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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08MANAMA592 2008-09-04 14:02 2011-02-18 21:09 SECRET Embassy Manama
DE RUEHMK #0592/01 2481427
R 041427Z SEP 08 ZDK
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 04 MANAMA 000592

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 H. MANAMA 336 I. MANAMA 404 J. MANAMA 407 K. MANAMA 420 L. MANAMA 510 M. MANAMA 536

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

1.(SBU) Summary: This message describes the leading political groupings in Bahrain. The Wifaq party remains the most popular party among the majority Shi'a underclass and advocates non-violent political activism on behalf of the Shi'a community. Two Islamist parties dominate the Sunni side of the political scene. Secular liberals and leftists did poorly in the 2006 elections and have demonstrated little recent evidence of street appeal, but continue to maintain high media profiles. End Summary. ---------- Background ----------

2.(SBU) The 2002 constitution revived the 40-member, elected Majlis Al Nawab (Council of Representatives) after a 27 year hiatus. Although political parties remain, strictly speaking, illegal, the 2005 Political Societies Act allows for the formation of registered "political societies," which function for all intents and purposes as political parties. The law provides for GOB financial support to registered societies, but forbids the societies from accepting foreign funding. The four societies with members in the elected lower house of parliament are Wifaq (17 seats), Asala (8), Minbar Al Islami (7), and Mustaqbal (4). --------------------------------------------- REGISTERED SOCIETIES WITH SEATS IN PARLIAMENT --------------------------------------------- Al Wifaq National Islamic Society ---------------------------------

3.(C) Wifaq is the leading Shi'a political society. It is also the largest political party in Bahrain, both in terms of its membership and its strength at the polls. Wifaq holds a plurality in the elected lower house of parliament, but coalitions of smaller, pro-government Sunni parties usually outvote Wifaq. Most Wifaq leaders were exiled following the unrest of the 1990's, and many continued oppositionist activities from London. With the amnesty of 2001, they returned to Bahrain and founded Wifaq. After boycotting the 2002 parliamentary elections, Wifaq won 17 seats in the 2006 elections. Sheikh Ali Salman, a mid-level Shi'a cleric, officially leads the party. Sheikh Isa Qassim, Bahrain's most popular Shi'a cleric, claims to eschew politics but privately supports Wifaq (ref M) and probably exerts considerable influence over it.

4.(SBU) Wifaq's base includes most of Bahrain's poorer Shi'a; well-off Shi'a gravitate toward more secular societies or avoid politics. Wifaq continues to demand a "true" constitutional monarchy in which elected officials make policy decisions, the prime minister is accountable to the parliament, and the appointed upper house loses its legislative power.

5.(C) Wifaq works to combat perceived discrimination by the Sunni-dominated government through legislation and disciplined street demonstrations. Wifaq has used its growing parliamentary skill and strong leaders to bolster its position as the leading political force in the Shi'a community. Government officials have privately praised Wifaq for its rejection of illegal demonstrations and respect for "the rules" (ref K). Wifaq often works with other opposition societies, including Wa'ad (para 11), Al Minbar Progressive Democratic Society (paras 12 and 13), and Amal (paras 15 and 16).

6.(U) For more on Wifaq and its relationship with Haq (paras 20-22), see septel. Al Asala Political Society MANAMA 00000592 002 OF 004 --------------------------

7.(SBU) Asala is exclusively Sunni and is closely associated with Salafist ideology. Al Tarbiya Al Islamiya (Islamic Education Charity Society) funds the party. Asala participated in the 2006 elections and won five seats in parliament; in addition, three Sunni independents generally vote with Asala. Asala often aligns with Minbar Al Islami (para 9) to outvote Wifaq (paras 3-6). Asala's supporters are mostly from Sunni enclaves like Muharraq island.

