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Cablegate: It Doesn't Add Up: Shi'a Mp Challenges Gob

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PP RUEHDE RUEHDIR
DE RUEHMK #0076 0391211
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 081211Z FEB 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7579
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 000076

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/07/2018
TAGS: PGOV PHUM SOCI BA
SUBJECT: IT DOESN'T ADD UP: SHI'A MP CHALLENGES GOB
POPULATION FIGURES

REF: 06 MANAMA 1728

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 sparred in parliament with the Minister of State for Cabinet Affairs over newly-released population figures. The statistics reinforce Shi'a suspicions that the government is concealing the large-scale naturalization of Sunnis. The controversy is also stoking resentment at the influx of foreign laborers. End summary.

2.(SBU) In a debate February 5 in the lower house of parliament broadcast live on Bahraini radio, Al-Wifaq leader Ali Salman called on Minister of State for Cabinet Affairs Ahmed bin Attiyatallah Al-Khalifa to resign. Salman had earlier submitted a written question to Attiyatallah in his capacity as President of the Central Informatics Organization (CIO) inquiring about the latest official population figures. In reply, Attiyatallah told the lower house that there are 1,046,814 people in Bahrain, and of that number 529,446 are Bahraini citizens and 517,368 are expatriates. Salman pointed out that the CIO's last official figures, released in 2005, had the total population at 724,000, and that the 1981 census reported 238,420 Bahraini citizens. He then offered his own calculations. Extrapolating the 1981 census figure and using the CIO's own estimated 2.7% growth rate for the Bahraini citizen population, Salman asserted that the expected current Bahraini citizen population should be 447,531; a difference o f nearly 82,000 from the CIO's current figure of 529,446. He also argued that, given the 2005 CIO figures, it was reasonable to expect that the total population would be approximately 750,000.

3.(SBU) Salman said Attiyatallah and other CIO officials were either incompetent or had intentionally covered up a "crime of political naturalization." Either way, he said, "the responsible Minister" should be fired or resign. Salman noted that the government depended on CIO figures in order to plan Bahrain's array of social services, yet increasingly over-crowded government schools, housing projects, and public clinics showed how Attiyatallah had failed Bahraini citizens. Salman also lashed out at the government for allegedly giving tens of thousands of naturalized citizens government jobs and housing at the expense of natural-born citizens.

4.(SBU) Attiyatallah attempted to shift blame to the Ministry of Health, claiming that the CIO relies in part on the birth and death figures the Ministry provides in order to calculate the population. He also claimed that the correct rate of growth for Bahraini citizens is 3.6%, due to an increased birth rate in recent years.

5.(C) Comment: The CIO reported Bahrain's population in 2001 as 650,604 and in 2005 as 724,000. Most observers have long believed that the government was undercounting, whether to minimize the perceived demographic impact of expatriate labor or to conceal, as Ali Salman alleged, large-scale naturalization of Sunnis. XXXXXXXXXXXX(please protect), the XXXXXXXXXXXX told emboffs in mid-2007 that the real number was over one million, based on the number of XXXXXXXXXXXX.

6.(C) Comment continued: Attiyatallah is a leading focus of Shi'a grievances, first for his alleged role in the 2006 Bandargate vote-rigging scandal (reftel), and then for his later promotion, over the objections of Al-Wifaq, to the rank of Minister of State for Cabinet Affairs. Al-Wifaq has been unable to muster enough votes in parliament to question Attiyatallah over his role in Bandargate. However, by challenging the official CIO population figures, Ali Salman got a two-for-one opportunity to publicly attack Attiyatallah and expose the government's dodgy population reporting, which he believes proves Al-Wifaq's charges that the government is naturalizing large numbers of Sunnis in order to keep Sunni numbers up with the higher Shi'a birth rate. The exchange will re-energize Shi'a indignation over alleged "political" naturalizations and easy access to visas for expatriate labor. ********************************************* ******** Visit Embassy Manama's Classified Website: XXXXXXXXXXXX********************************************* ******** ERELI

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