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Outlook for New Cooperation in the Muslim World: An Emerging Power

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Ali Valigholizadeh
Expert on Geopolitical Issues

A total of 1.5 billion Muslims live in 57 Islamic countries scattered throughout Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Pacific. Arabs, Turks, Iranians, Indians, Malaysian and other nationalities constitute the main body of the Muslim population of the world. Although Muslim countries account for 70 percent of total energy resources of the world, their share of global revenues is a meager 7.5 percent. The Islamic world also claims 11 percent of global trade. There are both rich countries with abundant natural resources among Muslim nations, and poor ones. While average per capita income in the European countries is 24,000 dollars, the figure for Muslim countries, which sit on an immense wealth of natural resources, is below 10,000 dollars. Under these circumstances and despite huge potentials, no Islamic country is among eight rich countries constituting G-8 and only three countries, that is, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia have acceded to G-20.

The Islamic world is geopolitically very important as a bridge connecting Europe and Russia to East and Southeast Asia and vice versa and also connecting Europe and Russia to Central and South Africa and vice versa and Muslim countries boast the richest trove of natural resources. The Muslim world also borders cradles of eastern and Western religious faiths, enjoys a 1.5-billion strong market and is located between Southeast Asian market, on the one hand, and European, Russian and African markets, on the other hand, which cater to a population of more than four billion. In view of the above facts, can the Muslim world emerge as a new power in international scene?

The 38th meeting of Organization of the Islamic Conference’s foreign ministers was held in Kazakhstan attended by 600 representatives from 57 countries in late June to discuss geopolitical and geo-economical potentials of the Muslim world as an emerging regional and transregional power. The historical meeting, which reverberated through international media, was also attended by representatives of the United States, Russia, UK, Philippines, Northern Cyprus, as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina as observers; international organizations like the United Nations, European Union, African Union, the Arab League, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which indicated importance of the meeting for major international powers.

Although efforts aimed at reforms in Organization of the Islamic Conference, as the highest ranking organization representing Muslim countries have started since 2005, the meeting in 2011 was of special import. In addition to a general review of its goals, viewpoints, philosophy, and organizational principles and structure, Organization of the Islamic Conference even changed its 42-year-old name, logo and flag through the meeting. As a result, official name of the organization, which is the biggest international body after the United Nations with 57 member states, was changed to Organization of Islamic Cooperation. The word “cooperation” in the new designation of the organization which reflects its true philosophy and organizational structure, also signals geopolitical maturity of the Muslim world and its movement toward deepening strategic cooperation in all economic, political, and cultural areas.

At present, structural reforms in such areas as human rights, democracy and economic and social development are underway in the Muslim world in parallel to revolutionary movements. In addition, the new statute of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which aims to promote democracy in Muslim countries, provides the organization’s roadmap for the next 10 years as well as remarkable solutions for the current tensions, conflicts and unrests in the Islamic countries. Therefore, all member states of Organization of Islamic Cooperation are obliged to observe the principles of human rights and democracy as well as preconditions of economic and social development in line with the new statute of the Organization. It should be noted that the organization’s success in this sphere will elevate its geopolitical status at international level, thus, preventing or decreasing further interference from the West in internal affairs of Muslim states. It is also noteworthy that the Commission for Human Rights in Muslim World which is supposed to act like the existing Geneva-based Human Rights Council will have 18 members.

The organizational structure of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation is like a state administrative system. Istanbul has been designated as permanent venue of the organization. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation is also supposed to establish an economic center in Jeddah, a trade and financial center in Dubai, a center for social policies and human rights in Islamabad, a center for defense, security and intelligence cooperation in Cairo, and a center of international relations in Kuala Lumpur. Therefore, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation is expected to play more powerful and consolidated part in regional and international spheres through its various centers which will be stationed in the aforesaid countries.

Moreover, a highlight of Kazakhstan meeting was the proposal offered by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev on the necessity of bolstering position of Muslim countries in the world by establishing an “Islamic G-20” which would consist of top economies of the Muslim world. Given the Muslim world’s rich natural resources and a huge consumer market catering to billions of consumers, the Muslim world is well positioned to create a peaceful, independent, and democratic atmosphere for promotion of economic and political cooperation. As a result, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which is known as the second biggest international organization and the most important international organization in the Islamic world, can bring about major developments in Muslim countries which will also promote their regional and international status. Obviously, under those conditions the Muslim world will be easily able to get rid of chronic problems; the deep-rooted sense of lack of identity; economic, political, and social crises; and the Western neocolonialism. Therefore, the new Islamic world is expected through achievements of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to attain its special position as an emerging power in international equations.

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