The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is the second largest intergovernmental, political organisation with 57 members after the United Nations. It was created in response to the arson of Al-Aqsa Mosque in 1969. Since then, the core purpose and agenda of the organisation is to get all Muslims united for the Palestinian cause, protect holy sites, support Muslim minorities and address the socio-economic issues of the ummah (community in Arabic). An emergency Summit of the organisation is going to take place today in Istanbul in response to President Trump’s belligerent decision of relocating the US embassy to Jerusalem. The outcomes of this Summit shall determine the credibility and efficacy of the organisation in future.
In past, OIC has successfully resolved conflicts pertaining to the Muslim world, including the conflicts between Pakistan and Bangladesh, and between the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Jordan. It also took stern actions against those member states which tried to impair the organisation’s agenda. For instance, it suspended Egypt’s membership in 1979 for signing a peace treaty with Israel.
The ongoing Syrian war which resulted in hundreds and thousands of lives and millions of displacements, the Yemen War, the Qatar crisis, the rise of Takfiri extremists and the widening gap between Saudi Arabia and Iran are proof of a fiasco of the organisation
In contrast, its role as a conflict resolution forum began to fade in the last quarter of the 20th century when it failed to mediate between Iran and Iraq in 1980-1988, or when it was unsuccessful in preventing the Gulf War in 1990-1991. By the 21st century, this conclave had become virtually inept in solving the ongoing internal conflicts in the Muslim world, or preventing western intervention for regime change in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. The ongoing Syrian war which resulted in hundreds and thousands of lives and millions of displacements, the Yemen War, the Qatar crisis, the rise of Takfiri extremists and the widening gap between Saudi Arabia and Iran are proof of a fiasco of the organisation. The OIC also failed to take any concrete action against the states involved in atrocities against Muslims in Palestine, Kashmir, Myanmar and Philippines. Since the last few decades, the organisation has been criticized for its ineffectiveness and for becoming a place where heads of states come together to share their views without taking any practical steps for the solution of existing problems in the Muslim world.
President Trump’s decision of moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in defiance of its designation by the UN as Corpus Separatum, and violation of international law has sparked global condemnation. It must be noted that before fulfilling his promise to his voters, made during his election campaign, his administration had properly calculated the global reaction in general and the reaction by the Muslim world in particular. He knew the rhetorical condemnation from the international community would be of no value as no resolution could be passed by the UNSC against the veto power. The only strong opposition could come from the second largest organisation representing all the Muslim countries with Palestine on the top of its focus areas. President Trump along with his policy advisors were well aware that the reaction of the Muslim world could not be implemented in any form as the majority of them are either in turmoil, have rivalries among themselves or have strong economic and strategic relations with the US and Israel.
The geopolitical situation of the Middle East is not the same as it was in 1973 when the OPEC countries swiftly responded by imposing an oil embargo on the US and other countries for supporting Israel militarily in Yom Kippur War. Today, Iraq, Libya and Syria, countries which were most stable and influential in the past century, are in turmoil. Jordan and Egypt, two prominent countries of the Arab-Israeli War have special relations with Israel. Saudi Arabia, the most influential country in the Muslim world, having strong economic and strategic relations with the US, is responsible for the on-going crisis in Yemen and Qatar; it also considers Iran a greater threat than Israel and for that reason has ostensibly established covert relations with Israel. Malaysia, another prominent member of the OIC has already announced that the US decision of shifting the capital to Jerusalem will not be having any impact on its bilateral relations with the US. Pakistan, Turkey and Iran are the only three major members of the organisation left with already deteriorated relations with the US and with no (Pakistan and Iran) diplomatic relations with Israel. Furthermore, member states of the OIC will not be ready to jeopardize their national interests for the collective and core objective of the organisation: to address the concerns of the Ummah and to protect the third holiest place of the Muslims by any possible means.
The OIC has 30% votes in the UN, it constitutes to 22% of the world’s population, its members are producers of 70% of global oil and also control most important waterways and strategic choke points; if the member states unite, it has the potential to become a changing force in the international arena.
The current Chairman of OIC President Tayyip Erdogan, seems determined to reshape and unite the Muslim world. He called Jerusalem the ‘red line’ and harshly criticized the US decision, calling for an extraordinary Summit of the OIC to discuss the repercussions of Trump’s decision. The OIC has 30% votes in the UN, it constitutes to 22% of the world’s population, its members are producers of 70% of global oil and also control most important waterways and strategic choke points; if the member states unite, it has the potential to become a changing force in the international arena. Trump’s decision can be proved to be a motivational force behind the unity and rise of Muslims which have been divided and engulfed in internal conflicts for decades.
If the organisation fails to take any punitive action, there will be a domino effect of the US President’s verdict and then a time will come when there will be embassies of Muslim countries in Jerusalem along with the embassies of the rest of the countries currently having diplomatic relations with Israel. Failure of the OIC in protecting a place with such historic significance in the Islamic religion will also strengthen non-state actors actively involved in Muslim countries against the state. Public support for armed groups will increase if their governments fail to defend their first Qiblah (holy direction).
The US calculations can be proved wrong if all the Muslim leaders stand together and take some preemptive actions, ranging from political, diplomatic and economic measures. The rhetorical condemnation for the consumption would amount for nothing as it amounted for nothing in the past decades. Members need to sacrifice their short-term national interests for long-term collective interests of the organisation by making OIC relevant again in the global political sphere by taking penal actions for the protection of the same Mosque whose arson resulted in the creation of the organisation. What happens in the Summit on the 13th of December, 2017, will be crucial in determining the fate of the Muslim alliances.
is a Research Associate at the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research. He has done MSc. and M.Phil in International Relations from the National Defence University, Islamabad. His areas of expertise are politics and foreign policy of Pakistan and Afghanistan.