Clear calls from the NAM
The leaders of the Non-Aligned Movement called for guarantees of peace and security, the end of economic injustice and improved bilateral ties at their summit meeting held in Sharm El-Sheikh this week, reports Dina Ezzat
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Cuban President Raul Castro, Mubarak and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon at the NAM Summit
The 15th summit meeting of the Non- Aligned Movement (NAM), held in the Egyptian Red Sea resort town of Sharm El-Sheikh this week, saw the leaders of the 118-member organisation meeting for two days of discussions during which issues of particular interest to this grouping of mostly developing countries were discussed, including threats to global peace and stability, an end to global economic injustice and improved bilateral ties.
The prime ministers of India and Pakistan, Manmohan Singh and Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, are to meet today on the fringes of the meeting to discuss the tensions that have existed between the neighbouring countries since the Mumbai attacks last November, which were blamed by the Indian authorities on Pakistan.
However, this bilateral meeting is only one of many convening on the fringes of the NAM summit. Many member countries of the organisation are divided by significant political disagreements, and on the eve of this week's summit, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit and his Iranian counterpart Menochaher Mutaki met briefly in what was being seen as a significant encounter in view of the sometimes barely masked hostility between Egypt and Iran.
Egypt currently holds the rotating presidency of the NAM, taking over from the outgoing president, Cuba. In 2012, Egypt will pass on the presidency of the organisation to Iran, making it crucial that Egypt and Iran are able to cooperate on important issues.
Yet, for many diplomats attending the summit, which opened yesterday and is scheduled to close today, there may be few gains from the two days of meetings of this organisation that is sometimes seen as a hangover from the decades immediately following World War II.
However, if the NAM still has a function in today's world it may be that this is related to its ability to bring leaders who might otherwise be at loggerheads with each other together in an atmosphere of generally shared values.
Coordinating positions among like-minded states within this body of nations is a key objective of the regular summit meetings, and, as President Hosni Mubarak noted in his opening speech at the meeting in Sharm El-Sheikh yesterday, it was important that the member states of the NAM coordinate their policies on serious challenges to peace and stability, including terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the current financial crisis and climate change.
It was only through such cooperation, Mubarak said, that developing countries could have a real say in global decision-making on issues including world trade and the global environment.
As Cuban leader Raoul Castro, also at the summit, noted, if the developing countries fail to take advantage of the umbrella provided by the NAM and other similar organisations, then they had better be prepared to pay the bill for global decisions tailored to fit the interests of developed countries.
Despite the NAM's sometimes venerable aspect, the organisation remains relevant in today's world, though perhaps in a different way to its heyday in the 1950s and 60s.
This explains why membership of the organisation has steadily increased from fewer than 39 member states in 1961 to over 100 today. Present members of the NAM include 53 African countries, 38 countries from Asia and 28 from Latin America. The secretary- general of the UN and the secretary-general of the Arab League both attended this week's NAM summit meeting.
In a statement to the summit, UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-Moon appealed to members of the NAM to patch up any differences that may exist among member states, in order that they may be better equipped to deal with the present international financial crisis and the dangers of climate change.
In his speech to the summit, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa called for greater cooperation among NAM member states to help remedy the kinds of global injustice that have often forced developing nations to pay a heavy bill for policies that serve the interests of developed countries.
The Palestinian cause was also a key issue in many of the statements made during the opening session of the summit. Mubarak, Castro and other speakers all stressed the need for a fair and comprehensive settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the basis of a two-state solution.
Assistant Egyptian foreign minister Naela Gabr said that a special communiqué on the Palestinian cause would be adopted by the summit meeting. The communiqué would call on the international community to pursue a fair settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian struggle that would grant the Palestinian people their right to statehood, Gabr said.
An Egyptian proposal for closer cooperation among NAM member states on measures to confront world terrorism in ways compatible with international law and the holding of an international conference on the same issue was also expected to be echoed in the final communiqué, said Ambassador Maged Abdel-Fattah, Egypt's permanent representative to UN headquarters in New York.
An eventual Sharm El-Sheikh Declaration and the final communiqué of the summit meeting would include demands from developing countries for a more balanced international economic system that does not obstruct the right of nations to pursue sustainable development, said Ambassador Hesham Badr, Egypt's permanent representative to UN in Geneva.
According to Abul-Gheit, the Sharm El-Sheikh NAM summit meeting, coming only days after the G8+ meeting of developing countries in Italy last week, highlighted the demands of developing countries for peace and development.
"This is the message behind the title of the summit," Abul-Gheit said, "solidarity for peace and development."
At the end of the NAM summit meeting today, leaders participating in the summit are expected to renew their commitment to calls made by the countries of the South: the end of colonialism in all its shapes and forms and a commitment towards development.
Many diplomats attending the summit argued that despite its declining weight, the NAM was likely to remain the voice of developing countries.
Whether or not their peoples feel the same way is another story, however.
"It's only a matter of a couple of days," said Sameh, a Sharm El-Sheikh taxi driver interviewed by Al-Ahram Weekly. Beyond that, he argued, "not much will come out of this year's NAM summit."
Additional reporting by Samar El-Gamal and Mariam Fishere