Saudi diplomacy needs flesh on its sports and religious skeleton

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Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates praised social reforms that nationally reduced the role of religion in public life, strengthened women’s rights and, in the case of the United Arab Emirates, adapted to non-Muslim lifestyles.

Yet Saudi and Emirati efforts to position their countries as the beacons of the Muslim world of an autocratic notion of moderate Islam have done little to encourage moderation beyond their borders despite a drastic reduction in the Global Saudi funding for decades for the spread of an ultra-conservative regime. the interpretation of Islam and the trumpet of the Emirates on the notions of tolerance.

The geographic limits of Saudi and Emirati moderation are evident in housing projects in France, in the Rohingya refugee camp of Cox Bazar in Bangladesh and Pakistan, where Prime Minister Imran Khan appears to reinforce religious ultra-conservatism that has long been woven into the fabric of society with Saudi help.

The obstacles to obtaining religious soft power are even more evident in the difficulties of the King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Center for Interfaith and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID) funded by Saudi Arabia. After a decade in Vienna, the center was forced to move to Lisbon. The center hopes that the kingdom’s lack of religious freedom and tarnished human rights record will cause less controversy in the Portuguese capital.

Supporters at the center have blamed anti-Muslim sentiment for the controversy surrounding it. However, while the rise of Islamophobia in recent years due to indiscriminate and senseless acts of violence, anti-migration prejudices and right-wing xenophobic agitation is beyond doubt, it is equally true that neither the Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates cannot claim complete innocence.

Until the rise of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi-funded ultra-conservatives thrived on feelings of marginalization, deprivation of civil rights and alienation in housing projects in predominantly populated French cities. Muslim immigrants and their descendants born in France.

“At the risk of simplifying it a bit, we could argue that from the mid-1990s, the rise in Islamist violence in France, which culminated with the 2015-2016 wave of terror was essentially a Salafi enterpriseSaid Marc Weitzmann, author of a recent essay on the debate in France on violence and the country’s Muslim minority.

Mr Weitzmann, who accuses the Muslim Brotherhood and its Middle Eastern supporters alongside the Saudis of France’s problem, seemed to implicitly acknowledge that his assessment did not also hold France’s discriminatory policies and societal attitudes responsible.

The combination of Saudi funding, Islamist unrest and French politics created a brew in an environment of growing anti-Muslim and anti-migrant sentiments and populist xenophobia that allowed the UAE to align its obsessive campaign against political Islam with national and geopolitical aspirations. of French President Emmanuel Macron.

With an election slated for April in which the president’s main opponents are likely to be right-wing xenophobes, Mr Macron accused the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists of Islamist “separatism” and “supremacy” by allegedly seeking to introduce an Islamic legal code that would supplant French law.

Over the past year, the government has passed legislation that is widely seen as targeting Muslims and has cracked down on various Muslim civil society organizations.

“An unintended consequence of the targeting of innocent French Muslims is the additional marginalization of a minority group already on the margins of society, ”warned Tanzila Jamal, a graduate student in political science.

Likewise, Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) activists alongside criminal gangs are gaining ground in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, home to around one million refugees from Myanmar who have nothing to hope for.

Like their French brothers, few practical solutions to improve life prevent Rohingya refugees from finding solace in religious activism and ultra-conservatism and convince them that Islamic moderation has something to offer.

True, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have donated millions of dollars in humanitarian aid to the Rohingya. But with a potential civil war looming a year after a military coup in Myanmar, humanitarian aid alone is unlikely to prevent Cox’s Bazar’s plague from escalating. Yet Myanmar is not among the top recipients of aid in a just published a report on Saudi humanitarian and development aid.

Published by the King Faisal Center for Islamic Studies and Research (KFCRIS), the report “Why the World Needs a Partnership with Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia’s Humanitarian and Global Development Assistance” aims to fill a gap created by what it sees as failure. media and international aid platforms to highlight the kingdom’s contribution.

Saudi Arabia ranks among the top five donors in the world with 60% of funds or US $ 40 billion allocated to development over the past 46 years, according to the report. Unlike Myanmar, Pakistan ranks among the top five recipients of Saudi largesse in terms of humanitarian and development assistance.

