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Cablegate: Growing Wahabi Influence in Ethiopia Tests The

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DE RUEHDS #3230/01 3310920
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O 260920Z NOV 08
FM AMEMBASSY ADDIS ABABA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 2916
INFO RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
RUEWMFD/HQ USAFRICOM STUTTGART GE IMMEDIATE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RUEPADJ/CJTF HOA IMMEDIATE
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
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RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 ADDIS ABABA 003230

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR R AND AF/PAPD

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KPAO KISL SCUL ET
SUBJECT: GROWING WAHABI INFLUENCE IN ETHIOPIA TESTS THE
LIMITS OF TOLERANCE

-------
SUMMARY
-------

1. (SBU) Two recent Public Diplomacy programs have
demonstrated the growing reach and influence of Wahabi
elements in Ethiopian Muslim society. Post's efforts to
translate &The Place of Tolerance in Islam8 into local
languages have come to naught because no Muslim translator in
Ethiopia is willing to do it fearing Wahabi pressure.
Likewise, in the Oromiya Region of Ethiopia, Wahabi influence
is clearly growing rapidly and the Wahabi leadership in the
country is heavily, if not exclusively, Oromo. At the same
time, an Ambassador-hosted lunch with Wahabi and moderate
Sunni leaders, as well as post's on-going Faith Communities
Outreach, shows that there is still common ground between
these two groups and between Christians and Muslims as long
as post does not try to engage these groups in religious
dialogue or attempting to mediate on faith issues. END
SUMMARY.

--------------------------------------
SHEK HUSSEN SHRINE AND WAHABI ATTACKS
ON ETHIOPIAN MUSLIM CULTURE
--------------------------------------

2. (U) In FY-2007, the Ambassador's Fund for Cultural
Preservation (AFCP) made a grant in the amount of $25,600 to
the Oromiya Bureau of Culture for preservation works around
the Shek Hussen (NOTE: This is the official Ethiopian
spelling of &Sheikh Hussein8) Shrine in the Bale Region of
Oromiya Region. PAO, along with a Muslim PAS FSN, and a
representative of the Oromiya Bureau of Culture, visited the
Shrine on a four-day visit to the area to evaluate the work,
document the completed works with photographs, and meet with
local representatives at the Shrine. The project was
completed in a highly exemplary fashion, the work was very
well-done, and the officials at the Shrine were very pleased
with our support. PAO sat on the ground with a group of over
fifty local persons (almost all male) talking about the
Shrine, its history, and the USG's support. Everyone clearly
knew that we were behind the project, they were very pleased
that we saw fit to help them, and more than a hundred people
from the area had benefited economically from wages for
manual labor during the life of the project.

3. (SBU) Officials noted, however, that Wahabis have been
trying for years to close that Shrine, saying it was
&un-Islamic8 and &impure.8 The Bureau of Culture
representative noted that more than thirty smaller, local
shrines (mainly to Sufi saints) in the area had also been
destroyed by Wahabis who often replaced the shrines with
Saudi-style mosques; e.g., mosques that reflect Wahabi
architectural and interior styling. This mainly happened
about five years ago. He also noted, however, that the
Wahabis are no longer trying to shut down Shek Hussen Shrine,
but instead are trying to &purify the rituals8 to remove
all the Ethiopian cultural traditions from the semi-annual
feasts and celebrations held at the Shrine. While this does
represent a softening of Wahabi views in some sense, he also
made it clear that if they have it their way, only
Saudi-Wahabi rituals would be followed in Ethiopia.

4. (U) PAO has also faced questions from young Wahabi student
activists in Bahir Dar and Gondar (well away from Bale) about
why the USG supported the work at the Shek Hussen Shrine.
(COMMENT: This has clearly been a propaganda point of Wahabi
activists in Ethiopia for some time as this project has been
received very favorably by the moderate Muslim community as
it shows support for traditional Ethiopian culture while the
Wahabis were denigrating Ethiopian culture and traditions.
END COMMENT)

5. (U) In the town of Robe, where the travelers stayed
overnight, the first restaurant visited had a separate
section for women and families curtained off in the Wahabi
style. Such sections are not commonly found in Ethiopia
where the vast majority of Muslim women normally wear only a
veil around the head, but not covering the face, and in any
color except black. In the area around Robe and the eighty
miles or so to the Shek Hussen Shrine, PAO noted many women

ADDIS ABAB 00003230 002 OF 003


wearing the black, Wahabi-style abaya with veil covering the
face with only the eyes showing. Approximately one in twenty
women both in the country and in the towns were so attired,
even out in areas where there was no one else in sight, women
so veiled were often seen walking alone. One village near
Robe is even known locally as &little Saudi Arabia8 because
so many people there have moved to Saudi Arabia through work
and marriage.

