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Cablegate: Bahrain's Youth: Worried About Jobs, Skeptical Of

DE RUEHMK #0737/01 3621003
P 281003Z DEC 09

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MANAMA 000737



E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/28/2019
POLITICAL AUTHORITY AND OPEN TO AMERICA Classified By: Ambassador Adam Ereli for reasons 1.4(b) and (d).

1.(C) Summary: Opinion among Bahraini youth divides along sectarian lines on issues like employment, equality of opportunity and political reform. Youth in both Shia and Sunni communities express a sense of entitlement: they expect the government to provide them with jobs and a secure future. Most enjoy American pop culture, and while they criticize many U.S. policies, they understand the benefits - especially security - that come from the U.S.-Bahrain relationship. End Summary.

2.(C) Over the course of two months, Embassy public affairs officers pulsed young Bahrainis about attitudes toward work, politics and their future. Conversations with more than fifty men and women between the ages of 17 and 30 offer useful insights into Bahrain's next generation of young professionals. -------------------------------- UNEMPLOYMENT A WORRY FOR MANY... --------------------------------

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3.(C) Employment is a top concern for both Sunni and Shia youth, and especially men. A large majority tell us they worry about their job prospects and are not as confident in their future as they were five or ten years ago. Several contacts related stories of new graduates who are struggling to find jobs. Rashid Riaz, a liberal Sunni and Events Officer for a GOB-funded youth program, told us that over half of his close friends have been unemployed for a year or more.

4.(C) Others -- particularly Shia -- believe there are job opportunities in the country but that they are not equally available to all. According to Adnan Alawi, a young teacher and member of the (Shia) Wifaq party, "The good jobs go to certain people - Sunnis -- and especially in the public sector." Many Shia youth believe that employment discrimination is institutionalized in the public sector, but that in the private sector, skills and professional qualifications trump sectarian identity. Alawi claims that Shia youth are therefore more focused than Sunni on their own professional development in order to secure jobs in the "more competitive and fair" private sector.

5.(C) Although Sunni contacts acknowledged the widespread perception that not all Bahrainis are treated equally, they accused the Shia of exaggerating alleged discrimination in order to pressure the GOB into providing them more jobs and benefits. Ahmed Al Harban, a conservative Sunni, asserted that poor Sunnis are not as politically well organized as Shia and therefore generally receive less public assistance. --------------------------------------------- ------------ ...BUT SECTARIAN DISCRIMINATION MAY NOT BE THE ONLY CAUSE --------------------------------------------- ------------

6.(C) Several Sunni and Shia contacts cited the poor work ethic of Bahraini youth, rather than sectarian discrimination, as a factor in unemployment. They asserted that many are "unemployed by choice." There are numerous jobs available, they explained, but young Bahrainis are unwilling to take positions that are lower-paying, require long working hours or are seen as low status. Noor Nass, an undergraduate student at the Royal University for Women and from a prominent Shia family, said that she has declined two job offers because of low wages. Other contacts tell us that most young people prefer government employment or positions with established companies and refuse jobs with salaries lower than BD 500/month (USD 1400/mo.) In another example, post worked with a local contractor to provide paid summer internship opportunities with the French multinational supermarket "Geant" for several poor Shia high school students who had graduated from the USG-sponsored ACCESS English program. According to the contr actor, the students didn't even show up for the initial interview because they deemed the wages to be too low and the jobs were not "in management."

7.(C) Mansoora Al-Jamri, a journalist from a prominent Shia family, said that young Bahrainis underestimate their potential and can only envision themselves in a government clerical job. Many "are afraid to think big." Some of her contemporaries have ambitious professional goals, she said, but they are a minority.

8.(SBU) A significant number of Bahraini high school and MANAMA 00000737 002 OF 003 university students believe that although there have been reforms in the country's educational system, they have not gone far enough to improve the quality of schools. For example, several high school students in the Shia village of Buri claim that their teachers lack the educational and professional skills necessary to discipline students or to create a conducive learning environment. One Shia student at the University of Bahrain complained that the school system does not emphasize critical thinking or provide instruction in key analytical skills. Instead, time is spent on rote memorization and reliving the "glory years" of the Islamic empire. Local press reports in the past few months have also highlighted the underperformance of public schools and newly established private universities.

