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Saudi ambassador to Prague: Modernisation not counter to Islam

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Prague, Nov 23 (CTK) – Modernisation, including the softening of the laws applied to women, is not at variance with Islam, Naif Al Aboud, the new ambassador of Saudi Arabia to the Czech Republic, who assumed the post in April, has said in an interview with CTK.

Aboud, who was ambassador to Finland, said the anti-corruption fight in his country had not surprised him and he declined that this might lower the investors’ trust.

On the contrary, he continued, the fact that even princes, including the King’s nephew, were arrested during the anti-corruption raid proves that the Saudi judiciary system treats all in the same manner, which is in harmony with Islam on which the courts are based there.

Saudi Arabia has also started releasing various restrictions against women – it has softened the laws on custody and will allow women to drive cars as of next year.

The ambassador said modernisation does not mean violating the Saudi principles.

In this respect, he pointed to the participation of Saudi Arabia in an intercultural dialogue in Vienna.

Islam cannot be in conflict with other religions, it calls for peace and safety for the whole humankind, he stressed.

He said he can see the main problem in the Middle East policy in the involvement of the Shia Hezbollah, supported by Iran, in the conflicts in Yemen and Syria and in support for radical groups by Qatar.

In June, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt an the United Arab Emirates interrupted diplomatic relations with Qatar, citing its support for terrorist organisation and destabilising the region as the reasons.

The ambassador said Qatar had violated its commitment to see to stability in the region by its support for the Palestinian Hamas, radical groups in Syria and other terrorist groups that were given space in the Qatari TV Al-Jazeera.

As far as the war in Syria in concerned, Saudi Arabia sides with “moderate groups,” Aboud said, adding that the conflict cannot be solved by military means.

Asked whether Israel and Saudi Arabia are coming closer because of the involvement of Hezbollah in Syria, Aboud said the Palestinian-Israeli conflict had existed before Hezbollah and that its peaceful solution was in the interests of Arab countries.

He dismissed that Saudi Arabia was interfering in the internal affairs of Lebanon.

Aboud also spoke about tourism and expressed hope that cooperation between both countries would improve in the interview.

The Czech Republic has become an attractive tourist destination for Saudi Arabs many of whom visit the country because of its high-quality health care and education, he said.

The number of Czech visas issued to Saudi Arabs has doubled in the past six months.

However, Aboud said it was important that cooperation in other areas, mainly in diplomacy, develop, too.

The Czech Republic is a country with a very rich history that has good relations with Saudi Arabia. However, bilateral relations have not developed as expected in the past few years, he said.

Asked whether President Milos Zeman’s negative comments on Islam caused this and whether relations improved of late, Aboud said Riyadh believed in their improvement.

However, he at the same time expressed fears that such statements about culture and Islam would not contribute to mutual understanding. Rather a positive approach is expected from the heads of state, government and parliament to improve bilateral relations, he added.

Saudi Arabia is trying to cooperate with Czech partners at the Foreign Ministry and other government institutions with the aim to organise bilateral visits of diplomats and senior officials, he said.

In early November, Saudi Arabia appreciated that the Czech Foreign Ministry had expressed fears of a missile attack by the Yemeni Shia rebels on the international airport in Riyadh.

Aboud said he believed that such a statement would help boost cooperation between both countries.

In July, the Czech Senate refused to support the ratification of he Czech-Saudi agreement on air transport services, pointing at human rights violation in Saudi Arabia.

Aboud said this decision must be respected.

Some senators connected the deepening cooperation with other issues, but the Czech Transport Ministry supported the agreement, so there is a hope it will be debated again, he added.

An increase in Saudi investments in the Czech Republic depends on the improvement of bilateral relations, he said.

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