''Our regime has to leave''

The Formula One Grand Prix took place in Bahrain as planned despite a storm of criticism and days of demonstrations. Kersten Knipp spoke to human rights activist Nabil Rajab about the situation

By Kersten Knipp

Could you tell us why you and the Bahrainis are against Formula One?

Nabeel Rajab: You know that in the past the Bharaini regime committed many of crimes against its people, killing, torturing, detaining, firing. Now this government, or this regime, is being isolated from the international community because of the crimes committed. And since Formula One is the sport of the ruling elite, they use that as a tool of PR to come out of this isolation.

"You cannot run the country as you did for the past 200 years." Nabeel Rajab is a Bahraini human rights activist and President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights

​​We think Formula One should not give a hand to the repressive dictators to come out of this isolation. Especially among the people who were tortured and detained. The Formula One building was itself used as a torturing center. Half of the staff of Formula One were put into jail, and before that they were tortured in the same building by the security institution.

Now, Formula One came to Bahrain at a time where people are being killed in the streets. In the night before the race, we had many people who were wounded by live ammunition as the government went to clear the way to keep the protest away from the Formula One. This government treats people like that. The government detained more than 100 people just to clear the way for Formula One. This government should not be rewarded. This government should be punished internationally, politically punished.

Could you tell us about how many people are protesting and who they are?

Rajab: There are tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people protesting here on a daily basis. There was supposed to be a big protest attended by hundreds of thousands of people in Manama, but the government, because of Formula One, denied that.

But there are Shiites and Sunnis at the protests. They're mainly Shiite because they're the marginalized group who are discriminated against by the ruling family. The Shiites are marginalized in this country since their country was invaded 200 years ago by the ruling tribal family who came from Saudi Arabia.

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​​On Wednesday we had tens of people that were shot by live ammunition and were wounded and some of them seriously. It's a criminal regime that is as bad as Syria, as bad as Libya, but unfortunately Western governments have ignored them for a long time because of the interests, because of the oil, because of the arms sales. There's a lot of crime here on a daily basis by the regime against its own people.

It appears the conflict doesn't go along a religious line, but rather economic lines…

Rajab: It's a political dispute. It's got nothing to do with religion. Yes, the government of Bahrain tried to play with the card of religion to gather more Sunnis around them. But actually, it's about democracy, it's about justice, about equality, about liberty. People want to have democracy. People want to have a parliament that has actual power. They want to have an elected government. They want to have a different government. They want to have equality.

What are your main political demands?

Rajab: I'm a human rights man. I want justice to be applied. I want equality to be applied. I want freedom to be applied. I want everything according to international standards, everything according to the International Convention for Human Rights. I want the same democracy you guys have in your own country. We want the same liberty and justice, a level of equality you have in your own country.

But what does that mean for the political system in Bahrain?

Rajab: It is the government that has to be elected by the people, either directly or through parliament. Parliament should have the power to legislate, to monitor. Our laws should be changed according to international standards. You cannot run the country as you did for the past 200 years. One family rules over everything: the economy, the culture, the politics, everything.

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​​No, people have to take part. People need to participate. Wealth has to be distributed in a fair manner, not only for one family while other people have a very low standard of living. Government has to be elected and the parliament has to be elected. Parliament has to have power. We need changes, democratic changes. Our regime has to leave.

How do you protect yourself and the Bahrainis against the regime?

Rajab: Unfortunately, there is no protection. We just leave it to destiny. We have to sacrifice. At least 80 people were killed in one year. We have thousands of people wounded, hundreds who have lost their lives. All of those people sacrificed their lives for democracy and for a better future for our future children and the next generation. So that's why we have to have a level of sacrifice and carriage to continue our struggle for human rights. Apart from that, there is no protection. Protection is from nature and from God.

Do you have any expectations of the West?

Rajab: Western countries should understand that we are fighting for the same goals, the same values, the same principles that they have in their own countries. We share more things in common than they share with those dictators. They should not place a higher priority on arms sales and oil than on human rights. They should support people fighting for human rights in this part of the world. And they should stop their double standards toward the Gulf region, toward Bahrain, toward Saudi Arabia and all of the other countries in the Gulf.

The king initiated a national dialogue last year. Back then, you agreed to this proposal. What do you think about it?

Rajab: It was a fake dialogue that was used to mislead public opinion and the international community. It was not a genuine one. It did not tackle the actual problems. Everything was chosen by the government. That's why it failed.

What about the right of self-determination?

Rajab: This is something the international community will understand. We are fighting for self-determination. In 1971, the United Nations asked in a referendum if we wanted the ruling family or not. We said that we wanted the ruling family. But this ruling family has treated us very badly. Now we are calling on the United Nations again for self-determination. We want to choose our own government. We want to choose our own regime. We want to choose our own political system.

Interview: Kersten Knipp

© Deutsche Welle 2012

Editor: Lewis Gropp/Qantara.de