Whither OIC resolve?


Khalid Saleem

WITH all the problems facing the Muslim World, the OIC appears to be lost in slumber. Not only has it hardly taken notice of the human rights violations in Palestine and Kashmir, it also appears to have lost all interest in its own restructuring to make it relevant in the prevalent milieu. The Organization has not moved with the times and is in imminent danger of losing all relevance in the rapidly changing international environment. A bit of introspection may be in order. The reader will recall that an Eminent Persons’ Group was set up after the Kuala Lumpur Summit with the mandate to “rejuvenate and restructure” the OIC. The ‘Eminent Persons’ met several times and drew up a set of recommendations to put “new life” into the dormant (hopefully not comatose!) entity. The Makkah special Summit had subsequently deliberated upon the recommendations with a view to taking a definitive decision whether or not to put these into operation.
In any case, the Eminent Persons hardly came up with any revolutionary ideas. One is not insinuating that it met an untimely demise. No, not at all! Nothing came out of its much-vaunted recommendations, though. The reader may find it of interest that one of the recommendations – now implemented – was to change the name of the Organization, ostensibly to give it more impact and clout, bringing to mind the age old adage about presenting the same old beverage in a new bottle! Not being either an “eminent person” or even a hanger-on, one is hardly in a position either to proffer unsolicited advice nor, indeed, to comment on the weighty recommendations of the distinguished panel. Nonetheless, having been associated with the OIC for a longish period as one of its elected Assistant Secretaries General, one can hardly resist the temptation of penning down a few stray reflections that may or may not have come to the attention of the exalted Eminent Persons aforementioned.
The first thing that strikes an impartial observer about the OIC is its bizarre facelessness; in other words, total absence of a recognizable visage. Question any citizen of a Muslim state about the OIC and chances are that you will draw a blank. In the city of Jeddah itself, that houses the Headquarters of the General Secretariat, barely a handful of persons, if that, even know of its existence. On arrival in Jeddah, ask any taxi driver to take you to the headquarters of the OIC (even using its Arabic language equivalent) and you will be met with a vacant stare. The Secretary General and the elected Assistant Secretaries General of the OIC enjoy no special protocol status that should be due by right to the top echelon of an International Organization. As compared to this, the Secretaries General of the Arab League and the OAU receive appropriate protocol on their visits. Protocol wise, officials of the top echelons of the OIC Secretariat General are relegated by the Saudi authorities to the level of low-ranking officials of the foreign Consulates in Jeddah.
The Charter of the OIC specifies that the permanent seat of the General Secretariat would be Al-Quds al-Sharif. Pending its liberation, Jeddah was designated as the interim Headquarter. The interim “headquarters agreement” (does one exist?) apparently does not assure due status to the Organization. In effect, the level of the General Secretariat OIC is relegated down to that of any two-penny expatriate commercial outfit stationed in Jeddah and is subjected to the same harsh Saud regulations. It is high time that the matter of the seat of the OIC General Secretariat is settled once for all. If Jeddah is to be the permanent headquarter, then in all fairness an equitable and honorable “Headquarters Agreement” would need to be negotiated afresh. One wonders if the Eminent Persons took note of the fact that having the seat of the General Secretariat of the OIC in Jeddah automatically shuts out virtually half the population of the member states from making any contribution to the work of the organization. Saudi Arabian law disbars ladies from working in offices and this law is equally observed by the OIC General Secretariat – its ´special status’ notwithstanding.
The Charter inexplicably concentrates all powers – financial, political and administrative – in the hands of the Secretary General alone. Experience has shown that successive Secretaries General exhibit utmost reluctance to delegate any authority or responsibility. As a result, the General Secretariat is run as a one-man show – more like a circus than anything else, with the Secretary General running riot as the sole Ring Master! No responsibility is delegated to the Assistant Secretaries General (who also happen to be elected like the SG, each representing one Group). There are three designated Groups within the OIC. These are (a) African group, (b) Asian group and (c) Arab group. The reader will no doubt notice that, while the first two groups are based on geographical criteria, the third happens to be on ethnic lines. Why was the need felt to specifically recognize just one ethnicity, while others were conveniently bunched together in geographical groupings?
Lengthy speeches are delivered at every session. More often than not, statements contain mostly platitudes but little in the nature of concrete proposals. The rule of consensus (and nothing but) is the bane of the decision-making process within the OIC. Member states prefer not to break the consensus on decisions but subsequently show little enthusiasm when it comes to implement them. Nothing is ever done to follow-up the decisions arrived at. These are just some of the incongruities that make the OIC appear more like a dinosaur on the verge of extinction than a viable entity. Small wonder, then, that the Body is floundering, in dire straits and in urgent need of resuscitation!
— The writer is a former Ambassador and former Assistant Secretary General of OIC.