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Cablegate: Hasawi Shi'a Continue Advocacy Efforts in Riyadh

VZCZCXRO3638
PP RUEHDE
DE RUEHRH #5451/01 1910831
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 100831Z JUL 06
FM AMEMBASSY RIYADH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9389
INFO RUEHZM/GULF COOPERATION COUNCIL COLLECTIVE
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 2686
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS 0624

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 RIYADH 005451

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DHAHRAN SENDS
PARIS FOR ZEYA, LONDON FOR TSOU

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/09/2016
TAGS: PGOV PHUM SOCI KIRF SA
SUBJECT: HASAWI SHI'A CONTINUE ADVOCACY EFFORTS IN RIYADH

REF: A. RIYADH 5136
B. RIYADH 1196

Classified by Consul General John Kincannon for reasons 1.4
(b) and (d).

-----------------------------------
Television Shows and Jaafari Courts
-----------------------------------

1. (C) In separate meetings with PolOff and PAO on July 8,
Hasawi Shi'a activists Sadeq Al-Ramadan and Mohammed
Al-Jubran discussed Shi'a advocacy efforts with the SAG.
Al-Ramadan mentioned that he was part of a small delegation
that visited the Vice Minister of Information and several
other ministry officials in June to protest a recent incident
on an Al-Akhbaria television show. The show's host,
Al-Ramadan said, had invited a Sunni sheikh to discuss
tolerance in Islam. The sheikh apparently claimed that
Muslims should be tolerant to Christians and members of other
faiths, but not toward Shi'a, whom he described as "kuffar."
The host, Al-Ramadan related, was startled and noted to his
guest that the Shi'a were "our brothers," to which the sheikh
responded, "only our companions, not our brothers." The
show's host, Al-Ramadan continued, called for a short break
and then ended the program. According to Al-Ramadan, the
ministry officials were very apologetic, promising to be even
more careful in vetting guests for the program and noting
that they had already put the sheikh in question on a black
list to prevent him from appearing on future programs.

2. (C) Mohammed Al-Jubran said that he was part of another
small Shi'a delegation seeking a meeting with King Abdullah
through one of his advisors. The purpose of the meeting,
Al-Jubran said, was "to ask the King to grant official status
to the Shi'a (Jaafari) courts." Al-Jubran noted that the
request had both practical and symbolic significance. The
practical impact would be to put Shi'a courts on equal
footing with their Shariah (Sunni) counterparts on issues of
family law, taking away the final jurisdiction that the
Shariah courts have over intra-Shi'a legal matters (ref B).
The symbolic impact, according to Al-Jubran, would be an
official "recognition of the Saudi Shi'a community." The
King's advisor recently told Al-Jubran's group that they
would have to wait a month or more for an audience with the
King.

------------------------------------------
Forbidden Sweets on the Prophet's Birthday
------------------------------------------

3. (C) Al-Jubran, a member of the National Society for Human
Rights (NSHR), described another of his current
preoccupations, trying to resolve a case involving punishment
of more than 10 Shi'a high school students accused of
celebrating the Prophet's birthday. "They brought in some
sweets and handed them around during the break time,"
Al-Jubran explained. "The teachers caught them and the
principal decided to reduce their grades in each subject by
10 percent and note in their files that they had disciplinary
problems. It is making it difficult for them to apply to
university." Showing ConOffs a petition submitted by the
students' parents to the NSHR and disciplinary letters from
the principal to the parents, Al-Jubran noted that he would
send the file to the NSHR in Riyadh, which would then set up
a meeting with officials from the Ministry of Education to
seek a resolution, "or at least assurances that this
treatment won't happen again."

--------------------------------------------- -------
Prince Mohammed and the Politics of the King's Visit
--------------------------------------------- -------

4. (C) Asked if he had attended the recent festivities for
King Abdullah in Al-Ahsa, Sadeq Al-Ramadan said that he had
been abroad on a business trip but that he was disappointed
by the outcome of the King's visit. Hasawis, he noted, are
chafing under the leadership of Eastern Province (EP) Emir
Prince Mohammed bin Fahd (MbF) and would like to be a
separate province. (Note: We have heard this sentiment from
many Hasawis. End note.) The Emir's office, Al-Ramadan
continued, took control over the arrangements for the King's
visit to Al-Ahsa from a local committee to prevent Hasawis
from having a chance to bring their request to be a separate
province to the King. Al-Ramadan was also disappointed that
King Abdullah did not make any strong statements recognizing
the Shi'a community during his trip to Qatif, despite strong
hints from officials in the Ministry of Information that he
would. Al-Ramadan speculated that MbF might have quashed the
possibility of a major address. Despite a recent interview
with Okaz in which he praised the Shi'a as loyal citizens,
MbF's sentiments toward the Shi'a, Al-Ramadan speculated,
were different. "He had to say nice words about us in
public. But we know how he feels. At a lunch at a Shi'a
businessman's house several years ago, he noticed his
father's picture was not on the wall. He got upset and said,
'Well, of course everyone knows you are loyal to Iran.'"

--------------------------------
A Local Salafi Takes a Hard Line
--------------------------------

5. (C) Responding to a question from PolOff, Sadeq
Al-Jubran, Mohammed's brother, said that he knew well one of
the 61 people who signed the recent extremist petition titled
"A Statement and A Warning (ref A)," namely Dr. Mohammed
Al-Ali, a professor at the Al-Ahsa branch of the Imam
University. "He's well known locally as a hard-core Salafi,"
Al-Jubran explained, "but he has decent relations with Shi'a
leaders here." He characterized the petition as "extremely
dangerous," noting that the drafters had modified extremist
vocabulary without changing the extremist message. For
example, he said, the drafters used the concept of
"takhween," or calling someone a betrayer, in place of
"takfeer." Asked why Dr. Al-Ali would have signed a petition
that could incite extremists against Shi'a, among others, if
he had decent relations with Hasawi Shi'a, Al-Jubran
shrugged, speculating "Peer pressure?"

-------
Comment
-------

6. (C) The Shi'a continue to advocate for their rights as
citizens through all available means. While they have sent
delegations to the ministries and senior Al-Saud princes in
Riyadh for some time, they appear to be gaining more
confidence in this approach and accelerating the rate of this
activity. They clearly have no confidence that their
concerns can be addressed at the provincial level, whether
because of the centralized nature of the Saudi state or
because of Prince Mohammed's alleged indifference to their
grievances. The NSHR offers a new channel through which the
Shi'a are attempting to address specific cases, but it is too
early to tell if it will be a successful channel. These
advocacy efforts also highlight the degree of cooperation
between Shi'a in Al-Ahsa and Qatif, the two main population
centers. The Shi'a delegations to Riyadh generally seem to
include Shi'a from both areas (and occasionally a Shi'a from
Medina), and Mohammed Al-Jubran confirmed that Shi'a
activists make a conscious effort to achieve this
geographical representation. In addition, the EP branch of
the NSHR includes Shi'a from Al-Ahsa and Qatif, and we know
these members are in frequent contact with one another. End
comment.
OBERWETTER

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