This weekend Bahrain holds one of the world's premier motor racing events – even as democracy protesters are pummelled in the streets. The al-Khalifa monarchy wants the F1 Grand Prix to show that all is fine in their little Gulf kingdom. Of course, this is a lie. For more than a year, Bahraini democracy activists have been beaten, tortured and killed for demanding freedom. Why has Bahrain escaped pariah status? Why does it get to hold special international events? A clue to the answer, strangely enough, may lie in Syria.
After President Bashar al-Assad, the world leader most responsible for the ongoing murder and mayhem in Syria is Russia's Vladimir Putin. Why has Putin backed Assad over these bloody months? A few reasons: Syria buys lots of Russian weapons, is Russia's key ally in the Middle East, and hosts Moscow's only Mediterranean port. Losing Assad, by Russia's logic, would be a big problem. So in Assad's time of need, Putin lends a hand: vetoing a few UN security council resolutions, keeping the arms flowing, docking a few warships.
Apply that lesson to Bahrain. Who sells the monarchy most of its weapons, uses it as a strategic naval port, and offers a little diplomatic back-up in return? Let's have a look:
That's right: the USA. Just like Russia with Syria, in recent years the US has provided Bahrain with more than half of its foreign arms purchases. That's about $1.4bn since 2000. What's more, Bahrain hosts America's massive (and massively strategic) Fifth Fleet, in charge of patrolling the Gulf and keeping an eye on mutual enemy Iran.
Since the democratic protests began last year, the US has been awfully subdued. In Tunisia, Egypt and Syria, it calls for regime change – in Bahrain, dialogue. US lawmakers were able to temporarily suspend an arms shipment to Bahrain, but there's no sign the countries' strategic partnership will end any time soon. After all, Bahrain has been listed by the US as a "Major Non-Nato Ally" since 2002. And that support (along with a brief Saudi military incursion) has helped Bahrain's repressive monarchy stay in place.
Take action: This weekend Bahrain will try to whitewash its awful record with an international sporting event. Let's not let them get away with it. Sign the Reporters Without Borders petition calling for an end to the brutality.