Saudi-Funded Controversy

German language media translated for TVR's Media Monitor

News | Vienna Review | November 2011

The 'Abdullah Centre' is Worth a Try, 12 Oct.

by Stefan Apfl

When the foreign ministers of Austria, Spain and Saudi Arabia sign the founding agreement of the "King Abdullah Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue" in the Albertina on Thursday [13 Oct.], not few will wonder "what is going on?"

A centre for religious pluralism and dialogue is being opened, and named after a man, under whose rule those very qualities don’t exist? This may sound absurd, but it isn’t.

The centre isn’t supposed to become a fundamentalists’ club, but an open, international organisation in which not only representatives of all world religions, but also states and NGOs will have a stake.

Of course, the Green Party’s criticism of Saudi Arabia’s state-enforced human rights violations is appropriate, even necessary. Yet, why does it come so late? Whoever believes they can prevent a treaty a week before it is signed, by launching a request for clarifications in parliament, must expect to be accused of populism.

Foreign policy knows two categories: isolation and dialogue. Since Bruno Kreisky, Austria has committed itself to dialogue. With success. The Foreign Ministry hopes that the centre will bring leverage to bear on Abdullah. The latter, in turn, is believed to hope the same with regard to Wahhabi hardliners who are pressuring him  in his own country. In both cases, Saudi Arabia’s oppressed citizens would be helped.

There are no guarantees for this. In the worst case, these hopes will be disappointed. But it is certainly worth the try.


Dialogue Centre is a Historical Opportunity, 13 Oct.

by Omar al-Rawi, former spokesperson for integration of the Islamic Congregation in Austria

[…] The interreligious a historical opportunity – among other things to support the positive transformation processes in Arab countries. Many observers see Saudi Arabia’s participation as a signal that a section of the ruling family is seeking an opening of the country, so as not to fall behind the regional processes of change.

Such dialogue initiatives can lead to important results in the long-term. Remember the CSCE ["Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe"], and the resulting Helsinki Accords of 1975. Immediately afterwards, many observers viewed the Eastern Bloc as CSCE’s actual winner. Only later it became clear that the part of the Accords addressing human rights had the greater weight. It formed the basis for the work of many civil rights activists and human rights groups such as Charta 77 or Human Rights Watch. […]

Austria was the first European country to recognise Islam as an official religion in 1912.  Vienna has proved itself as the capital of a neutral state, as a place of dialogue and mutual encounter. Three very successful European Imam conferences have taken place in Austria, two of them in Vienna. A well-known Viennese proverb says, "Where people talk to each other, they come together". We shouldn’t be afraid of such an initiative. We should give it a chance.

See also: Saudi Money with Strings Attached

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