Final WikiLeaks Cables: US Embassy Says Mushaima’s Ashura Speech in 2009 More Restrained, Expressed Respect for King (Part 7)
2016-11-25 - 12:41 am
Bahrain Mirror (Exclusive): In a cable disclosed by WikiLeaks, dating back to October 2009, the United States Embassy in Manama, in reference to the establishment of "Al Wafa' (Loyalty) Islamic Movement" led by detained activist Abdulwahab Hussein, noted that "the Ashura holiday in late December, when tens of thousands of Shia will concentrate in central Manama for religious processions, might provide an insight into Wafa's strength."
"In recent years Haq has tried, with little success, to turn the processions into political happenings. Wafa' may try this year to use the processions to demonstrate that it is the new voice of the Shia fringe," it added.
The final US Embassy cable on Ashura in Bahrain that WikiLeaks managed to leak was of Canonical ID "09MANAMA609_a" and classified as confidential. It discussed the Ashura commemorations during December of 2009. Al Wafa' movement was not present during Ashura as the Embassy expected, but Haq was rather the group that continued to focus on the political aspect of this religious occasion and identifying itself as a separate movement with a political vision different than that of Al-Wefaq Society, the mainstream Shia opposition party in Bahrain.
The Haq political movement during Ashura; however, had a different tone, as in the event, its leader Mushaima "seemed more restrained this year, with the notable exception of his ‘warning' that political naturalization might eventually lead to ‘civil war.'" Even the US Embassy found that there was a remarkable change in Mushaima's rhetoric, as "many were curious to see whether Haq would repeat its performance during the January, 2009 Ashura when Musheima denounced King Hamad as a ‘gangster' and other Haqis called for revolution," according to the Embassy.
Did the Ashura 2009 political stance of Haq witness a potential transition; did it prove that it no longer has a strict tone and might have become more flexible and inclined towards negotiations; or did it give hope that the anti-regime political groups will seek options other than a revolution that Haq threatened with the year before?
The Embassy did not see that yet highlighted that Mushaima "pointedly expressed respect for King Hamad and denounced government corruption only in general terms - he did not name, as he has in the past, the Prime Minister, who is the usual target of such allegations."
December 2009 Cable: Larger-than-Usual Number of Omani Shia, Men Significantly Outnumbered Women
The report, classified as confidential, was sent to the US State Department on December 29, 2016, signed by Ambassador Adam Ereli.
In the summary of the report, the Embassy pointed out that "as is traditional, community leaders ensured that politics took a back seat to popular piety."
Entitled "Shia Commemorate Ashura peacefully," the report said that "an estimated 80,000 to 120,000 people crowded into the narrow streets of central Manama during the night of December 26-27 to mark Ashura, the Shia commemoration of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein at Karbala in 680 AD," adding that "tens of thousands of men from Bahrain's predominantly Shia villages were joined by large contingents from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, Oman, and South Asia."
The cable also said that several Bahraini contacts commented on the larger-than-usual number of Omani Shia who participated this year.
"As usual, Shia community leaders worked successfully with Bahraini authorities to ensure that the emotional processions took place without incident," it noted, further stating that "aside from a few traffic police who kept vehicles out, there was no visible police presence in the warren-like streets of the Maharqa neighborhood of Manama where the main processions took place."
In the comments, the Embassy highlighted that "men significantly outnumbered women in the streets. The women in attendance wore black abayas and headscarves, many worn in the style of a chador, and most confined themselves to specially sectioned-off areas along the main parade routes or balconies above the fray. Nevertheless, emboffs [Embassy officials] observed scores of younger, self-confident women moving among the crowd in groups of two or three."
Bigger Crowds, Less Blood
The Embassy said that its contacts agreed with Embassy officials that "the streets seemed
even more packed than during the last few Ashuras," noting that the officials also "observed only a few mourners who had drawn their own blood during more than three hours of processions, a marked change from recent years," in reference to the bloodletting mourning practice of "Tatbir".
"Most of the chanting mourners struck their chests lightly with their fists," it added. It is worthy to note that the Embassy wrote a side note in the same paragraph pointing out that "Shia religious leaders have increasingly discouraged "tatbir," the practice of drawing blood with swords or heavy flails, and encouraged instead participation in the Red Crescent's Ashura blood-drive."
Pictures of Khamenei and Nasrallah's Speech
The cable also highlighted that "posters lionizing Iranian or Hizballah clerics were once common at Ashura. Since 2006, when the mainstream Wifaq party agreed to participate in elections, they have become less prominent."
"The few we spotted this year were pictures of Ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamenei inside tents run by ma'tams -- societies of Shia laymen. The Wifaq tent broadcast Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah's Ashura remarks," the cable further read.
More Restrained Haq Speech, Warning of Civil War
Concerning the Haq Movement, the Embassy said that "although there is a consensus among mainstream Shia that the Ashura processions in downtown Manama should be kept apolitical, the radical Shia Haq movement has set up a podium each of the past few Ashuras opposite the Khawaja mosque, an epicenter for Ashura ceremonies."
The Embassy report further stated that "after midnight, a small crowd of about 300 gathered there for Haq leader Hassan Musheima's speech. Many were curious to see whether Haq would repeat its performance during the January, 2009 Ashura when Musheima denounced King Hamad as a ‘gangster' and other Haqis called for revolution."
"In the event, Musheima seemed more restrained this year, with the notable exception of his ‘warning' that political naturalization might eventually lead to ‘civil war,'" it added, noting that they "suspect this will sound to most Sunnis more like a threat than a warning."
The Embassy cable also mentioned that "he pointedly expressed respect for King Hamad and denounced government corruption only in general terms - he did not name, as he has in the past, the Prime Minister, who is the usual target of such allegations."
In a final comment, the cable stated that "Haq might inspire some Shia with its radical rhetoric at Ashura, but we suspect it alienates more who see it as exploiting Ashura for politics. Most Bahraini Shia value an understanding with the government that enables them to mark Ashura more lavishly than any other Shia community in the GCC. Recent years, including this year, saw weeks of planning and collaboration between the government and Shia religious leaders in the lead-up to Ashura. This cooperation produced yet another peaceable mass religious ceremony for Shia from around the region."
comments powered by Disqus