Cablegate: Bahraini Civil Society Organizations

Published: Tue 6 Oct 2009 11:11 AM
DE RUEHMK #0587/01 2791159
R 061159Z OCT 09
C O N F I D E N T I A L MANAMA 000587
E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/06/2019
REF: A. 04 MANAMA 1503
B. 08 MANAMA 168
Classified By: CDA Christopher Henzel for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).
1.(SBU) Summary: This message serves as a primer on Bahrain's primary civil society organizations (CSOs). It should be read in conjunction with septel describing the relationship between CSOs and the Ministry of Social Development.
2.(SBU) There are over 500 civil societies in Bahrain, all of which were required by law to register initially with the Ministry of Social Development (MSD). Most of them are either sports organizations or essentially defunct. The GOB classifies the remainder as professional, human rights, women's rights, youth, or topical (i.e. pro-animal or pro-environment) organizations. Churches and religious groups must also register with the MSD. There are numerous organizations, primarily human rights-focused or religious, that are not registered either because they failed to apply, applied and were denied, or had their registration revoked. In some instances, the MSD may determine that a group must also seek approval from another ministry, such as the Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs or the Ministry of Information and Culture.
3.(SBU) Following are the major, non-professional, civil society organizations operating in Bahrain: Human Rights ------------
4.(C) Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRS); Led by former Wa'ad (legacy socialist party) board member Abdulla Alderazi. BHRS has established a reputation as a respected human rights NGO and enjoys a solid working relationship with both the government and opposition. In our experience, BHRS is generally the most balanced in its approach, carefully considering available evidence from all sides before issuing statements. The group maintains good contacts within the international human rights community and has proven capable of running programs and grants from MEPI and non-USG sources. BHRS focuses primarily on the GOB's respect (or lack thereof) for the rights of Bahrainis. It usually does not deal with the concerns of third-country nationals in Bahrain, or of Bahrainis abroad.
5.(C) Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) (unregistered): Led by Shia secularist Nabeel Rajab. Rajab broke from BHRS to found BCHR in 2000, and maintains collegial relations with other human rights activists. The GOB ordered BCHR disbanded and blocked access to its offices in 2005 after then-executive director Abdulhadi Al Khawaja, an outspoken Shia rejectionist now working for the international human rights NGO Front Line, criticized the government and royal family (ref A). Al Khawaja was charged in January for calling for the overthrow of the regime (ref C). Rajab's credibility suffered in June when he stood by assertions that GOB security forces abducted and beat a Shia man, Jaffer Kadhem. The investigation later showed that Kadhem was in a relationship with the sister of the two men who attacked him to defend the family's honor. Kadhem, the young woman, and her family subsequently confirmed the sequence of events to police and other human rights entities. BCHR maintains relations with the rejec tionist Haq movement. BCHR focuses on GOB activities towards Bahrainis and on Bahrainis abroad.
6.(C) Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society (BHRWS): Led by Shura Council member Faisal Fulad (Note: The 2005 Bandar report alleged Fulad was involved in attempts to change the demographics of Bahrain's sectarian population. End Note). BHRWS was founded and previously led by now-Ambassador to the U.S. Houda Nonoo. Most Bahrainis see BHRWS as closely tied to the government, especially given that it registered only months after BCHR was ordered dissolved. Nonoo and Fulad stridently deny the allegation. The group currently focuses on treatment of expatriate workers and Bahrainis abroad; little focus on alleged GOB actions towards incarcerated Bahrainis.
7.(C) Bahrain Transparency Society (BTS): Led by Shia oppositionist Abdulnabi Al Ekry. BTS' credibility took a big hit in early 2008 when the previous board "misplaced" all of its files and financial records. Al Ekry and a new board took office that spring with the goal of restoring the group's reputation. Transparency International (TI) threatened to cancel BTS' affiliation, but relented when the board was replaced. Al Ekry, a former exile, remains an outspoken critic of both the government and of other NGOs. BTS focuses on government actions towards Bahrainis and corruption. (NOTE: BTS received grants from MEPI Washington in 2005-2006, but failed to account adequately for several thousand dollars. Despite Al Ekry's attempts to clear the books, BTS still has one MEPI grant for which financial accountability paperwork remains outstanding. Post remains skeptical of working again with BTS given this history. End Note.)
