TAGES-ANZEIGER

Controversial Muslim “Parliament” Planned In Switzerland

A group of Swiss Muslim organizations are hoping to set up a national parliament of sorts. The Umma Schweiz, as the representative body would be called, could be up and running by 2013. But not all of Switzerland’s 400,000 Muslims are convinced it’s a goo

A mosque in Olten, Switzerland (wikipedia)
A mosque in Olten, Switzerland (wikipedia)


*NEWSBITES

ZURICH - Some of Switzerland's leading Islamic organizations want to set up a single national body that will allow the country's approximately 400,000 Muslims to "speak with one voice," as community leader Farhad Afshar puts it. But the proposal has raised eyebrows, as much as anything for the term used to describe it: a "Parliament."

Afshar, a Bern-based sociologist and president of a Muslim umbrella group called KIOS, is one of several organization heads involved in setting up the "Umma Schweiz," as the body is to be called. The Arabic word ummah refers to a Muslim community or the Muslim world.

Nicole von Jacobs, who heads the half-canton of Basel City's special "diversity and integration" section, says the term "parliament" is "an unfortunate choice, and misleading." Rather, the goal is to create a new entity that would have the legal status of an association and a democratically elected board. "It's important for us to be in contact with all the different Muslim groups," says Jacobs.

Muslims in Switzerland have been shaken in their rapport with the state since 2009 when Swiss voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum banning the construction of minarets, the Islamic prayer towers.

"Pseudo-democratic structure" arouses suspicions

Jasmina El Sonbati, a Basel high school teacher with Egyptian roots, sees positive aspects to the idea but worries that an attempt may be made to apply various aspects of Sharia law to Swiss Muslims. "That is absolutely unacceptable," she says.

Elham Manea, a Swiss born in Egypt, says the fact that Muslims are trying to build a strong umbrella organization is "legitimate." However, adds the University of Zurich political scientist, "we don't want a parallel parliament. They had a very bad experience with something similar in Great Britain, where the entity was basically a mouthpiece for fundamentalists."

For her part, Saïda Keller-Messahli, president of the Forum for a Forward-Looking Islam, calls the parliament project "irritating." The main problem, she says, is that taken together the Islamic associations in Switzerland only represent some 10% to 15% of Muslims in Switzerland – "the ones that go to mosques."

"How can a body speak for all Muslims, when the 85% to 90% of Muslims in Switzerland who define themselves as non-religious are excluded?" Keller-Messahli, a Swiss who grew up in Tunisia, asks. It only feeds the suspicion, she says, that a small minority are serving their own agenda "behind a pseudo-democratic structure."

Read the full story in German by Willi Herzig

Photo - wikipedia

*Newsbites are digest items, not direct translations

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Geopolitics

Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3

-Analysis-

LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.


Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

commons.wikimedia.org

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

For if nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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