Sun | Aug 20, 2017

Germany's Merkel to press Saudi Arabia on refugees, rights

Published:Monday | May 1, 2017 | 5:02 AM
In this photo released by the Saudi Press Agency, SPA, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, shakes hands with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Naif bin Abdulaziz on her arrival to Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, yesterday.

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP):

German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived on Sunday in Saudi Arabia, where she is expected to press royals on a number of sensitive issues, including taking in refugees, while also boosting important business ties in her first visit to the country in seven years.

Merkel met King Salman in the Red Sea city of Jiddah and is scheduled to visit the United Arab Emirates on Monday. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are Germany's largest trading partners in the Middle East.

During her talks with Gulf leaders, Merkel is expected to press them to do more to take in refugees and provide humanitarian relief for those fleeing conflict in Muslim-majority countries. Her country has provided refuge to hundreds of thousands of people from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years.

Merkel is also expected to raise the issue of Saudi Arabia's funding for religious institutions that may be spreading a fundamentalist version of Islam around the world, including in countries such as Mali and Niger, said senior German officials who spoke on customary conditions of anonymity.

 

FUNDAMENTALIST IDEOLOGY

 

Saudi Arabia recently closed several institutional establishments in Germany following pressure from Berlin, including the private King Fahd Academy in the southern suburbs of Bonn. German authorities had previously expressed concern the school might be used to spread fundamentalist ideology.

Like other high-profile female visitors, Merkel did not cover her hair or wear a traditional flowing black robe upon arrival in the kingdom. She is expected to meet Saudi businesswomen during her two-day visit in a sign of support for women's rights.

Merkel herself backs a ban in Germany on civil servants wearing face veils and on the face cover being worn in public schools, courts and while driving. Most Saudi women wear the full face veil, known as the niqab, in line with the kingdom's conservative Wahhabi interpretation of Islam.