First Published: 2012-11-24

 

Interreligious centre in Vienna arouses suspicions about Saudi motives

 

Critics say centre, entirely financed by Saudi Arabia, could be used by Riyadh to spread radical brand of Islam known as Wahhabism.

 

Middle East Online

By Sim Sim WISSGOTT – VIENNA

Set up jointly by Saudia Arabia, Spain and Austria

A new interreligious dialogue centre backed by Saudi Arabia is stirring up controversy in Vienna and abroad even before its official inauguration.

The King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue -- in short KAICIID -- will officially open its doors on Monday.

But critics say that the centre -- entirely financed by Saudi Arabia and named after its king, who initiated the idea -- could be used by Riyadh to spread the radical brand of Islam known as Wahhabism, and divert attention from human rights violations and lack of religious freedom at home.

Monday's glitzy inauguration at Vienna's Hofburg Palace will be attended by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and top representatives of the world's leading religions.

Ahead of the event, the centre has gone on a media offensive to convince observers of its impartiality.

Set up jointly by Saudia Arabia, Spain and Austria, the KAICIID will have the status of an international organisation. That will bring it the privileges and tax breaks afforded to the likes of the United Nations, OPEC and the Organisation of Security of Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

"One of the main reasons why it was thought of as an international organisation is that through a founding document, we can rule out that one member state or one religious community dominates the centre," Austria's foreign ministry said.

Despite Riyadh stepping in to finance the centre for the first three years, there will be "zero politics, zero influence in the centre," KAICIID secretary-general Faisal bin Abdulrahman bin Muaammar, a former Saudi deputy education minister, told journalists.

The centre's decision-making body, a nine-member board of directors including leading representatives of Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism, will make sure of that, he said.

The KAICIID's stated mission is to act "as a hub, facilitating interreligious and intercultural dialogue and understanding, to enhance cooperation, respect for diversity, justice and peace."

Asked if the centre would comment on current issues such as the recent anti-Islam video that sparked deadly protests in the Muslim world or the earlier Mohammed caricatures, Muaammar said it would not be political.

"We are not going to follow every incident... we don't want to just react like a political body," he said.

"The problems in the last few years have been handled by politicians. Now let us use the wisdom of religious people."

A statement from the Vatican on Friday said it had accepted an invitation to participate as a "founding observer" and a high-level delegation will attend the centre's inauguration.

Annual conferences entitled "The Image of The Other" will look at stereotypes and misconceptions in education, the media and the Internet. A fellowship programme will bring together applicants from different religions to work and learn from each other.

A yearly budget of 10-15 million euros ($12.9-19.3 million) will cover these programmes as well as a staff of 25 at the Vienna centre.

Critics remain unconvinced however.

Liberal Muslim Initiative in Austria (ILMOe) said it believed that "this dubious Wahhabist centre in Vienna" will "only serve Saudi Arabia's political and religious interests abroad, under the guise of dialogue" and that its sole aim was to make Riyadh "respectable."

Metropolitan Emmanuel of France, the Orthodox Church's representative on the KAICIID board, also highlighted Riyadh's poor human rights record in an interview with Austria's Catholic news agency Kathpress.

The next three years will be "a trial period" for the centre, he said.

After that, the KAICIID will look for other sources of funding and it could also diversify further by bringing in new member states on top of the founding three, officials insist.

Some observers hope the centre might eventually help Saudi Arabia implement reforms at home.

The ultra-conservative kingdom currently bans any form of worship other than Islam. It has also come under fire for its application of Islamic sharia law, which includes executing by the sword people convicted of murder, apostasy or armed robbery.

"We are facing some criticism here, we are facing some criticism in Saudi Arabia... but dialogue is the answer for this," said Muaammar.

"The centre is open for all the critics. I invite them to come and see how the centre runs."

 

UN considers rejecting Trump Jerusalem decision

UN 'appalled' at mass execution of jihadists in Iraq

Palestinians call for protests against Pence Jerusalem visit

Over half Syrian refugees in Lebanon live in 'extreme poverty'

Palestinian activist killed in Gaza protests

Palestinian billionaire detained in Saudi Arabia

Egypt opens Rafah crossing for four days

Turkey court releases 7 suspects in New Year attack trial

Foreign fighters a worry as IS struggles to survive

Palestinians killed in continuing protests over Jerusalem occupation

Bourita: Extraordinary meeting between ECOWAS, Morocco to be held beginning of 2018

Saudi-led air strikes, clashes as Yemen forces battle rebels

Sahel force funding shows terrorism fight is Saudi 'priority'

Iraq's Sistani says Hashed should be under government control

Middle-class Egypt adapts as costs soar

Somalia's budget meets IMF terms

Israel PM questioned in graft probe

US says Iran supplied ballistic missile to Yemen rebels

Lebanon approves bid for oil, gas exploration

US to present 'irrefutable evidence' of Iran violations

Istanbul 'to remove Gulen links' from street names

Iraq hangs 38 jihadists

Pence to visit Middle East despite controversy

Hamas chief calls for continued Jerusalem protests

EU to repatriate 15,000 migrants from Libya in two months

Syria Kurds fear US ally will desert them after IS defeat

Israeli drugmaker Teva to cut 14,000 jobs over two years

Turkey rescues 51 migrants stranded on rocks

Saudi, UAE hold talks with Yemen Islamists

18 killed after bomber strikes Mogadishu police academy

Israeli air strikes target Hamas military facilities

US-led air strikes kill 23 civilians in Syria

Israel union calls nationwide strike over pharmaceutical giant job cuts

UN envoy urges Putin to press Assad for elections

Yemen's Huthi rebels release pro-Saleh media staff

Israel intelligence minister invites Saudi prince to visit

Saudi-led strikes kill 30 in rebel-run Yemen prison

Saudi king says Palestinians have 'right' to Jerusalem

Erdogan urges world to recognise Jerusalem as Palestinian capital

Saudi King says determined to confront corruption

South Sudan needs $1.7 billion humanitarian aid in 2018

UAE oil giant floats 10 percent of retail arm to strong interest

US skeptical about Putin's declaration of military victory in Syria

Growing concern about rise of far-right in Austria

Saudi, UAE seeks to help West Africa fight terrorism