11/07/2007, 00.00
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Pope and Abdullah focus on religious freedom, says Arab press

Saudi sources say discussion underlined rejection of terrorism. The ‘historic meeting’ is reported in papers and TV both inside and outside Saudi Arabia with spotlight on inter-faith co-operation. Some however forget to mention that the former includes the Jews.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Arab media gave wide coverage to yesterday’s ‘historic’ meeting between Benedict XVI and Saudi King Abdullah. All media outlets stressed how both sides shared the same view about the role religion can play in achieving peace and justice, but not everyone reported that Jews are also included in the process. Many, especially in Saudi Arabia, did refer to the Vatican’s request that Christians be granted religious freedom that a “just solution” be found to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Saudi Arabia’s official news agency SPA reported that the “two sides [. . .] stressed that violence and terrorism have nothing to do with a religion,” something that was in yesterday’s Vatican news release. The news agency noted that the Saudi monarch stressed the importance of religion for peace and justice but did not mention the Jews as was the case in the original press release.

Another Saudi paper, Arab News, talked about the “dialogue between Muslims, Christians and Jews [. . .] to promote peace, justice and moral values” and mentioned the meeting’s “warmth.” It also noted its significance since the Saudi monarch met the Pope in his capacity as “Custodian of the two holy mosques.”

Both King Abdullah and Pope Benedict said that “violence and terrorism have no religion or nation,” and that all “countries and peoples should work together to eradicate terrorism.”

It added that yesterday’s meeting came just weeks after 138 Muslim clerics and intellectuals wrote a letter to Benedict and other Christian leaders, and quoted several expatriates living in the kingdom who welcomed the king’s meeting with the pope as a step towards better relations between Muslims and Christians.

The Arab Herald, which also emphasised the historic and warm nature of the meeting, gave wide coverage to the Vatican’s request for broader religious freedom, noting that in the past this demand was a sticking point between the two sides.

The online paper published a range of opinions from some of its readers. One reader noted that no state should impose its views on worshippers; another complained that Muslims are not fully free in Europe because of restrictions on Muslim women wearing the hijab, whereas Christian nuns can wear their own veil; and another instead pointed out that whilst Europe is dotted with mosques, no church exists in Saudi Arabia.

Arab papers outside of the kingdom have largely carried news stories from international news agencies. They, too, stressed the historic nature of the meeting.

Pan-Arab Asharq Al-Awsat noted that the “Vatican has said it wants to pursue a dialogue with moderate Muslims.”

The Kuwait Times called the event a “historic meeting” in which religious freedom, co-operation between Muslims, Christians and Jews and peace in the Middle East took centre stage, noting also that the “Vatican wants greater rights for the 1 million Catholics who live in Saudi Arabia, most of them migrant workers who are not allowed to practice their religion in public.”

Finally, al-Jazeera started off its report on the meeting by saying that “King Abdullah has become the first Saudi monarch to meet a Catholic pontiff,” adding that the two “discussed [. . .] the situation of Saudi Arabia's Christian minority, the need for greater inter-faith collaboration and prospects for peace in the Middle East.” Further into the text the Qatar-based satellite TV broadcaster quoted yesterday’s Vatican press release that referred to “collaboration among Christians, Muslims and Jews,” asserting also that the “Vatican wants more rights” for Christians.

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