‘Conflict begins when talking ends’, former UNESCO chief tells Human Fraternity Conference

Former UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova. (Supplied photo)
Updated 05 February 2019

‘Conflict begins when talking ends’, former UNESCO chief tells Human Fraternity Conference

  • UNESCO former director general on how to stop children from becoming extremists
  • Saudi Arabia could benefit from implementing knowledge about religions, history in general and other cultures into their curriculums, says Bokova

ABU DHABI: Saudi Arabia, like the rest of the world, could benefit from a modified education system, said Irina Bokova, honorary president of the Alliance for Hope International and former director-general of UNESCO.

“Like any other country, I think Saudi Arabia could benefit from implementing knowledge about religions, history in general and other cultures into their curriculums,” she told Arab News. Bokova said that the problem globally was that many educational systems and universities have removed humanities from their curriculums, resulting in a lack of knowledge of ethics and history.

“It all starts on the benches of schools at a very young age, and nobody’s born an extremist or racist — you have to use (this) early age to instill this kind of empathy and respect toward your own civilization and culture and others’ as well,” she said.

“Young people should also educate themselves more about their own religion and culture. There are people who talk on behalf of a religion but they don’t know it nor do they understand it.”

“It’s really important to teach students about different religions and cultures, not just Islam, to combat stereotypes and prejudices.”

“Particularly with Islam, nowadays, with extremists who manipulate Islam, they destroy human life and prosecute minorities, destroying common heritage of humanity in the name of Islam.” 

Bokova recalled the words of the Djingareyber mosque imam in Timbuktu whom she met after a terrorist attack there: “They don’t know Islam, they’re ignorants who pretend to know it,” he said.

“Knowing what Islam has contributed to all of human civilization throughout the centuries is vital to achieve cultural literacy and the continuity of the dialogue between different faiths and cultures,” she said.

She stressed the importance of exchanging culture, and how it is passed through the generations. “Islamic scholars and merchants were passing their knowledge on of algebra, medicine, philosophy, architectural and cultural achievements to the Europeans and this precisely shows that they’ve had a dialogue,” she said.

Bokova met the grand imam in 2016 and again on Monday, and described him as highly spiritual and having deep respect for promoting moderation, tolerance and fraternity.

She told Arab News that the meeting between the two religious figures is “highly important and so symbolic and courageous. It is opening up opportunities for new kinds of relations, fraternity and humanity.” Bokova said that she hopes that the strong message will continue and that the challenge lies in finding ways to deliver it to different communities.

Bokova’s speech at the Human Fraternity Conference in Abu Dhabi focused on protecting humanity against extremism and the role education plays in creating interfaith dialogues and mutual respect. 

In a conference hall with religious figures from around the world, she said: “It is through dialogue and creating connections that we can prove that diversity is our strength. Conflict begins when dialogue ceases.”

The former UNESCO director-general previously visited Saudi Arabia — Effat University in Jeddah — for a conference in 2011. She said that she was proud to have had Historic Jeddah join UNESCO’s World Heritage sites during her time with the educational, scientific and cultural organization.

Former Egyptian president Morsi buried in Cairo: lawyer

Updated 18 June 2019

Former Egyptian president Morsi buried in Cairo: lawyer

  • Morsi, was suffering from a benign tumor, had continuous medical attention, says state TV
  • The former president died aged 67

CAIRO: Egypt’s first democratically elected president Mohammed Morsi was buried on Tuesday in eastern Cairo, one of his lawyers said, a day after he collapsed in court and died.

“He was buried in Medinat Nasr, in eastern Cairo, with his family present. The funeral prayer was said in Tora prison hospital” where he was declared dead on Monday, his lawyer Abdel Moneim Abdel Maksoud said.

Egyptian state television announced that Morsi, 67, who was ousted by the military on July 3, 2013, had been attending a court session at his trial on charges of espionage and links with the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

It was reported that he collapsed in the courtroom inside a glass cage he and others had been sharing, before his body was transferred to a local hospital.

Morsi died from a sudden heart attack, state television reported early on Tuesday, citing a medical source. The source said the former president, who was suffering from a benign tumor, had continuous medical attention.

Attorney-General Nabil Sadiq issued a statement saying: “The accused, Mohammed Morsi, in the presence of the other defendants inside the cage, fell unconscious, where he was immediately transferred to the hospital.

“The preliminary medical report stated that by external medical examination they found no pulse, no breathing, and his eyes were unresponsive to light. He died at 4:50 p.m. and no apparent injuries to the body were found.”

Sadiq added he had ordered the transfer of teams from the Supreme State Security Prosecution Office and the Southern Cairo Prosecution Office to conduct an investigation into Morsi’s death, and to examine surveillance footage from the courtroom and collect witness testimonies.

He also ordered that a senior forensic committee headed by the chief medical officer and the director of forensic medicine to prepare a forensic report on the cause of death.

Various outlets say that a state of high alert has been issued by the military and the Ministry of the Interior throughout the country following the news, for fear of riots or activity by the Muslim Brotherhood, in which Morsi was a prominent figure.

Morsi became president in June 2012 after the first democratic elections in the country following the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak on Jan. 25, 2011. He was Egypt’s fifth president.

He was born to a family of farmers on Aug. 20, 1951, in the village of Al-Adwa in Sharkia province. He married in 1978 and leaves behind his wife, five children and three grandchildren.

Following his deposition and arrest, Morsi was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment on Oct. 22, 2016, over bloody clashes that took place on Dec. 5, 2012 in front of the presidential palace in Cairo, between supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and opponents of Morsi rejecting a constitutional declaration issued in November of that year.

Other sentences meant his total incarceration could have been up to 48 years, with the ongoing espionage case potentially carrying a further maximum sentence of 25 years.

In Istanbul on Tuesday, hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters took to the streets, mourning former Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi and some chanting slogans blaming Cairo authorities for his death.

* With AFP