Marc Lynch writes: Nine days ago, the courageous Bahraini activist Alaa Shehabi wrote for Foreign Policy about the then sixty-four day hunger strike by Abd al-Hadi al-Khawajai. His death, she warned, “could mark a significant breaking point for the regime’s efforts to rehabilitate its tarnished reputation — and could accelerate the disturbing trend toward militant radicalization in the opposition.” As of today, Khawaja remains thankfully alive. But Bahrain’s ill-conceived Formula One race event has nevertheless already turned a harsh international spotlight onto the regime’s ongoing repression. And Shehabi, an academic with dual Bahrain-British citizenship whose husband was only recently released after nine months in prison, has been arrested.
Shehabi’s detention might seem a minor footnote given the ongoing protests, the numbers of activists and journalists arrested and pressured, Khawaja’s hunger strike, and the Formula One controversy. She hopefully will soon be released. But her detention while assisting journalists seems particularly symbolic at a time when Bahrain’s regime has sought to burnish its international reputation and suppress critical media coverage without engaging in serious reforms at home.
This week’s Formula One-driven media scrutiny has ripped away Bahrain’s carefully constructed external facade. It has exposed the failure of Bahrain’s regime to take advantage of the breathing space it bought through last year’s crackdown or the lifeline thrown to it by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Iniquiry. That failure to engage in serious reform will likely further radicalize its opponents and undermine hopes for its future political stability.