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Cablegate: Singapore Haj Decision Attracts Unwanted Media

VZCZCXRO3551
RR RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHGP #2208 3511346
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 171346Z DEC 07
FM AMEMBASSY SINGAPORE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4602
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 2084
RUEHRH/AMEMBASSY RIYADH 0108

UNCLAS SINGAPORE 002208

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV KISL SOCI PHUM SCUL SN
SUBJECT: SINGAPORE HAJ DECISION ATTRACTS UNWANTED MEDIA
ATTENTION


1. (U) The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) will
no longer apply for waivers from the Saudi Arabian government
to allow Singaporean women under 45 years old to travel on
the haj unaccompanied by a close male relative, the Straits
Times newspaper reported on its front page on December 11.
In explaining the decision, MUIS, a governmental statutory
board, noted that the Saudi government had not granted any
waivers for two years. The MUIS spokesman stated, "It is
better to stop the appeals as it avoids complications with
people being unable to go. We do not wish people to get
disappointed at the last minute." The Straits Times article
also noted the deadly stampede during the haj in January 2006
and the fact that women are not allowed to drive in Saudi
Arabia. A wide variety of international news outlets,
including Reuters, Newsweek and the International Herald
Tribune and internet sites such as Salon.com, have picked up
the story.

2. (SBU) Dr. Albakri Ahmad, a senior MUIS official, told us
this was merely a procedural change and blamed the Straits
Times reporter for the global attention. Clearly irritated
by the media attention, he characterized the reporter as
being "naughty" for mentioning the stampede and the driving
restrictions since they had nothing to do with MUIS's
decision. Concerned about a negative reaction by the Saudis,
he wrote a letter to the editor, published on December 12,
thanking the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Singapore for its
"highest level of cooperation" in haj matters.

3. (U) Some Muslims in Singapore have privately criticized
the MUIS decision. One young, female, Muslim Embassy contact
(and recent International Visitor Program returnee)
characterized MUIS's stance as "being complicit in the
process of denying freedom and rights to others."

Visit Embassy Singapore's Classified website:
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/eap/singapore/ind ex.cfm
HERBOLD

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