Cablegate: Mission Spain Roundtable On "Entrepreneurship Summit"

DE RUEHMD #1234/01 3621639
P 281639Z DEC 09




E.O. 12958: DECL: N/A

REF: (A) STATE 112468; (B) MADRID 1149; (C) MADRID 1144


1. SUMMARY: As part of Post's ongoing outreach to migrant,
ethnic, and other marginalized communities, and in response to
tasking in reftel (A), Embassy Madrid hosted a roundtable on
December 17 with Muslim entrepreneurs, representatives of NGOs
and institutions representing Muslim interests, and academics,
including nominees for the Entrepreneur Summit. Participants
highlighted some of the challenges faced by Muslim
entrepreneurs - and Muslims in general - including negative
stereotyping; informal discrimination; institutional
discrimination in Spanish laws that restrict Muslims' ability
to gain residency and establishing businesses; barriers and
taboos within Muslim communities with respect to the
participation of women in the workplace; language barriers;
access to credit; and the lack of consensus and coordination
among Spain's two main Muslim federations. There was general
agreement on the importance of education and the promotion of
entrepreneurship from an early age, dissemination of
information about entrepreneurship and economic opportunities,
and the need to strengthen institutions that support and
promote entrepreneurship and access to credit. END SUMMARY

2. In opening remarks as host, the Public Affairs Officer
(PAO) linked the roundtable to the initiative proposed by
President Obama in his June 5 speech at Cairo University to
hold a "Summit on Entrepreneurship" early in 2010, and
characterized the roundtable as part of the Embassy's ongoing
dialogue with a cross-section of Spanish society, including
immigrants, Muslims and other marginalized groups.

3. Participants reached back centuries to the 1492 surrender
of the last Muslim kingdom in Spain and the subsequent
expulsion of the Muslim population from the peninsula in 1609
to emphasize that a negative image of Islam has been burnished
in Spanish culture; this legacy, coupled with more the more
recent experience with Islamic terrorism, extremist Islamic
ideologies, language barriers, the relatively recent influx of
Muslim immigrants, and the lower economic status of the Muslim
immigrant communities all contribute to negative stereotyping
of Muslims in Spain. (One participant referred
to "Islamophobia").

4. Participants noted that some obstacles to Muslim
entrepreneurship and integration are due to discrimination by
Spanish Government (GOS) regulations or by Spanish society in
general. For example, they felt that Spanish immigration law
discriminated against Arab and Muslim immigrants, who have to
wait nearly twice as long as Latin American immigrants (i.e.,
10 or more years) to obtain legal, permanent resident status or
naturalization, a requirement for establishing a business.
(NOTE: The GOS would likely cite the strong historical and
ancestral ties to Latin America for the more favorable
treatment). Overall, participants believe Muslims face more
obstacles to obtain start-up funds or micro-credit for small
businesses. Other obstacles arise from restrictions from
within the Muslim communities themselves, for example, ultra-
conservative interpretations of Islam, discrimination against
women, or self-imposed isolationism that discourages
integration and co-existence.

5. Most participants agreed that, overall, "Spain lacks a
tradition of entrepreneurship." This affects not only Muslims,
but all segments of society. Thus, it is more common for
Spaniards to aspire to a job in government or in an established
company than to start one's own company.

6. Not all Muslims intend to become permanent residents of
Spain; many plan to work here only until they save enough to
return to their countries of origin to set up businesses
there. Therefore, a global strategy would have to account for
this phenomenon among some temporary "economic immigrant"

7. Participants agreed that the two Islamic federations
recognized by the GOS do not see eye-to-eye, are internally

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fragmented, are not democratic, and don't reflect the views of
the communities they are supposed to represent. As a result,
they are not effective advocates of Muslim interests, and do
not have a constructive dialogue with the GOS.

