Cablegate: Survey of Parliamentary Blocs

Published: Mon 25 Oct 2004 11:09 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
Sensitive but unclassified (deliberative process); please
protect accordingly. Not for Internet distribution.
Summary and Introduction
1. (SBU) The Council of Representatives (COR - lower house
of parliament) October 9 opened for its third parliamentary
session since the adoption of the 2002 constitution. In the
absence of political parties, which are still illegal, the
forty members have formed six blocs based upon common
interests or common religious views. These are Al Minbar; Al
Asala; Al Islamiya; National Democrats; Independents; and the
newly established Economic Elite. The blocs are not
completely rigid and leaders allow the members to offer or
gain support from other blocs on particular issues. The
blocs will occasionally form alliances with one another, but
none are permanent. They are pursuing legislation to further
their political objectives but have made the most headlines
through their actions on religious and moral issues. In
fact, due to ongoing disputes between the parliament,
government, and opposition political societies outside the
system regarding constitutional processes for drafting,
submitting, and passing legislation, very few bills have been
enacted during the previous two legislative sessions. Though
Bahrain's Shia community represents some two-thirds of the
citizenry, they are underrepresented in the COR because of
the decision by Al Wifaq, the most popular Shia political
society, to boycott the 2002 parliamentary elections. End
Summary and Introduction.
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Al Minbar: Relatively Moderate Sunni Islamists
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2. (SBU) Al Minbar is Bahrain's Muslim Brotherhood and in
the Bahraini context the group has developed into a
relatively moderate, constructive Sunni organization. It and
Al Asala, the Sunni Salafi (more conservative) political bloc
in parliament, often cooperate, particularly on issues
involving religious affairs and morals. Al Minbar, with
seven members, and Al Asala, with five members, comprise 12
of the 40 deputies in the COR, or 30 percent, and they have
emerged as the most potent political force in parliament. Al
Minbar's primary legislative focus has been on a personal
status law that is in line with Islamic Sharia but is
acceptable to all Bahraini citizens, Sunni and Shia alike.
Al Minbar's chairman, physician Salah Ali, is a prominent
advocate for the rights of women and children. Al Minbar has
drafted a bill on child education and proposed the
establishment of family counseling centers. Because of the
size and internal discipline of the Al Minbar voting bloc, it
often plays the role of deal maker/breaker in COR decisions.
3. (SBU) Chairman Ali's moderate image is in marked
contrast with Spokesman Shaikh Mohammed Khalid Ibraheem's
persona. Ibraheem publicly expresses strongly anti-American
views and has refused to meet with American officials. He
has ties with and vocally supports the six Sunni terror
suspects and has organized campaigns calling for the release
of the Bahraini detainees at Guantanamo. He headed protests
against satellite television channel MBC's filming the show
"Big Brother" in Bahrain in February, which led to the
Minister of Information's decision to close down the
Al Asala: Salafis in the Modern Age
4. (SBU) The five members of the COR in the Al Asala bloc
are from the Sunni Salafi offshoot of Islam and adhere to a
strict literal interpretation of Koranic and Hadith
scriptures. Al Asala political bloc is an affiliate of Al
Tarbiya Al Islamiya (Islamic Education) Charity Society, from
which it receives funding. In general, Al Asala does not
take a confrontational stance towards the GOB. Al Asala
President Shaikh Adel Al Moawda told PolFSN that his bloc has
three main goals: to increase the standard of living;
support institutions that will improve political, social and
economic stability; and enhance financial and administrative
oversight. Al Asala has proposed draft legislation to
establish unemployment insurance, criminalize trafficking in
persons, and penalize the press for violating individuals'
5. (SBU) Al Asala's president Al Moawda is poised, western
educated, speaks excellent English and is willing to discuss
any issue with EmbOffs. He spoke out publicly against
Lebanese singer Nancy Ajram holding a concert in Bahrain in
late 2003, but told us he was chagrined that his
outspokenness led to protests and eventually the cancellation
of the concert. Although Al Asala takes a conservative
Islamic stance, Al Moawda has publicly denounced the Taliban
and Al Qaida, and is in favor of allowing women to drive
while wearing the veil, a recent development in Bahrain. An
emerging member of the bloc whose shyness has kept him out of
the public eye is attorney Hamad Al Mohannadi, a legal
technocrat who is focused on amending the COR's bylaws.
Al Islamiya: Shia, but Not Representative
6. (SBU) An affiliate of the Shia Al Rabita Society, Al
Islamiya is the sole Shia-only bloc in the COR. Its seven
members' main goals are to uphold the teaching of Islamic
Sharia and to ensure that legislation does not conflict with
cultural mores and Sharia principles. The bloc is
comparatively large in size but diminutive in power, and Al
Islamiya has been dubbed the "sleeping bloc." Though
two-thirds of the citizens of Bahrain are Shia, they are
underrepresented in parliament because of the boycott of the
2002 elections led by the largest Shia political society, Al
Wifaq. Al Islamiya drafted bills to mandate teaching the
principles of the major sects of Islam in schools and to
establish a drug rehabilitation center. It has been a
proponent of combating unemployment, offering housing for the
poor, providing care for the elderly, and empowerment of
women and children.
