Pope Francis will visit the UAE in February: Vatican City

Pope Francis will visit Abu Dhabi to take part in an international “interfaith” meeting. (File/Shutterstock)
Updated 31 January 2019

Pope Francis will visit the UAE in February: Vatican City

  • Vatican said the pope had accepted an invitation from Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan
  • Francis has already visited Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Bangladesh and Azerbaijan, the Palestinian territories

ABU DHABI: Pope Francis will visit Abu Dhabi in the UAE in February, the Vatican said on Thursday, in his seventh trip to a predominantly Muslim nation to call for inter-religious peace.

The trip will take place from Feb. 3-5. The Vatican said the pope had accepted an invitation from Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, and the Catholic community there. He will attend an inter-faith meeting.

Crown Prince Mohammed said in a tweet that the pope "is a symbol of peace, tolerance and the promotion of brotherhood. We look forward to a historic visit, through which we will seek dialogue on the peaceful coexistence among peoples."

Pope Francis was quick in the months after his election in 2013 to make overtures to worshippers from other religions, inviting two old friends from Buenos Aires – a Rabbi and a Muslim professor – on a trip to the Middle East where he condemned religious hatred.

Francis has already visited Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Bangladesh and Azerbaijan, the Palestinian territories and used those trips to call for inter-religious dialogue and to condemn the notion of violence in the name of God.

“The theme of the visit is 'Make Me a Channel of Your Peace' – and that's the Pope’s intention in going to the United Arab Emirates. How all people of goodwill can work for peace will be a major topic on this trip,” Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said.

The theme is taken from the opening words of the Prayer of Peace of Francis of Assisi, the saint whose name the pope took during his election ceremony.

“This visit, like the one to Egypt (in 2017), shows the fundamental importance the Holy Father gives to inter-religious dialogue. Pope Francis visiting the Arab world is a perfect example of the culture of encounter,” Burke said.

Bishop Paul Hinder of the Arabian Vicariate of Southern Arabia (UAE, Oman and Yemen) said: “I express my gratitude to the UAE government, which has made this visit possible. I urge the Christian community and our Catholic faithful that we respect and cooperate with the instructions of a special team, which is being put in place for the visit.

“The team will work closely with the government to ensure this visit goes smoothly and according to plan.

“The generosity of the UAE government has also been extended in making it possible to celebrate a Mass, which will be on February 5 at a public venue in Abu Dhabi. These are warm and kind gestures that we appreciate and acknowledge.”   

The pope's trip to the UAE will come ahead of a visit in March to Morocco.


Hundreds of employees fired from Turkey’s Incirlik air base

Updated 25 January 2020

Hundreds of employees fired from Turkey’s Incirlik air base

  • Incirlik Air Base is located in Turkey’s Adana province, near the Syrian border, and it has been a strategic element in ties between Ankara and Washington
  • It has also played a key role for the US-led Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) against Daesh in Syria and Iraq in the past

ANKARA: More than 420 people working at a crucial military air base in southern Turkey have lost their jobs, with some analysts considering it symbolic of decreased cooperation levels with the US and as the Pentagon reconsiders Middle East deployments.
Incirlik Air Base is located in Turkey’s Adana province, near the Syrian border, and it has been a strategic element in ties between Ankara and Washington. It has also played a key role for the US-led Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) against Daesh in Syria and Iraq in the past, as well as hosting US nuclear warheads.
The Colorado-based company Vectrus System Corporation, which provides day-to-day maintenance and operation services at the base, terminated the contracts of almost half of its employees at the base earlier this month.
“The base surged to support OIR,” Aaron Stein, director of the Middle East program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told Arab News. “The Turkey-based staff for OIR has mostly left. So, the base is going back to its pre-OIR level of people, and that level requires less contractor support.”
Vectrus did not reply to Arab News’ request for comment about its decision to scale back at the base.
Joe Macaron, a resident fellow at the Arab Center in Washington, said the move was largely symbolic as the canceled contracts related to logistical support rather than the US military mission.
“But obviously, it comes against the background of some tensions in the US-Turkish relationship and previous hints by Ankara that it might reconsider the status of the Incirlik base,” he told Arab News. “The Pentagon is reconsidering its deployment across the Middle East and it might be looking to become less dependent on Incirlik without fully exiting this crucial military air base.”
Incirlik air base has been used in the past as a bargaining chip at times of tension between the two countries.
“Turkey may re-evaluate the status of the Incirlik Air Base if the US imposes sanctions,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said last month in an interview with pro-government channel A-Haber, referring to the potential fallout from Turkey’s decision to buy an air defense system from Russia. 
Washington has threatened to use its Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act to punish Ankara for buying the S-400 system.
Seth J. Frantzman, who is executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis, said reports of the US reducing presence at Incirlik, or challenges to the US presence there, have been growing over the last years.
“Whether these reports relate to changes or are just random is unclear and it is important to note that the large interests of the military and history tend to mean the US does not simply walk away from bases, even if it reduces its role slowly over time,” he told Arab News.
The US has invested heavily in the Jordanian Muwaffaq Salti Air Base to expand its presence there.