8.(C) Asala says its goals are to increase the standard of living for Bahrainis; strengthen political, social and economic stability; and enhance financial and administrative oversight of the government and industry. Asala does not support women's empowerment. Party chair Ghanim Albuanain is First Deputy Chairman in Parliament. Albuanain strikes emboffs as rational and open-minded, though many of his followers are not. Asala usually backs the government in parliament. Most Bahrainis believe the Royal Court provides extra financial support to both Asala and Minbar (para 9) as a counter to Wifaq. Al Minbar Al Islami (Minbar) ----------------------------

9.(SBU) Minbar is Bahrain's branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, and has seven seats in parliament. It often cooperates with the Salafi political bloc Asala (paras 7 and 8), especially on issues involving religious affairs and morals. Minbar seeks a personal status law that conforms to Sharia and is acceptable to both sects. Minbar's former leader, Dr. Salah Ali Abdul Rahman, is parliament's Second Deputy Chairman. Dr. Abdullatif Al Shaikh is the current Minbar leader. Most of Minbar's leaders are related to one another, and are wealthy academics. Minbar does not allow its female members to stand for election to parliament. Minbar is pro-government, and it is widely rumored that the Royal Court and the Islamic banking sector bankroll the party. XXXXXXXXXXXX Al Mustaqbal ------------

10.(SBU) Four independent members of parliament formed the Mustaqbal bloc after they were elected. The bloc bills itself as the only secular grouping in parliament, though all four members are Sunni. It votes reliably for the government and its leader, Adel Al Asoomi, is close to the Prime Minister. --------------------------------------------- --- REGISTERED SOCIETIES WITHOUT PARLIAMENTARY SEATS --------------------------------------------- --- Wa'ad National Democratic Action Society ----------------------------------------

11.(SBU) Wa'ad is a socialist party formed by returning exiles in 2002. It failed to win any seats in the 2006 parliamentary elections despite support from Wifaq, and has demonstrated no recent indications that it has recovered politically. However, several of its members have good access to local and international media and are able to maintain a high media profile. Ebrahim Sharif took over the society when the former chairman, Rahman Al Nuaimi, a Sunni liberal who was exiled in 1970, fell ill in 2006. (NOTE: Al Nuaimi is now in a coma and unlikely to recover. End Note.) Wa'ad says it desires a peaceful rotation of power in a secular, liberal state, rather than an Islamist one. Abdulla Al Derazi resigned his seat on Wa'ad's general secretariat when he ran for Secretary General of the Bahrain Human Rights Society. Wa'ad consists primarily of middle class professionals, male and female, from both sects. Wa'ad joined the opposition boycott of the 2002 elections. The party questions the legitimacy of the 2002 constitution, and supports a new family law. Sharif led a Wa'ad delegation to Lebanon in late July 2008, where he met and publicly praised recently released Hizballah fighter Samir Al Qantar. Al Minbar Progressive Democratic Society (APDS) --------------------------------------------- --

12.(SBU) Established in 2001, APDS represents Bahrain's former communists. Most of its approximately 100 members MANAMA 00000592 003 OF 004 were exiled during the late Sheikh Isa's reign. Many APDS members used their time in exile to gain experience through work with other Arab political parties. When they returned and founded APDS, the society benefited from their strong organizational skills. Dr. Hasan Madau, a Shi'a columnist for the daily Al-Ayam, chairs the society. Men and women from both sects are active APDS members. APDS had 3 seats in the 2002 parliament, but lost them to Wifaq in 2006.

13.(SBU) APDS controlled the General Federation of Trade Unions until Wifaq won control of the federation in February 2008. Al Meethaq (National Action Charter Society) --------------------------------------------

14.(SBU) Wealthy businessmen from well-known families of both sects founded Meethaq in 2002. Meethaq is a pro-government party formerly backed by the Royal Court that now wields little influence. Abdulrahman Jamsheer, a prominent Sunni businessman close to the Royal Court, chaired the society until Mohammed Al Buanain, from a respected Muharraq family, defeated him in the society's 2006 internal elections. After Meethaq members proved themselves inactive with little street influence, the Royal Court reportedly shifted its support to Sunni Islamists with more street appeal. In the 2006 parliamentary polls Meethaq lost its five seats to Wifaq (paras 3-6) and Minbar (para 9). Amal Islamic Action Society (Amal) ----------------------------------

15.(SBU) Amal is the non-violent heir to the defunct Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain, which launched a failed uprising in 1981 inspired by Iran's Islamic revolution. Amal members are often referred to here as "Shirazis," for their alleged ties to Ayatollah Muhammad Al-Shirazi, who died in 2001. A number of Amal's current supporters did prison time, while Mohammed Ali Al Mahfouth, Amal's founder, spent much of the nineties in Damascus calling for the overthrow of the Al Khalifas (ref M). He and his followers were pardoned in the 2001 general amnesty. Amal joined Wifaq's boycott of the 2002 parliamentary elections. Al Mahfouth founded Amal in 2002, but refused to register the society until 2005.

