Interfaith Conference in New York

Receivng extensive coverage in the Arab press is the recently completed UN-sponsored Interfaith Conferece in New York.  Read about it in English here.

Two things of note:
1) The conference needs to be seen as a Saudi initiative to try and improve its image which has been damaged in recent years, especially by the news that 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were Saudi. 

2) Many, if not most, Arab commentators see the conference as pointless and merely political.   Egypt’s Fahmy Huwedi wrote a column expressing his displeasure at the decision of the Sheikh of Al-Azhar and the Mufti of Egypt to travel to the conference which he argues has nothing to do with religious dialogue.   Shimon Peres and Tipni Livnu were not there to represent the Jewish religion but the State of Israel, and their participation alongside Saudi Arabia was a major political coup.  In Huwedi’s view the Sheik and the Mufti should have recognized this and not attended.

2 Responses

  1. How much of this interfaith dialogue stuff is for Saudi domestic consumption and how much is for international consumption?

    The Western press has been quick to quote Human Rights Watch for significant portions of their articles on the conference, many concluding that it’s more or less a PR stunt by the Saudis, only for international consumption.

    However, I don’t think it’s that simple. It also sends a message to the likes of Sheikh Saleh al-Luhaidan and others in Saudi. They also see it and slowly but surely, they may come to the realization that they can’t remain in the 15th century. The domestic effect of the conference shouldn’t be underestimated.

    What has the Saudi press been saying about the conference?

  2. this is a very good question. I think there’s an element of both. The conference received extensive coverage in Saudi-financed Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, which covers the region more than any specific country. Dont quote me, but I don’t think it got as much coverage in Al-Hayat or Al Quds Al-Arabi, other region-wide papers, which arent as directly financed or influenced by Saudis.

    So I think that the international consumption factor is huge. There’s no doubt about that.

    But you bring up a good point about the domestic factor. And you are right, It matters. How much is the big question? I can’t answer your last question because I havent been following the Saudi press closely enough. If I see anything Ill post it though/

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