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Cablegate: Rivals for Bahrain's Shi'a Street: Wifaq and Haq

DE RUEHMK #0593/01 2481434
R 041434Z SEP 08

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MANAMA 000593


E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/04/2018

REF: A. 05 MANAMA 1773
B. 06 MANAMA 49
C. 06 MANAMA 1728
D. 07 MANAMA 113
E. 07 MANAMA 190
F. 07 MANAMA 810
G. 07 MANAMA 1046

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

1. (C) Summary and introduction: Bahrain's leading Shi'a
parties Wifaq and Haq compete for the support of the Shi'a
community, which constitutes 60-70 percent of Bahrain's
citizen population. Wifaq engages and cooperates with the
government and is at pains to stay on the right side of the
law. Some Haq leaders, by contrast, inspire low-level street
violence, and call demonstrations that often get out of hand.
The GOB and many mainstream Bahraini politicians believe Haq
seeks to provoke the authorities and create martyrs.
Relations between leaders of Wifaq and Haq, once cordial, are
now strained. While Wifaq has the support of most of the
Shi'a community, Haq gains strength whenever Wifaq is
perceived as ineffective at obtaining redress for Shi'a
grievances against the government. End summary and

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A Shared History

2. (U) Many Shi'a activists exiled from Bahrain in the
nineties continued their opposition activities in the
London-based Bahrain Freedom Movement. Following King
Hamad's 2001 amnesty, most of these exiles returned to
Bahrain and founded the Wifaq National Islamic Society.
Leading Bahraini cleric Sheikh Issa Qassim, a member of the
1973 parliament, publicly renounced politics when he returned
to Bahrain, but remained Wifaq's spiritual adviser (ref M).
Midlevel cleric Sheikh Ali Salman served as Wifaq's president
and Hassan Mushaima served as vice president.

3. (U) Wifaq boycotted the 2002 parliamentary elections to
protest the government's unilateral amendments to the
constitution, the expanded legislative role of an appointed
upper house, and the alleged roll-back of freedoms granted by
the constitution of 1973. Perhaps even more importantly,
Wifaq protested the pardon legislation "Law (56)" of 2002,
which extended the 2001 amnesty to protect government
officials from sanction for any crimes they committed during
the turmoil of the '90s.

Bahrain Center for Human Rights

4. (U) Over the next few years Shi'a villagers began
demonstrating against alleged government discrimination.
Abdulhadi Al Khawaja, a Shi'a Islamist on the board of the
Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), encouraged the Shi'a
demonstrations, and the BCHR became increasingly critical of
the government. The GOB withdrew BCHR's operating license
and closed the center's offices in September 2004. Al
Khawaja was elected BCHR president in 2005, beating BCHR's
founding president, secular liberal Nabeel Rajab. BCHR
continued to agitate among the Shi'a, and Al Khawaja began
working closely with Mushaima and former university professor
Abduljalil Singace.

Haq Splits from Wifaq

5. (U) The Political Societies Act of 2005 allowed for
so-called "political societies," which operate as parties,
but required that they register with the Justice Ministry.
After a long internal debate, Wifaq chose in October, 2005 to
register as a society and run candidates in the next
parliamentary elections. Hasan Mushaima left Wifaq in
September 2005 to protest Wifaq's pending decision. In
November, 2006, Wifaq candidates won their contests in all 17
constituencies where the party competed. Mushaima founded
the un-registered Haq ("right") movement in November 2005
(ref A) (Note: Mushaima's Haq movement should not be confused
with the liberal Lana Haq ("We have a right") movement, which

MANAMA 00000593 002 OF 003

was founded weeks before, as post did in ref A. End Note.).

Wifaq Today

6. (U) Wifaq's dues-paying members meet in its Assembly every
other year to elect a Secretary General, as well as half of
the 30-member Shura (Consultative) council to four year terms
(ref I). The SecGen nominates a ten-man General Secretariat,
which runs day-to-day business.

7. (C) The society's numerous volunteer committees work on
issues of concern to Wifaq's constituents, such as housing,
religious issues, and community development. As Secretary
General, Sheikh Ali Salman leads the General Secretariat, the
parliamentary bloc, and the Shura (ref I).

8. (C) Wifaq faced numerous setbacks in the 2007-2008 session
of parliament. This frustrated its membership (refs F and
K), but the party leadership remains committed to
participating in parliamentary politics. Sheikh Ali Salman
told Ambassador in April that he is tired of trying to
enforce party discipline, but he will continue to keep Wifaq
engaged with the GOB. Hamed Khalaf, a Wifaq Shura member,
told poloff that he anticipates Wifaq will again run
candidates in 2010. Dr. Jassim Hussein, a Wifaq member of
parliament, told poloff that many of Wifaq's MPs, including
Sheikh Ali Salman, will not stand for reelection, although
Salman will continue as Secretary General. Hussein, an
economist, predicts that the party's delegation in the next
parliament will include more technocrats like himself and
Jawad Fairooz, an engineer; he foresees fewer "emotional"
oppositionists like Fairooz's older brother, Jalal. Wifaq
Shura member Nizar Al Qari, another moderate, predicted a
similar shift when he told poloff befor
e the party's internal elections in May that Wifaq is
developing beyond its conservative, religious origins, led by
the technocrats. True to Qari's prediction, the moderates
came out on top in those elections (ref I).

