50 years of failure of the Organization of Islamic Conference

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OIC Makkah Summit

The 14th Islamic Summit Conference ended Friday Night (May 31) in Makkah . A final statement accused Iran of supporting Yemen’s Houthi rebel group; illegally occupying three islands in the Persian Gulf; and “interfering” in the domestic affairs of both Syria and Bahrain.

Not surprisingly, the Makkah summit reiterated support for Saudi/western-backed Yemeni government of President Abdu Rabuh Mansour Hadi which is fighting the Houthi rebels.

The OIC summit condemned a “terrorist attack” on Saudi Arabia’s oil pumping stations which targeted global oil supplies.The summit statement also condemned “sabotage operations” against four vessels near the territorial waters of the United Arab Emirates, which it said threatened international maritime traffic safety.

Tehran rejects OIC statement

Iran on Friday rejected a final communique issued following a Makkah-hosted summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), saying it did not reflect the views of all OIC member-states, according to Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi accused summit host Saudi Arabia of “exploiting the holy month of Ramadan, and the holy city of Makkah, to level allegations against Iran.”

Mousavi also reportedly accused Riyadh of “missing the opportunity provided by International Quds Day and the OIC summit to press for the rights of the Palestinian people… and choosing instead to sow discord among Muslim and regional countries”.

Saudi Arabia’s behavior at Thursday’s summit, he added, “are in line with the futile efforts of the U.S. and the Zionist regime against… Iran”.

Mousavi went on to voice hope that leaders of OIC member-states “will not allow the Palestinian issue to be overshadowed by divisive policies”.

Syria also rejects OIC statement

Syria is rejecting the final statement of the Arab emergency summit held in Saudi Arabia, which criticizes what it calls Iranian intervention into Syrian affairs.

Syria says the statement is an unacceptable interference in the internal affairs of Syria.

A Syrian Foreign Ministry statement said the Iranian presence is “legitimate because it came at the request of the Syrian government and contributed to support Syria’s efforts in combating terrorism supported by some of the participants in this summit.”

The Syrian statement said the summit should instead condemn the involvement of other countries in Syrian affairs, “which lacked legitimacy and legality” and provided “unlimited support in various forms  to terrorist groups and prolonging the crisis in Syria.”

The leader of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah group told supporters in Lebanon on Friday the Makkah summits are a Saudi call for help from Arab countries after Saudi Arabia failed to win in Yemen, where the kingdom and its allies have been at war since 2015 against Iranian-allied Yemeni rebels.

“It is a sign of failure,” Hassan Nasrallah said. “These summits are calls for help …that express the failure and the inabilities in confronting the Yemeni army, popular resistance and people.”

OIC summit condemns any decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital

The OIC summit condemned any position adopted by an international body that supports prolonging occupation, including a U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, it said on Saturday.

The Makkah summit also refused all illegal Israeli measures aimed at changing facts in occupied Palestinian territories including Jerusalem, and undermining the two-state solution, it said in a statement.

The summit urged member countries to take “appropriate measures” against countries that move their embassies to Jerusalem, it added.

The summit refused any proposal for peaceful settlement that did not accord with Palestinians’ legitimate inalienable rights, the statement said.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani had his own message for OIC leaders ahead of the summit, urging them to stay focused on the rights of Palestinians.

In a letter published online Friday, Rouhani said Muslim leaders should not let the importance of Palestinian statehood be “marginalized” in the face of the Trump administration’s forthcoming Israeli-Palestinian plan.

Rouhani also noted in the letter he was not invited to the Islamic summit, but expressed Iran’s readiness to work with all Muslim leaders to confront the White House’s so-called “Deal of the Century.”

Syrian Golan Heights

The Islamic summit condemned President Trump’s decision to annex the occupied Syrian Golan Heights into Israeli territory. Paragraph 17 of the joint communiqué said:

“The conference called for Israel’s full withdrawal from the Occupied Syrian Golan to the borders of 4 June 1967, in accordance with Security Council Resolutions Nos. 242 (1967)  and  338 (1973), the  principle of ‘land for peace, the terms of reference of  the Madrid Peace Conference and the Arab Peace Initiative adopted by the Arab Summit in Beirut in 2002. It also affirmed non-recognition of any decision or action aiming to change the legal and demographic status of the Golan. The Conference specifically rejected and condemned the American President’s decision to annex the Golan into Israeli territory, dismissing it as null and void and of no legal effect.”

