venerdì 28 gennaio 2011
Wikileaks : Viewing cable 06SAOPAULO498, SAO PAULO'S ARAB COMMUNITY: DIVERSITY AND DIVISIONS DIMINISH POLITICAL CLOUT
28 Gennaio 2011
DE RUEHSO #0498/01 1291600
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 091600Z MAY 06
FM AMCONSUL SAO PAULO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5013
INFO RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA 6157
RUEHRG/AMCONSUL RECIFE 2900
RUEHRI/AMCONSUL RIO DE JANEIRO 7072
RUEHAC/AMEMBASSY ASUNCION 2552
RUEHBU/AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES 2214
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ 2768
RUEHMN/AMEMBASSY MONTEVIDEO 1957
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 0278
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA 0961
RUEHLB/AMEMBASSY BEIRUT 0032
RUEHDM/AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS 0026
RUEHTV/AMEMBASSY TEL AVIV 0188
RUMIAAA/USCINCSO MIAMI FL
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 SAO PAULO 000498
STATE FOR WHA/BSC, NEA/ELA, AND DRL/IRF
NSC FOR CRONIN
SOUTHCOM FOR POLAD
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PINR PREL KPAO KISL KIRF SOCI SCUL BR
SUBJECT: SAO PAULO'S ARAB COMMUNITY: DIVERSITY AND DIVISIONS DIMINISH POLITICAL CLOUT
REF: A) Sao Paulo 360
B) 04 Sao Paulo 850 SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED - PLEASE PROTECT ACCORDINGLY.
------- SUMMARY -------
¶1. (SBU) While the Lebanese Christian community in Sao Paulo is active in politics, the Arab community in general (Muslim and Christian) lacks political clout at the national level. In fact, our conversations with a number of Christian and Muslim leaders of Sao Paulo's large Middle Eastern community (mostly Lebanese and Syrian), suggest there is neither a cohesive Christian nor Muslim political interest group or voting bloc in Brazil. To the limited extent that Muslims are politically active, they tend to support the governing Workers Party (PT) and other leftist parties. This reflects the diversity and divisions within both of their economically important but religiously and politically divided communities. GoB officials often attempt to justify some of their more controversial positions and policies on Middle East matters as a response to the political demands of the Brazil's Muslim community. However, neither the Christian nor the Muslim community appears to be keenly interested in the Middle East political scene. This begs the larger question of what is driving the Brazilian government's sometimes controversial and contradictory policies in the Middle East. END SUMMARY.
----------------------------------------- CONSULATE REACHES OUT TO ARAB COMMUNITY LEADERS -----------------------------------------
¶2. (SBU) Following up on our recent meeting with leaders of the Lebanese Christian community during the visit of Congressman Issa (Ref A), consulate officers met separately with three other prominent leaders of Sao Paulo's Arab community: Federal Deputy Ricardo Izar, grandson of Lebanon's first Consul in Sao Paulo; Raul Tarek Fajuri, an influential Arab publisher; and Said Mourad, a Sao Paulo state legislator who claims to be the only elected Muslim official in the state of Sao Paulo. Although these contacts represent different sub-groups of Sao Paulo's large Arab community, they share similar views of the openness of Brazilian society to people from other cultures and the comfortable place Arabs have in this cultural melting pot. (NOTE: The Lebanese Consul General in Sao Paulo estimates that the Arab community in Brazil, based mostly in this consular district, consists of some seven million Christians and one million Muslims. Both the Christian and Muslim communities are divided along sectarian religious lines; the Christian community includes Maronites and members of other Eastern churches; among the Muslims, Sunnis outnumber Shias, though reliable numbers are hard to come by. Also, it appears that a rift has developed between these two communities since the assassination of Lebanese former PM Hariri. END NOTE.)