Haq Today

9. (C) Bahraini officials regularly accuse Haq of seeking to
provoke the authorities and create martyrs. For example,
Interior Minister Rashid bin Abdullah al-Khalifah told DCM in
July that youths arrested for rioting often tell the police
during questioning that they were paid to stone police
patrols and set garbage fires. Police Major Abdallah Haram
asserted to Pol/Econ chief that Haq and BCHR were behind the
payments. The GOB, however, has not produced any evidence to
back these accusations. Dr. Abdulla Al Derazi, Secretary
General of the Bahrain Human Rights Society, told poloff that
he believes Haq SecGen Mushaima may at times want to restrain
these young men but has lost any control he may once have had
over them.

10. (C) Haq regularly coordinates its activities with the
disbanded Bahrain Center for Human Rights. (Note: Nabeel
Rajab, the BCHR's vice president described the cooperation to
poloff as a necessity that he would rather do without. End
note.) A January 2006 speech by Abdulhadi Al Khawaja
describes how BCHR and Haq will pressure the GOB by appealing
to international organizations and other governments (ref B).
According to two accounts of King Hamad's July 19 meeting
with journalists, he specifically warned against activists
appealing to "foreign agendas" (ref L), an apparent reference
to Haq and its contacts with Western human rights activists.
Haq's media specialist Singace maintains close ties to, and
provides information for, international human rights NGOs
such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Freedom
House, and Frontline Defenders who identify BCHR as their
principal partner in Bahrain. According to Mohammed Al
Maskati, president of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human
Rights and Al Khawaja's son-in-law, Frontline recently hired
Al Khawaja as their Middle East bureau chief.

A Troubled Relationship

11. (C) Haq has now co-opted the Bahrain Freedom Movement,
which continues to operate in London. Lord Eric Avebury,
vice chair of the UK Parliamentary Human Rights Group, has
for years been a vocal supporter of Haq and a critic of the
GOB. During King Hamad's visit to London in January 2008, he
met Mushaima and Dr. Sayed Shihabi, an active Bahrain Freedom
Movement leader who rejected the amnesty and chose to remain
in London. Wifaq leaders such as Sheikh Ali Salman,
Abduljalil Khalil, and Mohammed Jameel Al Jamri used to

MANAMA 00000593 003 OF 003

attend the Bahrain Freedom Movement's annual meetings, but
didn't go in 2007 or 2008. Mushaima attacked Wifaq in the
media, calling them "Inbataha'een," a colloquialism that
equates to "groveling dogs" after Salman and other Wifaq
leaders skipped a scheduled meeting with Avebury in 2007.

12. (C) In an e-mail to supporters, Singace described the
August 21, 2008 meeting of the Bahrain Freedom Movement in
London. Singace reported that attendees discussed alleged
gerrymandering in Bahrain, as well as restrictions on media
freedom, notably the alleged media ban against Ghada
Jamsheer. (Note: For more than a year Jamsheer has asserted
to Western NGOs that she is unable to publish because of an
alleged GOB campaign to muzzle her. Emboffs have repeatedly
asked the editors of Bahrain's daily newspapers if any media
ban against Jamsheer exists. All of the editors reply that
there is no such ban -- they have simply chosen not to
publish her work. Mansour Al Jamri, editor in chief of the
Shi'a opposition daily Al Wasat, told a visiting IREX team
that Jamsheer verbally assaulted him and has sent him
insulting text messages from her employees' mobile phones.
Jamri, himself no friend of the government, said he will not
publish Jamsheer because she is "crazy." End Note.)

13. (C) Despite robust public criticism of many GOB policies,
Wifaq's leaders generally maintain good relationships with
the GOB. Several senior officials from the Ministry of
Interior have privately told emboffs that they appreciate
Wifaq's efforts to keep the streets calm. According to local
contacts, Sheikh Ali Salman regularly implores demonstrators
to obtain a permit before marching. He has spoken
dismissively of Haq's chaotic demonstrations and minor riots,
pointing out that when Wifaq stages a protest, it is large
and disciplined.

14. (C) However, Haq's message does strike a chord with many
Shi'a. Haq sympathizers, and even many moderate Shi'a, claim
that the government hasn't really changed under King Hamad.
Wifaq leaders regularly complain to emboffs that the GOB
doesn't "give" them anything to take to their constituents.
Further, they say that Wifaq's failure to achieve any of its
objectives by engaging with the government will lead to
greater support for Haq, and, potentially, an increase in
street violence.

15. (C) Comment: Despite the impatience of many Shi'a, it is
undeniable that King Hamad's reforms have changed much here.
There is now an opposition press, and the arrest and exile of
political oppositionists is a thing of the past.
Nevertheless, Haq and Wifaq compete for Shi'a support against
a background of real frustration on the Shi'a street. When
Wifaq is perceived as ineffective in parliament, Haq gains
more adherents for its strategy of extra-parliamentary
opposition. When Wifaq can show that its cooperation with
the government has produced jobs, housing or more political
representation for Shi'a, support for Haq's radical message

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