The failure of the fourth Middle East-North Africa (MENA) Economic Conference in Doha, Qatar (November 16-18), boycotted by most Arab countries despite strong US pressure to attend, has triggered guarded optimism that the summit of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) to be held at Tehran, Iran, later this month (December 9 - 11) will be a success.
America’s two most important Arab allies, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, stayed away. So did Morocco, which had hosted the first MENA meeting, and Bahrain, the hub of the US military presence in the Gulf.
Only a handful of small States - Jordan, Oman, Yemen, Tunisia and Kuwait - turned up at a very low level of representation. Kuwait, which regards Uncle Sam as its sole protector against predators like Iraq, sent only an under-secretary for finance, instead of the mandatory al-Sabah luminary.
The pointed refusal to appear - and the discreet representation - flew in the face of urgent American pleadings with Arab governments to attend. Washington had even despatched Martin Indyk, deputy secretary of state, to the Middle east to apply maximum pressure.
Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh, gave an inkling of just how intense that pressure had been during an interview with the Al-Hayat Arabic daily on November 14. ‘The US has insisted on our attendance, saying that we should be there, but we know that the conference will not bear any fruit,’ he said. And to show his disdain for the US effort, he said Yemen was attending because of gratitude for Qatar’s help to his country during its civil war and Eritrea’s invasion of the Yemeni island of Hanesh.
Adding that his country would have attended the conference at a higher level if it had not been for Israel’s attack on the ‘peace process’, he said. Yemen would not normalise relations with Israel. He also criticised Washington’s hostility towards Iraq into the bargain - warning that a new US military attack against Iraq would only succeed in steeling the Iraqis’ resolve.
In fact all the Arab delegates at the Doha conference attacked Israeli refusal to honour its commitments under the Oslo accords. Admittedly, Oslo itself is a sell-out to Israel, but even this call on Tel Aviv to implement what is effectively an Arab, and Muslim, capitulation was seen as a criticism of both Israel and the US. And - with the exception of Jordan, which signed a deal with Israel and the US to establish a duty-free zone in the kingdom - all the delegates refused to have anything to do with the Israeli representatives and businessmen at the meeting.
Moreover, the speech of the US secretary of State Madleine Albright was greeted with stony silence when it demanded Arab backing for Washington’s planned military against Iraq. Even Kuwait was for a negotiated settlement of the faceoff with Baghdad.
The Doha episode was a singular snub to Uncle Sam by Arab proxies whose deference he had taken for granted. None was more aware of this than Mrs Albright who left the conference hall in an undisguised huff, as soon as she delivered her speech - heading for the airport. In case anybody failed to register her displeasure she had told the conference that she was there in Doha only ‘because America keeps its word.’
This unaccustomed, and agreeable, spectacle of Arab proxies thumbing their noses at Uncle Sam must give rise to guarded optimism about the chances of success at the OIC’s Tehran summit. After all, the Arab capitals announcing their decision to attend, far outnumber those discreetly showing up at Doha.
As a leading western weekly put it, ‘a great many more Arab governments, at a far higher level of representation, have decided to attend the Islamic Conference in Tehran next month than the few who limped, at America’s behest to Doha.’
The Egyptian and Saudi governments have announced that they will attend. The Iranian authorities say king Hasan of Morocco, who is head of the OIC’s al-Quds Committee, will be there in person. Even king Husain of Jordan said he would go.
The OIC Tehran summit, though hosted by the Islamic Republic of Iran, is certainly not an Islamic gathering, contrary to the western weekly’s description of it. The very fact that the OIC represents nation- States, albeit Muslim, means that it is a secular, non-Islamic organisation, whose agendas are necessarily secular in nature. It also means that it is a divisive influence in the sense that it helps perpetuate the division of the Ummah into nation-States.
The OIC has also been an engine of kufr intrigues and machinations against the Ummah. Like the Arab League, it has been known to serve western and zionist interests.
But the OIC is the only common instrument of policy at the exclusive disposal (at least theoretically) of Muslims, and as such can be utilised to serve certain Muslim interests and, at the same time, block anti-Muslim conspiracies often spearheaded by the Muslim proxies of the west.
There are two objectives which the Tehran summit may be reasonably expected to pull off: improvement of relations between Arab countries and Iran, and a halt to any more concession to Israel whether by Yasser Arafat of the Palestinian National Authority or other Arab dictators like king Husain. A good beginning would be the decision to ditch the Middle East-North Africa economic conference altogether.
MENA is not what it is advertised to be: a purely economic effort to underpin the so-called ‘peace process’. In fact it is a blatant political con designed to transform Israel into the region’s economic power house on the basis of a hefty share of Arab energy and water resources and the opening up of Arab markets to Israeli goods and services. Al this while Israel enjoys peace, and at the same time, it wages war on Arab land as well as Islamic shrines and movements.
Any expectations of success at the Tehran summit must be tempered by knowledge of the fickle nature of Arab dictators, whose show of partial independence of their US master is temporary, and by the implacable hostility towards Iran of Washington, which is bound to try to sabotage the conference.
Already, the Arab regimes have reverted to their usual practice of targeting Islam, or irhab, as they refer to Islamic activism. Only days after the Doha conference, the interior ministers of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) gathered at Doha on November 22 to consider a plan to combat ‘Islamic extremism’; and a day later the Arab justice ministers held a meeting in Cairo to put the finishing touches to an ‘anti-irhab’ convention.
The latest massacre of tourists in Egypt is a new factor in the equation. It has heightened fear of Islamic activism by the already paranoid Husni Mubarak, who led the boycott of the Doha conference. Whether this would be exploited and translated into increased distrust of the Islamic Republic remains to be seen.
Muslimedia: December 1-15, 1997