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Cablegate: Whatever Happened to Umm Al-Qura?

VZCZCXRO0697
PP RUEHBC RUEHCHI RUEHDA RUEHDE RUEHDT RUEHGI RUEHHM RUEHJS RUEHKUK
RUEHLH RUEHNH RUEHPW RUEHROV
DE RUEHPF #0968/01 3431045
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 081045Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0174
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUCNISL/ISLAMIC COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY 0137
RHMFIUU/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY
RHHMUNA/USCINCPAC HONOLULU HI PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 PHNOM PENH 000968

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR S/CT, EAP/MLS, P, D
NSC FOR L.PHU

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV PTER CB
SUBJECT: WHATEVER HAPPENED TO UMM AL-QURA?

SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Cambodia is home to approximately 320,000
Cham Muslims, the majority of whom belong to the Sunni
Shafi,i school of Islam. From 1975-1979, the Khmer Rouge
ruthlessly targeted the Cham, annihilating all but a few of
the Islamic leaders, teachers, and scholars. In an effort to
rebuild, Muslim communities eagerly accepted outside
assistance. Cambodia is currently home to several non-profit
Islamic organizations which receive tens of millions of
dollars of support from Saudi, Kuwaiti, and other donors. In
May 2004, the Saudi-supported Umm al-Qura Islamic school was
shut down due to alleged ties to Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) leader
and 2002 Bali bombing mastermind, Hambali, who lived in
Cambodia for approximately six months in 2002-2003.
Subsequent to the forced closure of the school, 28 foreign
Muslim teachers were deported by the Cambodian government.
The school has since reopened and is home to over 670 Cham
Muslim students who are taught both religious and secular
subjects. END SUMMARY.

DECIMATION
----------

2. (SBU) The Khmer Rouge targeted the Cham Muslims due to
their religion, perceived difference from "pure" Khmer, and
collective resistance to the regime. It is estimated that
anywhere from thirty to fifty percent of the Cham population
was murdered over the four year period from 1975-1979.
According to research compiled by the Documentation Center of
Cambodia (DC-Cam), there were 300 Islamic religious teachers
and 113 mosques in Cambodia in 1974. By 1980, those numbers
were radically reduced to 38 and 5 respectively. In an
effort to rebuild, Muslim communities readily accepted
foreign assistance, making them more susceptible to outside
influences.

BAD COMPANY
------------

3. (SBU) These outside influences shot into the spotlight in
May 2003 when the al Qaeda linked Jemaah Islmiyah operations
chief, Riduan Isamuddin (better known as Hambali) was
arrested in Thailand. After it was revealed that he had
spent time in Cambodia from September 2002 to February 2003,
RGC police closed the Umm al-Qura school in the outskirts of
Phnom Penh on suspicion of involvement with Hambali,s
terrorist group. Additionally 28 foreign teachers and staff
members were deported by the government and three teachers
(two of whom were from the Umm al-Qura school) where accused
of plotting terrorist attacks against foreign diplomatic and
other targets in Cambodia. In March 2008, the Cambodian
Supreme Court upheld the December 2004 life sentences of the
three men - one Cambodian and two Thai nationals. Hambali,
who was sentenced in absentia along with two others, remains
in extrajudicial detention in Guantanamo Bay where he was
taken after his 2003 arrest.

A NEW BEGINNING
----------------

4. (SBU) Under the close supervision of the mufti, Oknha Sos
Kamry, and scrutiny of the Prime Minister, the Umm al-Qura
school was reopened in September 2004 as the "Cambodian
Islamic Center" (CIC). In Cambodia, the mufti, who is
appointed for life by the Prime Minister, serves as a legal
and religious advisor and is the Muslim community,s supreme
leader. The CIC is part of the Sjil Meunaga Ugama Annikmah
Al Islamia (SMU) network, which consists of approximately 16
schools modeled after those run by the Malaysian Yayasan
Islam Kelantan organization. The mufti informed Poloff in a
December 1 meeting that the CIC is now home to approximately
600 male students hailing from all parts of Cambodia who both
live and study at the school. An additional 70 female
students study and live separately in the village. A low
percentage of girls actually finish the four years of the SMU
education at CIC due to familial obligations, and fewer still
pass the final exam. However, a recent announcement by the
government allowing Muslim students to wear traditional
clothing, including headscarves, is expected to have a
positive effect on female school attendance and completion.

