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Cablegate: Shi'a and Sunni Preachers Trade Insults,

VZCZCXRO1866
PP RUEHDE RUEHDIR
DE RUEHMK #0420/01 1761111
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 241111Z JUN 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7940
INFO RUEHZM/GULF COOPERATION COUNCIL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHGB/AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD PRIORITY 0231
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 SECTION 01 OF 02 MANAMA 000420

SIPDIS

BAGHDAD FOR AMBASSADOR ERELI

E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/24/2018
TAGS: PGOV KIRF KISL ASEC BA
SUBJECT: SHI'A AND SUNNI PREACHERS TRADE INSULTS,
GOVERNMENT STEPS IN TO MUZZLE SECTARIAN VOICES REF: A. 07 MANAMA 810 B. 07 MANAMA 1118 C. MANAMA 118 D. MANAMA 168 E. MANAMA 253 F. MANAMA 313 G. MANAMA 404 Classified By: CDA Christopher Henzel for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (C) Summary: After leading Shi'a cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim and Salafist MP Jassim Al Saeedi traded public insults, 5,000 Shi'a demonstrated peacefully. The King ordered an end to sectarian incitement, and, apparently in response, Shi'a leaders called off additional planned demonstrations. End summary.

2. (U) Sheikh Isa Qassim, Bahrain's most senior Shi'a cleric, has ratcheted up his anti-government rhetoric in recent months. In his June 13 Friday sermon he accused the GOB of torturing the roughly 25 Shi'a currently on trial in connection with riots in December (REF C) and April (REF E). Qassim also called on the government to stop "accusing (Shi'a) of terrorism and disloyalty to the nation." Most provocatively of all, he warned the government that it would face more unrest if it sentenced any of the accused rioters to prison terms. A verdict in the December rioters' trial is expected in mid-July.

3. (U) In response, Salafist rabble-rouser Jassim Al Saeedi, a member of parliament, attacked Qassim with his own sermons and opinion columns. He implied that many Bahraini Shi'a are more loyal to Iran than to Bahrain, and suggested in a June 16 newspaper interview that Qassim pursues "an Iranian agenda." (Note: Saeedi relishes this kind of controversy, and as a result is a hero to those Sunni Bahrainis least inclined to compromise with the Shi'a majority. Many Shi'a believe he enjoys the support of the King's entourage. Saeedi is often intemperate. For example, in an August, 2007 newspaper interview, he referred to a Shi'a MP as a "kaffir" (unbeliever) (ref A). End Note.) ----------------------------------- New Controversy Over Rubber Bullets -----------------------------------

4.(C) Qassim, in his June 13 sermon, also accused Interior Ministry security forces of overreacting to illegal assemblies, most notably on June 6 when a Shi'a man suffered a serious head injury allegedly caused by rubber bullets. The Interior Ministry responded with a public statement denying any use of rubber bullets, and suggesting the man was hurt by a rock or by a tear gas canister. Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa told CDA June 18 that the police had not used any rubber projectiles in almost a year. RSO has seen opposition photos of purported rubber baton rounds, but believes they may be part of expended tear gas canisters. The (Shi'a) Al-Wifaq society, Bahrain's largest political party, published a statement in the press on June 16 that said its leader, Sheikh Ali Salman, "saw empty rubber bullet canisters on the same night when the young man was injured. There is no need for the Ministry of Interior to embarrass itself by trying to deny the report." ---------------------------------- Shi'a Anger at Criticism of Qassim ----------------------------------

5. (U) Bahraini Shi'a of all factions reacted angrily to the criticism of Sheikh Isa Qassim. Wifaq leader Ali Salman called on his followers June 16 to demonstrate their solidarity with Qassim by marching June 19. Hassan Musheima, head of the unregistered Haq Movement, which opposes participation in parliament, also announced that he would participate in the June 19 march. On June 17th, another leading Shi'a cleric, Ayatollah Hussain Najati, who also opposes participation in the political system, issued a statement in support of Qassim, and called upon the GOB to stop Al Saeedi's verbal attacks on Shi'a. MinInt told CDA June 18 that he had granted a permit for the march, but had told Wifaq he wanted "no yellow (Hizballah) flags." The minister also said he would be calling in newspaper editors and leading preachers and telling them to "cool it."

6.(C) The June 19 rally was orderly, and the 4,000-5,000 marchers around Diraz village displayed only Bahraini flags. MANAMA 00000420 002 OF 002 Lt. Col. Abdullah Al-Zayed, commander of the Special Security Forces, told A/DCM on June 20 that the demonstration was peaceful because, "they (Wifaq) understand that there are rules." ----------------------- Call for National Unity -----------------------

7.(SBU) Separately, King Hamad called publicly June 19 for national unity, saying that "Nothing supersedes our national unity except God." Friday prayer sermons June 20, including those of Qassim and Al Saeedi, focused on themes of tolerance and national unity. Qassim said that Bahrainis would "remain united despite the attempts to divide us." Al Saeedi called on his followers to heed the King's call for unity, while other imams cautioned the faithful to avoid language which divides Muslims and Bahrainis. Columns in all newspapers condemned sectarianism.

8. (C) Comment: Once again, the Bahraini leadership stepped in and directed community leaders to muzzle their more strident followers. The intervention, as in the past, was successful, and, as in the past, will need repeating from time to time. ********************************************* ******** Visit Embassy Manama's Classified Website: XXXXXXXXXXXX********************************************* ******** HENZEL

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