Foreign Minister Frank‑Walter Steinmeier visited Jeddah from 12 to 13 October. He met Crown Prince Salman and his Saudi counterpart Prince Saud Al Faisal in the harbour city by the Red Sea. Steinmeier also met representatives from think tanks and civil society as well as the Secretary General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Iyad Ameen Madani. The talks focused on the situation in the Middle East and the dialogue with civil society.
Saudi Arabia is considered to be a key country in the region: the Kingdom is a major regional power thanks to its economic position and importance in terms of energy policy as well as its role as the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. Moreover, Saudi Arabia is an important player in the fight against the Islamist terrorist militia ISIS.
After arriving in Jeddah, Steinmeier said that the “crises in the region” were the focus of his visit: “Of course we’re talking about Iraq and Syria and about the threat posed by ISIS.” The Foreign Minister continued:
I am sure that we will not be able to deal with the conflicts in the Middle East without Saudi Arabia’s help. That is why discussions are needed.
Discussions on ISIS, Yemen and the Middle East
Steinmeier discussed joint action against ISIS and the situation in the Middle East and Yemen with his counterpart, the Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Saud Al Faisal. Steinmeier and Prince Saud last met at the UN General Assembly in New York as recently as the end of September. Since then, the situation in Yemen has deteriorated while ISIS has continued its advance, said Steinmeier at a joint press conference.
ISIS not to be equated with Islam
The German Foreign Minister said that he was well aware of ISIS’ destructive impact. The terrorist militia not only threatens Iraq and Syria, but – especially with regard to the issue of foreign fighters – is a danger for the whole world. Aside from military action, ISIS’ religious claims must also be delegitimised, he said:
We reject all attempts to equate ISIS with Islam. Saudi Arabia has made it abundantly clear that anyone who tries to do this is not speaking in the name of Islam and the Koran.
Commitment to reconstruction in Gaza
Steinmeier also spoke about the international summit for the reconstruction of Gaza, held on the previous day in Cairo, and reaffirmed Germany’s commitment to rebuilding the Gaza Strip. On 12 October, the Federal Government announced that it would be providing 50 million euros for reconstruction in Gaza. Steinmeier added:
We are providing assistance under the assumption that the buildings we reconstruct are not destroyed in a fourth war in Gaza. A permanent ceasefire between Israel and Palestine must be the basis for renewed talks on the two‑state solution.
Steinmeier engaged in further political consultations with Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Minister of Defence of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, Minister of the National Guard.
A changing society
In addition to matters of foreign policy relating to Saudi Arabia, an important aim of the trip was to strengthen ties with Saudi civil society. Shortly after his arrival, Steinmeier met the President of the Gulf Research Center (GRC), a Saudi Arabian think tank, as well as representatives from civil society, including Somayya Jabarti, the first female editor‑in-chief of a Saudi newspaper.
After these talks, Steinmeier said that while some of the perceptions held about Saudi Arabia in Germany are justified, Saudi society has changed significantly since his last visit six years ago. Steinmeier continued:
Hundreds of thousands of young people are studying abroad and women now make up more than half of the country’s students. This is changing society, albeit very slowly.
Steinmeier concluded his visit by meeting the Secretary General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Iyad Ameen Madani. Founded in 1971, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation represents 56 Islamic states and aims to strengthen their political, economic and cultural cooperation. Steinmeier and Madani discussed the instrumentalisation of Islam by ISIS, the situation of Muslims around the world and the role of Islam in Europe.