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Cablegate: Al-Wifaq Leader Fires Shot Across Government's Bows

VZCZCXRO7013
PP RUEHDE RUEHDIR
DE RUEHMK #0939 2841430
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 111430Z OCT 07
FM AMEMBASSY MANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7299
INFO RUEHZM/GULF COOPERATION COUNCIL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHBVAKS/COMUSNAVCENT PRIORITY
RHMFISS/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L MANAMA 000939

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/11/2017
TAGS: PGOV PREL BA
SUBJECT: AL-WIFAQ LEADER FIRES SHOT ACROSS GOVERNMENT'S BOWS

Classified By: Ambassador Adam Ereli for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (C) Summary: Al-Wifaq leader Sheikh Ali Salman told media
that he now regrets having stood for parliament last year and
is considering quitting the legislature. Although Salman is,
at least for now, just posturing, even the prospect of his
withdrawal (and of the Wifaq MPs who would presumably follow
him) is a warning to the government to address Shi'a
grievances more seriously in the upcoming session of
parliament. It is also a warning to his poorly-disciplined
parliamentary party rank and file to shape up. End summary.

2. (C) Sheikh Ali Salman grabbed headlines on October 8 when
he told Al-Wasat daily that he now regrets having stood for
election in 2006. He claimed that he may withdraw from the
lower house of parliament at any time, but at the same time
said he had not changed his mind about supporting Al-Wifaq's
participation in parliamentary politics. Salman said that he
thinks he could be more effective and useful outside the
parliament.

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3. (C) Salman's statements were directed primarily toward the
government. Our Al-Wifaq interlocutors have told us many
times that they believe the government has not dealt
seriously with their concerns, that it has resisted sharing
meaningful power with the (Wifaq-dominated) parliament, and
that unless Al-Wifaq can show its supporters some tangible
benefits of parliamentary participation, it will become more
and more difficult to resist the arguments of the many Shi'a
who view King Hamad's democratization program as a sham.
Salman's foreign affairs advisor, Saeed Al-Majed, told
Pol/Econ chief that Al-Wifaq is feeling pressure from the
unregistered, rejectionist Al-Haq movement. Al-Haq continues
to criticize Al-Wifaq's decision to participate in the
political system and takes every opportunity to chip away at
its support within the Shi'a community.

4. (C) Despite this, a Wifaq walk-out is not likely in the
short run. Al-Wifaq MP Jassim Hussein, speaking to Pol/Econ
chief October 8, said that Salman was expressing his
frustration with internal party disagreements, and with his
inability to advance Wifaq's agenda in parliament. Hussein
said this was Salman's way of putting the government on
notice that it needs to work with Al-Wifaq during the
parliamentary session that begins on October 17. Al-Wifaq
will want the next session of parliament to focus on
unemployment, "political" naturalization of Sunnis,
corruption, ministerial accountability, and the pace of
reforms.

5. (C) During a conversation with the Ambassador on October
10, Al-Wasat daily editor-in-chief Mansour Al-Jamri said that
Salman's intent was to shore up his support within Al-Wifaq
and deal with internal dissent. Al-Jamri posited that
Salman's threat to leave the parliament was intended to
remind bickering MPs what it might be like without him,
noting that the seventeen other Al-Wifaq MPs are not the most
talented people the party has to offer. Indeed, one of these
Al-Wifaq MPs commented publicly after Salman's statements
that he would consider leaving the party and becoming
independent if Salman left the parliament. Al-Jamri assessed
Al-Wifaq's position as "weak and desperate," saying that it
is "a prisoner of the street and the clerics."

6. (C) Comment: Bahrain's Shi'a community remains frustrated
with Bahrain's political order , five years after King Hamad
launched his democratization initiative. The timing of Ali
Salman's remarks, ten days before the opening of parliament,
was no accident, and his message was clear: the government
must begin to deal seriously with Al-Wifaq and address at
least some of its core issues or risk pushing its leadership
to reconsider their commitment to participation in the
political process. At the same time, his comments reminded
fellow Wifaqis of the need to close ranks in the coming
session of parliament. A Wifaq walkout is not imminent, but
could become a possibility if the upcoming session of
parliament does not produce gains for Wifaq to show its
constituents. As one Al-Wifaq member put it, "They have to
let us win once in a while."

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

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