King Abdullah urges Muslim leaders to stand side by side
An emergency summit of the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) opened late Tuesday with the proposal put forward by a preparatory meeting of foreign ministers, a symbolic attempt to pile pressure on Damascus over its deadly crackdown on a 17-month uprising.
A draft final statement obtained by AFP said the summit, in Makkah, Islam’s holiest city, “approves the suspension of Syria’s membership.” It is expected to be endorsed when the leaders reconvene late Wednesday evening.
The move by the OIC, which represents 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide, is aimed at further isolating Assad’s embattled regime but its effect is seen as being largely symbolic.
Syria was suspended from the Arab League last year over its clampdown on the uprising that Assad characterised as a plot by Western and rival powers to overthrow his regime.
Saudi King Abdullah presided over the meeting, attended by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad whose country has openly criticised the push to suspend Syria.
The draft statement says Syria should be suspended over “the obstinacy of the Syrian authorities in following the military option” to solve the crisis and the failure of a UN-Arab League peace plan brokered by Kofi Annan.
It demands that Assad’s regime “immediately end all acts of violence” without calling for the president to step down, while defending Syria’s “unity, sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.”
Tensions have been simmering for months between Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia and Shiite-dominated Iran as Syria has emerged as another arena for the longtime rivalry between the two regional heavyweights.
Despite the opposed stands, Iran’s president avoided mention of the Syrian conflict in a speech on Tuesday night as did Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah in his opening speech, indicating an accommodation between the region’s superpowers.
“There has been a clear change in the Iranian position towards Syria,” according to a diplomat at the Makkah summit.
In another conciliatory move, King Abdullah, whose country hosts the OIC headquarters in its Red Sea city of Jeddah, proposed Tuesday setting up a centre in Riyadh for dialogue between Muslim confessions.
Iran is the Syrian regime’s biggest regional ally and has pledged its full support for Assad.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi on Monday criticised the move to suspend Syria’s membership of the OIC, saying it would not resolve the conflict and was not in line with the group’s charter.
But foreign ministers meeting ahead of the summit agreed on the suspension “based on consensus with an absolute majority” and forwarded the decision to the heads of state for final approval, OIC chief Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu said.
Algeria, Pakistan and Kazakhstan called for the final statement of the summit, to which Damascus was not invited, also pin blame on the armed opposition for the bloodshed in Syria.
About 40 heads of government from the Arab world, Africa and Asia took part in the summit.
The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in his speech in the opening session said the Islamic nation is currently living in a state of sedition and disunity that led to bloodshed of its people in this holy month in many parts of our Islamic world, ignoring God’s verse that ‘Persecution is worse than slaughter’.
He said: “The ideal solution of all what I have mentioned will not take place except through solidarity, tolerance and moderation and also through standing side by side to face whoever tries to harm our religion and unity. Thus, we could, by God willing, preserve the history, dignity and pride of our Islamic nation at time where only the superpowers are recognized. If we observed justice, then we could conquer injustice, if we practiced moderation, then we conquer extremism and if we reject dispersion, then we could keep our unity, strength and determination, by God willing.”
He said, “I appeal to you in the name of Allah Almighty that we assume responsibility as much as possible, to become eligible to shoulder it and to observe right as per God’s saying ‘If ye will help (the cause of) Allah He will help you, and plant your feet firmly’. Emanating from this, I suggest hereby the establishment of a center for dialogue among Islamic sects to come to common terms, in the city of Riyadh as its headquarters and, upon recommendation by the General Secretariat and the Ministerial Council, its members be selected from within the Islamic summit conference.”
“Let me appeal to Allah Almighty to help us stick firmly to our religion and keep the unity and dignity of this nation,” he said.