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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
06SKOPJE898 2006-09-25 12:53:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Skopje
Cable title:  

MACEDONIA: POLITICS TRUMPS FAITH -- ELECTION OF

Tags:   PHUM PINR PGOV MK 
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1. (SBU) Self-proclaimed moderate Islamic cleric Sulejman
Rexhepi was elected Reis-ul-Ulema (head) of the Islamic
Community of Macedonia (ICM) on September 20. The election
itself was uneventful, but the electoral process was marred
by the political intervention of ethnic Albanian governing
coalition party DPA, which backed Rexhepi, claiming it was
doing so to prevent Islamic fundamentalists from dominating
the ICM. Ethnic Albanian opposition party DUI, which had
backed Deputy Reis Bahri Aliu during his election earlier
this year, did not actively support Aliu in his bid to become
Reis. Continued political interference in ICM affairs is
likely to keep that institution weak and unstable. End
Summary.

NEW ISLAMIC COMMUNITY REIS ELECTED BY LANDSLIDE



2. (U) The Assembly of the Islamic Community of Macedonia
(ICM) held elections for the ICM's Reis on September 20 in
the Skopje suburb of Kondovo, seat of the Islamic Theological
Faculty in Macedonia. Sulejman Rexhepi, a former Reis and
self-proclaimed moderate Muslim cleric, was elected by a vote
of 58-7 in balloting that ICM contacts tell us was uneventful
and calm. There were, however, reports the night before that
shots had been fired at ICM HQs in Skopje. Rival candidate
Muhamed Iseni, the relatively unknown head of a local Islamic
NGO, did not contest the results. The ICM had been without a
Reis since July 2005, when the former Reis resigned after an
armed group, allegedly linked to DPA activists in Kondovo,
interrupted a meeting of the ICM Assembly and physically
assaulted him.

POLITICAL PARTY LINKS TO ICM



3. (SBU) The election was called with less than a week's
notice, following reports of pressure being applied by ethnic
Albanian governing coalition party DPA on Macedonia's 13
muftis to accelerate the process. The election results came
as no surprise, since Rexhepi was the DPA-backed candidate;
there were credible field reports from ICM contacts and from
OSCE observers in the days preceding the election that DPA
pressured the muftis, using threats of violence, to support
early elections and Rexhepi as their candidate. Immediately
following the election, Rexhepi was photographed exiting the
Theological Faculty with Agim Krasniqi, a DPA member and
known criminal kingpin in Kondovo.



4. (SBU) Deputy Reis Bahri Aliu, who had served as acting
Reis since the former ICM leader's resignation in 2005, had
hoped to compete for the Reis position but apparently was
unable to muster support for his candidacy in the face of DPA
pressure on the muftis and on other ICM members. During a
September 12 meeting, he told P/E Chief that DPA was putting
pressure on the ICM to accelerate the election process, which
he had hoped to delay until early 2007, after Ramadan and the
annual hajj.



5. (SBU) Admitting that ethnic Albanian opposition party DUI
had provided his "logistical base" during a controversial
election for the Deputy Reis position earlier this year, Aliu
complained that DPA was sowing fear and uncertainty in the
Islamic community to advance Rexhepi's candidacy. Aliu said
DPA was claiming their candidate would fight Islamic
fundamentalism and radicalism in the ICM, and that the USG
supported Rexhepi.



6. (SBU/NF) In a follow-up conversation with DPA Vice
President Menduh Thaci on September 12, P/E Chief said the
Embassy was neutral with regard to the Reis candidates, that
the ICM election process should take place in accordance with
the ICM's standard procedures, and that the elections should
be free of intimidation, pressure, or violence. Thaci
replied that DPA could not stand idly by tensions mounted
within the ICM between Islamic moderates and "wahhabists."
He accused Deputy Reis Aliu of "financial manipulations" in
the ICM, including misuse of ICM property, and called for a

SKOPJE 00000898 002 OF 002


police investigation into the Community's finances.

RESTITUTION TWIST?



7. (SBU) According to some observers from the Tetovo area,
DPA's sudden move to force early elections was strongly
backed by Ljupco Georgievski, a former Prime Minister and de
facto head of the ethnic Macedonian nationalist VMRO-NP, an
opposition party. Georgievski's wife reportedly purchased
from 1998-2000 several pieces of real estate in eastern
Macedonia, that the ICM claims were confiscated from them
during the Yugoslav era. Georgievski allegedly agreed to
back DPA's ICM strategy in exchange for Rexhepi's pledge not
to pursue ICM restitution proceedings against Georgievski's
wife.

COFFER STUFFING?



8. (SBU) During the September 12 meeting with P/E Chief,
Deputy Reis Aliu added to the speculation about DPA's
motives, alleging that Thaci and his party were more
interested in tapping the income that would flow into the
ICM's coffers from the "zakat" (charitable contributions)
Macedonia's Muslim faithful would make during Ramadan, and
from the administrative fees pilgrims would pay hajj
organizers. Thaci leveled the same accusations against Aliu,
claiming that the Deputy Reis wanted to delay the elections
until after the hajj, "when the ICM had stuffed its pockets
with zakat contributions and hajj fees."

COMMENT



9. (SBU/NF) DPA's hand in the election -- it appears the
party was able to muster support in the ICM to squash Aliu's
candidacy while putting forward Iseni as a straw man to
"oppose" Rexhepi -- continues the trend we have observed over
the past year or more of direct political intervention by
both DUI and DPA in the affairs of the Islamic community
(reftel). Although Rexhepi may indeed prove to be a
religious moderate who will work to counter Islamic
fundamentalism in the ICM, the ongoing political tension
between DUI and DPA suggests the ICM will remain weak and
unstable unless one of the parties gains absolute dominance
over the institution, or both decide to leave matters of the
faith to the faithful.
MILOVANOVIC