Monday, September 16, 2013

Saudi Arabia's Campaign to Silence Arab Christians

Arabic original in al-Akhbar, here. The message from Metropolitan Antonio Chedraoui that so offended the Saudis can be read here.

Saudi Arabia to Christians: Shut Up!

From Lebanon to... Mexico, Saudi Arabia is waging a hidden campaign to stifle any Christian voice expressing anxiety about the existential threat to Christians in Syria and the Middle East at the hands of Takfiris. As far as Riyadh is concerned, no voice should rise above the din of battle, even if this requires departing from the usual minimal standards of diplomatic work.

The Saudi ambassador in Beirut, Ali Iwad al-Asiri mustered all his influence to frustrate a consultative meeting for Arab ambassadors in Lebanon called by Cardinal Beshara Rai on August 27, which he hosted in Dimane. The goal of the meeting was to encourage some Arab countries to stop supporting the Takfiris who, under the banner of the "Arab Spring", are destroying the Christian presence in Syria, Lebanon, and the Middle East in general. Al-Asiri boycotted the gathering and pressured ambassadors from countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council to boycot it. The manner in which the Kuweiti ambassador, Abdul'al al-Qana'ei, was absent from the gathering gives the impression that it was due to Saudi pressure. Up until the night before the meeting, al-Qana'ei affirmed his intent to be present but shortly before it began he gave his regrets under the pretext of security concerns. The message sent by al-Asiri's behavior is that Riyadh is opposed to Middle Eastern Christians raising their voice against the fundamentalists because no sound should rise above the din of battle in Syria. In order to achieve this, Riyadh will not shy away from pressing all its weight to silence any voice that might ask about the future of the Christians of the Middle East in the shadow of the expansion of Takfirism in the region.

It appears that the Saudi campaign to silence expressions of Christian anxieties has been effective on the ground. Al-Akhbar has information that there has been a recent Christian trend in Lebanon to organize a movement in solidarity with the Christians of the town of Maloula in the face of the "invasion" to which it has recently been subjected, however those calling for this activity have received advice to cancel it out of fears that it might provoke the ire of Riyadh, which was originally roused against the Maronite Patriarchate's statement, and is currently spreading accusations in international gatherings that Bkerki supports the Syrian regime, in violation of the principle of "self-distancing" practiced by the Lebanese state.

And in Mexico...

Last week, the Saudi position in Lebanon was continued in Mexico, leb by Riyadh's ambassador in Mexico City, Hussein al-Asiri. The story began on the ninth of this month when the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan of Mexico, Antonius Chedraoui, published in the Mexican newspaper La Reforma, the most widely-read newspaper in Mexico, a letter to the world's Christians and to supporters of the Takfiris in the White House, the Elysee, and the Gulf countries, in which he spoke of "a plot to eliminate the Christian presence in the Middle East, under the pretext of supporting the Arab Spring." The Saudi ambassador in Mexico immediately reacted to Chedraoui. In the days following the publication of Chedraoui's message, Ambassador al-Asiri waged a media and diplomatic campaign and applied hidden pressure on Chedraoui, on the newspaper that published his message, and on the television channels that invited him to discuss it. One day after the publication of the message, the Saudi ambassador went to ambassadors to Mexico from Islamic countries in order to ask them to hold an urgent meeting to present a unified position against the contents of Chedraoui's message and against the Mexican satellite TV channels that hosted him. The Saudi ambassador characterized the journalist Carlos Marin who conducted the interview as being "sympathetic to Israel and Zionism". During the discussion, an opinion emerged at the meeting-- against al-Asiri's opinion, that advised not exaggerating the matter and treating it with wisdom, but the Saudi ambassador insisted that the gathering issue a statement condemning Chedraoui's message and asking the Mexican newspaper that published it and the television station that interviewed Chedraoui to give space to opinions refuting the head of the Orthodox Church in Mexico, as well as proposing the idea of sending a delegation to raise the matter with the Mexican Foreign Ministry in order to make the issue a point of concern for the Mexican government because it "touches upon its interests with the Islamic countries, especially with Saudi Arabia." Al-Asiri, however, was satisfied with the advice from his Lebanese counterpart, Hisham Hamdan, that "exaggerating the issue will lead to widening its media and political scope in Mexico" and he agreed to cancel the idea of raising the issue formally with the Mexican Foreign Ministry, even though he invited the Mexican foreign minister to a special dinner where he encouraged the Mexican state to apply pressure to silence Chedraoui and the media that covered his views.

It is worth mentioning in this context Hamdan did not defend the right of his citizen Chedraoui to present his opinion and express his fears. Quite the contrary, he lent his support to the Saudi ambassador's effort to belittle Chedraoui's message. In order to acheive this, he sent a message to the Lebanese diaspora, the diplomatic community, the Mexican Foreign Ministry and the newspaper La Reforma wherein he stressed that the Lebanese government distances itself from Chedraoui's message and the positions he expressed in it. The Lebanese ambassador added in his message, just before closing, that the Lebanese government "condemns terrorism against Christians" even though he followed it directly with "and other civilians, whether in Syria, occupied Palestine, or any place in the world." He closed-- and here is the bottom line in terms of the Saudi demand-- by stating that "Lebanon does not accept laying blame on Islam or Muslims (...) the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the countries of the Gulf have also condemned these crimes." He did not forget to mention "the positions of the sister countries of the Gulf alongside Lebanon." The coordination between the Saudi and Lebanese embassies was prominent to the extent that Hamdan asked al-Asiri give his opinion about the message he was preparing to send to the Mexican Foreign Ministry against Chedraoui.

The services rendered by our ambassador in Mexico for the Saudi kingdom did not stop at this. He even asked concerned parties in Beirut to communicate with the Orthodox patriarch to express support for the Saudi position against Chedraoui's message, on the grounds that it "addressed the Arab countries, especially [naturally!] Saudi Arabia"!

1 comment:

The Anti-Gnostic said...

I'm beginning to come around to NOCTOC's view that this is just the latest clash in a long battle between Byzantine Greeks and Gulf Arabs.