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Cablegate: Al-Wifaq Leader Hopes Potus Visit Will Help Cement

VZCZCXRO2874
PP RUEHDE RUEHDIR
DE RUEHMK #0002 0020626
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 020626Z JAN 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7513
INFO RUEHZM/GULF COOPERATION COUNCIL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHBVAKS/COMUSNAVCENT PRIORITY
RHMFISS/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L MANAMA 000002

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/02/2018
TAGS: PGOV KDEM PHUM BA
SUBJECT: AL-WIFAQ LEADER HOPES POTUS VISIT WILL HELP CEMENT
DEMOCRATIC GAINS

REF: A. MANAMA 1105
B. MANAMA 1109
C. MANAMA 1110
D. MANAMA 1112
E. MANAMA 1113
F. MANAMA 1118

Classified By: Ambassador Adam Ereli for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1.(C) Summary: The leader of Bahrain's largest Shi'a political party told the Ambassador that it was important that the U.S. continue speaking out in favor of democratic reform in the region. He hoped that the President would address this theme during his upcoming visit. Speaking about the recent unrest (reftels), he dismissed those who claimed that the government had reverted to the heavy-handed tactics of the 1990s. He saw no comparison between the 1990s and today, noting the relative success of democratic reforms. End summary.

2.(C) Ambassador and poloff met with MP and Chairman of the Al-Wifaq political society Sheikh Ali Salman on December 29. Salman noted that Bahrain had made tangible progress on democratization since 2002. He attributed part of that success to U.S. focus on democratic reform in the region following 9/11. He urged the USG to continue using its bully pulpit to champion the cause of democratiztaion. Lately, he noted, it seemed that the U.S. had "retreated" from its message on democratization, and he was concerned that this had led to a slowdown in political transformation in the region. The government's natural instinct was to control the process, so it needed continued encouragement. While he understood that reform was a gradual process, it was important that the people continue to see progress. Salman hoped that the President would take the opportunity of his upcoming visit to speak publicly on the need to push forward with democratic reforms, highlight the success of Bahrain's constitution, and take note of the fact that Bahrain "is a country ruled by laws."

3.(C) Ambassador noted that some critics had accused the government of heavy-handedness in dealing with the recent street violence and asked Salman how the current situation compared with the uprising of the 1990s. Salman quickly dismissed the assertion that the current situation could be compared in any way with the 1990s. Then, there was no freedom whatsoever to speak out against the government. When the government finally decided to engage with the Shi'a leadership, it did so only through the Minister of Interior. (Note: MOI was reviled among the Shi'a in the 1990s as the administrator of the State Security Courts. End note.) Salman recounted how he spent 41 days in jail, before his expulsion to Dubai and subsequent exile in London, for signing a petition calling on the late Sheikh Isa to restore the Parliament. By comparison, Salman said, people could now openly criticize the government without fear of reprisal, and the Parliament acted as a watchdog to hold Ministers accountable for their actions . It was important to cement these gains and reinvigorate Bahrain's democratic reform program, and he believed the President could do just that.

4.(C) Comment: This meeting provided a unique opportunity to share the thinking of the man who leads Bahrain's mainstream Shi'a political movement. During the recent tensions, Salman worked both openly and behind the scenes with the government to condemn the violence and help control the emotions of the Shi'a community (ref F).

5.(C) Comment continued: Salman's comments to the Ambassador reveal a commitment to moderate political reform and a degree of political maturity seemingly lacking in the leadership of other parties. While he believes that praise from the President for the ongoing reform program would encourage his constituency to stay the course, Salman also believes that the King was greatly influenced in his decision to reform Bahrain's political system by the President's emphasis on democratization post-9/11. ********************************************* ******** Visit Embassy Manama's Classified Website: XXXXXXXXXXXX********************************************* ******** ERELI

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