CAIRO – Malaysia is to host an Islamic summit but it will not include six of the most prominent Muslim countries, raising questions about the political vision of the organisation.
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad said a mini-Islamic summit in Kuala Lumpur would include Malaysia, Qatar, Indonesia, Turkey and Pakistan but exclude Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Bahrain, Syria and Jordan.
“The five countries will be pioneering the beginning of broader Islamic cooperation that includes several fields facing the Islamic world,” Mahathir said.
The gathering, scheduled for December 18-21, 2019 will focus on sovereignty, integrity and good governance, culture and identity, justice and freedom, security and defence, trade and investment and technology and internet governance.
Mahathir said the meeting would develop strategies to confront violations against the Islamic world, including Israel’s aggression against Palestinians.
Mahathir said 52 other Islamic countries would attend but would not have the same status as the five “central” actors. “Obviously, we need to have Muslims supporting this initiative but, to begin, we need to keep the group small,” he said. So “we (the summit) select a small number of countries that will have the time and effort to find solutions,” he added.
“Search for the Turkish, Qatari and Muslim Brotherhood influence,” Abdel Rahim Abdel Wahed, an Egyptian researcher on Malaysian political issues, said when asked for reasons behind Malaysia’s decision not to invite Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Syria and Jordan.
He said Turkey and Qatar, which are major supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, including in Malaysia, were pressuring Mahathir’s economic and legislative reform plans through their allies in the Brother-affiliated Malaysian Islamic Party.
The party gained influence after allying with the United Malay National Organisation, the oldest and largest Malaysian Islamist party, in September. The alliance seeks to gain a majority in parliament and control of the government after elections in 2023.
Mahathir is thought to be using the event to build stronger ties with Turkey and Qatar.
When asked if the summit would be an alternative to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Mahathir said: “OIC is a very big organisation. It is very difficult for us to have such a big organisation to the conference. That is why we started with five countries and we do hope over time the other members of OIC will join in.”
Mahmoud Zahran, a researcher specialised in Turkish affairs, said the meeting had nothing to do with policy differences with the OIC concerning the plight of Palestinians. “OIC’s policies concerning the Palestinian issue are matching Turkish, Qatari and Malaysian policies on many aspects, for example on visiting Jerusalem,” he said.
OIC humanitarian delegations are visiting areas of occupied Jerusalem in coordination with its permanent office.
The OIC, in conjunction with the Turkish, Qatari and Malaysian governments, has urged Muslims to visit Jerusalem to provide humanitarian aid. Many Arab regimes and prominent Arab institutions have stayed away from Jerusalem because of the complex visa procedures imposed by Israeli authorities, whose presence there is unrecognised by many Arabs.
Zahran said the Malaysian mini-summit is part of an effort to establish an alternative to the OIC that has more Turkish and Qatari influence, while using Malaysia’s strong ties with the Islamic world to bolster its reputation.
“The OIC, as a development partner, is closer to Egypt and Gulf compared to Turkey and Qatar, especially under the presidency of Saudi Yusuf bin Ahmed al-Uthaymeen,” he said.
Before Uthaymeen took over, the OIC was led by Saudi Iyad bin Amin Madani and relations with Egypt were weaker and strained, which may have been satisfying Turkey and Qatar. Madani was pressured by Riyadh to resign in November 2016 after he mocked a speech delivered by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Madani also was believed to be behind a 2015 decision by the Islamic Development Bank, which is affiliated with the OIC, to halt the delivery of aid and loan programmes to Egypt.