Al-Ahram Weekly Online   8 - 14 December 2005
Issue No. 772
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Mecca calling

A remodelling of the OIC is in the making but is radical domestic reform on the cards, asks Sherine Bahaa

Today, the Organisation of Islamic States (OIC) is expected to round up its third extraordinary summit to take place in Islam's holiest city of Mecca.

Under the headline "Ten-year Programme of Action", leaders of the 57-nation OIC had a full-fledged agenda designed to empower their 36-year-old organisation.

Their objective is clear: to restore a moderate image of Islam, tarnished by terror attacks carried out by Muslim extremists throughout the world.

Muslim leaders will receive a report drafted by a committee of top Islamic figures set up in 2003 as well as another report of a meeting of Muslim scholars and intellectuals that was held in Mecca in September.

The programme is to be based on the recommendations of the two bodies; the Commission of Eminent Persons (CEP) and Mecca forum of Scholars and Intellectuals.

The CEP was the suggestion of the 10th Islamic summit which took place in Malaysia in 2003. It was meant to bring the best minds together to come up with the most appropriate resolutions to challenges facing Muslim nations and the Muslim community.

Unusually, the summit this time has a lot of interesting aspects expected to come out in its final communiqué. The conference took place at Al-Safa Palace, an integral part of Al-Haram Al-Sharif.

For observers, the OIC has always been regarded as a useful forum for discussion, it is seen as lacking the means to implement its resolution.

"There were often unheeded declarations," said one Saudi political observer. "In 1981," he pointed out, "the organisation called for redoubling efforts to liberate Jerusalem and the occupied territories and to institute an economic boycott of Israel."

But it is evidently clear that many countries did not abide by any of the resolutions. So why now?

The OIC was formally established in September 1969 after the burning of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

Since then, the OIC summit is held once every three years. "This one has been organised in only 12 months. That gives an idea about the extraordinariness of the summit," said OIC officials arriving in Jeddah to hold the preparatory meeting of the summit. "It comes at a key historical juncture for the Muslim world."

In fact, it was during last Hajj that the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah Bin Abdul-Aziz, then the crown prince, made an appeal in Mina to the OIC to meet and review the situation of the ummah (Muslim world) and arrive at a comprehensive solution to their shared problems.

The Muslim world faces many problems and issues that it has to solve -- the Palestinian question, Afghanistan, Iraq, Islamophobia -- and the wider concerns of poverty, illiteracy, and lack of intra-Muslim trade. But as OIC Secretary-General Professor Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu once said, the organisation needs more political commitment from the member countries and more financial and human resources.

In his editorial in Al-Safir, Talal Salman, the veteran Lebanese writer sent a touching message to Muslim leaders on the eve of the summit.

Salman asked Muslim leaders to look into the bombing in Natanya this week in which five Israelis were killed. The Islamist movement Jihad announced responsibility. A frequent mix up between what the West calls Islamist terrorism and legal resistance has been on the run lately.

"It is high time for Muslim leaders to look to those people who managed to make Palestine a source of terrorism rather than its victim while Israel has emerged as the house of expertise teaching the world targeted assassination."

Moreover, this week's summit highlighted Saudi King Abdullah and Iranian President Ahmadinejad for the first time as heads of state. The first has established himself as a reformer and a forward looking leader, while the second a hardliner, was feared for his tough stand against the West. A third new face at the OIC summit is Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. But it remains to be seen what sort of new OIC will emerge from the Mecca summit.

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