(Image translation: Glory and Immortality to “Battlefield Commander” Hussain Ahmed Sharaf)
The Formula One in Bahrain this year has been a huge success. The event has had a celebratory atmosphere as a result of the much more relaxed political climate and the desire of most Bahrainis to get out and enjoy themselves.
In previous years Bahrain’s opposition had enough supporters and enough momentum to act as a significant disruptive factor. But this year it is a shadow of its former self; only succeeding in rallying small protest marches scattered in remote locations.
So how did a demoralized and depleted opposition seek to rally its forces over the Grand Prix event? By holding martyrdom processions in memory of a wanted murderer who died in a mysterious explosion a few days earlier.
Hussain Sharaf was wanted for the murder of 19-year old policeman Mohammed Khan who died in October 2012 when his patrol was ambushed with petrol bombs; he was tried and sentenced in absentia.
Hussain had been in hiding at a house in Al-Eker when there was a large explosion, gutting the entire house in fire. There have been a number of similar incidents as a result of residences being used to hide or manufacture explosives, such as Hussain Abdulla who died in his own bomb-making workshop in Saar in mid-2013.
The incident is still being investigated, but the fact that opposition activists have been ruthlessly exploiting his death to try and undermine the Grand Prix is opportunistic, to say the least.
For example, opposition figure Ala’a Shehabi writes in a Channel Four article that Hussain Sharaf’s death strengthened the argument for boycotting the Grand Prix; conveniently forgetting to mention that Hussain was a wanted murderer, whose death had nothing to do with so-called “police repression”. In fact Hussain’s death was the only incident she was able to cite when alleging the “escalation of the repressive crackdown” ahead of the Formula One.
This “repressive crackdown” is a myth. No such crackdown occurred ahead of the Grand Prix, and even organizations like Amnesty International have not tried to claim any such crackdown over the past month, although they warned the authorities not to take a heavy-handed approach during the Grand Prix, in the report released on the eve of the event.
The main protest rally by the opposition was licensed and approved by the Bahraini authorities and as a result went ahead uneventfully.
However, the funeral of Hussain Sharaf and the various procession marches to condemn his “martyrdom” were marked by violence, as youths came heavily armed with petrol-bombs and other makeshift weapons and attacked the police. There were several blasts described by eyewitnesses during the funeral procession and a number of police were injured.
In a desperate attempt to grab a bit of attention, the opposition is turning to ever-more militant and violent tactics. They claim to want democracy and human rights, but who can take them seriously when their rallying point is a wanted murderer?