Austria has announced that it wants to close an interreligious center in Vienna financed by Saudi Arabia and established in 2012, deciding that its presence is “incompatible given Riyadh’s repeated human rights’ violations.”
On June 12, 2019, thanks to an alliance of circumstance between social democrats and nationalists of the FPÖ, the lower house of the Austrian parliament voted in favor of Austria’s withdrawal from this international institution. The government’s agreement—this type of treaty which an international organization concludes with a host state on its territory—is thus de facto broken and will cause the closure of the interfaith center in the coming months.
Funded by Riyadh, the organization, which enjoys the status of an intergovernmental organization, was born of a treaty between Saudi Arabia, Spain, and Austria, with the Vatican sitting as an observer. Officially, its role is to “foster dialogue between Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism.”
Its defenders have always presented it as “a bridge between cultures and a place of dialogue.” “Such places are necessary especially where relations are problematic,” said Christoph Schönborn, Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna in January 2015.
On the contrary, its opponents have seen it as a “humanitarian showcase for the Wahhabi regime in power in Saudi Arabia,” where Islam is the state religion—no non-Muslim religious practice is allowed in public, “and is even very difficult in private.”