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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Islamic solidarity summit underway

This is very interesting, and severely under-reported in Western media:
Almost all the heads of state of Muslim states from across the globe gathered for a summit called by the Islamic world’s respected leader, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, to unify and strengthen the crisis-riven Muslim world.

Turkey’s Abdullah Gul, Egypt’s Muhammad Mursi, Jordan’s King Abdallah, Iran’s Mahmoud Ahemdinejad, Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Yemen’s Abdo Rabbi Mansour Hadi, Palestine’s Mahmoud Abbas, Malaysia’s Najib Razak, Sudan’s Omar Bashir, Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai, Tunisia’s Moncef Al-Marzouki, Pakistan’s Asif Ali Zardari, Bangladesh’s Mohammad Zillur Rahman, all of them are here to discuss, plan and implement a policy that puts focus on finding denominators that are common to all Muslims. The king personally received them in a display of traditional Saudi hospitality.

Addressing the summit in the midnight, King Abdullah urged Muslims to stand united in the face of growing challenges.

“Sedition is worse than killing,” the king said and called for dialogue among the various Muslim sects.

He proposed the establishment of a dialogue center to promote inter-sectarian harmony.
The proposal was received with thunderous applause from the assembled galaxy of Muslim leaders.

Earlier, King Abdullah received the Muslim leaders at his palace, including Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Egyptian President Muhammad Mursi and Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani.

In a gesture that would be interpreted as a sign of the summit’s success, King Abdullah made Ahmadinejad to sit right beside him. Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad was on the king’s other side.
There is a bit more going on behind the smiles, though.

First of all, this summit is meant to censure Syria's government. Syria is notably absent from the summit:
Leaders of Muslim countries are expected to suspend Syria's membership of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation at a summit in Mecca on Wednesday, despite the vocal objections of President Bashar al-Assad's main ally Iran.

The decision by the 57-member organisation, which requires a two-thirds majority, will expose the divisions within the Islamic world over how to respond to civil war in a country that straddles the Middle East's main sectarian faultline.
The other interesting background is that this summit was organized in only a couple of weeks and attracted essentially every leader of Muslim-majority nations (the ones who are not Muslim themselves are attending via video-conference since they are not allowed into Mecca.)

However, Iran's Non-Aligned Movement summit is scheduled for the end of the month. In contrast to this Islamic summit, most national leaders are staying away from the Iranian conference, sending lower-level representatives instead.

Saudi Arabia is flexing its own political muscles at Iran's expense, even as it is talking about unity between Sunnis and Shi'as.

As Asia Times writes in their analysis:
Ahmadinejad's expressions of hope for a "meeting of Islamic unity" at the summit in retrospect seem wishful thinking. Instead the meeting has produced a minor shock for Iranian diplomacy as the country gears up to host the summit of Non-Aligned Movement in Tehran at the end of August.

However, Ahmadinejad's trip is still bound to generate some cracks in the robust edifice of Saudi-Iran hostility, which alone may be worth the trip - regardless of its side-effects - one of which has been Ahmadinejad's noticeable absence in areas affected by the recent earthquake.

According to a Tehran University political science professor who spoke to the author on the condition of anonymity, the Iranian delegation to the OIC meeting "may feel cheated a little bit because [Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz] personally invited Ahmadinejad and assured Iran the goal was to promote Ummah unity, not to score foreign policy success against Iran and Syria."

Indeed, it is doubtful that Iran would have participated at such a high level at the OIC summit if it had prior knowledge of the real intention - to prioritize the expulsion of Syria, Tehran had expected the OIC to initiate genuine conflict mediation efforts aimed at fostering a cease-fire and political dialogue between the warring parties.

Itself home to a closed system of government that clamps down on internal dissent, Saudi Arabia has taken a bit of risk by spearheading Syria's expulsion. Critics may also point to how Riyadh sent troops to neighboring Bahrain to quell a mass revolt for democracy, and to the crucial military and financial support it has sent the Syrian opposition despite clauses in the OIC Charter that forbid intervention in the internal affairs of other Muslim states.