Tellingly, the US State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus confirmed Thursday that the State Department has changed its maps to show the disputed Golan Heights as Israeli territory. Ortugas statement came after Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had received one of the updated versions.

“I know we have for sure we updated the maps,” Ortagus said when asked whether the State Department had taken such steps after President Donald Trump in March officially recognised the Golan Heights as part of Israel.

Fifty years on

The Islamic summit convenes every three years to make decisions about how to confront and contain conflicts and crises in Muslim-majority countries. This year it coincides with two emergency summits – The Arab League and Gulf Cooperation Council summits- called for by Saudi King Salman Ben Abdulaziz amid heightened tensions with Iran.

On September 25, 1969, representatives from 24 Muslim-majority countries held a summit in Rabat, Morocco, in response to the burning of al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Fifty years later, the summit still regularly convenes, with the latest set to take place in Makkah on May 31, 2019.

The historic Rabat meeting resulted in a decision to establish the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which was designated to handle the Islamic Summit, turning it into a permanent and fundamental executive body.

At the 13th Summit, held in Istanbul in 2016, a statement was issued stressing the need for “cooperative relations” between Iran and Islamic countries, including “abstaining from the use or threat of force.”

The OIC is the second largest intergovernmental institution, just after the UN, with 57 member states from four continents. It is the voice of 1.5 billion Muslims around the world.

OIC members represent 22 per cent of the world population, have 2 per cent of the world’s GDP, 1.3 per cent of the world trade and only 1.5 per cent of the investments. Twenty five per cent of OIC population does not have access to medical facilities or safe drinking water.

Half of the population lives below the poverty line classified as the most poor. No Muslim country is in the top list of the Human Development Index or in any other global economic indicators.

This depressing picture of the Islamic countries is not limited to the economic and social spheres, in the realm of education and technology the facts are equally disappointing.

The OIC member countries possess 70 per cent of the world’s energy resources and 40 per cent of available raw material but their GDP is only 5 per cent of the world GDP. Muslim countries miserably lag behind in education and technology.

They produce only 500 PhDs each year as compared to 3,000 in India and 5,000 in the United Kingdom. None of their educational or research institutions or centres of excellence find place in the top 100 in the world.

The OIC today has 57 Muslim member-states and has held 14 summits in response to the challenges confronting the Muslim world. Since its establishment, the Islamic world has suffered several major catastrophes which have reduced it to almost a non-factor in international politics.

The breakup of Pakistan through armed intervention by India in 1971, the invasion of Lebanon by Israel in 1982, the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), the US invasion of Iraq 2003, recent US attempts for regimes change in Iran and Syria have dealt a mortal blow to the unity, dignity and sovereignty of the Muslim world.

The OIC has failed to respond meaningfully to any of these crises or demonstrate any unity of thought and action apart from issuing high-sounding declarations at the end of each summit. Nothing was done to contain the crises or avert the tragedies. The OIC remained merely a silent spectator.

Limited influence

While the OIC has been known for its cultural and social projects, its political influence has been relatively limited.

“Typically, in the past, the OIC has been effective in promoting cultural and educational projects across the Muslim world,” Sami Hamdi, a Middle East expert, told Al Jazeera. “However, its political capabilities remain severely limited.”

According to Mamoon Alabbasi, a political analyst focusing on the Middle East and North Africa region, while the OIC has relative political weight, its rhetoric does not always translate into action on the ground.

“With 57 member states… the OIC carries a [relatively] heavy political weight… [and] impact. But how much change that makes on the ground is not always clear,” said Alabbasi.

Adding to its political limitations is its inability to unify its stance on issues, say experts.

“Like other international organizations, such as the UN General Assembly, the OIC is supposed to have a unified voice but it does not because policies of the individual countries greatly differ,” said Alabbasi.

“Most importantly, the OIC doesn’t have a unified voice because most of its member countries are not democracies. So, while their populations may be in agreement [over an issue] they do not always represent the views of their populations.”

Hamdi agrees: “The OIC has a broad spectrum of different cultures. This means that on the political front, even if there is a united stance, it means very little, practically.”

Final Analysis

The Palestinian cause and support for Somalia, Djibouti, poor Islamic countries, and oppressed minorities have been permanent points in the Islamic Summit’s resolutions during its 50 years history. The 14th Islamic summit issued three documents: A joint communiqué of 18 pages with 102 paragraph, a special resolution on the Cause of Palestine and Al-Quds and a three page Makkah Declaration.

