A senior UAE minister has lamented the “tragic” collapse of societies in the Middle East and blamed the spread of hate-filled ideology.
Zaki Nusseibeh, Minister of State, warned that populist movements that fed on anger and marginalisation risked the fundamental breakup of social cohesion around the world.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with The National, he said extremist groups that have turned to terrorism had fast become an international plague.
Part of the solution, he argued, was an increased focus on a message of tolerance and interfaith dialogue, just as Pope Francis had advocated on his recent trip to the UAE.
“In the Middle East we have been witnessing the tragic disintegration of states and the collapse of societies induced by the spread of the ideologies of extremism, hate and violence,” he said.
“We also see a process of violent social upheavals internationally – with the spread of populist movements that often feed on anger induced by the feelings of marginalisation or neglect.
“Terrorism feeding on extremism has become an international plague. It is vitally important therefore that we work together in concrete ways to promote the values of tolerance and interfaith dialogue in our own societies so as to combat the onslaught of extremism.”
Mr Nusseibeh made his remarks a week after Pope Francis arrived in the UAE for a landmark, three-day visit.
Some 150,000 worshippers from across the seven emirates made their way to Abu Dhabi to join a public Mass led by the pontiff. Tens of thousands more watched the service via live television feeds.
During his stay, the Pope met with Dr Ahmed Al Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, a senior cleric, as well as numerous interfaith leaders including the Council of Muslim Elders.
Together they signed a human fraternity document, aiming to promote shared values, tolerance and the search for peace.
“I believe that this historic visit will have demonstrated globally that respecting other faiths does not mean undermining our own convictions and beliefs,” said Mr Nusseibeh.
“Only those who feel insecure in the strength of their own faith fear being open to other world perspectives and are reluctant to show understanding and compassion to others who follow different cultures or paths.
“It is our responsibility to bring up our young generations with the values of tolerance and understanding, that we teach them the need to have respect for other cultures, beliefs and religions in the same way that we want others to respect and value our belief systems and values.”
Mr Nusseibeh, who served as Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation at the Foreign Ministry, also broached the ongoing conflict in Yemen.
The war began in 2015 after the Houthi, an armed political movement established in northern Yemen in the 1990s, violently overturned the country’s internationally recognised government, led by Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi.
Mr Nusseibeh, a University of Cambridge graduate whose daughter is the UAE Permanent Representative at the United Nations, said the subject had come up in conversation with the pontiff, among other political issues.
He said he had personally been very moved on hearing the Pope say that Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, discussed politics through the prism of a deep spiritual and humanitarian outlook.
“On the Yemen situation, our leadership has consistently expressed a clear position,” Mr Nusseibeh said.
“Our mission, as underpinned by the United Nations Security Council Resolutions, is to work with the international alliance to bring back peace to that country and to ensure the safety of the Holy Places in Mecca from missile and drone attacks launched by the Houthi militias.
“We are truly hopeful that the United Nations and the international community can help in bringing about a peaceful and negotiated resolution to this conflict.
“There cannot but be a peaceful solution to the situation.”
Mr Nusseibeh went on to describe his optimism for the Middle East’s future and its growing relationship with international partners.
He stressed that the Pope’s visit would have “monumental consequences” for the region and beyond, helping draw Christianity and Islam closer together.
Describing the pontiff’s meeting in the Emirates with Dr Al Tayeb, he said their message of peace, charity and compassion was one which would help “combat the onslaught of extremism”.
Bringing “the two leading spiritual leaders of the Christian and Muslim worlds together in Abu Dhabi as the capital of Tolerance in the region” would “build long overdue historic bridges between Christianity and Islam”, he said.