7. (SBU) Chairman Ali Al Samaheji laments that his bloc has
little public support. He opposes Al Wifaq's participation
in the 2006 parliamentary elections, understanding
(correctly) that neither he nor his colleagues in Al Islamiya
have much chance of winning races against Al Wifaq candidates.
The Pro-Government Independents
8. (SBU) Despite its name, the eight-member Independent bloc
is a pro-government Sunni grouping. Chairman Abdul Aziz Al
Mousa and Spokesman Abdulla Al Dosari told us that the bloc's
main goals are to uphold the teachings of the National Action
Charter (King Hamad's social contract for democratic reform),
develop public infrastructure, and expand subsidies for
housing, water, electricity and health care. The Independent
bloc uniformly supports GOB positions. Its two major draft
bills concern instituting an airport tax exemption for
Bahrainis and the controversial political societies law,
which seeks to regulate the registration and activities of
political societies (in the absence of legal political
parties). Other parliamentary blocs and various sectors of
society have condemned the draft for its restrictions and
harsh punishments for violations.
Truly Democratic
9. (SBU) The National Democratic bloc has three members who
always reach a unanimous consensus before moving forward on
any initiative. For the past two years it has been the only
bloc with both Sunni and Shia members, until the recent
formation of the Economic Elite bloc. The National
Democratic bloc is the most liberal, active and outspoken
parliamentary group. The members advocate transparency,
accountability, and continued political and economic reform.
It has proposed a number of draft bills to facilitate foreign
direct investment. It is currently working to establish
consumer protection regulations and to form a High Council
for Planning.
New Guys on the Block
10. (SBU) Parliament's newest group is the Economic Elite
bloc. Like the Democratic bloc, its members are both Sunni
and Shia. Bloc member attorney Fareed Ghazi told EmbOffs
that the members formed the bloc to ensure the country's
economic interests are taken into account, especially
following a number of COR proposals and actions such as the
Nancy Ajram and "Big Brother" incidents that angered the
business community and threatened Bahrain's traditional
atmosphere and reputation for openness and tolerance.
Chairman Jassim Hassan Abdul A'al said that the bloc will
work to protect Bahrain's investment climate, with a focus on
making foreign investors comfortable in the country, and
counteract the Islamist tendencies of many COR members.
Member Issa Abu Al Fateh told EmbOffs that he would consider
an alliance only with the National Democratic bloc, though he
would support other blocs' proposals when appropriate.
The Unassociated Members
11. (SBU) The six unassociated members are truly independent
and do not have ties with each other or with any of the
blocs. COR Chairman Khalifa Al Dhahrani is an unassociated
Parliamentary Bloc Rosters
12. (SBU) Al Minbar Bloc members: Dr. Salah Ali Mohammed,
Dr. Shaikh Abdul Latif Ahmed Al Shaikh, Dr. Ali Ahmed
Abdulla, Dr. Saadi Mohammed Abdulla, Abdul Aziz Jalal Al
Meer, Mohammed Khalid, Hassan Eid Bu Khamas
Al Asala Bloc members: (COR Second Deputy Chairman) Shaikh
Adel Abdul Rahman Al Moawda, Hamad Al Mohanadi, Ali Mohammed
Muttar, Dr. Issa Jassim Al Mutawa, Ghanim Fadhel Al Boainain
Al Islamiya Bloc members: Ali Al Samaheji, Shaikh Abdulla Al
A'ali, Ahmed Hussain Abbas, Abbas Hassan Salman, Issa Hassan
bin Rajab, Mohammed Hussain Al Khayat, Mohammed Al Abbas
Independent Bloc members: Abdul Aziz Abdulla Al Mousa, Ahmed
Ibraheem Behzad, Ahmed Abdulla Haji, Sami Al Buhairi, Abdulla
Khalaf Al Dosari, Mohammed Faihan Al Dosari, Mohammed
Ibraheem Al Kaabi, Yousif Hussain Al Hermi
Democratic Bloc members: (COR First Deputy Chairman)
Abdulhadi Marhoon, Abdulnabi Salman, Yousif Zainalabedeen
Economic Elite Bloc members: Jassim Hassan Abdul A'al,
Fareed Ghazi Rafee', Othman Mohammed Sharif, Issa Ahmed Abu
Al Fateh
Unassociated Members: COR Chairman Khalifa bin Ahmed Al
Dhahrani, Dr. Ibraheem Al Abdulla, Jassim Al Saeedi, Jehad Bu
Kamal, Sameer Al Shuwaikh, Jassim Al Mowali
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