India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) sacked a spokesman and expelled another official on Sunday after derogatory comments they made about the prophet of Islam sparked outrage in Arab countries.
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 have summoned Indian ambassadors, while the Gulf Cooperation Council, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation have issued condemnations. At least 14 countries have so far condemned the remarks.
“If my words caused discomfort or offended the religious feelings of anyone, I unconditionally withdraw my statement,” she said.
Most of the Indian news outlets reporting on the story did not directly quote Sharma’s original comments.
According to the BJP office, Naveen Jindal, the leader of the BJP, was expelled from the party for comments he made about Islam on social media.
Analysts say Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has teetered on the edge between pleasing his international Muslim allies and advancing his party’s Hindu nationalist agenda at home.
“Modi has tried very hard to prevent his party’s domestic political agenda from spreading and poisoning India’s relations with the Gulf states,” said Hassan Alhasan, a fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies from Bahrain who studies India’s foreign policy in the Gulf. . . . “The extent to which Sharma’s comments have cast a shadow over India’s relationship with the Gulf states is unprecedented, and that is, of course, because she is or was a spokesperson for the BJP.”
The hashtag “Anyone but a prophet, oh Modi” was trending on Twitter in all six Gulf states and even in Algeria, where residents of Muslim countries called for a boycott of Indian goods. The outspoken Grand Mufti of Oman, Sheikh Ahmad al-Khalili, the country’s chief religious figure, called Sharma’s comments “a war against all Muslims” and an issue that “calls on all Muslims to rise up as one nation.”
The UAE alone, home to about 3.5 million Indians, accounts for 33% of remittances to India, exceeding $20 billion a year.
India signed a free trade agreement with the UAE this year, its first in more than a decade, according to news reports, and is eyeing the rest of the Gulf states. The agreement with the UAE aims to boost annual trade to $100 billion in five years and help create hundreds of thousands of jobs in India.
Abdulaziz Sager, chairman and founder of the Gulf Research Center in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, said the nature of the Indo-Saudi relationship gives Riyadh political and economic influence over the Indian government.
“I don’t think it will jeopardize economic or political relations because India is still an important country,” Sager said. “This is an important relationship, but Saudi Arabia is not going to put up with any insult to the Prophet or undermining religious Islamic issues,” Sager said.
Taneja said that India is aware of the influence of the Gulf countries on it because of 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.
Biden meeting with Saudi crown prince postponed to July
- Background: CNN reported Biden and the crown prince had previously planned to meet in late June as part of a broader Gulf summit. Officials said the July trip would allow more time for planning and scheduling and agenda setting. Biden defended the prospect of meeting with MBS on Friday.
- Why is it important: Personal meeting with MBS would note first time Biden has interacted directly with the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia since taking office. Biden has so far preferred to speak directly to King Salman, the crown prince’s father. The meeting would be a turning point for Biden, who once proposed making Saudi Arabia a “rogue state.” Two key deals were also made last week: OPEC announces increase in oil production and the extension of the truce in Yemen, which set the stage for a meeting between Biden and the crown prince.
Khamenei says unrest is caused by foreign ‘enemies’ trying to overthrow Islamic Republic
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Sunday that the recent protests across the country are caused by foreign “enemies” seeking to overthrow the Iranian regime.
- Background: Protests erupted in Iran in recent weeks due to skyrocketing inflation. Anti-government demonstrations also erupted last month after a 10-story commercial building collapsed in the city of Abadan, killing at least 37 people. “Today, the main hope of the enemies to strike at the country is based on popular protests. “, – Khamenei said in a televised speech on the occasion of the 33rd anniversary of the death of the leader of the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
- Why is it important: Iran is suffering one economic blow after another amid severe budget deficits, rising food prices and uncertainty about its main oil buyer China amid looming sanctions on Russian oil following its invasion of Ukraine. The protesters accused the government of negligence and repeatedly chanted slogans against the Islamic Republic and its rulers.
Briton sentenced to 15 years in Iraq for smuggling artefacts
On Monday, an Iraqi court sentenced a retired British geologist to 15 years in prison for trying to smuggle ancient artifacts out of the country.
- Background: James Fitton, 66, was arrested by Iraqi authorities in March at Baghdad airport for carrying small fragments and ancient pottery in his luggage. Fitton’s lawyer said he did not know the fragments were artifacts and that he would appeal the verdict on the grounds that there was no malice.
- Why is it important: Iraq’s ancient heritage has suffered during the years of conflict and many of the country’s artifacts have been looted during the fighting, especially after the 2003 US invasion. those who had previously been smuggled out of the country.
When the water level in the Mosul Reservoir dropped late last year, an ancient city emerged, and scientists rushed to study it before it disappeared underwater again.
A group of German and Iraqi-Kurdish archaeologists are in a race against time after they discovered a 3,400-year-old city under the Tigris River in Iraqi Kurdistan this year.
As the 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 through Syria and Turkey.
The researchers, who announced their findings last week, have been able to map massive fortifications of walls, warehouses and an industrial complex. The team was stunned by 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 by an earthquake around 1350 BC, during which the collapsed upper parts of the walls buried the buildings,” the researchers said in a statement.
To prepare the city for the impending re-flooding, the excavated buildings were covered with plastic sheeting and covered with gravel. The city is under water again, waiting to be reopened.
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This article has been updated to correct the spelling of Kabir Taneji’s name.