16.(C) Amal has no seats in parliament, and continues to lose influence in the Shi'a community to Wifaq. The Ministry of Justice and Islamic affairs recently added to Amal's troubles when it determined that Amal violated a law that bars the use of religious buildings for political purposes. Al Watani (National Democratic Gathering Society) --------------------------------------------- ---- 17. (SBU) A few Wa'ad (para 11) members, led by Sunni Abdulla Hashim (see Adala, paras 18 and 19), split to form Watani in 2002. After Hashim failed to win a seat in the 2002 parliamentary elections, he began aligning the society with Salafis, even though Watani members hailed from both sects. This angered Watani members, who elected a new board and chairman, Fadhel Abbas, in March 2007. Hashim, an attorney, sued the party alleging that they had violated their bylaws, but lost the case. Since Abbas' election, Watani has begun to reestablish relationships with other societies, including Wa'ad. Adala National Justice Movement ------------------------------- 18. (C) Abdulla Hashim founded Adala as an umbrella organization for extreme Sunni elements after Watani (para 17) kicked him out in 2006. Adala registered as a political society with the Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs on October 22, 2007. Adala has a more nationalist identity than Asala and Minbar. The society initially focused its criticism on the U.K. and Iran, but now devotes all its energy to exposing the horrors of "U.S. imperialism." Hashim has a real talent for attracting local and international media coverage for his stunts, such as an April 26 demonstration near the U.S. Navy base here that featured the beheading a mannequin dressed to represent a U.S. Marine. Despite their media profile, however, Adala has never produced more than 80 people at one of its demonstrations. Both Hashim and deputy Muhi aldin Khan stood for parliament in Muharraq in 2006 and lost to Al Minbar Al Islami (para 9). 19. (S) Adala is Bahrain's most outspoken supporter of former Guantanamo detainees, and is usually the first to spring to the defense of Bahrainis arrested for alleged links to MANAMA 00000592 004 OF 004 Al-Qaeda (ref G). --------------------------------------------- ----- UNREGISTERED SOCIETIES WITHOUT PARLIAMENTARY SEATS --------------------------------------------- ----- THE UNREGISTERED HAQ MOVEMENT ----------------------------- 20. (SBU) Hasan Mushaima, a founding, hard-line member of Wifaq, left to found Haq in November 2005. From the start, Haq has defied the requirements for registration of political societies (ref A). Haq opposes the 2002 constitution on the grounds that it rescinded liberties granted by the 1973 constitution, that the King drafted it unilaterally, and that it gave constitutional legitimacy and legislative authority to the appointed upper house of parliament. Haq accuses King Hamad of not fulfilling his promises to bring democratic reforms to Bahrain. Haq's top public goal is a new constitution for Bahrain drafted by elected delegates. Since Haq competes with Wifaq for the same Shi'a supporters, Haq gains support whenever Wifaq is perceived as unsuccessful in parliament. When Wifaq is successful, Haq loses popularity. 21. (S) Post and the public perceive Haq as inspiring many of the small gangs of Shi'a youth who throw stones and Molotov cocktails at police almost every weekend. Haq has submitted petitions to the U.N., the USG, and the GOB calling for the Prime Minister's resignation and condemning the GOB's human rights record. Abduljalil Al Singace, Haq's public affairs and media specialist, has contacts with U.S.-based and international NGOs and media outlets. GOB officials often assert that the Iranian regime controls Mushaima and other Haq supporters, however has yet to provide post with convincing evidence. 22. (U) For more on Haq and its relationship with Wifaq (paras 3-6), see septel. ********************************************* ******** Visit Embassy Manama's Classified Website: XXXXXXXXXXXX********************************************* ******** ERELI