Sport and Political Instability are As Volatile an Explosive Mix as Religion and Political Instability

My thoughts and prayers are with all those mourning a loved one lost in the Egyptian soccer tragedy.

Part of the problem is the toxic legacy of dictatorship-style policing: “Some people say the police force perhaps has not been trained to deal with violence, except in the way they were trained during Mubarak, which was with sheer and brutal force. And now when they can’t do that, they’re unable to deal with violence.”

A police force trained only violent suppression does not know how to control crowds, or deploy violence in a measured, proportionate manner. Such police forces are little more than gangs in uniform. When states and the law enforcement arms of the state lose authority and legitimacy, normal civil society activities become impossible.

Fun, and lucrative, as it may be, sport does not exist in a cultural, political, and social vacuum. One lesson from the Egyptian tragedy has to be that sport and political instability are just as volatile explosive mix as religion and political instability. The F1 authorities need to understand this, and cancel not just the 2012 Bahrain F1 race, but all subsequent races until real, externally verifiable, change has happened in Bahrain.

Another lesson has to be that root and branch reform of the law enforcement services has to be very high on the list of priorities in countries in the Arabic-speaking world that are undergoing transformation. Perhaps there are lessons to be learned from Northern Ireland, in the disbanding of the paramilitary Royal Ulster Constabulary, and the establishment of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, a non-sectarian, civil society police service. This requires not mere training and consultancy, but root and branch reform.

In Northern Ireland this was part of the Northern Ireland Peace Process. In my view, countries like the UK and the USA should be helping transitioning countries in the Arabic-speaking world by facilitating international supervised peace processes and truth and reconciliation processes.

This is  the way outside powers can intervene positively to help bring about democratisation and open Societies. Intervening militarily when it suits their perceived “security” needs, while propping up their favoured regimes with arms and PR merely achieves more instability.

Open societies in the Middle East will be societies where sporting events can take place safely, and responsible civil police services no how to deploy force in ways that make the situation better, not worse. The Bahrain F1 GP should not go ahead.


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