----------------------------
NO TOLERANCE FOR &TOLERANCE8
----------------------------

6. (U) In another example of growing Wahabi influence in
Ethiopia, the Public Affairs Section has been planning to
translate &The Place of Tolerance in Islam8 into Amharic
and Oromifa for local consumption. However, after
approaching several prominent academics and translators who
are known to post, the job was turned down by every one. One
scholar wrote a letter to the PAO in which he noted how good
the book is, how valid its arguments are, and how much it's
needed in Ethiopia, but he noted that &new schools of Muslim
thought8 in Ethiopia &do not agree with these
interpretations8 and &we no longer think of ourselves as
moderates and Wahabis, but only Muslims.8 Another one
reported in a phone conversation that he would not even
translate the book anonymously, because &they will find out
who did it8 and the Wahabis will exert a lot of pressure
(unspecified) on him and his family. Post is still pursuing
a means of translating this book, but it now appears it may
have to be done outside the country.

--------------------------------------------- -
MUSLIM LUNCHES AT THE RESIDENCE CONTINUE . . .
--------------------------------------------- -

7. (U) On 10 November, Ambassador Yamamoto hosted one of an
ongoing series of luncheons for Islamic clerics and Muslim
leaders, attended by thirteen Muslim leaders, including four
Wahabis. The four Wahabis are Oromo. Discussion focused on
the Mission's approach to &Faith Communities Outreach,8
highlighting several outreach efforts that impacted on the
Muslim community:

a) a Public Affairs grant to the Institute of Ethiopian
Studies to purchase Ethiopian Orthodox icons and Islamic
manuscripts;

b) the recent reconstruction of schools in Addis Ababa and
Dire Dawa by the U.S. Combined joint Task Force-Horn of
Africa (CJTF-HOA);

c) the AFCP project to preserve the Shek Hussen Shrine;

d) the September 2008 Iftar and Meskel (an Ethiopian
Christian holiday) meals that the Ambassador hosted in Bahir
Dar for the Muslim and Christian communities respectively;

e) possible support in the coming months by PAS to do a grant
to the Islamic Affairs Council to do a nationwide survey of
Islamic manuscripts.

On this last point, both the Wahabis and the moderate Islamic
Council were very eager to work with the Embassy on a project
to survey and document Islamic manuscripts. They are both
painfully aware of how much Muslim culture is being siphoned
out of the country by wealthy collectors (both in the Middle
East and Europe), and want to preserve this rich heritage
here in Ethiopia. PAO will explore options on this and
advise Washington elements as planning proceeds.

8. (U) The Grand Mufti of Ethiopia invited the Embassy to
visit the country's oldest mosque with him, which PAO readily
agreed to do. Also, Sheikh Elias Redman, the acting head of
the Islamic Affairs Council, suggested that the Embassy drill
a well in the Wollo Region near the Albuco Mosque, as both
Muslims and Christians would benefit from this project. It
was clear from the lunch conversation that there are many
areas in which the USG can build close and fruitful links
with these two main segments of the Muslim community in
Ethiopia, as long as we focus on cultural initiatives and

ADDIS ABAB 00003230 003 OF 003


practical infrastructure projects (e.g., wells and schools).

--------------------------------------
IFTAR EVENTS HIGHLIGHT U.S. ENGAGEMENT
--------------------------------------

9. (U) We hosted a series of meals for the poorest of people
in the Islamic community during IFTAR in the last two years.
These events provided more positive impact for our Muslim
outreach program, attracting Wahabis and Sunnis alike and
gaining their curiosity, at first, but ultimately
appreciation and support. A common refrain is that the U.S.
is &learning8 to understand other religious beliefs,
overturning al-Jazeera stereotypes of U.S. intolerance.
Certainly our example made a positive impression with the
Islamic clerics and was noted in our luncheons for the Wahabi
and Sunni clerics.

----------
CONCLUSION
----------

10. (SBU) While Wahabi influence continues to grow in
Ethiopia, appealing to the strong sense of cultural pride for
which Ethiopians of all faiths are known may be one way to
counter the influence of these foreign-financed and
influenced activists. Many Ethiopians are well aware of the
lack of assistance that Arab and Muslim countries provide to
Ethiopia and when they see these groups practicing &cultural
imperialism8 against their very old and well-respected
Muslim traditions, it definitely grates on them. The Oromiya
Bureau of Culture representative offered the services of his
office to translate and distribute &The Place of Tolerance
in Islam8 and also to look at doing &The Great Theft,8
both of which were authored by Khalid Abou el-Fadl. PAS will
consider that option, as well as others, but it is vital that
more information by Muslim authors countering Wahabi
influence be made available to Ethiopian Muslims in both
Amharic and Oromifa. Post will also continue on its present
strategy of &Faith Communities Outreach8 (as opposed to
&Muslim Outreach8) as a means of promoting the American
ideals of tolerance, diversity, and mutual respect and
understanding between faiths. This approach of working with
all faith communities has been very well-received here by
both the Muslim and Christian communities and it undercuts
the Islamist argument that the U.S. is only doing &Muslim
Outreach8 because of 9/11 and because &they think Muslims
are terrorists.8 (NOTE: This is another line of argument
pursued by Wahabi activists in public meetings the PAO has
held). Post intends to continue these periodic contacts with
Wahabi leaders, but will concentrate most of its Faith
Communities Outreach efforts through the Islamic Affairs
Council as the voice of moderate Islam in Ethiopia.
YAMAMOTO

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