9.(C) Some Shia youth defended the government's economic policies. When asked about job discrimination against Shia, Marwa Badow, a Shia student at the University of Bahrain, told PDoff that the government should not be expected to hire youth who "demonstrate in the streets by burning tires, vandalizing property, and slandering the country's leaders." Badow and other Shia contacts were also critical of the conservative outlook of many of their contemporaries. Women especially, they said, were inwardly focused on Bahrain, lacked exposure to the outside world, did not dedicate themselves to developing strong professional skills, and depended solely on their families for financial support. Many contacts expressed support for government reform initiatives to assist high school and university graduates, pointing to Tamkeen and other state entities that provide training to young professionals entering the labor force. (Note: Tamkeen is the country's semi-autonomous labor fund that supports skills development programs and private sector job creation for Bahrainis. End note.) --------------------------------------------- ----- GOB POLITICAL LEADERSHIP RECEIVES MIXED REVIEWS... --------------------------------------------- ----

10.(C) Several young Bahrainis told us that for them, the country's sectarian divides were not strictly delineated, but rather more subtle and nuanced. Liberal Shia youth often criticize members of their own community who participate in regular demonstrations, calling them "ignorant" and "fearful of economic and political progress." Many Shia said that although King Hamad has achieved much that is positive for the country in the ten years since his accession, there is still a lack of understanding and trust between sects. Wifaq member Adnan Alawi claimed that most of his fellow Shia political activists see themselves as "loyal opposition to the government" and do not support inflammatory statements against the ruling family. However, he asserted, the widespread conviction among Shia that the government was engaged in the "political naturalization" of Sunnis, was keeping Shia out of the Bahraini Defense Forces and discriminating against them in other ways demonstrated that the regime did not view them as lo yal Bahrainis, despite the fact that the Shia were "made from the same sand as the rest of Bahrain."

11.(C) Bahraini youth on both sides of the sectarian divide told us that the national elections scheduled for 2010 will be a litmus test for the Sunni and Shia clerics who currently dominate Parliament. Student Noor Nass claimed that these religious leaders have lost credibility because they only pay lip service to positive change and do not use their authority to create jobs for youth or improve social conditions. Young Sunni conservative Ahmed Al Harban predicted both Sunni and Shia clerics would not fare well in the upcoming elections due to their "disappointing performance as political leaders." --------------------------------------------- ---------- ...THOUGH PERSPECTIVES ABOUT THE U.S. ARE MORE UNIFORM --------------------------------------------- ----------

12.(SBU) While most Bahraini youth speak highly of Americans and their culture, they are also highly critical of U.S. foreign policy, particularly on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Many young Bahrainis said that they initially believed President Obama wanted to improve America's relationship with the Muslim world and were hopeful of a policy change. However, many young Sunni and Shia Bahrainis now say that the Obama Administration is hamstrung by "the Israeli lobby". One Shia contact reported that Bahrainis feel that President Obama is focusing on U.S. domestic policy to avoid "confrontation with the Israelis." Several MANAMA 00000737 003 OF 003 outspoken Sunni contacts have said that Americans elected President Obama to "change America's image, not to change America." Nevertheless, both Sunni and Shia youth told us that while Bahrainis disagree with U.S. foreign policy, they understand that Iran poses a potential threat to their country and that Bahrain must have a close bilateral relationship with the U.S. to counter negative Iranian influences.

13.(C) Both Sunni and Shia contacts also agreed that a minority of young Bahrainis have a low opinion of the U.S. because they believe America is hostile to Islamic values and culture. Shia journalist Mansoora Al-Jamri said there is a small group of young men in every village that will quickly organize a demonstration against America at the slightest provocation. Others disagreed, observing that although conservative Bahraini youth may be publicly critical of the U.S., secretly they would be thrilled to be selected to participate in a prestigious USG academic exchange program. Wifaq member Adnan Alawi said even though the USG offers exchanges and other "soft power" opportunities that show the "positive face" of America, one cannot disregard the fact that there are "people in the world suffering as a result of American foreign policy decisions."

14.(SBU) Many contacts said young people in Bahrain are talking about Islamic cultural issues and influence, regional and global politics, and social challenges facing the country. Most stated that they are happy to engage with America through exchanges, Facebook, or Embassy events such as Ramadan iftaars and ghabqas, but often they will not openly admit to friends that they have a relationship with the USG. A few said their interaction with the Embassy - most recently their participation in a tour of the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Nimitz -- resulted in criticism that they were endorsing U.S. policy and sparked a fierce debate on Facebook. Sunni conservative Ahmed Al Harban told his critics that "I don't agree with a lot of the U.S. policies, but I have to engage with (officials from the United States) if I want to change their opinions." ------- Comment -------

15.(C) These were conversations with a relatively sophisticated group of young people - hardly a representative sample of Bahraini youth. Nevertheless, well-educated and motivated, they have a proven track record and will likely occupy positions of influence in the future. For that reason their perspectives on economics, politics and foreign policy are of interest.

16.(C) Sectarianism remains persistent and entrenched. Young Bahrainis, like their parents, divide along sectarian lines on most issues, including discrimination in employment and political representation. Of good news to the reformers is the degree to which these young people are politically aware and engaged in the political process. It is a healthy sign for the future of democracy in Bahrain. Less encouraging are their attitudes toward work. The GOB's economic vision - led by the Crown Prince - is based on an innovative and world-class private sector that will serve as the engine of growth. Developing the nation's human capital is the sine qua non of this vision, but the sense of entitlement and preference for the public sector prevalent among Bahrain's youth make them appear reluctant recruits for the reformist plans of Bahrain's leaders. End comment. ERELI

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