5.(C) The Bahrain of 2009 is a far cry from the unrest of the 1990s. State security courts have been abolished, street protests are considerably fewer and less violent, and Wifaq, as a legal, parliamentary opposition, has proven its ability to channel most Shia political energy into non-violent protests. Since its 2005 decision to join the parliamentary political process, Wifaq has portrayed itself as a loyal opposition and has won the quiet respect of the interior ministry for its ability to organize peaceful demonstrations of tens of thousands of supporters. The party’s leader, Ali Salman, has told us unequivocally that Wifaq will continue to participate in parliamentary politics because he believes there is more to gain in the long run by participating than by boycotting.
1.(C) Summary: Freedom House announced January 12 that Bahrain had been demoted from “partly free” to “not free” in its 2010 global survey of political rights and civil liberties. Bahrain’s political rights score fell from 5 to 6 (out of 10), triggering the “not free” designation; civil liberties remained at 5. Freedom House asserts that political rights suffered as a result of “harassment of opposition political figures,” namely “the arrests of prominent members of the Haq political society,” and “worsening sectarian discrimination.” The demotion to “not free” surprised officials, politicians, and other embassy sources. Post believes that human rights activists with close ties to the Haq Movement, a Shia rejectionist group, were successful in lobbying Freedom House’s researchers to downgrade Bahrain
5.(C) Comment: While Bahrain’s Shia majority continues to suffer from unequal access to mid- and high-level government jobs, as well as lower socio-economic indicators than the Sunni minority, in post’s view Freedom House’s designation of Bahrain as “not free” is not appropriate. Gerrymandered districts notwithstanding,Bahrain’s citizens enjoy the right to vote for their national and municipal legislators every four years. Political societies and NGOs are active to an extent almost unheard of in the Gulf, even in Kuwait, whichFreedom House designated “partly free.” Freedom House’s definition of “not free” includes the absence of “basic political rights.” This is simply not true of Bahrain. Post believes that radical Shia activists such as Al-Khawaja and fellow Haq ally Nabeel Rajab, head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, likely had undue influence over the Freedom House researchers, who may not have cast a very wide net during their in-country consultations.