Manaslu expedition: When the prince from Bahrain knocks in Nepal

The 8163-meter-high Manaslu in Nepal

All mountaineers are the equal, but some mountaineers are more equal than others – one could say freely after George Orwell’s novel “Animal Farm”. Actually, the Nepalese government had declared that, due to the recent sharp increase in corona infections, only Nepalese returnees, diplomats and employees of UN aid organizations would be allowed to fly to the country from 1 September . There was no mention of foreign tourists – and these usually include mountaineers. This fall’s climbing in the Himalayas seemed to be over before it began.

However, this week  a government spokesperson in Kathmandu suddenly declared that an 18-member expedition from Bahrain had received a permit for the eight-thousander Manaslu and – for the purpose of acclimatization – for the six-thousander Lobuche East near Mount Everest. The team of the Royal Guard of Bahrain will arrive in Kathmandu in mid-September on a charter flight, enter a one-week quarantine and then head for the mountains, it said.

Next spring to Everest

Sunrise at Mount Everest

The permit allegedly refers to Sheik Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa, a member of the royal family of Bahrain. The 33-year-old is head of the Royal Guard and is said to have personally selected the members of the mountaineering team. Lobuche East and Manaslu are said to be only the overture: for the grand opera next spring on Mount Everest. Since the project was officially announced in Bahrain in April, Sheikh Nasser has been trying to make it up with the Nepali government. He had relief supplies sent to the Nepalese people who were hardly hit by the corona crisis. The operator Seven Summit Treks distributed the food in the Himalayan state and is now – hardly surprisingly – also organizing the expedition for the Bahraini people.

Human rights violations in Bahrain

The 6000er Lobuche near Everest

Sheikh Nasser is the fourth-born son of the King of Bahrain, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. He is head of the National Olympic Committee of the Gulf State and has a passion for cycling and triathlon. Sheikh Nasser is said to have played a more than inglorious role during the “Arab Spring” in 2011, according to human rights organizations like Amnesty International. He was accused of not only ordering torture, but also of beating imprisoned opposition members himself. In 2014 a British court lifted the diplomatic immunity of Sheikh Nasser because of the accusations, and he was called “torture prince” in the press.

As recently as last spring, the German government described the human rights situation in Bahrain as “alarming”. Freedom of opinion, press and assembly were “severely” restricted, the government said adding that opposition member were arbitrarily arrested.

Sportswashing

Summit ridge of Manaslu

Successful eight-thousander expeditions would fit in well with the concept of so-called “sportswashing”, which Gulf states such as Bahrain or Qatar have been practicing for some years now: With sporting highlights they want to distract from the problematic human rights situation in their countries.

For Nepal, Bahrain is an important partner in the Gulf region. More than 35,000 migrant workers from the Himalayan state earn their money there,  mostly in low-wage jobs such as road construction or as domestic workers.

I wonder if Sheikh Nasser has put a few petrodollars to get the expedition permits? That doesn’t seem completely absurd. Sometimes money makes some mountaineers more equal after all.

P.S.: High time to get a sniff of mountain air in the Alps again. You’ll have to get along without me for a good two weeks. I will relax – actively and mostly offline. 

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