Among other issues, the Mecca Declaration stressed “the importance of standing by those Muslims in non-Islamic countries who suffer persecution, injustice, coercion and aggression; extending full support to them and adopting their causes in international forums to ensure the realization of their political and social rights in their countries and develop programs and mechanisms that would guarantee their integration in their societies without any discrimination.”

Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar

The Conference condemned the inhumane situation in which the Rohingya Muslim community lives and called for urgent action to end acts of violence and all brutal practices targeting this minority and give it all its rights without any discrimination or racial profiling. It emphasized that the Government of Myanmar is fully responsible for the protection of its citizens and underscored the need to stop the use of military power in Rakhine State immediately.

The Conference urged the Government of Myanmar to take practical, time bound and concrete steps to restore the citizenship of Rohingya IDPs and forcibly displaced Rohingya Muslim Minority Community who were deprived of their nationality, with all associated rights, especially the right to full citizenship, and to allow and facilitate the return in safely, security and dignity of all Rohingyas internally and externally displaced, including those forced into taking shelter in Bangladesh.

The Conference insisted on the importance of conducting international, independent and transparent investigations into the human rights violations in Myanmar, including sexual violence and aggression against children, and to hold accountable all those responsible for these brutal acts in order to make justice to the victims. The Conference affirmed its support for the ad hoc ministerial committee on human rights violations against the Rohingyas in Myanmar, using all international legal instruments to hold accountable the perpetrators of crimes against the Rohingya. In this connection, the Conference urged upon the ad hoc Ministerial Committee led by the Gambia to take immediate measures to launch the case at the International Court of Justice on behalf of the OIC. It further called for ensuring free and unrestricted access to humanitarian assistance by affected persons and communities.

Sri Lanka

The Conference expressed deep concern and strong condemnation of the recent acts of violence against Muslims in Sri Lanka and urged the Government of this country to hold accountable to perpetrators of these acts, bring them to justice and counter firmly the spread of rhetoric of hatred and in tolerance,while ensuring the security and safety of the Muslim community in Sri Lanka.

Jammu and Kashmir

The Conference reaffirmed its principled support for the people of Jammu and Kashmir for the realization of their legitimate right to self-determination, in accordance with relevant UN resolutions. It condemned the recent outbreaks of violence in the region and invited India to implement the relevant Security Council resolutions to settle its protracted conflict with its neighbor. It further welcomed the recommendations included in the UN report on Kashmir issued in June 2018; called for the expedited establishment of a UN commission of inquiry to investigate into the grave human rights violations in Kashmir, and called on India to allow this proposed commission and international human rights organizations to access Indian-administered Kashmir.

Islamophobia is a form of racism

The Conference noted with concern that Islamophobia, as a form of racism and religious discrimination today, has spread across the world, as evidenced by the increase in religious intolerance, negative stereotyping, hatred and violence against Muslims. In this connection, the Conference encouraged the United Nations and other regional and international organizations to declare 15 March an international day to combat Islamophobia.

It condemned roundly the horribly appalling terrorist attack, perpetrated out of hatred for Islam, against innocent worshipers at Al-Noor and Linwood mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch on 15 March 2019. In the meantime, it expressed appreciation to the Government of New Zealand for its unequivocal condemnation of the terrorist attacks, hailing the firm and clear position of the Prime Minister of New Zealand, who displayed compassion toward and sympathy with the Muslim community in their bereavement. The Conference equally paid tribute to the wider New Zealand society for showing such a deep empathy with the families of the victims and the Muslim community.

The Conference urged all countries with Muslim minorities, communities and migrants to refrain from all policies, statements and practices associating Islam with terrorism, extremism or dangers posing a threat to society.

The Conference called upon all Member States, in coordination with the General Secretariat, to adopt a comprehensive OIC Strategy on Combating Islamophobia, in order to establish a legally binding international instrument to prevent the growing trend of intolerance, discrimination and hatred on the grounds of religion and faith.

The Conference welcomed the establishment of the OIC Contact Group on Peace and Dialogue and called on the Contact Group to develop a Plan of Action on Combating Islamophobia in preparation to the Contact Group meeting at the ministerial level at the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September 2019.

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Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America (www.journalofamerica.net).

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