Friday, February 18, 2011

Formula 1 as predictive revolutionary yardstick

(Sakhir Circuit, Bahrain. A really, really, dull modern F1 track.)

Don't laugh. When you hear that Bernie Ecclestone is thinking of cancelling a Grand Prix, then you know it's got to be serious - this last happened.... when? And so in Bahrain we face another bit of history in the making - or for the reality tv addicts "History - Live, Innit?!" Or perhaps "Arab Authoritarians Lack Talent"?

It's easy to see why Egypt matters - it's been a cultural, economic and political fulcrum for much of the the last 6,000 years, and it remains the most populous Arab nation, and the home of the one of the most influential Islamic centres of learning in Al Azhar. Indeed, arguably the period in which it has mattered least regionally was from the signing of Camp David Accords in 1978 to Gulf War I 1990-91 when it was persona non grata with the rest of the Arab world due to recognising and agreeing a peace treaty with Israel.

(Oil and oppressed Shias. Lots of both in and around Al Jubayl, Dammam. And next to Bahrain - interesting.)

But in many ways I would argue that what's happening in Bahrain is significantly more important. As an absolute monarchy with an efficient police state, with a Sunni ruling elite and majority Shia population, Bahrain has important similarities with both Qatar and Kuwait, but crucially with eastern Saudi Arabia, especially around the oil production centres at Dahran / Dammam. 

Does this mean that the Saudi monarchy is under direct threat? No, not yet. But the really revolutionary point over the last six weeks in the Arab world seems to have been the people understanding that if enough protest together, the authoritarians cannot kill enough of them to suppress them - at which point the regime is finished in practical terms. So Bahrain as the first of the Arab monarchies to start shooting its citizens is going to prove an interesting litmus test - if people power works here, then where the dominoes fall next becomes very strategically interesting.

So, if they end up cancelling this year's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November, then 2011 will have been a truly revolutionary year. And no, I don't see predictive causality in Formula 1. At least not yet.

No comments: