June 2, 2019
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) held summit meetings in Mecca last week. All three were chaired by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman. The choice of the holy city of Mecca for the meetings was probably aimed at reiterating Saudi Arabia’s now contested claim to the leadership of the Islamic world.
The final communiques of the GCC and the Arab League strongly targeted Iran and the Houthis. While they did not exactly overlap, the message was clear.
The GCC and the Arab League underlined the need for Iran to abide by the principles of Charter of the United Nations and the international law including non-interference in internal affairs and refraining from the threat or use of force. They called on Iran to stop supporting, financing and arming terrorist militias and organizations as well as feeding sectarian conflicts.
The GCC Supreme Council, moreover, lauded its cooperation with the US and reiterated its support for US policy towards Iran. The Council called on the international community to take “firm action against the Iranian regime as well as more effective and serious steps to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear capability and put more stringent restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missile program.” And it called on the international community to stand firmly and strongly against any Iranian attempts to threaten energy security and the freedom and safety of maritime installations in the Arabian Gulf and other waterways, whether carried out by Iran or through its arms in the region. This seemed to be more than a call, perhaps a warning/threat to force major importers of Gulf oil into action.
The Arab League denounced Iranian interference in Syria and said that such intervention does not serve the resolution of the conflict.
Iran’s intervention in Syria is a fact and needs no elaboration. However, it is no secret that some members the Arab League like Saudi Arabia also intervened not only in the Syrian conflict but also in Libya and continue to do so. The sad reality is, such interventions not only aggravated the Syrian conflict but also paved the way for Iran’s expanding regional reach. Thus, at this point in competition, Iran seems to be ahead of others except Russia. But there is more to be said on external meddling. One cannot but remember that Saudi Arabia was strongly criticized in the final years of the Obama administration for its meddling in some Balkan states through Islamic charities.
OIC’s Mecca communique could only denounce “the terrorist attacks against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, namely the recent strikes on Saudi oil pumping stations and the acts of sabotage on commercial vessels in the United Arab Emirate’s regional waters” without explicitly singling out Iran since it is also a member of the OIC.
The communique rejected any support for groups and organizations that incite violence, extremism and terrorism under any pretext. And, in a meek response to President Trump and the senior members of his administration who have spoken of “radical Islamic terrorism” it rejected, as usual, attempts to link terrorism to any nationality, civilization or religion.
The OIC, founded in 1969, has largely remained a foreign policy tool of Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom hosts its headquarters and does more to finance it than others. Like all international organizations the OIC Secretariat needs the support of a minimum number of members to take the initiative on a given issue. This seldom happens. Moreover, Riyadh has an unofficial pre-emptive veto on such initiatives. Thus, while the OIC has remained an invisible observer of regional conflict, the UN has become a lightning rod of criticism by some Muslim countries, particularly Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
While GCC and Arab League summit statements were worded specifically to reflect unity and power, the appeals to the international community to counter Iran are also a sign of weakness and dependence on US support. What is said may please the Trump administration, which is after building an anti-Iran regional block, but it is a sign of weakness, nonetheless.
How can one not remember what President Donald Trump told a “Make America Great Again” rally at Landers Center in Southaven, Mississippi, on October 2, 2018? “We protect Saudi Arabia. Would you say they’re rich? And I love the King … King Salman but I said ‘King, we’re protecting you. You might not be there for two weeks without us. You have to pay for your military,’” he said. And the Kingdom is paying not only to the US but also to other Western countries for arms to continue waging the disastrous war in Yemen and everybody is happy.
In brief, Mecca summit declarations by both the GCC and the Arab League held Iran responsible was all the regional mischief. However, despite what was said in the final statements, this could hardly be the unanimous view of all the participants. Iraq registered its disagreement with the Arab League communique. And Oman which has a distinguished record of behind the scenes constructive diplomacy is known to have a more nuanced view of regional troubles. Sultan Qaboos of Oman did not attend the Mecca summits but that was most probably because of health reasons.
In a separate 37-paragraph resolution, the OIC summit condemned and rejected “the relocation of the Embassies of the United States of America and Guatemala to the Al-Quds Ash-Sharif and the illegal recognition of Al-Quds Ash-Sharif as the capital of Israel”.
It urged all OIC Member States “to boycott countries that have already opened diplomatic missions in Al-Quds Ash-Sharif, and to cease any relations, commercial exchanges and visits with them, including any political, cultural, sports or artistic events, until they backtrack on their decision and abide by the relevant UN Security Council resolutions.”
As usual, what was said about Palestine targets domestic audience.
The last summit meeting of the OIC was held on 14-15 April 2016, in İstanbul where Turkey assumed the Chair of the OIC Summit until the Mecca summit. Under normal circumstances President Erdogan would have attended the Mecca meeting to turn the chair to King Salman. The horrific murder of Jamal Khashoggi and the deterioration of relations with the Kingdom made this impossible.
A second absentee, of course, was Iranian President Rouhani.
And a third was President Assad.
Perhaps it is time to remember that Iran, Turkey and Syria are neighbors, but the Gulf is far away.
Will the world pay attention to these three communiques? Not really because all three organizations have chosen to remain on the sidelines at best in the last decade. They no longer carry any weight. And, only a few dedicated professionals will take the time to read the 19-page, 102-paragraph final communique of the OIC which says nothing new.
The world including the EU, Russia, China and many others still support the Iran nuclear deal. And what they want to see is dialogue and new diplomatic initiatives which may help contain if not resolve current Middle East conflicts and reduce the risks of new confrontations.