Pope Francis praises UAE for its modernity, while maintaining its roots

Pope Francis (L) was speaking just days after his historic visit to the UAE where he met Egypt's Azhar Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb. (Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/File)
Updated 10 February 2019

Pope Francis praises UAE for its modernity, while maintaining its roots

  • Pope Francis says UAE was a modern country looking to the future without forgetting its roots
  • Pontiff tells WGS he hopes the visit to the UAE is the start of a new era

DUBAI: Pope Francis has praised the UAE, describing it as a “modern country looking to the future without forgetting its roots.”

Speaking in a video message broadcast Sunday at the first day of the World Government Summit in Dubai, he said he hoped his visit to the UAE last week was the start of change.

“I carry in my heart the visit I just made to the UAE and the warm welcome I received,” he said.

“I encountered a modern country looking to the future without forgetting its roots. I saw a country seeking to transform into concrete initiatives the words tolerance, fraternity, mutual respect and freedom.”

Pope Francis’s historic visit to Abu Dhabi last week was the first by a pontiff to the Arabian Gulf and saw him lead the biggest open mass to be held in the region with a 180,000-strong congregation.

He said he returned home from a country that had risen from the desert in the hope that others could be equally successful.

“I believe it is possible,” he said.

“But only if we grow together, alongside one another, with openness and respect, willing to take on everyone’s problems.”

Addressing world governments, he spoke of political challenges, economic development, environmental protection and the use of technology.

He said he hoped the question underlying their reflections would not only be “what are the best opportunities to take advantage of?”, but rather “what kind of world to we want to build together?”

Pope Francis explained that this question pushed people to think of others rather than capital and economic interests.

“It is a question that does not look to tomorrow, but further into the future, to the responsibility weighing upon us,” he added.

“Handing on this world of ours to those who will come after us, preserving it from environmental degradation and, even before that, from moral degradation. We cannot speak of sustainable development without solidarity.”

During the Pope’s visit to the UAE he met with the Grand Imam of Al Azhar Al Sharif University and chairman of the Muslim Council of Elders, Dr Ahmed Al Tayeb.

The pair signed a pledge of commitment to tolerance and fraternity at the end of a day which also saw the Pontiff visit the Presidential Palace of the UAE and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, said the Pope’s visit was historic and provided opportunities for the future.

“It opens a new page in the history of religions and in the dialogue of religions,” he said.

“They are two people of peace but who could have ever thought that those two symbols would overcome all limits and constraints to sign a new agreement of peace to overcome violence and hatred?”

He said their meeting in Abu Dhabi last week was aimed at relaying an important message.

“As they said to the world: peace is hard to achieve but it is not impossible,” he added.

“Some might wonder why those two religious symbols insist on brotherhood and the answer lies in one word: peace. Therefore, all of us should be courageous enough and assume our responsibilities to put an end to conflict and wars – we might not succeed but we will most definitely try,” he said.

Women’s key role in the Sudan protests that toppled Omar Al-Bashir

Updated 13 min 22 sec ago

Women’s key role in the Sudan protests that toppled Omar Al-Bashir

  • Sudan's public morality laws targeted women
  • Women were beaten and harassed at protests

DUBAI: It began with protests over the price of bread. But it was an image of Alaa Salah, a young woman dressed in white, standing on  a car with her hand pointing up to the sky, that captured the world’s attention as the protests led to the toppling of Omar Al-Bashir.

For some women, the revolution was not just about btead — it was about regaining a feeling of safety inside their homes and fighting a regime that oppressed women.

Ihsan Abdulaziz, speaking from her Khartoum home, remembered the knock at her door. It was members of the security forces. They had come to arrest her.

“They didn’t even give me time to pack. I put on my abaya and veil and left with them,” she told Arab News, recalling the moment she was snatched away from her family.

Abdulaziz, a leader of the new Sudanese women’s movement, was arrested on Jan. 5, 2019. She was held for 58 days without charge or explanation.

She described the conditions of Omdurman women’s prison.

“The rooms were overcrowded. One of the cells, meant for solitary confinement, had 5 people inside it.”

Abdulaziz said they tried to fit two other women into the room, one of whom was believed to be over 75.

The female guards singled out detainees, treating them disrespectfully and delaying the delivery of medicine.

“Our prison was still better than others,” Abdulaziz added.

Abdulaziz, who had been detained on three previous occasions, learned that security forces beat up her son so severely that both his hands were in casts. “Even our kids, those of activists, are targeted.”

The associate director of Human Rights Watch’s Africa division, Jehanne Henry, said that thousands had been arrested and that women were among those being kept in custody without being charged

But the participation of Sudanese women in demonstrations is not new.

“Sudanese women have always been willing and strong to protest,” Henry told Arab News.

Salah’s white garment and golden earrings are inspired by the outfits that Sudanese women wore during revolutions in the 1960s and 1980s.

Women were active in other revolutions too, such as those in 2011 and 2013.

But there are more women taking to Sudan’s streets now.

“These protests have a much wider base, the Sudanese Professionals Association has mobilized so many professions,” Henry explained.

Women from all classes, interests, occupations and ages took to the streets this time.

“It is no longer limited to politically active women, all the women were out in the street,” Abdulaziz said.

Some would even estimate that almost 60 percent of the protesters were women, she added.

A Sudanese architecture graduate, who is living in the UAE, said most of her female friends and relatives participated in the demonstrations and sit-ins.

“Even my older aunts and grandmother took part in the protests, even those who were not politically engaged,” Ebaa Elghali told Arab News.

Women were the most disadvantaged group under Bashir’s regime which is why they were actively protesting against it, Elghali added.

Human Rights Watch said that public morality laws, implemented by Bashir, targeted women and curtailed their basic freedoms.

In 2009 Sudanese women started a movement as a protest against these laws.

“They are (the laws) dedicated to control the clothes of Sudanese women, many faced unjust treatment because of it,” Sudanese activist Tahani Abbas told Arab News.

“Sometimes they say the clothes are indecent, but they never specify how. You could be fully covered and they still won't like it,” Abdulaziz explained.

Although the regime claimed to follow Sharia, several Sudanese women said the government was as far removed from Islam as it could be.

Women faced various violations during the protests, such as “beatings and harassment by national security during arrests,” Henry said.

Some women were starting to report incidents of sexual harassment and assault, she added.