Indonesia: Respect for moderation and tolerance of Al-Azhar

Alawi Shehab, special envoy to the Middle East for the Indonesian president, said that Egypt has status and respect in Indonesia and that Indonesians look to Al-Azhar for the Islamic teachings that it provides.

Shehab added that the theological education at Al-Azhar is based on moderation and tolerance and this is what Indonesia needs, because all Muslims see in Al-Azhar an example of how to live their daily lives.

The special envoy said that Indonesians hope that President Hosni Mubarak will visit Indonesia, pointing out that the Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has also expressed a desire to visit Egypt and that all Indonesians presidents since independence have visited Egypt except President Susilo.

With regard to the Indonesian stance towards Israel's demand that Palestinians recognize the Jewish nature of the state, Alawi Shehab, who previously worked as the Indonesian Foreign Minister, stressed that this definition is an invitation to racial discrimination and violates the right of citizenship which is a basic human right.  He feels further, that it sets a precedent for the establishment of other similar religious states, leading to religious tension, rather than co-existence, dialogue and harmony, and threatening  security, stability and peace in the world.

Shehab added the end goal of recognizing the country as a religious entity is the Israeli eviction of Palestinian Arabs from their lands and ultimately from the state.

Shehab explained that 90 percent of Indonesia's population is Muslim, but that not one Indonesian, whether Muslim, Christian, Buddhist or Hindu, feels as if he lives in an Islamic nation because there is social harmony and a spirit of coexistence between the different religions and beliefs, and this is what is required in the 21st century.

He said that Indonesians fight for harmony between different races and cultures and religions in Indonesia, because this is the path to peaceful coexistence.

He concluded that Israel is practicing a dangerous policy which threatens peace and security in the region, and that Indonesia would never condone racist policies and practices like these, which lead to hostility and hatred.

With regard to the possibility of an Indonesian public figure taking on the role of mediator in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Shehab explained that there is a problem lying mainly in the fact that Indonesia does not accept the presence of Israeli representation on its land. Consequently it will be difficult to maintain neutrality, or at least Israelis will not see Indonesia as neutral, and this is a basic condition for any mediator.

While Indonesia is geographically distant from the region, Shehab said, it is very close to the Palestinian people who suffer the scourge of colonialism.

He pointed out that what Israel is doing in Palestine is nothing more than another form of neo-colonialism, which is distinct from the previous forms of traditional colonialism.

Shehab also revealed that his country is waiting for the American withdrawal from Iraq, and is considering opening an embassy in Baghdad. The current Indonesian Foreign Minister, Marty Natalegawa indicated that he was informed of the intention of his country to open an embassy in Iraq and that he is making arrangements and preparations for that eventuality. He also added that Indonesia's relationship with Iraq is long standing and distinguished.

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