Activists dismiss the dispatches as hyperbolic, countering that the Islamic council was just fear-mongering to embassy staff. "Money coming from Saudi Arabia or any other country doesn't mean adopting that school of thought," they argue. They claim that council leaders are using a phony battle against extremism to cement their positions.
According to Ahmedin, the problems began ten months ago when the Federal Affairs Ministry and the Islamic council brought in Lebanese preachers from the Al Ahbash sect – which was founded by an Ethiopian but became popular in Lebanon – to deliver training to around 1,300 employees of the council's branches at Haramaya University in eastern Ethiopia.
Following the training session, a senior Lebanese teacher, Samir Kadi, thanked Meles and Federal affairs minister Shiferaw Teklemariam at a recorded press conference for inviting them. That, Ahmedin says, proves that the government is behind the campaign.
In response, Meles said to lawmakers the training program had nothing to do with al Ahbash, but was about the rights and duties of religions in Ethiopia under the constitution.
Since the Haramaya conference, the Islamic council – which opponents say has been co-opted by the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front for almost two decades – has coerced 50,000 people to undergo the training, which aims to incorporate teachings from Al Ahbash into religious schools across the nation and attacks all other doctrines as anti-Islamic, they say.