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Impotent OIC struggles for relevance

The Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) will open its 10th three-yearly summit of leaders in Malaysia on Thursday but observers have low expectations of a body struggling for relevance.

Last Modified: 16 Oct 2003 11:14 GMT
Plenty of problems but OIC impotent to offer solutions

The Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) will open its 10th three-yearly summit of leaders in Malaysia on Thursday but observers have low expectations of a body struggling for relevance.

The Arab-Israeli conflict is high on the agenda of the summit in Malaysia’s new administrative capital of Putrajaya.

But analysts have said the Palestinians should not expect much more than comforting words.

"It will be the usual meet, make a speech and publish a final statement," said Waheed Abd al-Majid, deputy director of the Egypt-based al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

He told AFP Muslim states were not in a position to put pressure on the US to rein in Israel. This was partly because the Palestinian political landscape had become chaotic and OIC members had no discernible influence on it.

"The Islamic world cannot take any initiative because no one knows what is happening on the Palestinian scene, armed groups are in control of the streets and everyone is doing what he pleases," said Abd al-Majid.

Muslim governments have increasingly found themselves out of step with the Palestinian independence movement as power has swung in the Occupied Territories from Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat to groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Outmanoeuvred on Palestine

The OIC was founded in 1969 with the intention of boosting Islamic solidarity and supporting the Palestinian struggle in particular.

But the fact that Yasir Arafat is now threatened by Israel with expulsion or even assassination highlights the inability of the OIC to do anything but issue yet another ritual condemnation of Israel.

Egyptian diplomatic efforts earlier this year helped persuade the Palestinians to declare a unilateral truce. This was designed to encourage the implementation of the US-backed peace plan known as the "roadmap".

Muslim world body seems unable
to influence events in Palestine 

But Israel refused to stop an assassination campaign targeting leaders of Palestinian groups, prompting them to end the ceasefire.

Abd al-Majid expressed a common view in the Muslim world in particular that Israel was not interested in implementing the "road map", which envisages the creation of a Palestinian state by 2005.

And by resuming human bombings, "the Palestinians did what Israel hoped they would do" he said. The bombings helped draw the US even closer to the Israeli state.

In contrast, Arab and Muslim diplomacy, such as it is, has been left looking outmanoeuvred and irrelevant.

Seeking coherent strategy

The organisation has been under increasing pressure in recent years as it struggles to come up with a coherent strategy in the post 9/11 world order.

Although most members opposed the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, both countries will be represented in Malaysia by officials installed by occupying US-led authorities.

Another member, Syria, was recently hit by an Israeli air strike allegedly targeting a Palestinian guerrilla training camp.

Putrajaya meeting signals Asian
Muslim states' rising importance

But although the OIC groups 1.3 billion people – about 20% of the earth’s population – and controls two thirds of the world’s oil reserves, it has been unable to stop Washington consolidating its support of Israel and moving to impose sanctions on Damascus.

Instead, some Muslim leaders, such as Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf are expected to echo political priorities drafted in Western capitals.

"President Musharraf will speak on the idea of enlightened moderation in the Muslim world and closer cooperation among Muslim states to combat extremism and terrorism," a Pakistani Foreign Ministry offical told AFP.

General Musharraf came to power in a coup against Pakistan's elected government four years ago.

Asian future

This will be the first time the OIC has met in southeast Asia, a region that contains the biggest Muslim state, Indonesia, as well as the most economically developed host country, Malaysia.

The failure of oil-rich Arab states to lead the bloc to greater power and prosperity has, analysts say, left them vulnerable to a reassessment of their role and a potential shift of power to the east.

“Asia is the future for Islam,” Rohan Gunatra, an associate professor at the Singapore-based Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies. “There has been a massive failure on the part of the Middle East.

“Muslim countries have failed in modernising because their rulers have lacked vision and foresight; oil wealth hasn’t helped the Arab countries at all.”

Malaysian Premier Mahathir Muhammad, a strong critic of the US invasion of Iraq, is expected to take a stronger line against the West while pressing for greater unity and development.

Source:
Aljazeera + Agencies
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