Viewing cable 06MANAMA192

06MANAMA1922006-02-13 12:19:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Manama
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¶1.  (SBU) Despite being angry and bewildered by the Danish 
newspaper's publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, 
Bahrainis have reacted in a relatively restrained manner 
compared with others in the region and Muslim world.  Both 
Sunni and Shia Bahrainis have participated in entirely 
peaceful demonstrations protesting publication of the 
cartoons.  The people responded immediately to calls for a 
boycott of Danish products, including that of the Bahrain 
Danish Dairy Company which, as owner Ibrahim Zainal has said 
publicly and repeatedly, is 100 percent Bahraini and has no 
connection to Denmark other than the name.  The Cabinet and 
Council of Representatives officially condemned the cartoons. 
 The Danish Consular Agent has publicly and privately praised 
the support of the GOB, and he told the Ambassador that no 
Danes in the country had encountered any problems.  Clerics 
and columnists have weighed in on the issue, some stressing 
the clash of civilizations and other recommending a rational, 
unemotional response focusing on education and 
reconciliation.  End Summary. 
Angry and Confused 
¶2.  (U) Sunni and Shia Bahrainis have responded with anger 
and bewilderment to the controversy surrounding the Danish 
newspaper's publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet 
Mohammed.  Many Bahrainis consider the apologies of the 
Danish government and newspaper to be half-hearted and 
unsatisfactory because the statements were coupled with a 
defense of freedom of expression for an act that is nearly 
incomprehensible to many Muslims.  The Sunni community was 
initially more outspoken in its protest of the cartoons. 
Perhaps because they were distracted by the occasion of 
Ashura (January 31-February 9), Shias were not as outspoken 
but did participate in demonstrations.  Following Lebanese 
Hizballah Secretary General Nasrallah's public call on the 
9th, however, Shias chanted the slogan "We are with you 
Mohammed" during Ashura processions later that day and the 
following day. 
¶3.  (U) Bahrainis participated in demonstrations across the 
country on Friday, February 3 in response to calls by clerics 
and activists.  The demonstrations were entirely peaceful, 
though one politician, the anti-American, anti-Western Sunni 
MP Mohammed Khalid, called for burning Danish products. 
During Ashura processions in Manama's old downtown area, 
participants walked over Danish flags painted on wood that 
were nailed into the street.  (Note:  American and Israeli 
flags received the same treatment.) 
Calls for Boycott Gain Immediate Traction 
¶4.  (U) There were calls for the boycott of Danish (and 
Norwegian) products almost immediately after the controversy 
broke in late January.  The Al Muntazah supermarket chain 
announced it had stopped supplying all Danish products and 
offered a 50 percent discount on its existing stock.  Other 
supermarkets placed signs that Danish products had been 
pulled from the shelves.  The company hit hardest, however, 
is the local Bahrain Danish Dairy Company, a 100 percent 
Bahraini-owned and operated firm producing milk and other 
dairy products.  Owner Ibrahim Zainal has appeared in the 
media repeatedly stating that the only thing Danish about the 
company is its name, a vestige of the pre-1993 period when it 
was operated as a joint venture with a Danish firm.  The 
Arabic daily Al Watan newspaper published an interview 
February 12 with Bahraini employees of the company, who asked 
that their fellow citizens not boycott the company's 
products.  Zainal said he is considering removing the word 
"Danish" from the firm's name. 
¶5.  (U) During its weekly meeting, the Cabinet January 29 
denounced the cartoons.  The Foreign Ministry sent a 
diplomatic note to the Danish government January 28 
complaining about the cartoons and "the indifference of the 
Danish government toward the ongoing protests across the Arab 
world."  The elected lower house of parliament, the Council 
of Representatives (COR), held a special session January 29 
to discuss the issue.  Sunni Salafi Second Deputy Chair of 
the COR Shaikh Adel Al Moawada said he had formed a committee 
called "The Best of People," a reference to Mohammed, to 
combat negative images of the Prophet and Islam, as did 
Salafi MP Shaikh Jassem Al Saeedi, whose committee is called 
"Defending the Prophet."  The Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and 
Industry condemned the cartoons but, despite pressure from 
parliament, did not support implementation of a formal 
boycott against Danish products. 
