Cablegate: Reflections On Al-Wifaq's Efforts in Parliament

DE RUEHMK #0659/01 1971230
O 161230Z JUL 07

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 MANAMA 000659



E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/16/2017

B. REF. 06 MANAMA 1214

Classified By: Ambassador William T. Monroe for reasons 1.4(b) and (d).


1. (C) In this, al-Wifaq's first legislative session in
Bahrain's Council of Representatives (COR), the society has
fielded inexperienced MPs and endured poor relations with the
government and other political societies as a result of
al-Wifaq's boycott of the 2002 elections. However, al-Wifaq
has built trust among the other COR blocs and the government,
which has allowed it to pass proposals that are held in
common by other blocs. Al-Wifaq supported a 15% public
sector pay increase, income subsidies for those awaiting
public housing, a welfare system, and unemployment insurance.
On the more controversial issues of political rights,
individual freedoms, and constitutional reform, however,
al-Wifaq has seen a lack of support from other parliamentary
blocs, due largely to government influence over them. The
lack of cooperation from the government and other blocs has
led to increasing constituent discontent for al-Wifaq, which
has pushed the party to place a premium on widely supported
standard of living and general services legislation to retain
constituent support. Al-Wifaq also contends with the
rejectionist Haq, which actively discredits al-Wifaq to
advance its own cause. By allowing al-Wifaq to achieve more
results in the COR, the government can continue to bolster
al-Wifaq's legitimacy among its constituents and encourage
participation in government, rather than with Haq. However,
by continuing to limit al-Wifaq,s ability to pass
legislation, the government may risk delegitimizing al-Wifaq
and increasing the credibility of Haq in what may be a zero
sum game between the two Shiite groups. End Summary.

Al-Wifaq,s Experience in the First Session

2. (C) Meeting with Emboffs June 19, head of leading Shia
political society al-Wifaq,s 2006 election campaign Jassim
Redha said that he had been dissatisfied with his society's
election candidates because many were religious figures
without political experience. He explained that al-Wifaq
officials had been limited in how much they could influence
the slate of candidates because constituents recommended
candidates to the party. While society officials could veto
a choice, they worried that doing so widely would alienate
constituents. Instead, al-Wifaq accepted the nominations of
religious figures because it needed as many votes in
parliament as possible. The result, according to Redha, has
been a crop of MPs among which only five or six are qualified
and capable of producing results in parliament, while the
rest were elected for religious reasons.

3. (C) Al-Wifaq,s boycott of the 2002 elections resulted in
poor relations with the government and participating
political societies. When al-Wifaq,s MPs assumed their
roles in parliament following the 2006 elections, they were
initially faced with the need to repair those relationships.
Regarding the building of trust with the government, al-Wifaq
MP Dr. Jassim Hussein expressed satisfaction at al-Wifaq,s
access to ministers and the ministers, willingness to listen
and act on al-Wifaq,s concerns, with the exception of the
Sunni-dominated Ministry of Defense. (Note: Hussein, a
former Bahrain University professor who currently authors
several economic columns in the local press, told Econoff
July 15 that ministers were afraid not to respond to him.
"They always answer me quickly. They know I can make trouble
for them." End note.) According to al-Wifaq MP Jawad
Fairooz, when they started working with the other societies
in parliament, they found agreement on 40-50% of their
agenda, including raising the standard of living and
improving general services. However, while al-Wifaq had
additional issues on their agenda, Fairooz indicated that the
other societies did not. Thus, in order to gain political
allies and build trust, al-Wifaq chose to focus primarily on
these common issues of wages, housing, welfare, unemployment,
education, and the building of additional health centers.
They delayed pursuing the political reform portion of their
agenda, namely political rights, individual freedoms, and
constitutional amendments.

4. (C) Fairooz indicated that al-Wifaq supported a wage
proposal increasing salaries by 15% in the public sector.
Al-Wifaq also supported a bill that provided income subsidies
for those awaiting government housing. For poor families in
need of financial assistance, al-Wifaq supported a one-time

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BD100 ($265) payout and a monthly BD150 ($398) welfare
payment from the Ministry of Social Development. All three
of these measures have passed the COR with al-Wifaq,s
support and are awaiting a government response. Al-Wifaq
supported an unemployment insurance program approved by the
government by Royal Decree. As it became clear that the
program would include a 1% mandatory deduction from
employees' salaries, al-Wifaq's constituents became
unsettled. (Note: This issue has since become a political
and religious issue and al-Wifaq has clarified that it
supports the program in principle, but does not support
mandatory salary deductions. The deductions began from
June's salary. End note.)

