• Cherif Bassiouni says grand prix would help unite Bahrain
• United Nations war crimes expert had been critical of regime
Supporters of the Bahrain Grand Prix, which is scheduled for 22 April, have won an important ally in the shape of Cherif Bassiouni, a United Nations war crimes expert and the chairman of the independent commission which has monitored the fractious situation in the Gulf state over the past 12 months.
The Egyptian Bassiouni – who was appointed by the Bahrain royal family but has been critical of the authorities after last year’s disturbances – has written to the chairman of the Bahrain GP, Zayed Alzayani, and also to the Formula One principal rights holder, Bernie Ecclestone, giving his support for the race to go ahead, despite the ongoing protests from pro-democracy groups.
In his letter, Bassiouni says: “The grand prix is a significant national event, which is of great interest to a substantial percentage of the population and all of its communities. It is, therefore, an event of deserved national pride, which you have used in this year’s launching as a way of promoting national healing and reconciliation.
“Aside from the economic, publicity and public relations advantages that the grand prix brings to Bahrain it is, on the one year anniversary of the February/March events of last year, an important point of departure for the people of Bahrain to forge ahead in their national efforts towards reconciliation.”
Bassiouni was appointed by the ruling royal family, who last year had to back down under domestic and international pressure and abandon the race which was scheduled to launch the 2011 season, to chair an independent report into the event.
But his criticism of last year’s clumsy efforts to control the protesters can now only lend credence to his current position, which is not only that the race should go ahead but that it could also be a force for good for the troubled country.
The future of the race remains in considerable doubt, and a final call may not be made until a week or so before it is due to take place. At the circuit the feeling is that it will happen. But if there are pictures broadcast around the world of demonstrations being violently put down near to the track it could be an expensive own goal for the sport.
As for Bahrain itself, the government is anxious not to experience a repeat of last year, when an estimated £300m was lost following the cancellation.
from Paul Weaver