Saturday,21 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1312, (22-28 September 2016)
Saturday,21 July, 2018
Issue 1312, (22-28 September 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Voice of the voiceless in Venezuela

Egypt reaffirmed its faith in the principles of the Non-Aligned Movement at the recent summit meeting in Venezuela, writes Gamal Nkrumah

Al-Ahram Weekly

The amber light for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on the picturesque Margarita Island off the coast of Venezuela in its sumptuous Caribbean setting was glistening as never before.

The 17th summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) “goes beyond the hegemony of the media and beyond the warlike spirit of the United States and its agenda of recolonisation. We have a plan for a renewed fight for peace,” Maduro said in a speech given as president of the Movement.

Venezuela holds the rotating presidency of the NAM until 2019. Egypt is a founding member of the NAM, still a critical organisation for the country.

“There are NAM member states who no longer take the bloc seriously and simply pay lip service to it. Egypt, in sharp contrast, venerates the original principles of the NAM, and there is a conviction that the NAM counts and that it is as relevant as a forum for contemporary developing countries as it was in the post-colonial era,” Ahmed Haggag, head of the Human Rights Capacity Building Project (Benaa), told Al-Ahram Weekly.

“The NAM has a special place in the collective national psyche of the nation. Egypt has hosted more than four NAM summits. This is very significant and revealing,” Haggag said.

The NAM was founded with modern Egypt after the 1952 Revolution, and former president Gamal Abdel-Nasser was among the founders of the movement. The preparatory meeting for the NAM was held in Cairo in June 1961.

When it was first conceived, the NAM represented hope for underdeveloped ex-colonies. Today, the Margarita Declaration is also an historic document that assesses concerns over the hegemony of the United States in international affairs.

Washington is hell bent on subduing the Latin American and Caribbean nation of Venezuela, the host of the recent NAM summit, by derailing its socialist system, for example.

“The Margarita NAM summit was a great success. It showcased international support for Venezuela. Logistically, too, it was a success, and we managed to coordinate policy on oil prices by bilateral meetings with a number of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) member states on the sidelines of the NAM meeting,” Juan Antonio Hernández, ambassador of Venezuela to Egypt, told the Weekly.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was a star attraction at the Margarita summit. “We had a long bilateral meeting with Rouhani. We’re close to a deal between OPEC producer countries and non-OPEC countries,” Maduro told a news conference.

Egypt’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Multilateral Relations and International Security Hisham Badr attended the NAM Summit, but it was Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri, who headed the Egyptian delegation as President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi was preparing his visit to New York to participate in the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly.

Shoukri stated that Cairo was set to join the NAM Summit Coordinating Bureau, and he said in his address that Egypt’s priority was combatting international terrorism.

On the sidelines of the summit, he met his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. The foreign ministers have vowed to improve bilateral relations between the two nations that have been strained since 2013.

Egypt previously hosted the second and 15th summits of the NAM, held in 1964 and 2009, respectively. There are some 120 member states of the NAM, mostly from Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America.

The summit, which ended on 18 September amid much pomp and ceremony, did not see the kind of security that might have been necessary in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas. It focused on the protracted conflicts inherited from colonialism and neo-colonialism.

Over 160 international delegations converged on Margarita Island for the summit. Conspicuously absent was Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and this was the first NAM Summit that was not graced by the prime minister of the founding member and most populous NAM nation.

Nevertheless, a host of other leaders including Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe were present, and the African and Caribbean presence was very visible. Venezuela considered the event as the most important international forum to have taken place on Venezuelan soil.

It will assume the NAM rotating presidency after taking over the summit from Iran, which has been chair since 2012. The theme of the summit was “Peace, Sovereignty and Solidarity for Development”. Other recent NAM summits were hosted by Colombia (1995), South Africa (1998), Malaysia (2003), Cuba (2006), and Iran (2012). 

Indian Vice-President Hamid Ansari represented Modi. “We need to establish a mechanism within our movement that will ensure effective cooperation in combating terrorism, which is the main threat to security, sovereignty and development,” Ansari told reporters in Venezuela.

He described terrorism as the greatest threat to international peace, stressing that it had become a major impediment to development. “We must also ensure that all the existing structures that are the building blocks of the UN’s Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy function in a non-partisan and professional manner,” Ansari said.

“Today we need to ask whether an organisation designed in 1945 with just 51 member states is really appropriate to serve the needs of an international community that now comprises 193 independent sovereign states facing 21st-century challenges to their citizens’ well-being and security,” Ansari also said.

But the NAM remains the most important way for underdeveloped and developing nations to assume their rightful place on the international stage and reassert their freedom from neo-colonial status.

It is also an important forum for interaction with partner countries across continents, including from Africa, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and least-developed countries (LDCs), with whom India has long-standing development partnerships in the spirit of South-South cooperation.

NAM is not ossified. It is alive and well. It is still the voice of the voiceless, the downtrodden and underdeveloped. But it will have enormous challenges ahead of it if it is to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

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