A Papal Visit to the United Arab Emirates Bodes Well for the Region, and for Israel

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.

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More about: Interfaith dialogue, Israel diplomacy, Moderate Islam, Muslim-Christian relations, Politics & Current Affairs, Pope Francis, United Arab Emirates

European Aid to the Middle East Is Shaped by a Political Agenda

Feb. 18 2019

The EU’s European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations Unit dispenses millions of dollars in economic and humanitarian assistance to dozens of countries every year. Although it claims to operate on principles of strict neutrality, independent of any political motivation and giving priority to the neediest cases, a look at its activities in the Middle East suggests an entirely different approach, as Hillel Frisch writes:

[T]he Middle East is the overwhelming beneficiary of EU humanitarian aid—nearly 1 billion of just over 1.4 billion euros. . . . The bulk of the funds goes toward meeting the costs of assistance to Syrian refugees, followed by smaller sums to Iraq, Yemen, “Palestine,” and North Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa, by contrast, receives less than one-third of that amount. The problem with such allocations is that the overwhelming majority of people living in dire poverty reside in sub-Saharan Africa, India, and Bangladesh. . . . The Palestinians, who are richer on average than those living in the poorest states of the world, . . . receive over six euros per capita, while the populations of the poorest states receive less than one-eighth of that amount. . . .

Even less defensible is the EU’s claim to political neutrality. Its favoritism toward the Palestinians on this score is visible as soon as one enters terms into the general search function on the European Commission’s website. Enter “Palestine” and you get 20,737 results. Enter “Ethiopia” and you get almost the same figure, despite massive differences in population size (Ethiopia’s 100 million versus fewer than 5 million Palestinians), geographic expanse (Ethiopia is 50 times the size of “Palestine”), and degree of sheer suffering. The Syrian crisis, which is said to have led to the loss of a half-million lives, merits not many more site results than “Palestine.”

One of the foci of the website’s reports [on the Palestinians] is the plight of 35,000 Bedouin whom the EU assists, often in clear violation of the law, in Area C—the part of the West Bank under exclusive Israeli control. The hundreds of thousands of Bedouin in Sinai, however, the plight of whom is readily acknowledged even by Egyptian officials, gets no mention, even though Egypt is a recipient of EU aid. . . .

Clearly, the EU’s approach to aid allocation has nothing to do with impartiality, true social-welfare needs, or humanitarian considerations. [Instead], it favors allocations to Syrian refugees above Yemeni refugees because of the higher probability that Syrian refugees will find their way to Europe. . . . The recipients of European largesse who are next in line [to Syrians], in relative terms, are the Palestinians. [This particular policy] can be attributed primarily to the EU’s hostility toward Israel, its rightful historical claims, and its security needs.

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More about: Europe and Israel, European Union, Israel & Zionism, Palestinians