The 12th Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit in Cairo, chaired by Egypt, began on Wednesday amid the backdrop of widespread sectarian violence and political instability in the Arab world. Leaders of OIC states joined in Cairo to brainstorm on a range of contentious issues, beginning with the Syrian crisis and the war in Mali.
Mohamed Morsi inaugurated the summit and chaired the conference with leaders or representatives of the OIC’s 57 member-states.
The Syrian crisis featured prominently in the summit’s agendas and deliberations. There was a unanimous call from the leaders of the Arab world to seek for a negotiated end to Syria's civil war. Leaders from Syria did not attend Cairo Summit since its OIC membership was suspended by an emergency Islamic summit in Mecca last year.
Egypt's Morsi, in a keynote address, called on Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria to learn lessons from history and work for the interest of the nation. Addressing all the OIC members, Morsi sought support for the Syrian opposition's efforts to unite and bring about change.
Before the start of the Islamic summit, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Egypt, in the first visit by an Iranian president since the 1979 Islamic revolution, focused on negotiations to stop the bloodshed in Syria. Tehran remains one of the last allies of the embattled Syrian regime.
Ahmadinejad mentioned to Egyptian journalists that Syria cannot afford a military solution and that he felt encouraged that the Syrian government and opposition were moving towards negotiations to end the conflict which has claimed at least 60,000 lives and has triggered one of the worst humanitarian crises in Middle East.
Crisis in Tunisia
The OIC summit in Cairo opened on the backdrop of the assassination of a leading Tunisian opposition leader, Shokri Belaid, which triggered widespread protests. The renewed instability in Tunisia forced Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki to cancel his trip to the Cairo summit.
With the killing of Belaid, a leading opposition figure, Tunisia witnessed new political uncertainties on Thursday. The aim to reshape the Islamist-led administration in favor of national unity government encountered strong opposition as protesters again demonstrated on the streets of the capital and elsewhere.
Shokri Belaid killing puts Tunisia on a difficult position and poses a severe challenge to the Ennahda Party, which came to power promising a model government that blends Islamist principles with tolerant pluralism.
Crisis in Mali
France's military operation against Islamist militants in Mali exposed divisions and conflicting opinion among the leaders. France military role in Mali was praised by Senegal, but Morsi condemned it.
Senegalese President Macky Sall commended the military intervention of France and said that the Muslim world cannot allow "a minority of terrorists to commit crimes distort our faith and deepen hatred for Islam."
Morsi, however, denounced the intervention, saying that the French intervention threatens to perpetuate instability across the region. Even though he stopped short of condemning Paris for its role in Mali, Morsi’s address made it clear that the Islamic summit in Cairo did not support French intervention in Mali.
Crisis in Egypt
Morsi, through his speech sought to project his country as the leader of the Islamic world in his speech even though he is also grappling with sustained opposition from liberal and leftist opponents who accuse him of attempting to monopolize power.
Morsi has failed to appease the anger and widening ideological division between Islamists and secularists, and a growing resentment is palpable in Egypt. The virulent protests and bloodshed shows that Egyptians are furious that their lives have not got better since the revolution.
Many Egyptians point to a lack of reform, with no economic progress. They do not see any of their aspirations fulfilled by Morsi’s government ever since the Muslim Brotherhood came to power.
The Cairo Summit provided Iran's Ahmadinejad a rare opportunity to bridge the sectarian tensions between the Shiite and Sunni-led nations.
Ahmadinejad is the first Shia leader of the Islamic Republic to visit Egypt. Relations between Egypt and Iran soured in 1980 over Iran's revolution and Egypt's recognition of Israel.
While Ahmadinejad stressed the importance of an Egyptian-Iranian alliance, sectarian differences were very much evident in the discussions. Sunni states such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have gone all the way to support the Syrian rebels, while Iran has remained the closes ally of Damascus.
The Sunni-Shiite division also surfaced during a meeting on the eve of the summit attended Ahmadinejad when Egypt's most prominent cleric, Sheik Ahmed el-Tayeb warned against Iranian interference in Bahrain, where the ruling Sunni minority is facing opposition from the Shiite majority.
“The Islamic world: Fresh Challenges and Growing Opportunities,” was the theme of this year’s summit. But, the situation in which the Arab world is in today manifests that Islamic nations are in the in the throes of complex crises. The prospect of dealing with fresh challenges and leveraging opportunities seem a distant dream for the Arab nations.
Islamic nations are finding it difficult to follow and implement the ideals of tolerance and coexistence and the right to differ are being grossly violated.
At the same time, Islamic countries are witnessing some of the worst manifestations of extremism and exclusion as well as the distortion of values. As a result, followers of Islam are now wide open to all forms of violence and to the proliferation tension and terrorist activities.
In almost all summits of the Organization Islamic Conference (OIC), Arab and Muslim leaders congregate to assess political, economic and religious problems and deal with contentious issues. However, the rhetoric remains the same and exposes deep and widening divisions among Muslim leaders.
The seriousness of the Syrian crisis, particularly the need to tackle the worsening humanitarian crisis remains one of the most critical hurdles for the leaders.
The attempt by Sunni-led rebels to dismantle Shiite regime of Assad, continues to prolong the sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shias in the Arab world.
Even as the OIC summit was being conducted, violence continued in Damascus exposing deep divisions among Muslim and Arab nations about the Syrian civil war.
In summation, the 12th OIC Summit in Cairo would end with a resolve to end contentious issues afflicting the Muslim world. In reality, I do not see any of the goals being realized, considering the mess that the OIC nations are entangled in.
Source: Zee News / Voice of America / BBC
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