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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
09MANAMA57 2009-02-02 14:41:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Manama
Cable title:  

ANEMIC TURNOUT SO FAR FOR ARRESTED SHIA ACTIVISTS

Tags:   PGOV ASEC PHUM KISL BA 
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VZCZCXRO0909
PP RUEHDE RUEHDIR
DE RUEHMK #0057/01 0331441
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 021441Z FEB 09
FM AMEMBASSY MANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8407
INFO RUEHZM/GULF COOPERATION COUNCIL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHBVAKS/COMUSNAVCENT  PRIORITY
RHMFISS/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY
					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MANAMA 000057 

SIPDIS

BAGHDAD FOR AMBASSADOR ERELI

E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/02/2019
TAGS: PGOV ASEC PHUM KISL BA
SUBJECT: ANEMIC TURNOUT SO FAR FOR ARRESTED SHIA ACTIVISTS

REF: A. MANAMA 50

B. 08 MANAMA 845

C. 08 MANAMA 593

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



1. (C) Summary: No more than two hundred supporters of two
radical Shia activists turned out for skirmishes with riot
police over the past week, far fewer than expected. Amnesty
International issued a carefully-worded statement on the
arrests. Meanwhile, the moderate Shia Wifaq party staged an
orderly protest on an unrelated issue that drew over 12,000
marchers. End summary.



2. (SBU) On January 26 Bahraini authorities arrested Hassan
Musheima and Mohammed Habib Al Maqdad, founding president and
spiritual guide respectively of the radical Shia Haq movement
(ref A). A third Shia activist, Abduljalil Singace, was
detained for less than 24 hours then released on bail.



3. (SBU) The Bahraini government has long blamed Haq for
inspiring the vandalism and small street clashes with police
that take place almost every week in Shia neighborhoods here.
The stated reason for the three arrests, however, was the
three activists' failure to answer a summons to give
statements to prosecutors investigating 13 other Shia men
detained for an alleged terrorist plot (ref B). In a nuanced
statement, Amnesty International said January 30 that, "if
the two (Musheima and Maqdad) are being held solely because
of their non-violent political activities, including
criticism of the government, then (Amnesty) would consider
them to be prisoners of conscience and call for their
immediate and unconditional release." The Public Prosecution
responded on February 1 in a statement that highlighted the
arrests' connection to the alleged plot. Shia contacts tell
us Musheima and Maqdad are being visited daily by attorneys
and family, and that the Public Prosecution has authorized
medical treatment outside of the jail for the 61-year old
Musheima, who suffers from diabetes and hypertension.

An Underwhelming Turnout from Haq


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





4. (C) Bahrain's police chief, MG Abdul Latif Al Zayani, told
CDA January 29 that riot police had prepared for large street
battles with supporters of Musheima and Maqdad. In the
event, however, Al Zayani said there was one large clash,
between police and about 200 rioters near Musheima's home in
Jidhafs January 26. Since then, Musheima's supporters have
skirmished with police almost every evening, but have never
mobilized more than a few dozen youths at a time. There have
been several arrests and minor injuries. Al Zayani's account
tracks with local media reports and what we have seen
ourselves.



5. (C) Nizar Al Qari, a member of the moderate Shia Wifaq
party's internal Ulema Council, told poloff January 28 that
he was "underwhelmed" by the demonstrations. He credited the
police with making an effort to control the skirmishes with
only the minimum of force necessary. As an example, Al Qari
described a disturbance in Sanabis on January 27 during which
he witnessed police officers moving quietly up a side street
in order to outflank and arrest rioters, rather than relying
on tear gas to disperse troublemakers and bystanders alike.



6. (C) Al Qari cautioned that Musheima still commands the
respect of many Shia, who credit him as a leader of the
opposition negotiating team that won GOB permission in 2001
for Shia exiles to return home. Al Qari warned that any
misstep on the part of the security services could weaken
Wifaq's support and bring many more protesters into the
streets.

A Large Wifaq Rally


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





7. (SBU) Wifaq, meanwhile, went ahead January 30 with a rally
that had been planned before the January 25 arrests. At
least 12,000 demonstrators turned out to protest against an
alleged acceleration of the Bahraini government's
long-standing practice of granting citizenship to foreigners,
usually Sunnis. PolFSN observed Wifaq functionaries
carefully controlling the rally, ensuring that participants
did not stray from the route, that they displayed only
Bahraini (and not Hizballah) flags, and that they boarded
buses at the conclusion of the event. However, as the Wifaq
rally concluded, several dozen youths on a side street threw
stones at police, who responded with tear gas. There were no
reports of arrests or injuries. Wifaq contacts tell us the

MANAMA 00000057 002 OF 002


rioters were Haq supporters of Musheima.



8. (C) Comment: In the wake of the arrests of Musheima and
Maqdad, the Bahraini police (and we) expected Haq to cause
more trouble than it actually did. The leadership of Wifaq
played an important role in maintaining calm in the Shia
community. Wifaq condemned the arrests publicly but has been
coordinating with the authorities behind the scenes. In
addition, it appears Haq's hard-core support may not extend
far beyond the regulars who take part in Haq-inspired street
clashes. The large, orderly Wifaq demonstration, contrasted
with Haq's underwhelming, violent response to its leaders'
arrests, demonstrate that most Bahraini Shia still believe
the best hope for redress of their grievances lies in Wifaq's
strategy of non-violent politics.

********************************************* ********
Visit Embassy Manama's Classified Website:
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/nea/manama/
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HENZEL