-------------------------------------- "ARABS" AND LEBANESE, CHRISTIANS AND MUSLIMS --------------------------------------
¶3. (SBU) Poloff and Political Assistant visited Federal Deputy Ricardo Izar at his campaign headquarters in an upscale neighborhood in south-central Sao Paulo. Izar, a member of the Brazilian Labor Party (PTB), recently gained prominence due to his chairmanship of the Chamber of Deputies' Ethics Council, which has attempted to discipline Deputies implicated in the political corruption scandal. His views on the current domestic political situation and upcoming elections will be reported septel. When asked to talk about his association with the Arab community on the national and state level, Izar grew enthusiastic. He said his grandfather ("that's his picture on the wall there"), had fled Lebanon due to persecution by the Ottoman Turks and eventually settled in Brazil; he was appointed in 1918 by Lebanon's French occupiers as the country's
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representative to Sao Paulo's growing Lebanese community. Like our other interlocutors, Izar said Lebanese and Syrian Muslims are of more recent provenance, residing mostly in Foz do Iguacu (Parana state) and on the outskirts of major cities, where they sell furniture. The Muslim community is fragmented, he said, and not politically influential; each mosque and beneficent society tends to represent some parochial interest, and there is little common orientation. Izar characterized one mosque in the Bras neighborhood of eastern Sao Paulo as radical in its political orientation.
¶4. (SBU) While there are many links between the Arab Christian and Muslim communities in Brazil, they are not all that close to each other. By way of example, Izar noted that the Mount Lebanon Club - "the best club in Sao Paulo, no, in all of Brazil" - a center of Lebanese community social activity, did not have a single Muslim member. He commented in passing that the Lebanese in Brazil did not like to be referred to or thought of as "Arabs" - there was a linguistic affinity with Arabic-speakers, but not an ethnic or cultural one. There were of course important links between the Lebanese and Syrian communities, as illustrated by the highly regarded Syrio-Lebanese Hospital in Sao Paulo, whose Board had members of both communities (again, all were Christians). There are 43 Federal Deputies of Arab descent, he noted, but only one - Jose Janene (Progressivist Party from Parana, the last remaining Member to face expulsion for his role in the public bribery scandal. NOTE: Izar expressed confidence that, despite the recent exoneration by the Plenary of numerous Deputies, Janene will in fact be expelled. End NOTE.) - is a Muslim. Another, Jamil Murad (Communist Party of Brazil from Sao Paulo), "is not even sure what his background is, but he's close to the Muslim community." To the extent that they are active in Brazilian politics, Izar said Muslims tend to be affiliated with President Lula's Workers Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores - PT) or parties further to the left.
¶5. (SBU) Some members of the Brazilian Lebanese Christian community, Izar said, are so completely assimilated or integrated that they retain only a vague sense of their Middle Eastern heritage, and no interest in the politics of the region. He himself was active in the Brazil-Lebanon Parliamentary Group, and had attended the 1998 inauguration of Lebanese President Lahoud. Izar expressed disagreement with many aspects of the current government's Middle East policy, and said he had taken the Foreign Minister to task over it, but had not accomplished much.
--------------------------------------------- ARAB PUBLISHER DENIES PERSECUTION, DOWNPLAYS MIDEAST TIES ---------------------------------------------
¶6. (SBU) Poloff and Information Officer (IO) recently met with publisher Raul Tarek Fajuri in the offices of CHAMS magazine, a leading Arab monthly based in Sao Paulo with a circulation of approximately 10,000. The magazine, launched by Fajuri's late Lebanese Christian mother, caters to both the Muslim and Christian Arab communities and reports on major political and social events. With a focus on institution openings and ribbon-cutting, benevolent society functions, high-profile weddings, and the visits of prominent religious and secular dignitaries from the Middle East, the magazine is popular in Sao Paulo's Syrian and Lebanese communities.
¶7. (SBU) According to Fajuri, neither the Christian nor Muslim Arab community finds itself the target of discrimination or persecution in Brazil. He noted that the general openness of Brazilian society results in acceptance of ethnic Arabs of any religion. Fajuri pointed out that Arab immigrants, particularly Lebanese and Syrian Christians from the post-World War I immigration wave, have been highly successful in Brazilian business and society (see Ref B for a broader discussion of Arab immigration to Brazil). Furthermore, widespread intermarriage has softened the lines between Syrian and Lebanese, Muslim and Christian. However, Fajuri observed that new arrivals are far more likely to retain ethnic and social ties to the Levant and the rest of the Middle East. He also said social
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divisions among members of the various churches of Eastern Christianity have all but disappeared in Brazil.
