x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Bahrain violence hurts everyone

As the Grand Prix approaches, a bombing on Monday highlights how pressing Bahrain's problems are, and the overriding need for reconciliation.

As the April 22 Formula One date approaches in Bahrain, the country's citizens and security services have much more than the race on their minds. In a country that sorely needs reconciliation, the bomb attack that injured seven on Monday has raised fears of further violence. It is not whether the Grand Prix goes forward that matters, but whether Bahrainis can begin to heal the wounds of the past year. And that is practically impossible if there are bombs going off in the street.

In Eker, protesters lured police by using small petrol bombs, then exploded a larger device. The blast was all too reminiscent of Bahrain's turbulence in the 1990s, when dozens died in protests and a long series of bombings and arson attacks. Then, as now, the Shia protesters were demanding more power-sharing and fringe extremist groups resorted to terrorism. It was, of course, a self-defeating stratagem.

A return to the days of frequent bombings would serve no one who cares about Bahrain. National reconciliation cannot come through random violence, from either bombers or the security forces. Officials have promised that security for the Gulf Air Grand Prix race on April 22 would be "low key and discreet". But continuing tensions keep everyone on edge.

Yesterday afternoon, Formula 1 chief Bernie Ecclestone said that the racing teams, the sponsor, and the government of Bahrain, and not he, would decide if the race will go on. Indeed, some teams were said to be expressing reluctance. Teams and sponsors are hesitant to be associated with a complete lockdown of the island state, which many now fear will be needed.

The Eker protest was demanding the release of activist Abdulhadi Al Khawaja, who with seven others was jailed for life last year for trying to overthrow the government. Mr Al Khawaja has been on a hunger strike for two months and is said to be near death. The bombers who were supposedly supporting him in fact displayed their contempt for his peaceful tactic of fasting.

This violence seems calculated only to produce more turmoil. A brutal response by security forces would only feed into the cycle of violence. Whether the Formula One race goes ahead or not, Bahrain needs dialogue and compromise, not violence, to achieve the national reconciliation that is essential for all sides.