By P.K.Balachandran/Ceylon Today
The 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), formed in 1969 to defend the rights of the world’s 1.75 billion Muslims, under the leadership of Saudi Arabia, has not delivered the goods, despite its financial and strategic clout and its global reach.
Notwithstanding OIC’s resolutions, Muslims and Muslim nations are being continually and relentlessly assaulted and tormented in the Middle East and Asia. Islamophobia is now an endemic disease with no relief or cure in sight. The OIC, led by Saudi Arabia, has been found wanting. Even words condemning brazen atrocities have become mild, reflecting the ascendency of the economic, strategic and political interests of individual Muslim countries over the interests of the Ummah or the Muslim community as a whole across the globe.
This was the reason why some up and coming and economically vibrant Muslim countries led by the Malaysian Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, organized a summit of Islamic nations in Kuala Lumpur in December 2019.
Leaders participating in the summit were the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan; the Qatari Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani; and the Iranian President Hasan Rouhani. Indonesian President Joko Widodo was expected to attend, but he allegedly succumbed to pressure from Saudi Arabia and sent a representative instead. Pakistan had backed the summit initially, thanks to Mahathir’s support to Pakistan on Kashmir, but had to keep out of it under Saudi pressure. Apparently, there was a Saudi threat to withdraw funds earmarked for Pakistan’s development.
The Turkish President Erdoğan told the summit that the biggest problem in the OIC is implementation of the decisions taken. At the summit, the OIC was blamed for inaction on the Palestinian and the Kashmir issue; the exploitation of Muslim countries’ natural resources by outsiders; and the deepening Islamic sectarian divides. Erdogan even called for a reconstitution of the UN Security Council to represent the 1.75 billion people of the Islamic world.
Replacing US Dollar
Ian Lynch writing Ahval English said that apart from countering Islamophobia, the main purpose of the summit was to develop financial links between Muslim nations that would circumvent the global dominance of the US dollar.
“Trade in national currencies has gained urgency amid talks of trade wars,” Erdoğan said at the summit. “We should first of all put the issue of Islamic finance on our agenda,” he added. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani supported it as both Iran and Turkey were facing US sanctions.
Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Ahval English: “ Iran has long sought to break the American dominance of the international financial system. The key to that dominance is the US dollar. The dollar is also key to the enforcement of US sanctions, given the ubiquity of the dollar in international trade.”
Earlier in September 2019, Turkey, Iran, and Russia had agreed to conduct trade between themselves in their national currencies, and not the US dollar. According to Lynch, Qatar, Malaysia and Indonesia are also trying to break free from the US dollar.
Gold Dinar And Barter
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir suggested that Islamic nations go back to the idea of trading with the gold dinar and also barter trade. “We are seriously looking into this and we hope that we will be able to find a mechanism to put it into effect,” he said.
Fissures in OIC
The OIC has multiple fissures which make it extremely ineffective. Even as Pakistan, Turkey and Malaysia took on India over Kashmir at the UN, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), to be accorded a carpet welcome. And despite being a core member of the OIC’s “contact group” on Kashmir, Saudi Arabia was benign to India outside the OIC and making major plans to invest in India. Riyadh was content with merely calling on India and Pakistan to resolve their disputes peacefully.
To Pakistan’s dismay, Riyadh dragged its feet on convening a special OIC conference on the situation in the Kashmir Valley after August 5, 2019 lockdown. The conference was never held. The majority of Muslim states took a similar moderate line, testifying to India’s potential as a useful bilateral economic partner and an investment destination.
The OIC was also split over support to Islamic radical groups across the Muslim world. Muslim-majority states have backed rival sides in civil wars in several Muslim countries in the Middle East. The UAE and Saudi Arabia backed the Egyptian military’s move to oust Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in 2013. But Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood supporter, enjoyed the support of Qatar and Turkey. It was also reported that in Libya, both Egypt and the UAE lent support to Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army in the onslaught against Qatari/Turkish-backed Islamist groups.
Iran has backed the Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, and the Houthis in Yemen. Iran has also been recruiting Shia militants to fight for it in Syria and Iraq.
It was against this background that Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohamad organized the Kuala Lumpur conference to bring about unity among Muslim nations. However, out of the 57 OIC member nations, only six, which were antagonistic to Saudi Arabia, attended. Therefore, the gathering in KL could not claim to be representative of the Muslim world. Also noteworthy is the fact that not a single Arab or African state other than Qatar, attended.
Saudi Arabia was invited, as indeed all the 57 members of the OIC were. But Saudi Arabia questioned the need for the summit and excused itself. Mahathir told the Saudis that the conference was meant to start a small group which will work out new schemes to solve the Muslims’ problems. These schemes will then be placed before the OIC for universal approval. But this did not cut ice with Saudi Arabia, which thinks that anything done on behalf of the Muslim world should be done only with its approval as it is the custodian of Islam’s holy places.
A senior Pakistani official conceded that Pakistan felt obliged to honor Malaysia’s invitation after Mahathir openly took a stand against India on Kashmir. Pakistan’s participation, he insisted, was not meant to be a challenge to Riyadh, which is a major economic aid giver to Pakistan. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman had visited Islamabad and pledged US$ 20 billion in investments. Riyadh has clout over Indonesia too, as it is to invest US$ 6.7 billion there.
Summit Not Against OIC
However, Malaysian leader Mahathir has made it abundantly clear that the Kuala Lumpur group is not there to sabotage the OIC. This was made clear in the joint press communiqué issued after Mahathir’s talks with the visiting Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan earlier in February.
The communiqué said:“ Malaysia and Pakistan together with Turkey will proceed with the initiatives in broad areas of strategic cooperation under the Joint Committee Meeting (JCM) to complement the efforts by the community of the Muslim world aimed at uplifting the socio-political and socio-economic condition of the Ummah and promoting the true values of Islam, while being mindful of the centrality of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in this regard.” (italics mine).
However in contrast to the OIC, which due to Saudi Arabia, did not take a strong stand on Kashmir, the Malaysia-Pakistan joint communiqué said: “ Malaysia and Pakistan firmly stressed that the Question of Palestine, Situation in Jammu and Kashmir, and the Rohingyas Issue should be resolved on the basis of the relevant United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and General Assembly (UNGA) resolutions, as well as the UN Charter and the international human rights and humanitarian law.”