Challenges on Controversial Legislation

5. (C) Political rights and individual freedoms, Fairooz
explained, are points of contention among the parliamentary
blocs. While other blocs do not include these issues in
their agenda, al-Wifaq considers them essential in building a
functioning democracy. Despite low support from other blocs,
al-Wifaq expects to receive drafts of a freedom of assembly
law and a press freedom law in the next session. However,
Fairooz speculated that the government would delay that
process as long as is legally permissible because the
proposed legislation was not supported by the government or
by pro-government blocs.

6. (C) According to Fairooz, al-Wifaq considers the eventual
transformation of the government into a constitutional
monarchy critical to the long-term viability of the state.
However, no other bloc shares al-Wifaq,s interest in
constitutional reform, thus limiting their ability to pass
amendments to the constitution. In this parliamentary
session, Fairooz explained, al-Wifaq tested the political
will of the other blocs by submitting two proposals for
changes to the lawmaking process. First, al-Wifaq proposed
to eliminate Article 87, which created a "fast track" process
for laws related to finance or the economy, allowing the King
to enact them by Royal Decree if the COR or Shura failed to
express approval or disapproval of it. (Comment: The GOB's
use of Article 87, though sparing, has been controversial.
Ref. B. End Comment.) Al-Wifaq,s second proposed amendment
was to eliminate Article 109C, which allowed the government
to pass a two year budget instead of an annual budget.
Deleting the article would make the process revert to a one
year budget by default. Fairooz indicated that other blocs
in parliament had agreed to support all three measures in
private discussions, but the support disappeared on the day
of the vote. Fourteen MPs were absent that day, making it
impossible for the proposed amendments to secure the 2/3
majority (27 votes) required for the amendments to move to
the Shura.

Government Response to al-Wifaq Initiatives

7. (C) The largest opposition to al-Wifaq,s parliamentary
initiatives is the government and those who benefit from the
status quo. The foundation of this resistance, according to
Jassim Redha, is the parliament's established structure,
which includes the elected COR and the appointed Shura
Council. With a 2/3 approval requirement from both houses to
change the constitution, Redha said that parliament would
only be able to pass such an amendment if the government
supported the changes and appointed reformist members to the
Shura Council. Furthermore, Redha asserted that the Prime
Minister's preference is to show that "majlis democracy" is
better suited to Bahrain than a constitutional monarchy. In
this "majlis democracy," instead of allowing legislation to
work its way through parliament a system of patronage from
the Prime Minister and King allows those capable of gaining
an audience with the royal family to push through change
without involving the parliament and thereby undermining the
parliamentary system. For further evidence of government
resistance to change, Redha cited eight bills and 52
proposals that al-Wifaq initiated, added to 42 bills put
forth by the rest of the parliamentary blocs, to which the
government responded to zero within the parliamentary
session. (Note: The constitution does not require a
government response within the same session, but allows for a
response in the succeeding year's legislative session. End

8. (C) In light of the relationships other parliamentary
blocs had built with each other and the government in the
2002-2006 parliament, Jawad Fairooz indicated that al-Wifaq
was at a disadvantage in trying to form its own coalition and

MANAMA 00000659 003 OF 004

support base within parliament. He said that the Royal
Court's influence over the Sunni parliamentary blocs was so
significant that the Court could deliver "suggestions" to MPs
to vote for or against a particular bill, a concern echoed by
Dr. Jassim Hussein. Examples Fairooz provided were issues on
which al-Wifaq thought it had secured the support of other
blocs in private discussions, but later the blocs voted
against. According to Fairooz, for one such vote a Sunni MP
came from the hospital, where he was scheduled to undergo an
operation that day, in order to cast his dissenting vote. A
second example was of a Sunni MP who left his dying mother to
vote against an al-Wifaq supported bill, causing him to miss
the final moments of his mother's life. Fairooz presented
these as obvious evidence of government influence over the
Sunni blocs, saying that this represents "control" over their

Constituent Impatience

9. (C) Dr. Jassim Hussein explained that al-Wifaq MPs meet
regularly with their constituents to gauge public opinion of
the society. He felt that while their constituents continue
to support the society and remain dedicated to the
parliamentary process, they are increasingly discontent with
al-Wifaq's inability to pass reform legislation. Mohammed
al-Shaikh and Yousif Zainal, former MPs defeated by al-Wifaq
candidates in the 2006 elections, asserted that al-Wifaq,s
action in this first session was more reactive to constituent
discontent over perceived al-Wifaq ineffectiveness than
proactive. Both cited the last-minute proposal to question
Minister of State for Cabinet Affairs Shaikh Ahmed bin
Atiyatullah al-Khalifa on corruption allegations as a direct
response to constituent impatience and displeasure.

