Cablegate: Lulwa Awadhi: Controversial Women's Activist

DE RUEHMK #0610 2920943
R 190943Z OCT 09

C O N F I D E N T I A L MANAMA 000610


E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/19/2019

REF: 06 MANAMA 836

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

1.(C) Summary: Lulwa Awadhi, head of a women's foundation backed by the Bahraini government, acts as the arbiter for virtually all programming in support of women's issues in Bahrain. Her support can speed a program's approval, while her opposition or mere disinterest can kill an initiative outright. End Summary.

2.(C) Lulwa Awadhi achieved her position as the Secretary General of the Supreme Council for Women (SCW) and her former position as the Chairman of the Bahrain Institute for Political Development (BIPD) by developing a reputation for hard work and getting things done. Many Bahraini activists also view her as inflexible, and we have come to the same conclusion. For example, after the local director for the National Democratic Institute (NDI) was essentially forced to leave Bahrain in 2006 (reftel), Awadhi resisted NDI's return (NDI staff now visit Bahrain frequently, but are based in Dubai.) She keeps a very tight rein on our contacts with the SCW, insisting that we (like other Embassies) use diplomatic notes to request our meetings with even the most junior SCW staff. (Most other Bahraini government agencies do not require dip notes.) Her approach to management of her staff at the SCW seems to be just as precise: SCW's chief of public relations Dr. May Otaibi confided to poloff that Awadhi deserves her reputation as a "dictator."

3.(C) Awadhi's reputation took a hit this July when the government launched an investigation of BIPD's former executive director and two of his subordinates for alleged fraud and embezzlement. Many here believe that it was because of her indirect connection to this scandal that Awadhi failed to win another term this September as BIPD's Secretary General. According to Otaibi, this experience has reinforced Awadhi's inclination to demand total control of all activities in her area of responsibility.

4.(C) Otaibi speaks from personal experience. She took her MEPI small grant, to train women to run campaigns and as candidates ahead of the autumn 2010 elections, to the SCW to find appropriate trainees. Otaibi, who claims to have had a solid working relationship with Awadhi in the past, complained to us that Awadhi took control of the project, and refused Otaibi's requests, per her contract, to advertise MEPI's connection to the project. Awadhi also questioned whether emboffs should attend the program's press conference or workshops.

5.(C) Otaibi offered a few suggestions for working with Awadhi, noting that her ego demands periodic stroking and that she feels like she was burned by the BIPD scandal. Otaibi opined that Awadhi may have become even more risk-averse in the wake of the BIPD scandal and advised allowing more lead time on any issue requiring a decision from her.

6. (C) Comment: Awadhi will remain a key contact for us, and for Washington-based implementers, for all of our women's programming, and perhaps for some democracy programming in the run-up to the late-2010 parliamentary elections. Managing our relationship with her will require continued close collaboration among post, MEPI, and its implementers. HENZEL

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