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Cablegate: A Sufi and a Wahabi Sit Down to Lunch...

VZCZCXRO2880
PP RUEHROV
DE RUEHDS #2781/01 2531437
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 101437Z SEP 07
FM AMEMBASSY ADDIS ABABA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7762
INFO RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHMFISS/CJTF HOA PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHMFIUU/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ADDIS ABABA 002781

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E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KISL KPAO SCUL ET
SUBJECT: A Sufi and a Wahabi Sit Down to Lunch...


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Summary
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1. (U) Amb. Yamamoto hosted two groups of Ethiopian Muslim leaders
to pre-Ramadan lunches. The first group included the Mufti and
moderate Sufi leaders allied with the Addis Ababa Islamic Council
(AAIC), while the second group was composed of Wahabi Muslim
leaders. While the lunches aimed to open a dialogue between Post
and Muslim leaders, we hosted separate lunches to avoid reported
conflict between the two factions. To Post's surprise, the Wahabis
quickly overcame their suspicion of US motives and engaged in a
lively, frank, and participatory dialogue while the moderate Sufis
remained cordial-but-reserved deferring principally to the Mufti to
uphold dialogue. End Summary.

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Sufis Remain Reserved
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2. (U) Ambassador Yamamoto hosted the Mufti of Ethiopia and several
local Imams for lunch on Sept. 4. Post selected the participants
based on their Sufi orientation and links to the AAIC. Despite the
dozen Sufi participants, lunch conversation maintained the staunch
formality of a first time visiting foreign delegation with the bulk
of the dialogue occurring between the Mufti and one aide on one side
and the Ambassador and Pol/Econ Counselor on the other.
Predictably, the guests spoke fondly of the Ethiopian Government,
highlighted Ethiopia's long history of inter-religious tolerance,
and explained away the recent increase in religious conflict as
being conflicts between individuals that spread to their peer groups
in a religiously diverse setting. The group remained reserved,
speaking predominantly in response to Post's questions with the
exception of one English-speaking MP who only commented to request
that Post to provide $165,000 to help offset recurring
administrative costs to sustain mosque operations. The Mufti
responded positively to Ambassador Yamamoto's plan to fund an Iftar
for the poor at two AAIC-affiliated Mosques on Sept. 17 and 19.

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Suspicious Wahabis Engage
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3. (U) As late as just days before the Sept. 5 lunch for the Wahabi
leaders, those invited remained suspicious of Post's intentions and
had not yet decided whether to attend. After Post's Political
Specialist convinced the group that Post's motive was to listen and
share experiences, the dozen invitees did attend. Ambassador
Yamamoto opened discussion by acknowledging that Americans often
listen too little and emphasized that his goal was for a frank
discussion. While the senior guest, Dr. Jeilan Khedir, commended
the Ambassador -- more comfortable in Arabic than Amharic -- for the
first ever invitation extended to his group by the U.S. Embassy,
other guests quickly seized the invitation for a frank discussion to
note that lack of engagement by the USG allowed the perception of
the U.S. in a war against Islam to take root. The guests quickly
questioned why they had not been invited along with the Sufi group
the day before. Pol/Econ Counselor reversed the question to inquire
about the reported rift between the two sects. Surprisingly, the
guests explained that the two groups were both Muslim and
peace-loving with no real divisions between them - only noting as an
afterthought that they had different interpretations of the Koran.
The Wahabi group too commented favorably about the Ethiopian
Government, noting that it and its ethnic federalist structure
provided far better opportunities for Muslims than any previous
regime. The group also echoed the Sufi group's interpretation of
recent religious conflict as stemming from individuals, and were
emphatic that external influences played no role. While the group
encouraged Post to distribute Korans to poor Muslim communities in
Ethiopia as a means to demonstrate our good will, they did accept
Post's explanation of the first amendment prohibition on promoting
individual religions and were willing to accept USG development and
humanitarian assistance activities as evidence of our intentions in
Ethiopia. The guests who arrived suspicious left gracious and
encouraging further frank dialogue.

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Comment
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4. (SBU) While the Muslim outreach lunches were not groundbreaking,
they certainly challenged the assumptions of Ethiopia's Muslim
leaders and Post alike. Although Post's already enjoys relatively
good relations with the AAIC, hosting the Mufti and Post's planned
Iftars for the poor during Ramadan will certainly strengthen that
relationship. The open discussion with the Wahabi leaders, and more

ADDIS ABAB 00002781 002 OF 002


fundamentally the lunch invitation itself, established a line of
communication previously absent and even taboo. A single lunch
conversation certainly does not change the fundamental, and mutual,
suspicions and reservations between our communities, but it does
provide Post with a link into a growing and increasingly influential
community in Ethiopia and a public diplomacy target audience of
tremendous potential import to our national interests.

5. (SBU) Post's plan to host Iftar dinners for the poor at two local
mosques, rather than the standard Iftar dinner for Muslim elites, is
receiving significant praise in Addis Ababa.

Yamamoto

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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