On Sunday, Pope Francis became the first pontiff to visit the Arabian Peninsula when he arrived in Abu Dhabi for an interfaith conference sponsored by the United Arab Emirates’ Muslim Council of Elders. Sohrab Ahmari puts the visit in context:
The invitation to the [pope] solidifies the UAE’s status as the most responsible power in the Persian Gulf region. And it gives testament to the Emirati leadership’s determination to transcend the bloody, cruel fanaticism that has disfigured the House of Islam and brought ruin to Christians and other minorities unfortunate enough to dwell inside it. . . .
A reform vision defines the UAE’s geopolitical posture as well. Threatened by the expansionist Tehran regime, Abu Dhabi (along with Riyadh) has forged a strategic partnership with Jerusalem that is the region’s worst-kept secret. But in the UAE’s case, the ties go beyond “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Since 2010, three Israeli cabinet ministers have visited the UAE to discuss infrastructure, energy, and sports. As Zaki Nusseibeh, a minister of state and adviser to the late Sheikh Zayed, [the Emirates’ founder], told me: “There is no enmity between us and the state of Israel.”
Opinion polling suggests that the UAE leadership’s enlightened attitudes have begun to filter down to the populace. A YouGov survey conducted ahead of the pope’s visit found that Emiratis are much less likely to be concerned if a close relative marries a Christian than their neighbors in Saudi Arabia and Egypt would be. And while only about a third of Egyptians and Saudis expressed fears about Islamic extremism, more than half of Emiratis did. . . .
[T]rue, the country isn’t any sort of liberal democracy. Virtually all UAE Muslims, for example, hear the same sermon at Friday prayers—one drafted by a government-approved committee charged with countering radicalism. That goes against every liberal instinct in the West’s bones, but if it means fewer Islamic State atrocities here or in our homelands, I’ll take it. The common good isn’t always and everywhere served by our form of government.