Last Updated: 2018-02-13
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BRUSSELS/RIYADH, Feb 13 (NNN-SPA) - Saudi Arabia agreed to give up control of Belgium’s largest mosque, in a sign that it is trying to shed its reputation, as a global exporter of an ultra-conservative brand of Islam.

Belgium leased the Grand Mosque to Riyadh in 1969, giving Saudi-backed imams access to a growing Muslim immigrant community, in return for cheaper oil.

But it now wants to cut Riyadh’s links with the mosque, near the European Union’s headquarters in Brussels, over concerns what it preaches breeds radicalism.

The mosque’s leaders deny it espouses violence, but European governments have grown more wary, since Islamist attacks killed 130 people in Paris in 2015, and 32 in the Belgian capital, in 2016.

Belgium’s willingness to put its demands to oil-producing Saudi Arabia, a major investor and arms client, breaks with what EU diplomats describe as the reluctance of governments across Europe, to risk disrupting commercial and security ties.

Riyadh’s quick acceptance indicates a new readiness by the kingdom, to promote a more moderate form of Islam – one of the more ambitious promises made by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, under plans to transform Saudi Arabia and reduce its reliance on oil.

The agreement, last month, coincides with a new Saudi initiative, not publicly announced, but described by Western officials as, to end support for mosques and religious schools abroad, blamed for spreading radical ideas.-- NNN-SPA