5. (SBU) According to the mufti, the school accepts
approximately 80-100 new students a year regardless of
political affiliation. However, he estimates the majority of

PHNOM PENH 00000968 002 OF 002


the students and families to be Cambodian People's Party
supporters due to the reportedly high approval the Cham have
for the ruling party. In an agreement made with the Prime
Minister, in addition to religious studies CIC provides a
secular education based on the national curriculum. Courses
are taught in Khmer, however, many students speak Bahasa
Malay and several also speak Arabic. All of the teachers can
speak Malay, with 70% able to also read and write in the
Malay language. Additionally, it is a requirement for
teachers to know Arabic in order to teach the Koran. Arabic
language classes are part of the curriculum. The majority of
the current teachers received their training in Malaysia,
with some trained in southern Thailand, Egypt and Saudi
Arabia.

6. (SBU) CIC relies heavily on donor support, including rice
and monetary donations, from Cambodian Islamic communities.
A yearly tuition of $100 per student helps to offset the cost
of running the school. According to the mufti, CIC does not
receive any direct foreign assistance, nor does it employ
foreign teachers. However, among the Cambodian foundations
providing support to CIC is the Cambodian Muslim Development
Foundation, run by Osman Hassan, Secretary of State at the
Ministry of Labor, which reportedly receives substantial
support from foreign donors including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and
Kuwait. (NOTE: It is not clear if foreign private donors are
being tapped to support the CIC. END NOTE.)

A LOOK TO THE FUTURE
---------------------

7. (SBU) After completing the four year program at CIC,
approximately 25% of the students continue their education
abroad, typically in Malaysia, Thailand or UAE. Domestic
Muslim organizations such as the Cambodian Islamic Youth
Association (CIYA) and the Cambodian Muslim Students
Association (CAMSA) routinely provide or help facilitate
scholarships for study abroad. Private colleges, such as the
Al-Manar Islamic college in Malaysia, as well as the Islamic
Development Bank also provide scholarships to Muslim students
in Cambodia. Upon returning to Cambodia, the mufti stated
that the majority of the Cham Muslims open small businesses
rather than become religious teachers due to low salaries.
In this sense, they are contributing to the community by
providing potential jobs and development, but do not directly
contribute to the education of the Cham. The lack of
experienced teachers and inability to provide decent salaries
has resulted in a lower quality of education for those who
only attend Islamic schools as compared to those attending
national schools, which receive government funding.

8. (SBU) COMMENT: Although the CIC has a difficult history
linked to terrorism, the reopening and calculated distancing
from this past under the tutelage of Oknha Sos Kamry has
resulted in one of the only Islamic high schools in Cambodia
which also provides a secular education based on the national
curriculum. Students must take both Islamic and national
standard tests, providing them with a broader vision and more
opportunities upon graduation. The Cambodian government has
shown its willingness to recognize, accept and integrate its
Muslim minority by overtures such as issuing a directive to
allow Muslims to wear traditional clothing in schools.
Furthermore, there are approximately 17 high-ranking Muslim
politicians within the Cambodian government. Based on the
CIC example, government funding of Islamic schools with the
understanding that the school also provide a secular
education could go a long way toward improving education
levels among this historically marginalized Muslim community.
However, despite providing a buffer between donors and the
schools, government-controlled Islamic foundations which
provide needed funds receive monetary donations from Middle
Eastern sources, some with questionable intentions, a
potential source of concern. END COMMENT.
RODLEY

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