10. (C) Regarding constituent impatience, Fairooz explained
that the society's constituents are inexperienced in the
political process. He admitted that while al-Wifaq was
building trust with members of the other blocs, progress on
al-Wifaq's agenda was too slow for some of its constituents,
due in part to al-Wifaq MPs' inexperience. Fairooz explained
that al-Wifaq was further distracted from its parliamentary
duties by the need to defuse growing tensions between its
constituents and security forces over continuing
demonstrations. While al-Wifaq MPs felt a sense of
accomplishment at the end of this legislative session, more
tangible action to improve the standard of living and general
services needs to be taken in order to retain constituent

The Haq Challenge

11. (C) Al-Wifaq MPs Dr. Jassim Hussein and Jawad Fairooz
and Dr. Abdul Aziz Abul, an independent Sunni MP who aligns
himself with al-Wifaq on non-religious issues, convey a sense
of urgency that al-Wifaq needs to attain tangible results in
the next parliamentary session to prevent al-Wifaq,s
constituents from changing their allegiance to Haq. Hussein
explained that in the first parliamentary session al-Wifaq
MPs in areas where Haq is strongly supported have already
experienced strong discontent from their constituents. Abul
explained that in his own district a portion of his
constituents felt al-Wifaq was too passive in parliament and
wanted a more hard-line stance in line with Haq. Fairooz
asserted that Haq actively discredits al-Wifaq by claiming it
passes negative laws, such as the 1% salary deduction, so as
to draw al-Wifaq supporters to Haq. Mohammed al-Shaikh
explained that since Haq and al-Wifaq pull from the same
Shiite pool, if current al-Wifaq supporters view the bloc as
inactive, they are likely to reject political participation
and support Haq. Al-Shaikh explained that the more support
Haq takes from al-Wifaq, the harder it will be for al-Wifaq
to achieve political solutions to constituent issues, and the
more likely it will be for Haq to act on its rejectionist

Looking Ahead

12. (C) Dr. Jassim Hussein indicated that al-Wifaq intends
to draft concrete proposals on salaries and living conditions
over the summer recess. Jawad Fairooz expressed optimism
over the cooperation al-Wifaq has built with Sunni blocs in
parliament and believed that cooperation would continue in
the next session as al-Wifaq pursues its standard of living
agenda. In addition, he explained that al-Wifaq remained
concerned that working strictly through parliament may take

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too long or be ultimately too ineffective for the society to
maintain its support base. Thus, he indicated that al-Wifaq
will seek to open channels of communication with the
government outside of parliament so as to use every resource
at its disposal to realize its agenda. Dr. Abdul Aziz Abul
indicated that the al-Wifaq bloc would support a
parliamentary audit of government finances in the following
legislative session; including an approval of the 2004-2005
budget and an inquiry into the 2005-2006 budget.

13. (C) Even though al-Wifaq failed to gain enough support
to question Shaikh Ahmed in the closing days of the session,
Jassim Redha indicated that al-Wifaq will renew the call for
an investigation into corruption allegations of Shaikh Ahmed.
Yousif Zainal speculated that the King may reassign Sheikh
Ahmed during the parliamentary recess to a position outside
of COR oversight so as to avoid questioning of his


14. (C) While al-Wifaq,s inexperience in governance is
itself a significant challenge to realizing tangible
progress, the extent of government resistance to future
al-Wifaq efforts remains to be seen. To create political
legitimacy for al-Wifaq and counter Haq support, the
government has granted al-Wifaq public relations victories
regarding security and Haq. The highest profile such
incident was al-Wifaq leader Shaikh Ali Salman receiving
partial credit for the King's order to drop the criminal case
against Haq's leader, Hasan Mushaima, and Abdulhadi
al-Khawaja on the eve of their trial for promoting change to
the political system through illegitimate means and inciting
hatred of the political system (Ref. A). However, public
relations victories are not sufficient to counter government
efforts to block parliamentary accomplishments. In order to
avoid boosting the profile of Haq and perhaps inviting
increasingly violent demonstrations from the group, the
government could allow al-Wifaq some success in parliament to
reward them and their constituents for participating in the
democratic process.

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