KSA-UAE Moderate Islam


Soon after the Arab Uprisings began in 2011, prominent leaders in the UAE and KSA began or accelerated the promotion of a kind of self-styled “moderate Islam”, whose theological nature still remains elusive and unspecified. The governmental promotion of this Islamic approach triggered a debate over its degree of authenticity, with many of its advocates pointing to greater Islamic tolerance and openness toward members of other monotheistic faiths, notably Jews, Christians and Yazidis. Critics of such approach see these steps as a façade, aimed at concealing from Westerners persisting domestic human rights violations (e.g. abuses of minorities, women and migrant domestic workers) and unpopular foreign policies (e.g. Saudi and Emirati intervention in Yemen) Also questioned is the approach’s principled absolute deference to the local political rulers of the Gulf states. Under the aegis of the moderate Islamic approach, neophyte Islamic organizations have emerged (e.g. the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies and the Muslim Council of Elders) and reformed organizations took bold symbolic steps regarding the protection of religious minorities and against Holocaust denial (e.g. Muslim World League visit to Auschwitz concentration camp). The religious authorities in these organizations and organizations have issued Islamic rulings (fatwas) with distinct, tolerant perspectives towards Jews. Some argue that such a momentous change constitutes an emerging Islamic school of thought which may have significant bearing on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This was most evident when many of these religious authorities publicly backed the 2020 normalization agreements between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.

Conflict Resolution Challenges

Core narratives

The Arab Uprisings have opened the door for extremist, radical versions of Islam, including Islamic State, al-Qaeda, Muslim Brotherhood or other Jihadi organizations which misinterpret and abuse the core Islamic teachings. Islam is originally a moderate religion and responsible governments should reclaim the faith, to prevent terrorist Muslims from giving non-Muslims the false impression that they represent “true Islam”. Longstanding demonization and boycott of Israel failed to promote an end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands beyond the 1967 lines, let the PLO off the hook of critical scrutiny and prevented a joint Arab-Israeli pursuit of shared interests, including the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Primary Legal System

Sharia as interpreted by KSA and UAE state-affiliated Islamic authorities, with an emphasis on tolerance toward non-Muslim minorities and on demonstrating the correlation of Islamic law and human rights.

Desirable Trajectory

Stability, tolerance and work for the advancement of Israeli-Palestinian peace through engagement with both sides.

Prominent Stakeholders

UAE Emir Muhammad Bin Zeid, KSA Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies President Sheikh Abdullah bin Bayyah, Muslim World League Secretary General Sheikh Mohammed Al-Issa, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue.


The Abraham Accords seemingly signaled new and deeper acceptance of Israel into the region by explicitly referring to a Jewish nation (which the PLO has traditionally denied), while evoking a common ancestor of paramount importance according to Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions. Indeed, holders of this worldview easily admit lack of familiarity with Israeli Jews and their worldviews (Zionism, religious Zionism and ultra- Orthodoxy) along with a desire to learn. Holders of this worldview differ as to whether bilateral relations with Israel should be promoted separately from the gradual pursuit of Israeli-Palestinian peace or in tandem with it. KSA leaders publicly profess a persistent commitment to a comprehensive approach, while UAE leaders profess willingness to advance gradually. All agree that there is a need to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace and that this should be done through engagement with both sides.