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Cablegate: Saudi Provincial Authorities Close Shia Mosques In

VZCZCXRO3444
PP RUEHDE RUEHDIR
DE RUEHDH #0217/01 2271125
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 151125Z AUG 09
FM AMCONSUL DHAHRAN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0240
INFO RUEHZM/GULF COOPERATION COUNCIL COLLECTIVE
RUEHRH/AMEMBASSY RIYADH PRIORITY 0216
RUEHJI/AMCONSUL JEDDAH PRIORITY 0040
RUEHDH/AMCONSUL DHAHRAN 0320

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 DHAHRAN 000217

NOFORN
SIPDIS

PLEASE PASS TO NEA/ARP JOSHUA HARRIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 8/15/2019
TAGS: KIRF KISL PGOV PHUM SA
SUBJECT: SAUDI PROVINCIAL AUTHORITIES CLOSE SHIA MOSQUES IN
AL-KHOBAR, LEADERS MEET WITH KING ABDULLAH

REF: A. A. RIYADH 346
B. B. DHAHRAN 8
C. C. DHAHRAN 14

DHAHRAN 00000217 001.2 OF 002


CLASSIFIED BY: Kevin Kreutner, Acting Consul General, EXEC, DOS.

REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)
SUMMARY:

-------

1. (C/NF) During the past year the provincial government in the
Eastern Province (EP) has closed five Shia mosques (four Twelver
Shia and one Ismaili Shia) in the commercial city of al-Khobar,
with the last two being closed in the past two weeks. The
provincial government reportedly carried out the closures by
arresting and threatening to arrest the mosque owners and/or
imams if they continued to hold prayers and by posting police
near the mosques. Post contacts point to Prince Mohammed bin
Fahd, governor of the EP, as the driving force behind the
closures. The authorities have reportedly told the mosque
owners that the closures were due to improper zoning and lack of
appropriate permits. However, past and pending requests to
build Shia mosques in al-Khobar have reportedly not been
granted. On July 26 a delegation of Shia leaders from al-Khobar
met with King Abdullah to raise this issue. END SUMMARY.

SHIA MOSQUES OF AL-KHOBAR:

--------------------------

2. (C/NF) In an August 10 meeting, XXXXXXXXXXXX (strictly
protect), the XXXXXXXXXXXX, explained to PolOff that the Shia mosques in al-Khobar are known as "Waqf." As opposed
to a typical mosque with a towering minaret and loudspeakers announcing the call to prayer, these Waqfs involve an individual opening his home (or a part of his home) for public prayer services. The Waqfs in al-Khobar are sanctioned by local Shia clerics as suitable alternatives to traditional mosques, which the Saudi authorities have not granted permits to build. There are reportedly about 20,000
Shia living in al-Khobar (out of total population of
approximately 411,000), many of whom have attended prayer
services at these mosques/Waqfs for more than a decade.

3. (C/NF) Four of the mosques belong to the Twelver or Imami
Shia, the most common sect living in the EP, XXXXXXXXXXXX reported, with the fifth mosque belonging to the Ismaili Shia, who
originated from Najran. The bustling commercial city of
al-Khobar is not a traditional homestead of the Saudi Shia.
Most of the Shia residents moved to al-Khobar from al-Ahsa,
Qatif, and Najran to find jobs with Saudi Aramco and other oil
and gas companies. (NOTE: During the meeting with XXXXXXXXXXXX only four mosques had been closed,
but he was in the process of confirming a possible fifth closure. The next day he confirmed and published XXXXXXXXXXXX. END
NOTE.)

PRINCE MOHAMMED GIVES THE GREEN LIGHT:

-------------------------------------

4. (C/NF) Several contacts claim that Prince Mohammed bin Fahd
(MbF), the wealthy and influential son of the late King Fahd, is
behind the mosque closings, noting that the orders came from the
provincial governor's office. XXXXXXXXXXXX (strictly
protect), a human rights activist and founder of XXXXXXXXXXXX, told PolOff in an August 9 meeting
that MbF would have to personally approve the mosque closings
before they could be carried out. He told PolOff that he
recommended to the Ismaili leadership that they work through the
newly appointed governor of Najran and son of King Abdullah. In
his view, MbF will not lift the ban on Shia mosques in al-Khobar
unless his hand is forced by the King. XXXXXXXXXXXX (strictly protect), a Sunni tribal leader, told
PolOff in an August 10 meeting that he sent a letter to the
governor expressing concern about the al-Khobar mosque closings
and the arrest of a Shia community leader. He said that MbF
responded by saying that XXXXXXXXXXXX should not interfere in this matter.

SHIA AND MODERATE SUNNIS SPEAK OUT:

-----------------------------------

5. (C/NF) XXXXXXXXXXXX confirmed reports that Abdullah Saleh
al-Muhanna was imprisoned in June 2009 for holding prayers in
his home. He told PolOff that he spoke with al-Muhanna while he
was in prison. Corroborating online reports, XXXXXXXXXXXX said
that the Saudi authorities demanded that al-Muhanna sign a
document promising not to hold prayer services in his home in
the future. After initially refusing, XXXXXXXXXXXX said that
al-Muhanna eventually signed a slightly different statement to
the same effect and was subsequently released. (NOTE:
XXXXXXXXXXXX is a self-proclaimed Sunni liberal and human rights
activist. XXXXXXXXXXXX END NOTE.)

6. (C/NF) In mid-July, Sayyid Mohammad al-Nasser, a leading Shia
cleric in al-Khobar, spoke out against the mosque closings and
threatened to lead Friday prayers in the streets if necessary.
Shia frustrations culminated with a small delegation of
religious leaders from al-Khobar meeting with the King on July
26 in Taif. Several contacts confirmed that the delegation
raised the al-Khobar mosque closings with the King, but a formal
response has not been received yet. However, XXXXXXXXXXXX, who is in direct contact with the delegation, told PolOff that the King's
court informed them that they will have a response on the issue
by the end of this week (August 14) and that it will be "good
news." They had not yet received the phone call from the King's
court at the time of writing this telegram.

COMMENT:

-------

7. (C/NF) Discriminatory measures such as the mosque closings in
al-Khobar continue to be the modus operandi of elements of the
SAG in their interactions with the Shia minority sect. This
year has seen sectarian tensions rise to the point of clashes in
Medina in February (ref A) and rare public protests in the EP in
March (ref B, C). Although the Sunni-Shia tension that pervaded
the Kingdom earlier this year has since dissipated, this latest
act of discrimination has once again stirred the sectarian pot.
King Abdullah's clear public stance on the need for dialogue and
mutual respect between Sunnis and Shias may well result in
moderating or reversing the mosque closing decision. While a
welcome move if it happens, it will also underscore the
significant and continuing internal differences on this issue
that can only be resolved at the highest level. END COMMENT.
KREUTNER

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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