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Why India is in damage control mode with Arab countries

India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Sunday suspended a spokesperson and expelled another official after derogatory comments they made about the Islamic prophet sparked outcry in Arab countries.

“India was surprised by the response,” said Kabeer Taneja, a fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, a think tank in New Delhi. “Community issues are not new in India and in previous cases we have not had such a response [from Arab states].”

On May 26, BJP spokeswoman Nupur Sharma made comments on an Indian news channel about the Prophet Muhammad that were deemed offensive and Islamophobic. Qatar, Kuwait and Iran summoned India’s ambassadors, and the Gulf Cooperation Council, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation issued statements of condemnation.

“If my words have caused any discomfort or hurt anyone’s religious feelings, I hereby withdraw my statement unconditionally,” she said.

Most Indian news outlets that reported the story did not directly quote Sharma’s original comments.

Naveen Jindal, a BJP leader, was expelled from the party for comments he made about Islam on social media, the BJP office said.

Analysts said Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has walked a tightrope between keeping his international Muslim allies happy while pushing his party’s Hindu nationalist agenda at home.

“Modi has worked hard to prevent his party’s domestic political agenda from spilling over and poisoning India’s relations with the Gulf states,” said Hasan Alhasan, a Bahrain-based researcher at the International Institute for Development. studies which studies Indian foreign policy in the Gulf. . “The extent to which Sharma’s comments have clouded India’s relations with the Gulf States is unprecedented, and that is of course because she is, or was, the spokeswoman for the BJP.”

Taneja said the Indian government realized that a lot of religious rhetoric “has been going on for some time and going unnoticed, but it won’t go that way again.”

The hashtag “Anyone but the Prophet, oh Modi” was trending on Twitter in the six Gulf countries, and as far away as Algeria, with people in Muslim countries calling for a boycott of Indian products. Oman’s grand mufti, Sheikh Ahmad Al-Khalili, the country’s leading religious figure, called Sharma’s comments a “war on all Muslims” and an issue that “calls on all Muslims to stand up as one one nation”.

Offensive depictions of the Prophet of Islam have in the past led to mass boycotts, diplomatic crises, riots and even terrorist attacks.
The controversy comes as the Gulf states and India seek to significantly strengthen their economic partnership. India, the world’s third largest oil importer, looks to the Middle East for 65% of its crude imports. On the other hand, the Asian nation sends millions of workers to the Gulf States which send home billions of dollars in remittances.
“There are over 8 million non-resident Indians in the Gulf. The Gulf States are India’s major sources of oil and gas imports, and bilateral trade exceeds $100 billion” , Alhasan said. “So this is a very important set of relationships from an Indian perspective.”

The United Arab Emirates alone, home to some 3.5 million Indians, accounts for 33% of remittances to India, or more than $20 billion a year.

The UAE has named India among seven other nations as its future economic partner. Indian Trade and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal said the Gulf nation plans to invest $100 billion in his country, partly for manufacturing and infrastructure.
Why India is in damage control mode with Arab countries

This year India signed a free trade deal with the United Arab Emirates, its first in more than a decade, and has been eyeing the rest of the Gulf states for similar deals, according to news reports. The UAE pact aims to see annual trade reach $100 billion in five years and help create hundreds of thousands of jobs in India.

Abdulaziz Sager, president and founder of the Gulf Research Center in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, said the nature of Indo-Saudi relations gives Riyadh political and economic leverage over the Indian government.

“I don’t think it will have a detrimental effect in terms of economic or political relations because India is still an important country,” Sager said. “This is an important relationship, but Saudi Arabia will not accept any kind of insult to the Prophet or undermining Islamic religious issues,” Sager said.

There are more than 2.2 million Indians in Saudi Arabia, according to Indian officials.

Taneja said that India knows the influence of the Gulf States on it due to the diaspora in these countries. “That’s why we saw such a quick response from the government.”

CNN’s Esha Mitra contributed to this report

The summary

Biden’s meeting with Saudi crown prince pushed back to July

A meeting between US President Joe Biden and Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) is now expected to take place next month, according to an administration official.
  • Background: CNN reported earlier that Biden and the crown prince plan to meet in late June as part of a broader Gulf nations summit. Officials said the July trip would allow more time to plan and establish a schedule and agenda. Biden defended the prospect of a meeting with MBS on Friday.
  • why is it important: A face-to-face meeting with MBS would mark the first time Biden has engaged directly with the de facto Saudi leader since taking office. Biden has so far opted to speak directly with King Salman, the crown prince’s father. The meeting would represent a turnaround for Biden, who once suggested that Saudi Arabia should become a “pariah”. Two key deals were also reached last week – with OPEC announcing it would increase oil production and extending a truce in Yemen – which set the stage for Biden to meet the crown prince.

Iranian Khamenei says unrest is caused by foreign ‘enemies’ trying to overthrow the Islamic Republic

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Sunday that recent protests across the country were caused by foreign “enemies” seeking to overthrow the Iranian regime.

  • Background: Protests have erupted in recent weeks across Iran against soaring inflation. Anti-government protests also erupted last month after a 10-storey commercial building in the city of Abadan collapsed and at least 37 people died. “Today, the enemies’ most important hope of dealing a blow to the country rests on popular protests,” Khamenei said in a televised speech on the 33rd anniversary of the death of the leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolution. from 1979, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
  • why is it important: Iran has suffered one economic blow after another amid a steep budget deficit, rising food prices and uncertainties over its main oil buyer, China, amid looming sanctions on the Russian oil after its invasion of Ukraine. The demonstrators accused the government of negligence and repeatedly chanted slogans against the Islamic Republic and its leaders.

Briton sentenced to 15 years in Iraq for smuggling artifacts

A retired British geologist was sentenced to 15 years in prison by an Iraqi court on Monday for trying to smuggle ancient artefacts out of the country.

  • Background: James Fitton, 66, was arrested in March by Iraqi authorities at Baghdad airport for carrying small fragments and ancient pottery in his luggage. Fitton’s attorney said he did not know the fragments were artifacts and would appeal the verdict on the grounds that there was no criminal intent.
  • why is it important: Iraq’s ancient heritage has been wounded by years of conflict, and many of the country’s artifacts have been looted amid the fighting, especially after the 2003 US invasion. The Iraqi government has sought to locate and to recover its many lost treasures, including those previously smuggled out of the country.

Around the region

Extreme drought has wreaked havoc in Iraq, causing sandstorms that sent thousands to hospital. But for some archaeologists, it has been a temporary blessing.

As water levels in the Mosul Reservoir plummeted late last year, an ancient city emerged and scientists rushed to study it before it disappeared under water again .

A team of German and Iraqi Kurdish archaeologists were in a race against time after the discovery this year of the 3,400-year-old city under the Tigris in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.

As water levels began to rise again, scientists rushed to excavate and document what is believed to be the urban center of the Mittani Empire, which stretched from northern Iraq to Syria and to Turkey.

The researchers, who announced their findings last week, were able to map a massive fortification of walls, storage facilities and an industrial complex. The team was amazed at how well-preserved the city walls were, made from sun-dried mud bricks.

“This good preservation is due to the fact that the city was destroyed during an earthquake around 1350 BC, during which the collapse of the upper parts of the walls buried the buildings”, indicated the researchers in a statement.

To prepare for the impending re-flooding of the city, the excavated buildings were covered with plastic sheeting and gravel. The city is under water again, waiting to be rediscovered.

By Mohamed Abdelbary

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Why India is in damage control mode with Arab countries


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