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Cablegate: Libyan Change of Eid Al Adha Holiday Prompts Rare Public Grumbling Tripoli 00000961 001.2 of 002

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INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TRIPOLI 000961

SIPDIS

STATE FOR NEA/MAG E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/14/2019 TAGS: PGOV PHUM KISL SOCI LY

SUBJECT: LIBYAN CHANGE OF EID AL ADHA HOLIDAY PROMPTS RARE PUBLIC GRUMBLING TRIPOLI 00000961 001.2 OF 002

CLASSIFIED BY: Gene A. Cretz, Ambassador, U.S. Embassy Tripoli, Department of State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)

1.(C) Summary: A recent decision by Muammar al-Qadhafi to unilaterally change the date of the Eid al-Adha celebration from November 27 to November 26 -- one day before the full Islamic pilgrimage rite had been completed in Saudi Arabia -- provoked confusion, resentment, and some outrage among the Libyan community. In a rare display of defiance in this totalitarian system, at least 16 imams led Eid prayers on November 27, in line with the rest of the world. Some observers believe Qadhafi's controversial decision resulted from his ongoing feud with Saudi Arabia's leadership. Others believe it was political theater, designed to allow Saif al-Islam to play the role of hero, coming to the rescue of the angry Libyan masses. End Summary.

QADHAFI'S INTERVENTION GOES TOO FAR

2.(C) While the Libyan regime prides itself on promoting moderate forms of Islam and serving as a counterbalance to fundamentalist movements, its unique interpretation of Islam sometimes provokes controversy. The Islamic year in Libya, for example, is measured not from the Hijra but rather from the death of the Prophet Mohammed. The GOL-run Center for Remote Sensing, also charged with Libya's space program, is usually the first authority in the world to observe the lunar phases -- due to Libya's convenient position in the earth's rotation -- that mark traditional Islamic celebrations, creating situations where Libya begins and ends the holy month of Ramadan a full day earlier than other Muslim countries. Some Libyans privately attribute this practice to Libya's perpetual quest to stand out from the crowd, with xxxxxxxxxxxx opining that "if you're different, you'll be noticed." Despite the calendar quirks, Libya typically celebrates Youm al-Arafat and Eid al-Adha in line with the rest of the world due to the feast being driven by the events of the Hajj. This year, however, the government announced after the Hajj was underway that the Eid would fall on November 26 -- a day earlier than in Saudi Arabia.

IMAMS PROSECUTED FOR DEFYING LEADER'S ORDER

3.(C) Several local contacts privately told us that they were shocked by the Libyan Government's "unprecedented" decision to celebrate the Eid al-Adha before Saudi Arabia, confirming that the decision sparked an unprecedented degree of public grumbling about the regime. A xxxxxxxxxxxx estimated that only ten percent of the Libyan population celebrated the Eid on November 26. Stressing that Libyans were scandalized by the GOL's decision to mark Eid al-Adha before the full pilgrimage rite had been completed in Saudi Arabia, he said that mosques were largely empty on November 26 but were packed on November 27. He said that Libyan intelligence agents were out in full force in the mosques on November 27, "photographing everyone who was there" and later questioning imams who marked the Eid on November 27.

4.(C) Foreign-based website Libya al-Youm reported November 27 that the government had removed 16 imams from their posts and were investigating their preaching after they ignored the government's Eid decree. Allegedly in response to public pressure, Secretary of the General People's Committee for Religious Endowments and Zakat, Ibrahim Abdulsalam Ibrahim, made a statement December 2 in the Tripoli daily "Oea" newspaper (part of Saif al-Islam's "Al Ghad" media group) denying that any action had been taken against the imams. Ibrahim emphasized that state-funded mosques are bound by the decisions of his ministry and reserved the right to question imams for non-adherence to official policies. One imam told our xxxxxxxxxxxx contact that Saif al-Islam later intervened to stop the investigations against the imams. The xxxxxxxxxxxx commented that the religious community viewed Saif al-Islam's efforts on behalf of the imams as a cynical ploy to enhance his political stature. Rolling his eyes upward, the businessman said that "he" (meaning Libyan leader Muammar al-Qadhafi) wants to portray Saif al-Islam as a savior.

THE CRESCENT MOON RISES EARLIER IN LIBYA

5.(C) After several days of criticism in blogs and opposition websites, Muammar al-Qadhafi made a lengthy public statement defending Libya's decision to observe Eid on November 26 on scientific grounds. During the speech (reminiscent of his description of the effects of jet lag at his address to the UN TRIPOLI 00000961 002.2 OF 002 General Assembly), al-Qadhafi explained that the time difference between Libya and other countries enabled scientists at the Libyan Center for Remote Sensing to detect the crescent moon marking the feast with greater accuracy than other religious authorities; therefore, Libya should celebrate the feast one day earlier than the rest of the world. The explanation did little to quell the rumor in Tripoli that al-Qadhafi had ordered the date change after Saudi officials denied his request to perform the Hajj with an entourage of 800 and to mark the occasion with a short speech at Mecca. In the view of our business contact, al-Qadhafi "wanted to show the Saudis he's different." COMMENT

6.(C) Muammar al-Qadhafi's controversial decision to unilaterally declare the Eid al-Adha celebration one day earlier than the rest of the world can be just as easily attributed to his quirkiness and desire for individuality as to political conspiracy designed to cast his son in a positive light, or yet another episode in his lengthy feud with the Saudis. While the impact of this rare display of public grumbling should not be overstated, Saif al-Islam's quick intervention indicates the Libyan Government recognized the negative effects of its decision to change the date. And Saif al-Islam's intervention may also be interpreted as another sign of his political ascendancy. CRETZ

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