The 56-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) plays an important role in the Muslim world by taking up major issues facing them. Professor Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, who took charge as secretary-general of the organization in 2005, has made tremendous efforts to strengthen the organization.
Ihsanoglu feels that the OIC has not been able to make the optimal use of its potentials. “Even after OIC’s major achievements in the past few years, I think the organization can achieve more. I tried, during the previous years, to establish a strong infrastructure for the OIC,” Ihsanoglu told P.K. Abdul Ghafour of Arab News.
The OIC chief called upon member countries to ratify OIC agreements and implement its resolutions in order to make it a more credible and powerful organization.
Ihsanoglu is optimistic about the OIC summit in Cairo, which is scheduled for tomorrow and Thursday. “The Cairo summit is expected to be distinct from previous ones in the sense that Muslim leaders will make major decisions to face up to the current challenges and pave the way for a better future for the Ummah,” he added.
The following is the full text of the interview:
The OIC summit in Cairo comes following Arab Spring revolutions and at the peak of Syrian crisis. What is the significance of the Cairo summit in the wake of growing challenges facing the Muslim world? What are the major topics on the agenda?
The 12th Session of the Islamic Summit, though falling within the sequence of previous ordinary summits, carries a special and exceptional character in light of the epoch-making developments in the Muslim world and the very venue where it is held. In this sense, we need to recall that Egypt, the country that is hosting the Islamic summit for the first time ever, is going through an historical change that will positively impact its leadership of the Muslim world in the three years ahead. The summit provides the Ummah with the opportunity to take stock of the current situation in the Muslim world, to recall the origins of the OIC, the ideals that gave birth to it and those that inspire and drive its work, the principles enshrined in the OIC Charter, the objectives that it set out to achieve, and the hopes vested in its future. As for the agenda of the summit, it will shed light on the emerging challenges facing the Muslim nation and the expanding opportunities, particularly the Palestinian cause and the troubling issue of Israeli settlements. There will be a special session on the settlement issue. The summit will also discuss the unfolding developments in the Muslim world, notably the situation in Syria and Mali, and make important decisions on them.
Current situation of the Muslim world demands major decisions from OIC leaders. What are the major resolutions to be taken at the summit to improve the conditions of Muslims and accelerate their progress and prosperity?
The summit is expected to be distinct from previous sessions in the sense that Muslim leaders will make major decisions to face up to the current challenges and pave the way for a better future for the Ummah. The decisions will cover political, economic, socio-cultural and science and technology issues including issues concerning conflict areas in the Muslim world, the situation of Muslim minorities in non-member states, combating Islamophobia, promoting human rights, enhancing intra-OIC trade and investing in scientific research.
The Syrian crisis is continuing despite the efforts of OIC and international community to solve it, causing more deaths and destruction. In your opinion, what must be done to end this crisis quickly to save lives and avoid more problems? Will the summit discuss an exit plan for Bashar and plans to rebuild Syria?
The OIC supports a Syrian-led political solution to the crisis in Syria. It has also expressed its support for the mission of Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi, the joint special representative of the United Nations and the Arab League. The OIC has explicitly welcomed the creation of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces and urged it to embrace a peaceful political transition, economic recovery, as well as respect of human rights and international law. I have also emphasized the importance of protecting religious and historical sites in Syria from destruction, avoiding sectarianism and the targeting of Christians. We have called on our member states to donate generously to the Syrian people to enable the General Secretariat implement full-scale humanitarian assistance activities in Syria. I have called on many occasion of the Syrian leadership to show wisdom and make the necessary sacrifices for the sake of the Syrian people who have suffered enormously from the continuing crisis.
The OIC has made a lot of efforts to combat Islamophobia but attacks against Muslims and attempts to defame the Prophet continue. What more must be done to fight Islamophobia with the support of international community?
Islamophobia is a contemporary form of racism and discrimination and it will be high on the agenda of the Cairo summit. We remain steadfast in our determination to combat Islamophobia until the phenomenon is addressed effectively. Islamophobia is being pursued by a group of extremist and radical elements in the West who bear an inexplicable grudge against Islam and Muslims. They have a motivated agenda of hatred and racial discrimination, stereotyping and stigmatization of Islam and Muslims. Their attacks on Muslims and acts to defame the sacred image of the Prophet (peace be upon him) are intended to provoke and incite hatred and violence and to create divisions and destabilize inter-communal peace and harmony. The OIC’s efforts have been to expose the dangerous game of the Islamophobes and the perilous implications of their actions to the international community.
What are the results of your efforts to fight Islamophobia in the past years?
I believe that our efforts have already made a positive impact when world leaders and other stakeholders came out strongly in their condemnation of those involved in anti Islam acts as has been in the case of an attempt to burn copies of the Holy Qur’an by a Florida pastor and on the release of the trailer of the reprehensible film “Innocence of Muslims.” The historic consensual adoption of the OIC sponsored Resolution 16/18 by the 16th Session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva was a milestone in bringing the international community together in combating intolerance on the basis of religion and belief. The OIC efforts with the international community in combating religious intolerance were further vindicated when Resolution 16/18 was passed by the UN General Assembly Sessions in 2011 and 2012. The OIC’s determination to build upon the consensus of the provisions of 16/18 is manifest when we took the initiative to launch the Istanbul Process in 2011. Two sessions on the implementation of the Istanbul Process have been held in Washington DC and London respectively, and we expect to hold the third session very soon. The OIC is also actively involved on working on a unified position of member states toward an effective strategy in cooperation with our partners in the international community. I also believe that bringing the issue of Islamophobia in bilateral meetings of the member states with their Western counterparts would contribute substantially to our efforts in combating Islamophobia. Let me also emphasize on the crucial and important role of the media and civil society to complement the OIC’s efforts in sensitizing the global community of Islamophobia’s serious and dangerous implications.
The ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar is continuing despite OIC’s efforts to protect them. Do you see any solution for this problem?
We are seeking a political solution to the problem of Rohingya in Myanmar, which can resolve the issue from its roots. We are in the process of building bridges between the Myanmar government and the OIC, which must be based on confidence and trust. As you know that the situation of Rohingya has two dimensions, humanitarian and political. As I have mentioned several times, the Rohingya, even by UN standards, are the most disadvantaged ethnic group in the world. Our priority at the moment is to provide humanitarian assistance and support to Rohingya who are internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees. This requires international cooperation and coordination with the Myanmar government as well in order to safeguard the Rohingya from further persecution and provide needed humanitarian assistance. The political dimension also requires international cooperation as has been stated in numerous OIC resolutions including those of the last Extraordinary Islamic Summit in Makkah in August 2012 and the Council of Foreign Ministers meeting in Djibouti in November, which call for ending the suffering of the Rohingya people. Ultimately the full scope of legal rights including the resolution of the longstanding issue of citizenship must be tackled to reach a lasting solution. This process will take time and the OIC is following on a step-by-step approach needed by this situation.
When are you planning to visit Myanmar?
I have received an official invitation to visit the country and I am waiting for the final arrangements to be worked out. I look forward to discussing directly with the Myanmar authorities ways to alleviate the plight of the Rohingyas.
Pakistan is an important OIC country. It has been destabilized by unrelenting political and social turmoil and economic problems and corruption. Do you have any concrete plan to rescue Pakistan from its present crisis?
Of course Pakistan is an important member country, it is one of the founding members, and the Jammu and Kashmir issue is always present at the top of our agenda in our conferences and summits. However, regarding your question, as much as we are concerned about what is happening in Pakistan this is an internal issue and the OIC cannot interfere unless requested.
The ongoing trial of Jamaat-e-Islami and BNP leaders in Bangladesh has divided the country and there were calls for the OIC to intervene and reconcile the two sides. Have you taken any steps to ensure fair trial for the opposition leaders in Bangladesh?
This is a judicial matter under consideration in Bangladesh’s court of law.
Under the able leadership of your Excellency, the OIC has made rapid progress but the Muslim world expects greater efforts to empower the OIC to play an effective role in global politics and support Muslim causes. As a long-serving secretary-general what is your vision for the OIC and what more to be done to make it a credible, effective and powerful organization?
Shortly after I took office in 2005 I gave a glimpse of my views about the OIC in a press conference. I said then that there is a need to reconsider the role of the Organization in favor of a new role that empowers it to become an active partner in the international stage as the representative of the Muslim world. I also said that the OIC has not been able to exert itself as a powerful entity capable of making its voice heard internationally on Islamic issues. I think that this target was finally achieved after the launch of an effective reform process. The OC today has successfully earned the recognition of the international community as a global actor in international affairs.
It is also seen as an agent of moderation and modernization in the Muslim world. The paradigm shift, which we introduced in the organization since 2005, has brought us to this position. Today, the UN considers the OIC as its strategic partner in addressing issues of international peace and security. The Ten-Year Program of Action, which the OIC leaders adopted during the 3rd Extra-ordinary Summit in Makkah, has ushered in an era of engagement and development in the Muslim world.
Solidarity “in action” instead of “in rhetoric” was introduced in promoting democracy, good governance, rule of law, and human rights. The new charter of OIC adopted in 2008 further laid the foundation for this progressive vision and action. A major step forward was also achieved with the establishment of an OIC Independent Permanent Commission on Human Rights in 2011. Subsequently, I can say that the OIC now enjoys a favorable position internationally as the representative of the Muslim world and as the second largest Inter-governmental organization in the world. This achievement was built on a solid base of international relations started by granting the Russian Federation observer status on special consideration in 2005, establishing relations with the US through US President’s Special Envoy to the OIC, and working toward developing institutional relations with China, UK and various Western countries through official bilateral visits and special envoys.
The growing list of countries that have officially expressed their intentions to establish formal relations with us is also indicative of OIC’s development. In the same vein, among its priorities, OIC is tackling different problems, such as terrorism and extremism, insurgencies in Afghanistan, Somalia and Mali, and dialogue among civilizations. By noticing the extent of these major problems we can understand the importance of OIC’s role in tackling issues that are the main concern of the international community. However, I still think that the OIC has not been able to make the optimal use of its potentials. Even after OIC’s major achievements in the past few years, I think the organization can achieve more. I tried, during the previous years, to establish a strong infrastructure for the OIC.
Part of the responsibility of how to make the OIC more credible and powerful lies on the member states who have to expedite the process of ratifying OIC’s agreements and put their weight behind implementing the resolutions, in other words to take ownership of the OIC in order to enable it to complete what it started 8 years ago.