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Cablegate: Iftar with Addis Ababa's Poorest

VZCZCXRO3357
PP RUEHROV
DE RUEHDS #2945 2741419
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 011419Z OCT 07
FM AMEMBASSY ADDIS ABABA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8009
INFO RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHMFISS/CJTF HOA PRIORITY
RHMFIUU/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY

UNCLAS ADDIS ABABA 002945

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR R, AF/E, AND AF/PD

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KPAO KISL PREL ET
SUBJECT: IFTAR with Addis Ababa's poorest


Breaking Bread with the Poor
----------------------------

1. Ambassador and Political Specialist have quietly and without
publicity visited three mosques during the past two weeks, meeting
with clerics and distributing food to some of Addis Ababa's poorest
people during the Iftar breaking of the fast at sunset. While these
"Iftars for the Poor" have been done without publicity, the word has
spread throughout Addis Ababa's Muslim, where over 35 percent of the
3.5 million population are Muslim. While Iftar meals with the elite
Muslim community are important, and the Ambassador continues to do
such programs, breaking bread with the people served by the Muslim
clerics has proven more effective in reaching out to the Muslim
community and underscoring to Muslim leaders that the U.S. takes a
deep and continuing concern for the community.

2. Religious leaders, from the pro-government Islamic Supreme
Council to the Wahabi clerics at odds with the government, have
praised our private efforts. They have remarked to the Ambassador
in private that even the Saudi Arabian Embassy and Saudi officials
have not taken an interest or involvement in Iftar or Ramadan
programs with the Muslim faithful and they need to learn from the
Americans.

Interconnecting with the Muslim Community
-----------------------------------------

3. The Embassy began an aggressive Muslim outreach program this Fall
with luncheons for Muslim religious and community leaders. They
included the clerics from the Islamic Supreme Council, supported by
the Government, and religious leaders from Wahabi and other groups
not supported by the government. While Wahabi leaders were
suspicious of the invitations to the American Embassy -- the very
first ever received by the Wahabis and other Muslim groups -- they
now welcome the dialogue and fellowship. We have been able to
develop positive communication with all major Muslim groups in
country. With Islam soon to be the dominant religion in Ethiopia
with 45 percent of the overall current population of Ethiopia (35
percent in Addis Ababa), the Embassy felt it important to reach out
to the Muslim community regularly and not just during Ramadan.

4. After Ramadan, the Ambassador will continue visiting mosques of
various Muslim groups. U.S. civil affairs units from the U.S.
military camp in Djibouti (CJTF-HOA) have begun, and will continue,
to refurbish Muslim schools in Dire Dawa, build wells and other
construction projects in eastern Ethiopia, as well as begin projects
in Addis Ababa in the Muslim community, in addition to projects in
predominately Orthodox Christian communities -- the bulk of projects
thus far. The Embassy has been very careful to coordinate and
inform the government and religious leaders in both the Muslim and
Orthodox Christian communities of our activities to ensure there is
no misunderstanding or undue friction.

Comment
-------

5. Our activities have been met with positive responses but we need
to tread lightly around some intra-religious problems such as
disputes with the Saudi Government over visas to Mecca. The Saudi
Government has placed severe restrictions on Ethiopian Muslims in an
effort to advance the spread of Wahabism, as well as to cut down on
economic migrants to Saudi Arabia. The Muslim clerics consider the
restrictions on visas to Mecca as a source of friction with the
Saudi Government and have raised this issue with us. Further,
Ethiopia's Muslims are not immune from the views and sentiment of
Americans held in the Middle East, and Muslim clerics here have
asked us, advised us, and pressed us to become more sensitive and
understanding of political issues that affect the Muslim community
around the world. They have also raised economic support for Muslim
companies and activities in Ethiopia. More than Iftar meals, we
have a long way to go in developing ties to the Muslim community
here in Ethiopia. End Comment.

YAMAMOTO

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