Cablegate: Reactions to Congressional Human Rights Briefing

DE RUEHMK #0742/01 3030631
P 290631Z OCT 08

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MANAMA 000742



E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/29/2018


Classified By: CDA Christopher Henzel for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (C) Summary: Sunni community leaders are angry over a
Capitol Hill briefing presented by a leader of the Shi'a Haq
movement. Haq's prestige on the Shi'a street has shot up.
The mainstream Shi'a Wifaq party will try to regain lost
ground by criticizing the government more energetically over
sectarian discrimination. End Summary.

2. (C) The briefing by three Bahraini Shi'a activists (ref A)
to the Congressional Human Rights Caucus (CHRC) on October 15
has become the topic of heated discussion in Bahrain. Much
of the Sunni community is upset at the presence before
Congress of Abduljalil Singace of the Haq movement, which
opposes participation in elections and inspires many of the
Shi'a youth who regularly skirmish with police. Sunni
leaders from government, politics, and civil society
complained that the Caucus should have sought out activists
from the Bahraini mainstream, or at least granted the
Bahraini Ambassador's request to speak. Many Shi'a on the
other hand, have praised Haq's role in the briefing.

"Bahrain = Darfur of the Gulf"

3. (C) Immediately following the Hill briefing the activists
participated in a demonstration in front of the Bahraini
embassy. Photos of the demonstration are circulating widely
by e-mail here in Bahrain; one, posted on the BCHR website,
shows Singace holding a sign reading "Bahrain = Darfur of the
Gulf", another shows a demonstrator holding a sign reading
"King Hitler bin Isa Al Khalifa," which particularly outraged
many of our Sunni contacts.

Two Ministers Express Concern

4. (C) Minister of Commerce Hassan Fakhro, who often passes
us messages to and from the King, called CDA on October 19 to
tell him of the GOB's "deep concern" about the briefing.
Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmad Al Khalifah told CDA
October 22 that the briefings "lacked balance" and that the
reported refusal of CHRC co-chairman Representative Frank
Wolf or his staff to meet with Bahrain's Ambassador was
"unfair." The FM admitted that "sectarian discrimination is
present," in Bahrain, but claimed the briefers exaggerated
the problem. He asserted that the GOB tries hard to
guarantee individual rights. Like the U.S., he said, Bahrain
will need time to overcome discrimination in its society.

5. (SBU) CDA responded to both Fakhro and Shaikh Khalid that
members of Congress and their staff spoke for themselves,
while the Department's view on this issue is set out in
detail in our human rights and IRF reports. CDA undertook to
report their concerns to Washington.

U.S. a "snake", "enemy"

6. (SBU) Both of the Sunni Islamist parties that make up the
government's majority in the elected lower house of
parliament publicly denounced the U.S. over the briefing.
Abdullatif Al Shaikh, Secretary General of the Minbar Islamic
Society, told media the three briefers "are deluded if they
think this snake (i.e., the USG) will defend their freedoms."
Asala MP Adel Al Ma'awda told newspapers that "it is very
strange that some Bahrainis run towards America, the enemy of
the Muslim and Arab World."

7. (SBU) Other Sunnis also piled on. In his published Friday
sermon, moderate Sunni cleric Salah Al Jowder denounced
Congress for "meddling in the internal affairs of the
country." Faisal Fulad, Shura council member and newly
elected president of the Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society,
complained to poloff that other briefers should have been
invited to present a balanced picture.

Many Shi'a Pleased; Wifaq Not to Be Outdone by Singace
--------------------------------------------- ---------

8. (SBU) Many Shi'a have endorsed the briefing. In his
Friday sermon on October 17, Hameed Al Mubarak, a senior
Shi'a Sharia court judge, said that "the nation's awareness
is enhanced by a good sense of criticism and how the nation
handles this criticism." Wifaq MP Sayed Jameel Kadhem on

MANAMA 00000742 002 OF 002

October 17 told reporters that Bahrainis sought help from
abroad because "they have found no alternative internally,"
despite "obvious" religious and sectarian discrimination.

9. (SBU) The briefing made Haq the heroes of the hour with
the Shi'a street. Reflecting Wifaq's competition with Haq,
Wifaq MP Jassim Husain told poloff that Wifaq plans to expand
its international outreach to Europe and Asia. He said Wifaq
will also make sure discrimination is a leading issue in the
session of parliament that began October 19.

10. (SBU) Comment: In the past, Singace has earned a
reputation as an exaggerator, and more measured Shi'a
activists have worried that he would damage the credibility
of all Shi'a campaigners here. For example, Singace and Haq
continue to charge the GOB with faking the death in April of
a policeman at the hands of Shi'a rioters; he also claims
that last December the GOB killed a Shi'a rioter who,
according to an independent autopsy report, died of natural
causes. Nevertheless, there is undoubtedly societal and
governmental discrimination against Shi'a in Bahrain, as we
report each year in the Human Rights and Religious Freedom
reports. With limited numbers of wise community leaders on
each side of the sectarian line, it will be a challenge to
address the problem. Wild allegations and "King Hitler"
banners feed Sunni fear of the Shi'a majority.

11. (SBU) Comment, continued: Most Shi'a credit Haq with a
great victory for Shi'a rights. Wifaq will now dial up the
stridency of its own message in order not to be outdone. End

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