With an opening ceremony rich in pageantry, Azerbaijan welcomed athletes and tourists from across the Islamic world for the Islamic Solidarity Games, an Olympic-style competition opening meant to showcase the fellowship of the world’s Muslims.
“Tonight we bring the Islamic world together,” said Vice President and First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva at the opening ceremony on May 12. “We are an ancient nation, rooted in millennia of culture and strong Islamic traditions,” she said, speaking in English. “We are proud to be part of the Islamic history and heritage, to share Islamic values.”
It is in some ways an awkward time for the Azerbaijani government to be proclaiming Islamic solidarity, caught as it is between a rising population of pious Muslims and an elite that adheres to the 20th-century legacy of secularism.
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Joshua Kucera is the Turkey/Caucasus editor at EurasiaNet.org, and author of The Bug Pit. He is based in Istanbul.