King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa has confirmed that he will attend the Bahrain Grand Prix despite anti-government protestors vowing to raise their opposition following the death of one of their number in demonstrations on Friday night.
Crown Prince Salman al-Khalifa visited the Bahrain International Circuit during free practice, insisting that bowing to outside pressure and cancelling the grand prix would only serve to 'empower extremists', and now his father maintains that the race can be a force for good. All pre-event PR has been conducted under the banner of 'UniF1ed' in the belief that it could reunite a divided nation, but appears only to have resulted in becoming a focus for renewed protest.
While the media has been accused of using the differences of opinion for its own ends and, in many cases, over-emphasising the level of security - and the scale of the response to demonstrations - to suggest that the situation is worse than it is, there is no doubting that Bahrain is a troubled nation. The discovery of a protestor's body on a rooftop after Friday's protests has raised tensions further but, despite talk of demonstrations being stepped up to coincide with the start of the race, it appears that the grand prix will go ahead as planned.
King Hamad has said that he will still be present at the race, and insisted that he remains open to talks on reform.
"I want to make clear my personal commitment to reform and reconciliation in our great country," he said in a statement issued over the weekend, "The door is always open for sincere dialogue amongst all our people.
"Last month, I received the report on progress made on the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry. It confirmed that broad and substantial progress has already been made by the government, [but] we must of course continue the pace of reform."
While the death of 36-year-old Salah Abbas Habib was reportedly the first in the latest wave of protests, it adds to the 35 victims of the initial wave of opposition that led to the 2011 Bahrain Grand Prix being cancelled. The fact that Habib's funeral could be timed to coincide with the 2012 race could provide further focus for the outrage felt by a majority Shi'ite Muslim community that feels increasingly marginalised by ruling Sunnis.
"Our initial demands were to elect a new government but, after the disgusting abuse we received, all the people are asking for is for the regime to fall," one protester told reporters during a demonstration on Saturday.