WikiLeaks: Sheikh Isa Qassim’s Ashura Sermon in 2009 & Account of Iranian Envoy to Manama (Part 6)

2016-11-24 - 5:13 am

Bahrain Mirror (Exclusive): During the Ashura season in January 2009, the US Embassy in Manama sent two cables to the US Department of State; one on prominent activist Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja's speech and another about the central Ashura address of the Bahraini Shia spiritual leader Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim.

See: Al-Khawaja's 2009 Ashura Speech: "The Ruling Gang" in US Cable and Justin Gengler's Book (Part 5)

Since Ashura sermons are one of the main lines that draw the general Shiite political mood, the US Embassy continued to follow up the commemoration rites of this religious occasion steadily, particularly the central address delivered during the commemoration rituals.

While a separate cable was devoted to discussing Al-Khawaja's speech, the first cable spoke of the central Ashura speech delivered by Sheikh Isa Qassim, which included an attack on the Government of Bahrain (GOB) over its relations with the United States, and condemnation of US policy due to the American stance regarding the war on Gaza (2008-2009).

This address had controversial consequences, as more relevant US cables were sent raising suspicions about the Iranian envoy to Bahrain after the Bahraini King held an urgent summit in reaction to the war waged on Palestine's Gaza strip.

The US Embassy in Manama was concerned of potential Bahraini-Iranian cooperation, thus the Bahraini Foreign Ministry was compelled to deny this accusation and clear the King's name of any mention of coordination with Iran.

Cable: Top Cleric Hits US-Bahrain Ties over War on Gaza and Shia Grievances

The Embassy cable, sent on January 8, 2009 and classified by Chargé d'Affaires (CDA) Christopher Henzel as confidential, tackles Sheikh Isa Qassim's sermon delivered on Ashura. The cable describes the said address as an "attack" and says "is widely viewed as having crossed an informal red line into criticism of Bahrain's security relationship with the US."

This cable reflects how much US diplomats were concerned over Sheikh Isa's sermons, taking into account their role as a main source of political motivation and mobilization in Bahrain whether with regards to local or international issues.

The cable stresses that "Bahrain's top Shia cleric implied the GOB had "sold out" to the U.S.  There are numerous calls for more demonstrations," noting that "an official expressed fear of popular reactions, urged the U.S. to press Israel to better protect civilians, and expressed support for Egypt's approach."

In one of the cable's paragraphs entitled "Top Cleric Hits U.S.-Bahrain Ties," the Embassy mentions that in a January 7 sermon, the island kingdom's "most popular Shia cleric Shaikh Isa Qassim said the "silence" of most Arab governments on Gaza amounted to collaboration with Israel and the U.S. Some of these Arab governments had "sold out" by accepting U.S. protection in exchange for silence."

"The sermon was reported in local newspapers and websites, and is widely viewed as having crossed an informal red line into criticism of Bahrain's security relationship with the U.S.," it added.

Gaza, Karbala and Shia Grievances

In an peculiar interpretation, the US Embassy said that Sheikh "Qassim's attack reflected sincere anger in reaction to events in Gaza, but was also calculated to put pressure on the GOB to address the grievances of Bahraini Shia."

As for the commemoration events, the cable read that "Bahrain's large Ashura processions January 6 and 7 were orderly, but included several speeches from radical Shia leaders equating Gazans' suffering with the Shia passion story, and criticizing the GOB over domestic issues."

"There were several unauthorized small demonstrations late January 8 in predominantly Shia areas. Numerous Shia and Sunni clerics have called for pro-Palestinian demonstrations after Friday prayers tomorrow, January 9. Local media featured prominently more gruesome photos from Gaza," it further read.

A previous cable had predicted that opportunity for larger anti-Israel and anti-west gatherings "will come during Ashura processions late January 6 and during the day January 7," noting that "Sunni and Shi'a generally attended separate demonstrations."

The emergency action committee at the Embassy had held a meeting on on security implications of local reactions.

Foreign Minister: Bahrain's Leaders "Fear" Popular Reaction

In a routine manner, the Bahraini state officials exchanged communications with the US Embassy on the developments in the country. The cable said that the Bahraini Minister of Foreign Affairs "Undersecretary Abdulaziz bin Mubarak Al Khalifa told CDA January 8 that the GOB was ‘shocked' at the scale of civilian suffering in Gaza. He said Bahrain's leaders ‘fear how the man in the street here will react.'"

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"Because of this, he said, King Hamad would convene later that day an extraordinary meeting of Bahrain's cabinet to ‘raise the profile' of Bahrain's opposition to Israeli actions in Gaza."

In an official government reaction to mollify the frustration of the people in Bahrain, the undersecretary "requested that the USG urge Israel to exercise restraint in order to avoid additional civilian casualties in Gaza. CDA cited U.S. financial support for UNWRA and senior USG public statements on the priority of the protection of noncombatants, but undertook to convey the Bahraini request to Washington."

However, Abdulaziz said Bahrain ‘fully backs' the Egyptian approach to Gaza.

King Calls for Emergency Summit: Concern over Events in Gaza and Mollifying Domestic Public Opinion.

The US Embassy followed up closely the Bahraini government's stances on the events taking place in Palestine.In a pr evious cable, the Embassy described these stances by stressing that the Government of Bahrain condemned Israel in strident terms for the Gaza conflict, but was more measured and pragmatic in private, adding that government officials hoped that U.S. and moderate Arab diplomatic efforts "could produce an outcome that minimized sympathy for Hamas and damage to moderate Arab governments standing with their streets."

Another cable mentions that Bahrain's King Hamad called for an Arab-Islamic summit to address the Gaza situation if it was not possible to convene an Arab summit.

It said that "the King's statement -- that an Islamic summit should discuss Gaza if it proved impossible to convene an Arab summit -- along with announcements January 8 of donations to Palestinian causes from the King's personal account, more government aid for Gaza, and offers of free treatment at Bahraini state hospitals for injured Gazans, were all well received in local mainstream media and on most blogs," adding that "these gestures also probably helped keep calm the large (for Bahrain) demonstrations Friday, January 9. Crowds hailed the King while denouncing Israel, the U.S., and Egypt."

Iranian Envoy

On January 11, 2009, a US Embassy cable reported the Bahraini Foreign Ministry's justification regarding the Government of Iran envoy's (GOI) visit to the country, following the King's call for an emergency Islamic summit on Gaza.

The cable says that both Ministerial advisor Saeed Al Faihani and Under Secretary Abdulaziz Al Khalifa claimed Bahrain had not coordinated with any other government or the OIC in advance of the King's statement. They added that the Iranian's visit had been planned for the previous week but postponed, and reiterated that the Iranians had not been informed in advance  of the King's summit idea.


"Al Faihani and Under Secretary Abdulaziz Al Khalifa -- told CDA separately that King Hamad's call January 8 for an Islamic summit on Gaza was a unilateral GOB gesture aimed at raising the profile of Bahrain's concern over events in Gaza, and mollifying domestic public opinion," the cable further read.

"However, Iran's Embassy in Manama announced January 10 that a GOI envoy, Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Mohamed Hussain Safar Harendi would soon visit Bahrain and the UAE with messages on Gaza for heads of state. When a journalist asked the Iranian Embassy spokesman whether the message was a response to King Hamad's call for an Islamic summit, the spokesman said ‘Iran always supports such summits.'"

The Embassy concludes this cable with comment stating: "The Bahrainis probably did intend their Islamic summit proposal as a sop to domestic opinion, but may have inadvertently created an opening for Iran."

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