¶8. (SBU) Fajuri stated that Arab-Brazilians who have been in Brazil for a few generations have little in common, except religion, with their ancestral homeland. They remain largely uninterested in political activity here in Brazil or in political developments in the Middle East. (NOTE: Fajuri's opinion differs from that expressed in Ref A by leaders of the Brazilian Lebanese Christian community, who said that although Lebanese nationals resident in Brazil are not eligible to vote in Lebanese elections, they are very interested in developments in the Levant, as well as Brazilian policy toward the region, particularly since the assassination of former PM Hariri. END NOTE.) Fajuri averred that newer immigrants, particularly Muslims, are much more likely to travel back frequently to their homeland, to own land and have family ties there, and to follow more closely political developments in their countries of birth.
------------------------------------------ MUSLIM POLITICIAN ECHOES VIEWS BUT EVINCES PARANOIA ------------------------------------------
¶9. (SBU) Poloffs and Political Assistant also met recently with Said Mourad, the only Muslim elected official in the Sao Paulo state legislature. Ironically (and reflecting the irrelevance of party or religious labels in Brazil), Mourad is one of two representatives of the Social Christian Party (PSC) in the Sao Paulo State Legislative Assembly. Mourad won office in 2002 under the banner of the rightist Party for the Re-edification of the National Order (PRONA), but subsequently switched to the Liberal Front Party (PFL) and from there to the PSC. (COMMENT: Three parties in less than four years is a bit extreme, but party-hopping is not uncommon in Brazil, where political parties often lack a clear identity and ideology. For example, according to his Chamber of Deputies official biography, Deputy Izar, during his 43-year career, has been affiliated with nine different political parties, including two different stints (1963-66, 1989-93) with the Liberal Party. END COMMENT.)
¶10. (SBU) Having served as state deputy for almost four years, Mourad claims to be the only elected Muslim in state politics, and refers to himself as the informal leader of the "Peace Group," comprised of himself and eleven politicians of Arab (and Christian) descent. While Mourad does not appear to be an "up and coming" young politician on the state scene (and appears unlikely to win his re-election bid), he illustrates the lack of political clout of the Arab community or the existence of a solid voting bloc among Brazilian Muslims. Mourad stated that he represents the Muslim community but does not articulate any specifically pro-Muslim agenda
¶11. (SBU) Mourad echoed Fajuri's remarks about the openness of Brazilian society and the general lack of prejudice experienced by members of the Arab community. He stated emphatically that Muslims do not feel harassed in Brazil, nor are they prevented, by government or society, from freely practicing their faith. At the same time, he voiced some of the paranoia that is occasionally expressed among Brazilian Muslims regarding closer government scrutiny of Arab activities (particularly in the Tri-border area shared by Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay). For instance, he claimed that "intelligence and security groups," including the Mossad, watched and followed him and harassed his family. Mourad also complained about what he considers the negative and distorted representation of the Arab world in the Brazilian media. He claimed that the press portrays Arabs as "terrorists." Seeking to counter this alleged bias, Mourad said he escorts groups, including fellow State Deputies, to religious services at local mosques and to other Islamic events.
------------------------------------- COMMENT: DUBIOUS GOB CLAIMS OF MUSLIM VOTING BLOC -------------------------------------
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¶12. (SBU) GoB officials often attempt to justify some of their more controversial positions and policies on Middle East matters as a response to the political demands of the Brazilian Arab community. These officials claim they want to avoid stirring up, offending or alienating this putatively politically influential community. However, the commentary of these three prominent Arab Brazilians, along with our previous conversations with Lebanese Christian leaders (Ref A), suggest there is no strong or cohesive Arab Christian or Muslim voting bloc in Brazil. (The Arab-Brazilian Chamber of Commerce, whose members include the Ambassadors of Arab League nations with diplomatic representation in Brazil, is actively engaged in promoting Arab culture and has close ties to the Foreign Ministry, but its political activity and influence are limited.) Moreover, mainstream political commentators and analysts post has spoken to have stated that ethnicity and religion in Brazil tend not to influence political orientation to a great extent. Even the more dominant Lebanese Christians do not constitute a monolithic political bloc. In fact, the broader Arab community - Christian or Muslim - may share certain interests and affinities, such as an attachment to the homeland, but these sub-groups do not appear to be keenly interested in the Middle East political scene. This begs the larger question of what is really driving the Brazilian government's sometimes controversial and contradictory policies in the Middle East. END COMMENT.
¶13. (U) This cable was coordinated with Embassy Brasilia.