Arguably the country most affected by decades of Saudi support for ultra-conservatism, Pakistan, a country with a complex relationship with secularism and religiosity, appears to be on a path that the kingdom and the United Arab Emirates are leaving.

Pakistani Prime Minister Khan highlights role of Islam in educating and cracking down on blasphemy allegations, problem that often arouses crowd violence in the South Asian nation, while Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have sought to reduce the role religion plays in national identity and public life.

As the debate in Pakistan revolved around education and social mores, Saudi Arabia announced last May that it build a large mosque in the name of King Salman on the campus of the Islamic University of Islamabad.

While the mosque’s message is likely to differ significantly from what Saudi Arabia-funded institutions preached before the reforms introduced into the kingdom by Prince Mohammed,

he is unlikely to persuade Pakistan not to take a path the kingdom and the UAE are abandoning.

After introducing a singular national education program which greatly increases religious content and create a body to oversee the program and monitor profanity On social media, Khan last week identified corruption and explicit sexual content on the internet as the main threats facing young Pakistanis and Muslims.

In doing so, it ignored the real issues facing young people in several Muslim-majority countries: a lack of quality education that prepares students for the 21st century job market, the lack of an intellectual and social environment. which truly encourages creative and independent thinking, and a dearth of professional prospects for many young Pakistanis.

To be fair, in an encouraging development, Pakistan’s highest judicial commission this week appointed with five votes to four a female judge to the Supreme Court for the first time in the country’s history.

Mr Khan has long made corruption a signature issue, but recently disclosed documents suggest that members of his cabinet and their families as well as some of his backers and military officers have parked millions of dollars in secretly held offshore companies.

It has not been shown that Mr. Khan himself had any assets abroad. Nevertheless, in a online meeting last week with Islamic scholarsMr. Khan, focusing on the early years of Islam, appeared to argue that securing the ethics and morals of society is a prerequisite for fighting corruption.

As a result, Mr. Khan prioritized in his remarks the perceived need to protect young people from the “invasion of social media on their faith and religious and ethical values”. He insisted that young Muslims should be spared from being “inundated with obscenity and pornographic material available on the Internet”.

Participants in the online rally were mostly prominent supporters of the moderate Islam notion of an autocratic and / or right-wing nationalist and traditionalist scholars. They essentially excluded voices advocating judicial and theological reforms that would encompass human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Among the participants were the clerics supported by the United Arab Emirates, Abdullah bin Bayyah and Hamza Yusuf; Recep Senturk, who is said to be close to Turkish President Recept Tayyip Erdogan; as well as the famous traditionalist thinker Seyyed Hossein Nasr and his Malaysian pupil, Osman Bakar; and Chandra Muzaffar, a controversial Malaysian scholar, former Islamist politician and activist. The newly created Pakistani watchdog invited them.

Mr. Khan’s speech sounded surreal given the nature of the problems faced by predominantly Muslim countries. The Prime Minister’s observations and questions during the discussion revealed a narrow view of the world. In fact, such views can be seen as symptomatic of whatever caused the backwardness of Muslim countries, ”Pakistani columnist Zahid Hussain said.

Deploring the gap in social and economic development between Muslim countries and the rest of the world, Mr. Hussain warned that “obscurantism only accentuates our backwardness. Young people, who now constitute the majority of the population of the Muslim world, need an education, freedom of expression and thought that enables them to compete with the rest of the world.

Neither Saudi Arabia nor the United Arab Emirates embraces fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression. On the contrary. Their human rights records are seriously tarnished.

Nonetheless, clearly pushing Pakistan to embrace educational reform and counter the social activism of the jungle, even if only in accordance with an autocratic definition of religious moderation, and help provide struggling communities with prospects. beyond simple survival, would be a step forward.

Potentially, this would reinforce the competing efforts of the two Gulf states to be icons of a restrictive form of moderation and leadership in the Muslim world. Perhaps a first step towards moderation would unleash forces at some point in the future that will push the boundaries even further.

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