Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Lebanon are boycotting a 5-13 September UN population conference in Cairo because of controversial proposals on sex and abortion. Iran said it planned to attend to amend the resolutions.

The International Conference on Population and Development has drawn strong criticism from many Muslim groups, including Islamist opponents of the Egyptian government who have threatened attacks against delegates (see Egypt).

A UN conference official in Cairo on 30 August confirmed reports that Saudi Arabia would not attend, although the Saudi embassy in Cairo said it had not been notified. The kingdom’s general mufti, Sheikh Abdel-Aziz Bin Baz, is also said to have issued a decree calling for a boycott.

Sudan’s boycott was announced on the state radio on 29 August. A senior official said the conference was ‘an attempt to eliminate morality’. Lebanon said on 30 August that it would not attend. No reason was given.

Turkey and Bangladesh have said they will send low-level delegations, and there is controversy in many other Islamic countries. Iran says it will take part in the conference because the resolutions are in draft form and can be changed (see Iran). The Islamic Conference Organisation (ICO) on 29 August urged Muslim states to attend and help amend the resolutions.

Responding to the growing storm, UN Population Fund spokesman Stirling Scruggs said on 31 August that critics were misinformed. The draft resolutions say nothing about legalising abortion. ‘That issue is left to each country,’ he said. There had also been misinformed press reports that homosexuality would be promoted in the document, he said.

Public criticism of the conference was launched in early August by the Vatican. Papal nuncios approached various Muslim countries to enlist their help in defeating the draft proposals.