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Cablegate: Embassy Madrid Strengthens Muslim Outreach

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS MADRID 003887

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SOCI KPAO KISL SP
SUBJECT: EMBASSY MADRID STRENGTHENS MUSLIM OUTREACH


1. (U) SUMMARY. Embassy Madrid began its efforts for
Muslim outreach in Spain by hosting the visit of Abdulwahab
Alkebsi, Program Officer for the Middle East at the National
Endowment for Democracy and the Department's first
participant in the "Citizen Diplomat" program, September 29 -
October 2. Alkebsi met with Muslim associations, Spanish
think tanks, members of the press, and government officials
during his visit. Embassy officials accompanied Alkebsi to
an introductory meeting with Mercedes Rico Carabias, the
Director General for Religious Affairs at the Ministry of
Justice. END SUMMARY

2. (U) Alkebsi met with several prominent members of the
Madrid Muslim community during his visit. Poloff and members
of the Public Affairs section accompanied Alkebsi to his
meeting with Ebrahem Alzaid, the Director of the Islamic
Cultural Center, on September 30. Alzaid appreciated the
contact with the Embassy and promised to keep the Embassy
apprised of future Islamic cultural events in Madrid. The
Islamic Cultural Center also houses a mosque, informally
dubbed the "M30 Mosque" due to its location along the M30
highway. The mosque is the largest mosque in Spain and its
leaders play a strong role in influencing public attitudes
towards Islam in Spain. Alkebsi also met prominent members
of Spanish Muslim associations; members of the Spanish press,
including a sit-down interviews with El Mundo and TVE; a
senior analyst on Arab issues at the Elcano Royal Institute,
a Spanish think tank; and the president of Carta
Mediterranea, an organization dedicated to reaching out and
working with civil society in the Arab and Mediterranean
Europe regions.

3. (U) Embassy officials, including Charge, accompanied
Alkebsi,to his meeting with Mercedes Rico Carabias, Director
General for Religious Affairs at the Ministry of Justice.
The introductory meeting was meant to inform the GOS that the
USG would be creating a Muslim outreach program in Spain and
that the visit of "Citizen Diplomat" Alkebsi was an example
of the type of programs to expect. Rico Carabias explained
that a large part of her job is opening bridges to the Muslim
community, particularly after the March 11 massacre in
Madrid. She stated that, although the Catholic church has
traditionally received special considerations from the state,
the government has tried to be more inclusive of other
religions. The GOS is trying to implement expanded public
funding and tax benefits comparable to the advantages the
Catholic church receives to members of the Protestant,
Muslim, and Jewish communities. She hopes that in the future
Muslim communities in Spain will not have to rely entirely on
foreign financing and that the GOS can make Muslims realize
that they care what happens to their communities. Rico
Carabias also talked of the GOS extending suffrage in local
elections to Spanish residents or EU residents; this would
give many Muslim communities a larger voice in local politics
as many Spanish Muslims are new arrivals who have not
obtained Spanish nationality.

4. (U) COMMENT. Alkebsi's visit allowed the Embassy to
have its first contact with several members of the local
Muslim community, including the leaders of the "M30 Mosque".
His status as a "Citizen Diplomat" not affiliated with the
USG and his previous experience with political leaders and
the press greatly assisted Embassy efforts to strengthen
Muslim outreach efforts in Spain.
ARGYROS

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