8.(C) Migrant Workers Protection Society (MWPS): Bahraini Mona Al Moayyed is the titular head of MWPS, while British national Beverly Hamadah runs day-to-day activities. MWPS focuses on assisting migrant workers, chiefly through its shelter. MWPS leadership believes it must tread carefully because its membership is overwhelmingly expatriates (there are only four Bahrainis in the society - one of whom is a naturalized Indian) and its clientele are exclusively third country nationals. Fearing it might provoke powerful business interests, MWPS avoids involvement in political advocacy and focuses on providing direct assistance to those in need. Originally part of BCHR, MWPS registered as a separate organization after the GOB ordered the Center dissolved. Though often critical of the government, MWPS maintains excellent relations with the GOB, and sits on the national Trafficking in Persons committee chaired by the Foreign Ministry. Women's Rights --------------
9.(C) Bahrain Women's Union (BWU): Led by Mariam Al Ruwaie. BWU was established to bring several women's societies together under one umbrella. It maintains a reputation as an effective advocate for a range of women- and family-specific concerns, although it has kept the adoption of a comprehensive personal status law for Sunnis and Shia as its primary focus. When the government, faced with strong opposition from the Shia community, adopted a Sunni-only family law in June, BWU continued to push for a Shia family law, while training women, lawyers, and judges in the new legislation. BWU works closely with both Freedom House and Vital Voices.
10.(SBU) Bahrain Women's Society (BWS): Led by Wajeeha Baharna. BWS frequently works with BWU, particularly on family law. Post has worked with BWS' "Be Free Center," which works with abused children, and advocates on behalf of stateless children. In 2006, BWS withdrew a MEPI grant application in protest over the Israeli incursion into Lebanon, citing the use of cluster munitions on areas inhabited by children. BWS began reexamining its relationship with the USG early this year, and has explored grant opportunities through both the MEPI small grant program and the Forum for the Future alumni program.
11.(C) Supreme Council for Women (SCW): Led by Lulwa Awadhi (septel), and chaired by the King's wife Sheikha Sabeeka. SCW's members are primarily wealthy, middle-aged and older women, many of whom are the wives of prominent government officials and businessmen. SCW advocacy often overlaps with that of the BWU. Since SCW sees itself as a government organization, not a CSO, its relationship with BWU has been tumultuous, although it has improved since 2005. SCW has proven difficult for us to work with, and we typically ascribe those difficulties to Awadhi. SCW focuses on family law and developing the political capacity of Bahraini women. It also has an affiliate youth branch that is fairly active.
12.(SBU) Bahrain Businesswomen's Society (BBS): Led by Mona Al Moayyed. BBS members are generally prominent businesswomen, and the society focuses on empowering and creating opportunities for women in business. BBS has a MEPI small grant to advocate for a government set-aside for women-led businesses. Member Afnan al-Zayani sits on the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce board. Youth Societies ---------------
13.(C) Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR) (unregistered): Led by Mohammed Al Maskati. Al Maskati worked for BCHR and recently married Abdulhadi Al Khawaja's daughter. BYSHR alleges that it has been denied permission to register because of its close relationship with BCHR, while the GOB asserts it is because many of BYSHR's members are below MSD's age threshold. BYSHR maintains relationships with international human rights NGOs. It focuses primarily on domestic GOB activities, although Al Maskati maintains an interest in regional human rights concerns.
14.(SBU) Bahrain Youth Forum Society (BYFS): Led by Fatima Ali. A disgruntled former member, who lost an election to the board, levied corruption charges against BYFS leadership in the summer of 2008. When MSD found the charges baseless, the member (a journalist) brought a civil suit against MSD and BYFS; the suit remains pending. BYFS is a multi-sect society, comprised primarily of well-off Bahrainis in their twenties. The society organizes social activities, but has little to no advocacy focus.
15.(SBU) Other less prominent youth organizations, such as Al-Shebabiya and Bahrain Youth Democratic Society, fluctuate in their activity levels. Many more youth organizations exist on paper and may have offices in the new MSD youth building on Al-Budaiya highway, but are not active. Topical -------
16.(SBU) Environmental Friends Society (EFS): Led by Khawla Al Muhannadi, who works at the Prime Minister's Court. EFS is the fastest growing non-political NGO in Bahrain. Its membership grew from three in 2000 to over 1,000 today. EFS has strong working relations with regional environmental organizations, as well as with Bahrain's municipal councils. EFS has run programs encouraging recycling, protecting marine life, and energy efficiency. 17. (C) Batelco Care Center for Victims of Domestic Violence (BCC): Led by Dr. Bana Buzaboon. BCC obtained initial funding from the parastatal telecom Batelco, but is not otherwise linked to the company. Buzaboon is one of only a handful of clinical psychologists in the country. BCC works with Vital Voices, the National Family Justice Center, and has a MEPI small grant to train judges and lawyers on how to treat victims of domestic abuse. HENZEL
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