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Cablegate: Gob Moves Against Sectarian Incitement

VZCZCXRO3953
PP RUEHDE RUEHDIR
DE RUEHMK #0430 1781445
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 261445Z JUN 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7954
INFO RUEHZM/GULF COOPERATION COUNCIL COLLECTIVE
RUEHGB/AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD 0235
RHMFISS/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
RHBVAKS/COMUSNAVCENT

C O N F I D E N T I A L MANAMA 000430

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

BAGHDAD FOR AMBASSADOR ERELI

E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/26/2018
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KISL BA
SUBJECT: GOB MOVES AGAINST SECTARIAN INCITEMENT

REF: MANAMA 420

Classified By: CDA Christopher Henzel for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

1. (U) Summary: In response to last week's spike in Sunni-Shi'a tensions (reftel), the GOB created a committee to monitor and combat sectarian rhetoric in the press, internet and pulpits. The committee's first act was to block access to three contentious websites, one pro-Shi'a, the other two pro-Sunni. The blockage is only effective on Batelco, Bahrain's former state telecoms company; the sites can still be accessed through Bahrain's two other ISPs, and through proxies. Human rights and political societies have generally hailed the committee and its actions. End summary.

2. (U) Last week's sectarian flare-up prompted the King to call for national unity and calm (reftel). In response, the PM ordered on June 22 the creation of a committee to monitor and combat sectarianism and to promote national unity and Bahrain's Arab identity. This committee, headed by the Ministry of Interior, also includes representatives from the Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs and the Ministry of Information.

3. (SBU) The panel's first act on June 23 was to announce that it would block access on Batelco's server to three websites: Awaal.net, Muntadayat Mamalakat Al Bahrain (Kingdom of Bahrain Forums), and Al Shams Al Mushraqqa (The Shining Sun) for inciting sectarianism. (Note: The government still owns a majority share in Batelco, Bahrain's largest, but not only, internet service provider (ISP). Those who wish to access the sites will do so, using other ISPs or proxy servers. End Note.) Awaal is a pro-Shi'a site, while the other two are known as pro-Sunni. Al Shams Al Mushraqqa bills itself as pro-government, and particularly pro-PM.

4. (U) Taking their cue from the King's call for unity, human rights activists and political parties - even self-proclaimed liberals like the Wa'ad Society - have praised the creation of the committee and its move to block websites that are widely viewed as incendiary. Both Sunni firebrand Jassim Al Saeedi and Shi'a cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim, whose recent public spat spurred the cabinet to create the committee, praised the GOB's move. Dailies published comments in support of the closure of the offensive blogs from members of Al-Minbar Democratic Society, Wifaq, and Wa'ad Society (Note: Al-Minbar Democratic Society is secularist and socialist, and should not be confused with Al-Minbar Al-Islami, the Bahraini affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood. Wa'ad Society is led by secularist liberals, many of them former communists. Together, they account for the bulk of politically organized liberals in Bahrain. Both failed to win any seats in the 2006 parliamentary elections. End Note.)

5. (SBU) Media reported comments from Abdulla Al Derazi, Secretary General of Bahrain Human Rights Society, praising the creation of the monitoring committee as a positive step, and calling for transparency in its actions. Al Derazi confirmed his support for the move in comments to poloff on June 26. Wifaq MPs Jassim Hussein and Jawad Fairooz also publicly applauded the government's move, but emphasized that the government would do better to address sectarian-based discrimination.

6. (C) Comment: The government has long (ineffectively) blocked web sites on Batelco, but always without fanfare. The very public establishment of the new monitoring committee, and the fact that two of its three first targets are pro-Sunni and pro-government, is a new twist. Most here see it as a public rebuff to the Sunni backwoodsmen among the regime's supporters.

7.(C) Comment continued: As reported reftel, Wifaq was able to bring out thousands June 19 for the first of several planned protests against perceived insults to Shi'a cleric Issa Qassim. Wifaq then canceled subsequent planned demos. In exchange, the government appears to be delivering the King's public condemnation of sectarian rhetoric, the public move against these websites, and private instructions to editors, politicians, and preachers to "cool it." ********************************************* ******** Visit Embassy Manama's Classified Website: XXXXXXXXXXXX********************************************* ******** HENZEL

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