Region: The OIC Seeks a Greater Role


Deborah Johnson

The targeted assassinations of Palestinian leaders and the killing of civilians (for example at a demonstration in the Southern Gaza Rafa refugee camp in May) by the Israeli state have brought into question the future viability of the 'road map for peace' initiative. (This is targeted towards bringing about a separate Palestinian state by 2005.) Revelations of the physical and sexual abuse of Iraqi prisoners in the Abu Ghraib Prison have also seriously damaged the credibility and legitimacy of the US (and Allied) occupying force in Iraq. According to former Thai Foreign Minister, Dr Surin Pitsuwan, who is also a Muslim, the American 'failure' in Iraq has left 'a deep sense of regret and unease even betrayal'.

In order to seek a way forward, the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), which is currently being chaired by Malaysia, called an emergency meeting on 22 April to discuss what moderate Muslim nation states could do with respect to the situations in Iraq and Palestine. With less than a week's notice representatives from 14 nations (from the 57-member OIC) met in Putrajaya, Malaysia. The outcome was a decision to send a delegation of foreign ministers to meet their counterparts in the International Quartet (the EU, Russia, the US and the UN), responsible for the progress of the 'road map', to explain the OIC's stand on the Palestinian conflict; and to stress that it was open for consultation on Muslims' views.

The OIC has struggled to find a voice and role in the international arena. Since its formation in the early 1970s, incidentally under the leadership of Tunku Abdul Rahman who was Malaysia's first Prime Minister, it has served as a forum for member nations to express their views. However, it has not always been able to gain influence amongst the rich and powerful states of the world. The same can be said for the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) - with its origin in the Asia-Africa Conference held in Bandung, Indonesia in 1955, and currently comprising 115 member states - for which Malaysia is also the current chair. The NAM and OIC are not identical in their focus, but they do have shared areas of concern. Both want a multipolar world revolving around the UN and not one based on the dominance of one power.

To enhance its own situation, the OIC is in the process of forming an 'Eminent Persons of Enlightened Moderation Group' of intellectuals (nominees from nine OIC member countries) - whose task it will be to examine the organization and its role and make recommendations to the OIC summit. This was one of the measures decided at the 10th OIC Summit last October in order to make the organisation 'more credible'. Malaysian Prime Minister and OIC Chairman, Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi, subsequently wrote to permanent members of the UN Security Council (US, UK, France, Russia and China) to ask that the OIC be given a greater role in contributing towards peace in the Middle East.

At the April 2004 OIC special meeting, Iraqi Foreign Ministry political under-secretary Hamid Al-Bayati indicated that Iraq was against foreign troops, including those from Islamic nations, being brought in to maintain security - instead local army, police and security organizations had to be strengthened and allowed to operate. The meeting's declaration stressed the importance of handing back Iraq to the Iraqis by 30 June, and of encouraging cooperation between Iraq and neighbouring countries to counter terrorism and maintain security and stability. It called on occupying forces to fulfil their legal obligations to provide necessary funds for rehabilitation and reconstruction in Iraq; reaffirmed the need to respect Iraq's sovereignty, independence, political unity and territorial integrity; and, emphasised the need to recognise the right of Iraqi people to determine their political future and to have full control over their natural resources.

Whilst the US recently suggested that it would build a new state-of-the-art, maximum security prison and, with Iraq's permission, tear down the Abu Ghraib prison - to expunge the memory of the tortures under the Saddam (but also under its own) regime, the process of building a peace and future is far more difficult, both in Iraq and Palestine. But it is so necessary.

WATCHPOINT: Will the OIC be able to play a greater role internationally in building the peace?


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