August 11, 2008 Special Dispatch No. 2019

Following Saudi-Sponsored Madrid International Interfaith Conference, Saudis Praise Spain: "Madrid Speaks Arabic"

August 11, 2008
Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 2019

According to an article in the London daily Al-Hayat, the Arabic language held sway during the Saudi-sponsored interfaith World Conference on Dialogue, held July 16-18, 2008 in Madrid. It is noteworthy that the conference brought Saudi Arabia to the center of the European and international political scene, after France had, one week previously, brought Syria and Qatar to the forefront of politics during the Mediterranean conference in Paris.

Following are excerpts from the Al-Hayat article:

"…At Madrid's international airport, the invitees to the international interfaith dialogue conference were greeted in Arabic; airport officials at passport control and security personnel at the Auditorium Hotel spoke fluent Arabic; [Arabic was spoken at] all conference activities and at the reception held for the occasion. It can [therefore] be said that the Spanish capital, Madrid, speaks Arabic.

"Spain, where the Arabs have a long history, and which for 800 years, from the time of the Arab conquest in 711 C.E., was known as Andalucia… has today again donned Arab garb, [this time not through conquest but through] modern, global, and cultural [dialogue].

"'Sabah al-khayr' ['good morning'] is the first expression one is likely to hear in Madrid. [Indeed,] these words were uttered by a passport control official at Madrid's international airport – [he] looked Aryan European but spoke a few words in Arabic. He explained that he had been taking private lessons, since he was interested in [Arabic]. He asked [me] in Arabic, 'Where are you from?' 'How are you?' and, before I had a chance to look away, also said, 'Goodbye.'

"At the Auditorium Hotel there was a pronounced Arab ambience, generated by the presence of the Saudis who had organized the [conference], by the Arabs who participated in it, and by the directional signs in Arabic [throughout the hotel]. It seemed as if the Spaniards were very interested in the Arabic language, [since they often tried to say a few] words [in it]. Security personnel stationed at the hotel front door took every opportunity to say 'hello' and 'thank you' in Arabic.

"Although the Spaniards pride themselves on their language, their situation is no different from the [rest of] the Europeans. While the Arab participants had no difficulty following the conference proceedings, [which were held in English], Arabic was everywhere. It was the main driving force behind the conference activities – the invitations, announcements, and statements to the press were released [first] in Arabic and then translated into English and Spanish.

"At the conference, [jointly] sponsored by Saudi King 'Abdallah bin 'Abd Al-'Aziz and Spanish King Juan Carlos, the language of the Koran held sway… The Muslim greeting al-salam 'aleykum was the expression most frequently used by the participants, who were of all kinds and from all backgrounds. Over 250 Arabic speakers – senior officials, organizers, diplomats, members of the press – were present at the conference, organizing and running [its activities].

"Spain has embraced the Arabs and espoused their culture and language. Dialogue, upon which people all over the world have pinned their hopes, may reshape the world."[1]

[1] Al-Hayat (London), July 17, 2008.

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