Bahrain scored a much anticipated public relations coup on Friday by winning back its Formula One Grand Prix, cancelled earlier this year after protests erupted in the Gulf Arab island kingdom.
Majority Shiites demanding political reforms continued to stage protests, challenging the lifting of emergency rule two days ago that minority Sunni rulers called a return to normal conditions that could help bring back tourism and commerce.
“Congratulations - we got it!” Fayyad, a Sunni employee of a private airline, shouted in a cafe in Manama when news began to buzz in social media that a motor racing council meeting in Barcelona had agreed to reinstate the race later this year.
In February, Bahrain cancelled the opening race of Formula One after clashes between security forces and pro-democracy protesters camped out in their thousands at Pearl Roundabout.
Despite calls by human rights groups against reinstating the race, a source told Reuters that the vote for Bahrain had been unanimous. The race is now scheduled for October 30.
“As a country we have faced a difficult time, but stability has returned; with businesses operating close to normal, the State of National Safety lifted and countries removing travel restrictions,” said Bahrain International Circuit head Zayed R. Alzayani.
“Collectively, we are in the process of addressing issues of national and international concern, and learning lessons from the recent past. By the time the Grand Prix arrives we will be able to remind the world about Bahrain at its best.”
Mr. Alzayani said the race would attract 100,000 visitors, support 3,000 jobs and deliver a $500 million economic boost.
This week the government ended over two months of martial law imposed after it invited Saudi and United Arab Emirates security forces to help break up the protest movement.
The government said the island state, on the frontline in a cold war between Shiite power Iran and Sunni Muslim Gulf dynasties allied to Washington, had returned to normal and was ready to host the event.
This week the king offered a new dialogue on reform with all sides as of July, without spelling out its parameters. Opposition groups welcomed the offer.