8. There was general consensus that entrepreneurship is not in
conflict with Islamic values, and there certainly are many more
entrepreneurs among the Muslim populations of Spain than are
known publicly; however, due to the difficulty in obtaining the
required residency permits to open a business, many businesses
operate clandestinely or under a "front" provided by a legal
resident. This creates an unmonitored informal economy that
runs parallel to the formal economy and does not contribute to
economic statistics - or the tax rolls. Also, some business
people prefer to be "entrepreneurs" as opposed to "Muslim

9. Several institutions help promote entrepreneurship in
Spain; however, Muslim or Arab access to and participation in
their initiatives and programs are negligible. For example, a
program of the Madrid regional government called "Madrid
Emprende" ("Madrid Start-up"), promotes small enterprise by
helping entrepreneurs navigate the bureaucracy. The Young
Entrepreneurs club has existed for 25 years; however, despite
moral support from the Prince of Asturias, this organization
has little impact in promoting entrepreneurship. Savings banks
in Spain offer some micro credit under restrictive conditions;
however, the overall lack of access to funding for small
businesses is creating a void which is being filled in some
cases by Arab banks and financial interests controlled from
Morocco and Saudi Arabia, among other foreign sources.

10. The Halal Institute of Csrdoba is registered with the
Government of Spain and is authorized to certify products as
compliant with Islamic standards. This regulatory organization
is providing opportunities for Muslim-owned businesses in Spain
to gain access to the growing halal market in Europe. (Note:
The Director General of the Halal Institute has been pre-
selected as a participant in the Summit.)

11. Many of the proposals suggested by the participants could
generate positive benefits across Spanish society. They
reflected a perception shared by many of the participants that,
while Muslims feel marginalized here, Muslim communities in
Spain desire not special concessions, but rather equal access
to Spanish society and to economic opportunities. In this
context, Muslim entrepreneurship might need a jump-start with
special incentives for Muslim businesspeople.

(a) Participants noted that if Spain is to develop an
entrepreneurial spirit, the first step is to encourage and
develop a new culture of entrepreneurship. Training and
mentoring in entrepreneurial practices and business development
should begin at an early age in public schools with education
and programs to promote a better understanding of
entrepreneurship. Universities should develop business
curricula that teach entrepreneurship.

(b) The Spanish Government, NGOs and businesses need to focus
more on creating opportunities for women and young
entrepreneurs. Establishment of an "entrepreneurship fund" or
promoting commercial loans for entrepreneurs, specifically
including Muslim entrepreneurs, would be a useful step.

(c) The environmental degradation in Arab countries presents
opportunities to develop entrepreneurial programs that promote
sustainable development, respond to the needs of populations,
and establish development models that are consistent with Arab
and Muslim values, culture, and traditions. Those traditions
include respect for water and nature, two critical factors for
human survival which support worldwide efforts to address
environmental issues.

(d) With respect to the issues of discrimination and negative
stereotyping, participants cited traditional values, building
on the ancient and positive legacy of Islam in Spain: a rich
cultural heritage which can still be seen in the architecture
and landscape, the tradition of tolerance (to which President

MADRID 00001234 003 OF 003

Obama referred in his Cairo speech), and a respect for the
environment. Access to Spanish language instruction and
activities would promote integration and help demystify the
Muslim community for Spaniards.

(e) Social media offer forums for promoting entrepreneurship
and for confronting and correcting negative stereotypes. A
representative from WebIslam, the largest Spanish language
Muslim website and a member of the European Media Islamic
Network (EMIN), a cooperative venture among Islamic websites in
Europe, was present and recognized that social media and
websites are avenues to educate the public on both issues.


12. Post was fortunate to have a window of opportunity guest
at the roundtable. Ms. Helen Hatab Samhan, Executive Director
of the Arab American Institute Foundation, was in Madrid at the
invitation of a local institution, Casa Arabe, whose mission is
to promote better understanding of Arabs and Islam. In
addition to the proposals raised by local participants, many of
Samhan's observations and conclusions tracked closely with
Post's own:

(a) The Muslim communities in Spain are still relatively new
and not yet integrated into society. Although the Muslim
populations have grown significantly in the past 20 years, as a
whole, they still only represent just over two percent of the
Spanish population.

(b) Spain and Muslims must address some basic issues of social
integration, residency status, and religious accommodation
before any serious progress can be made in promoting Muslim
entrepreneurship. Many of the institutions and NGOs working on
these issues are dependent on government funds and therefore
subject to political winds and uncertain budgets.

(c) Spanish businesses appear to be unaware or uninterested in
promoting integration. Spanish government initiatives and
program are not sufficiently funded or focused on the problems.

(d) American or other successful entrepreneurs may be effective
mentors to Spanish entrepreneurs.

13. Embassy Madrid and Consulate General Barcelona will
continue to engage these participants and other minority and
marginalized audiences to seek long-term dialogue and solutions
to these issues.


© Scoop Media

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