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Cablegate: Sectarian Insults Lead to Calls for Limits On

VZCZCXRO0209
PP RUEHDE RUEHDIR
DE RUEHMK #0810/01 2381153
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 261153Z AUG 07
FM AMEMBASSY MANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7176
INFO RUEHZM/GULF COOPERATION COUNCIL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHBVAKS/COMUSNAVCENT PRIORITY
RHMFIUU/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 MANAMA 000810

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM SOCI BA
SUBJECT: SECTARIAN INSULTS LEAD TO CALLS FOR LIMITS ON
SPEECH

REF: MANAMA 790

-------
Summary
-------

1. (U) A summer of name-calling between Sunni and Shi,a
members of parliament has prompted calls for new legislation
limiting incitement speech. End summary.

---------------------
Al-Deiri v. Al-Saeedi
---------------------

2. (U) A photograph appeared in local papers in May showing
prayers at the opening session of the Chamber of Deputies,
the lower house of Bahrain,s parliament. The picture
included Ali Salman, the chairman of the Shi,a Wifaq
political society, praying behind independent Salafist deputy
Jassim Al-Saeedi, who many Shi,a view as an anti-Shi,a
bigot. Although meant to highlight intercommunal
cooperation, the photograph prompted a number of Shi,a to
question Salman,s judgment.

3. (U) Wifaq managed at first to contain the criticism, until
one of its members, MP Hamza Al-Deiri, responded during an
interview for an internet chatroom to a question on the issue
by backhandedly labeling Al-Saeedi and the imams of Mecca and
Medina "nasibis." (Note: Shi,a use this term for those who
reject those who they believe to be the rightful successors
to the prophet Muhammad - the Twelve Imams.) Al-Deiri noted
that Shi,a have long prayed behind "nasibi" imams in Mecca
and Medina. Al-Saeedi hit back quickly, calling Al-Deiri a
"keffir." He demanded that Al-Deiri and the Wifaq political
society apologize to him and to all the imams of Mecca and
Medina. On August 8, the Al-Asala political society, which
often seeks publicity as a champion of Salafist causes
(reftel), placed a half-page ad in Bahrain,s leading daily,
Akhbar al-Khaleej, demanding satisfaction for the offense to
Sunni Muslims and the imams of Mecca and Medina, along with a
strongly-worded warning against further insults from Shi,a
quarters.

----------------
GOB Spin Control
----------------

4. (U) GOB reaction to the flare-up was evident in the
content of sermons Friday, August 3 and August 10. Focus
shifted quickly to themes of national unity, cohesion, and
overcoming sectarian differences. One prominent imam went so
far as to criticize unnamed Deputies for engaging in
"immature behavior" and urged them to turn their attention to
the real issues like unemployment.

-----------------
Limits to speech?
-----------------

5. (U) Parliamentarians responded to the controversy by
suggesting that there should be limits to free speech. Many,
including Latifah Al-Qaood, Vice Chair of the Legal and
Economic Affairs Committee in the Chamber of Deputies, have
called for the parliament to pass a law criminalizing
offensive speech on the basis of sect, belief, religion, or
ethnicity. The Wifaq political society, the largest bloc in
the lower house, joined six other smaller societies (Wa,ad,
Nationalist Democratic, Amal, Al-Minbar Progressive
Democratic, National Brotherhood, and Free Thought) in a
declaration in support of such legislation on August 14.

6. (SBU) Somewhat surprisingly, leading secular journalists
are also backing anti-incitement legislation. Speaking to
Charge on August 15, Ibrahim Al-Bashmi, a secular, leftist
Sunni Shura Council Member and editor of the daily Al-Waqt,
said Bahrain needs a law to rein in insulting sectarian
rhetoric. Isa Al-Sha,eegi, the secular Sunni editor of
Al-Ayam, and Mansoor Al-Jamri, the secular Shi,a editor of
Al-Wasat, shared similar views with Charge. One dissenter
among post,s contacts was the Deputy Director of the Bahrain
Human Rights Society, Dr. Abdullah Al-Derazi, who told
Pol/Econ Chief on August 15 that Bahrain needs a law to deal
with "real discrimination on the basis of religion or sect,"
rather than offensive speech. Even he allowed, though, that
the Al-Deiri / Al-Saeedi exchange was particularly ugly and
that "there are many people who support" legislation to limit
insulting or offensive speech.

7. (U) Not surprisingly, the issue has been a hot topic on

MANAMA 00000810 002 OF 002


television and a number of blogs. The prevailing opinion is
that Al-Deiri and Al-Saeedi are behaving childishly and as
members of parliament should concentrate on improving social
conditions in the country.

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

8. (SBU) With Al-Wifaq supporting the idea, the session of
parliament expected to start in October is likely to see an
attempt to push through legislation that would place controls
on this kind of incitement.

********************************************* ********
Visit Embassy Manama's Classified Website:
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/nea/manama/
********************************************* ********
HENZEL

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