The Danes Are All Right 
¶6.  (U) Danish Consular Agent in Bahrain Bjarne Bidsted told 
the press February 6 that Bahrain was and always would be 
safe for Danes and other foreigners, despite the Danish 
Foreign Ministry's issuance of a travel warning for Bahrain 
and 13 other countries in the region.  Bidsted said he had 
been based in Bahrain for the past 23 years and had not faced 
any problems.  He praised the Bahraini MFA for being 
attentive to their situation and pointed out that the 
demonstrations had all been peaceful.  "Bahrainis were 
expressing their feelings, something they were entitled to do 
and, as I know, they returned to their homes in a peaceful 
manner without targeting any Dane," he said. 
¶7.  (SBU) The Ambassador spoke with Bidsted February 12 to 
offer assistance.  Bidsted thanked the Ambassador and said 
that the GOB had provided him with additional security for 
his home and workplace.  He had instructed the 75 Danes in 
country to adopt a low profile, in particular to remove any 
stickers or signs that would identify them as Danish.  He had 
received no reports of Danes encountering problems in Bahrain. 
93 Percent Support Boycott 
¶8.  (U) According to a poll conducted by Al Watan newspaper, 
93 percent of some 560 Bahrainis surveyed support the boycott 
of Danish products.  The study also showed that over 
one-third of those surveyed said that the most appropriate 
response to the controversy is to launch a media campaign to 
spread awareness about Islam in Europe.  According to an 
on-line survey of website readers' opinions 
(, as of mid-morning February 13, 80 
percent of the 1,084 respondents support a boycott of Danish 
Clerics, Columnists Add Their Voices 
¶9.  (U) For three consecutive Fridays, clerics have focused 
on the issue in their sermons.  On January 27 and February 3, 
they condemned the cartoons and the papers that printed them, 
saying that the controversy would only make Muslims stronger 
and more loyal to their prophet and religion.  In response to 
violence in parts of the Muslim world, Salafi Shaikh Salah Al 
Jowder February 10 rejected violence and advised that Muslims 
should not allow their anger to cause them to lose their 
"brothers in humanity" and friends in the international 
community.  Sunni preacher Shaikh Juma Tawfiq took a 
different approach, saying that "the war" launched on Muslims 
by the enemies of Islam continued. 
¶10.  (U) Arabic daily Akhbar Al Khaleej Editor-in-Chief Anwar 
Abdul Rahman February 12 criticizes the Danish government for 
refusing to apologize to Muslims for the cartoons.  He calls 
on Muslims to act rationally instead of emotionally and 
argues that the UN should officially ban mocking Islam "just 
as it has banned ridiculing the Holocaust" and equating 
Zionism with racism.  He rhetorically asks the Danish prime 
minister if he would have reacted differently if the 
newspaper had derided the Holocaust. 
¶11.  (U) Sayed Zahra of the same newspaper writes on February 
7 that Muslims have a right to be angry and protest the 
disrespectful cartoons.  However, he rejects resorting to 
violence.  "There are so many civilized ways that Muslims can 
express their resentment toward the incident.  Religious 
leaders, writers, and politicians are responsible for 
reinforcing peaceful and civilized methods of protest." 
Education, Reconciliation, not War 
¶12.  (U) Esmat Al Mousawi of Arabic daily Al Ayam argues 
February 12 that even when Muslims have a good cause, they 
turn the situation against themselves.  Muslims "fell into a 
trap" and acted according to the Western stereotype.  She 
says that neither side has control over its people:  "They 
say they cannot curb freedom of expression and we say we 
cannot curb the anger of our people.  We must start with 
ourselves and reconcile with other Muslims and with our own 
religion before we confront the enemies of our religion." 
¶13.  (U) Sawsan Al Shaer of Al Watan February 13 calls for 
Muslims to reject violence and focus instead on education. 
She suggests the collection of one dollar from each Muslim to 
purchase advertising space in Danish and Norwegian newspapers 
to provide historical background information on Mohammed and 
his just treatment of Christians and Jews.  She adds, 
"Mohammed, who was depicted with a bomb-like turban, is an 
image that was spread and reinforced by Bin Laden.  Instead 
of waging war against the West, we should realize that 
Prophet Mohammed gave us values and principles that we must 
convey to others." 
¶14.  (SBU) Compared with other Arab and Muslim countries, 
Bahrain's reaction to the cartoon controversy has been fairly 
restrained.  Although even the boycott of Danish products 
seems misguided -- it punishes mostly Bahrainis who own or 
work for local firms with real or assumed links to Denmark -- 
it is a non-violent way to express the rejection of and anger 
at the cartoons.  While defenses of freedom of expression are 
convincing to Western ears, they have no resonance in a 
society where religion forbids any drawings of Mohammed and 
other prophets, even if favorable.  Opinion leaders seek to 
use the controversy to suit their own purposes, some to 
divide and others to educate.