosenberg of The Media Line reported:
"A flurry of reports and petitions and other measures are on the way this week in a last-ditch effort to block the Formula One race scheduled for April 20-22. But Bahrain's rulers are ahead so far: The Federation Internationale de L'Automobile (FIA), the governing body of motor sports, broke its silence in the matter and on Friday gave the go-ahead for the race to proceed on schedule.
"There is a lot more at stake than being first past the checkered flag. The chronic unrest and the government crackdown has put Bahrain into the crosshairs of the global human rights movement and weighed heavily on the economy. Staging a successful race would signal that the country's problems are behind it and, according to the race's local organizers, will pump almost $300 million into the economy and create the equivalent of 400 full-time jobs."
But the Arab-Spring uprising of Bahrain's Shiite majority against their Sunni monarch is still in full swing, despite reports to the contrary in the state-owned press. On Friday, the group organizing the race said in a statement that it should go ahead as scheduled.