What signal does papal visit send in The Emirates?
Francis has become the first pope to visit the Arabian Peninsula. On Monday in Abu Dhabi he and the grand imam of al-Azhar university, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, signed a declaration against war and terror. Observers take a closer look at how the United Arab Emirates presents itself to the world and at the Church's alliances in the Middle East.
Tolerance as the core of PR strategy
The pope's visit fits in well with the hosts' marketing strategy, Die Welt notes:
“Because the United Arab Emirates is in the process of positioning itself as a mini world power. ... It's getting involved in the region's wars and sitting at its negotiating tables, its economy is growing and attracting investors. And at the core of its marketing strategy is a term which is almost overused in the West: tolerance. Not long ago the emirs established a Ministry for Tolerance. ... However, as is often the case with PR - the image is often more alluring than the reality. Because of course complete religious freedom in the Emirates doesn't exist - not for Muslims wanting to renounce their faith at any rate. ... But on the other hand even if there's a lot of calculation involved, isn't it a good thing for countries to promote themselves with tolerance? There are worse advertising messages.”
Church must not side with tyrants
The Financial Times praises the pope's visit, noting that it marks a departure from the Church's usual approach in the Middle East:
“Caught in the vicious sectarian crossfire between Sunni and Shia Muslims, they are not helped by a Church that sees freedom and democracy as antithetical to religious freedom - even siding with the savage Syrian dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad as a supposed bulwark against jihadi extremists. It will be a tragedy if the threat of Islamism determines Catholics’ judgment the way the spectre of Bolshevism pushed some of their 20th-century counterparts into alliances with fascism.”
Dialogue must become new normality
The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung sees the visit as extremely important:
“Pope Francis in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates and therefore a region from which Islam once spread across the world - this fact alone and its singularity make the visit a specially important and historic event. ... In these turbulent times it sends more than just a signal to talk with Islam dignitaries and scholars about tolerance, humanity and curbing extremism. Such talks must become the new normality, their inter-religious fruits should be evident in everyday life.”
Who Francis talked to in Dubai
Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Catholic community Sant'Egidio, explains in Corriere della Sera who the Grand Imam of al-Azhar Ahmed el-Tayeb, Francis's dialogue partner in Dubai, is:
“In recent years al-Azhar has regained influence in the Sunni world once more. After the abolition of the caliphate by Atatürk in 1924 the Sunni world was left without a centre and without a person of reference. Self-appointed religious leaders like 'caliph' al-Baghdadi and others sprung up everywhere like mushrooms. As the head of the most renowned Islamic university el-Tayeb has great authority among Muslims and at the same time is pursuing a cautiously reformist course. At the international level he has advocated dialogue with the West and Christendom. He already welcomed Pope Francis to Cairo in 2017 and began a personal and spiritual dialogue with him.”