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08MANAMA510 2008-07-31 14:56:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Manama
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1.(U) Summary: Departing from the detached style he has displayed for over a year, King Hamad has intervened forcefully against sectarianism and violent demonstrations. His latest moves included a series of warnings, directly chiefly at elements of the Shi'a community, and an amnesty that benefits at least 225 prisoners, most of them Shi'a. End Summary.

2.(C) Over the past two months King Hamad has taken personal charge of managing Bahrain's Sunni-Shi'a tensions and the political response to on-again, off-again street clashes between Shi'a youth and police. Following on steps taken in June (ref E) to rein in both Shi'a and Sunni leaders who had been exchanging sectarian insults, on July 16 King Hamad focused on the Shi'a village of Malkiya, a center of discontent and illegal demonstrations where police have discovered caches of Molotov cocktails. He summoned three representatives of the village, including 47-year old member of parliament Sheikh Hassan Sultan, of the (Shi'a) Wifaq party. According to Wifaq contacts and media reports, the King lambasted Sultan for questioning the integrity of Bahrain's courts following the July 13 verdicts against Shi'a for rioting (ref H).

3.(C) The King next called in Bahrain's newspaper editors for a July 19 scolding. He prefaced his remarks by acknowledging the value of free media and peaceful assembly, but then turned to an extended denunciation of unnamed parties who incite young men to demonstrate violently for causes that "do not serve the nation," complaints clearly directed at the young Shi'a who skirmish with police, and those, such as the Haq faction, that inspire them. He warned that "those who serve a foreign agenda (i.e., an Iranian one) will be identified."

4.(C) Editors from Al Waqt and Akhbar al Khaleej, which are both critical of U.S., reported that the King wondered aloud why Bahrainis would appeal to foreigners (apparently this time meaning Western governments) for assistance. "Have they not seen what happened in Abu Ghraib?" he reportedly asked. The two editors also claimed that the King observed that some of those (i.e. Shi'a oppositionists) who returned from exile in 2001 were repeating the errors that led to their exile in the first place.

5.(U) On July 20, Bahrain's cabinet, following up on the King's statements the day before, declared that the government would suspend development projects in areas where "security was threatened by violent demonstrations," a clear reference to Malkiya and other centers of Shi'a unrest. Shi'a oppositionists denounced this as collective punishment, while government spokesmen explained it as a simple acknowledgement that the government and its contractors cannot work in places where they are not safe. Ministers of Works and Municipalities told media July 26 that Malkiya projects had been suspended because of security concerns.

6.(U) The King next called in fifty clerics of both sects on July 29 to demand they support national unity in their preaching. He ordered the creation of a "monitoring committee" charged with keeping sectarian incitement out of sermons. After the meeting, Wifaq Secretary General Sheikh Ali Salman told the press that he welcomes the creation of a committee, as long as its composition includes community representatives, not just the government. (Note: It is difficult to see how in practice the government will be able to influence Shi'a sermons. Almost all Shi'a clergy decline the government salaries that have been available to them for decades. End note.)

7.(U) On July 30, the King announced an amnesty for at least 225 prisoners. It appears that the beneficiaries will include most of the young Shi'a men jailed for rioting or arson (ref C) over the past year. Others being released were convicted of ordinary crimes. Government media gave prominent play to young prisoners expressing gratitude to the King and anger toward unnamed agitators who allegedly incited them to attack police. MANAMA 00000510 002.2 OF 002

8.(C) During an audience July 30, the King told Ambassador and visiting General Petraeus that achieving a peaceful, multicultural Bahrain remains his top goal. He said he could not tolerate anyone obstructing him in this, and said he would continue to intervene where necessary to keep Bahrain on track.

9.(C) Comment: If there was any remaining question as to whether the King's health problems last year had dimmed his capacities, his actions over the past two months should settle them. This has been an assertion of leadership from the top, of a kind we have not seen for at least a year. "Bahrain has always been a tolerant country, where people of all religions and nationalities live together peacefully" he told the Ambassador and General Petraeus during an audience on July 30. The King's actions over the past two months are intended to ensure that Bahrain stays that way. ********************************************* ******** Visit Embassy Manama's Classified Website: XXXXXXXXXXXX********************************************* ******** ERELI