Det er full strid om og rundt det saudi-arabiske kultursenteret i Wien, etter at det nektet å fordømme avstraffelsen av Rauf Badawi.

Senteret åpnet til stor virak i 2012.

The project was born of Abdullah’s 2007 audience with Pope Benedict XVI to discuss interreligious and intercultural dialogue. U.N. Secretary General Ban-Ki-moon attended the center’s splashy opening five years later, along with the Saudi, Austrian and Spanish foreign ministers and more than 650 other guests.


But Roman Catholic Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran foreshadowed the present dispute, urging the center to work for religious freedom everywhere, including in countries “where such freedoms are not guaranteed.” The opposition Greens, moderate Muslim organizations and human-rights groups were opposed from the outset, with some fearing that the center was a front for Saudi attempts to spread the conservative Wahhabi version of Islam in Europe.

Concerns morphed into outrage even before the Badawi case over comments by KAICIID deputy director Claudia Bandion-Ortner. The former Austrian justice minister stepped down late last year after dismissing as “nonsense” suggestions that beheadings were commonplace in Saudi Arabia, and describing as “comfortable” the black, all-encompassing abaya that women there are forced to wear.

Statsminister Werner Faymann fra sosialistpartiet har sagt at senteret enten må forsvare menneskerettighetene, ellers har det ingen plass i Østerrike.

But the center also has backers. They include prominent Christian and Jewish figures who sit on its board with Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist representatives, and experts who view KAICIID as a cautious attempt at outreach by the late king who hoped that reforms — however modest — initiated by the center would trickle down into Saudi society.