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Diplomacy

Towards the Bolder Presence of OIC on global Arena

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Authors:  prof. Emmy Latifah and Sara Al-Dhahri*

For over half a century, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) serves as a focal point for its member states (MS) and as a clearing house between its members and the rest of the world. The OIC does that by providing a standing forum and diplomatic tools to solve disputes, and to address challenges in accordance with its charter.

Being the second-largest intergovernmental multilateral system after the United Nations (UN), whose members largely occupy the most fascinating part of the globe (that of its geographic and spiritual centre, as well as the sways of rich energy deposits), gives to the Organisation a special exposure and hence a distinctive role.

The OIC Charter clearly states that it is important to safeguard and protect the common interests and support the legitimate causes of its MS, to coordinate and unify the efforts of its members in view of the challenges faced by the Muslim world in particular and the international community in general. For that matter, the Organisation should consider expanding its activities further. One of the most effective way to do so, is by setting yet another permanent presence in Europe. This time it would be by opening its office in Vienna Austria, which should be coupled with a request for an observer status with a Vienna-based Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) – as prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic tirelessly advocates in his statements.

The OSCE itself is an indispensably unique security mechanism (globally the second largest after the UN), whose instruments and methodology could be twinned or copied for the OIC. Besides, numerous MS of the OSCE are members of the OIC at the same time. Finally, through its Mediterranean partnership dimension, this is a rare international body that has (some) Arab states and Israel around the same table.

Presence means influence

Why does the OIC need permanent presence in Vienna? The answer is within its charter: To ensure active participation of the Organization’s MS in the global political, and socio-economic decision-making processes, all to secure their common interests.

Why Vienna in particular, when the OIC has its office in Brussels (Belgium) and Geneva (Switzerland)?

When it comes to this city, we can list the fundamental importance of Vienna in Europe and the EU, and globally since it homes one of the three principal seats of the OUN (besides Geneva and New York).

Moreover, numerous significant Agencies are headquartered in Vienna (such as the Atomic Energy Agency, UN Industrial Development Organisation, Nuclear Test Ban Treaty organisation, etc.), next to the segments of the UN Secretariat (such as Outer Space, Trade Law, the ODC office related to the issues of Drugs-Crimes-Terrorism, etc.).

Surely, there are many important capitals around our global village, but after New York, Geneva and Brussels, Vienna has probably the highest representation of foreign diplomats on earth. Many states have even three ambassadors accredited in Vienna (bilateral, for the UN and for the OSCE.)

The OIC has nine of its MS who are the OPEC members as well. Four of those are the OPEC’s founding members. Vienna hosts OPEC as well as its developmental branch, the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID).

Some of the OIC MS have lasting security vulnerabilities, a fact that hampers their development and prosperity. The OIC places these considerations into its core activities through co-operation in combating terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, organised crime, illicit drugs trafficking, corruption, money laundering and human trafficking. Both the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UN ODC) and the OSCE have many complementarities in their mandates and instruments in this respect.

As an Islamic organization that works to protect and defend the true image of Islam, to combat defamation of Islam and encourage dialogue among civilisations and religions, the effective tool for that is again Austria. It is the very first European Christian country to recognise Islam as one of its state religions – due to its mandate over (predominately Muslim) Bosnia, 100 years ago.

Back to its roots

The Organization was formed by a decision of the Historical Summit in Rabat, the Kingdom of Morocco on 25 September 1969, after the criminal arson of Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied Jerusalem.

Today, after fifty years of this ferocious incident, the OIC still firmly holds as one of the main cases its resolute support to the struggle of Palestinians, yet under foreign occupation. It empowers them to attain their inalienable rights, including that of self-determination, to establish their sovereign state with Al-Quds Al-Sharif as its capital while safeguarding its historic and Islamic character, and the holy places therein.

When we look back to Austria, it was Chancellor Bruno Kreisky (himself Jewish) who was the very first western leader to receive that-time contemporary Yasser Arafat, as a Head of State, and to repeatedly condemn many of the Israeli methods and behaviours. As prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic wonderfully reminded us during his recent lecture with Amb. Goutali of the OIC and Excellency Elwaer of the IsDB President’s Office; ‘Past the Oil embargo, when the OPEC – in an unprecedented diplomatic move – was suspended of its host agreement in Switzerland and requested to leave, it was none but that same Chancellor, Kreisky who generously invited the OPEC to find Austria as its new home.’

The OIC is also heavily involved in environmental issues, such as water implementation. According to the Stockholm International Water Institute, around two-thirds of the world’s transboundary rivers do not have a cooperative management framework. The OIC Science-Technology-Innovation (STI) Agenda 2026 has also called on the MS to first define water resource quality and demand by planning national water budgets at the ‘ local ‘ level where appropriate.  In this regard, certain MS lack the ability to conduct a thorough exercise. An organized and focused action plan to adopt the OIC Water Vision is introduced to help Member States address water-related issues.

As for the implementation plan for OIC Water Vision, Vienna is focal again. This city is a principal seat of the Danube river organisation – an international entity with the most elaborated riverine regime on planet. This fact is detrimental for the Muslim world as an effectively water-managing mechanism and instrumentation to learn from and to do twinning with.

So far, the OIC covers Vienna (but only its UN segment) non-residentially, from Geneva – respective officers are residentially accredited only to the UNoG. Permanent presence, even a small one– eventually co-shared with the developmental arm of the OIC – that of the IsDB, would be a huge asset for the Organization. That would enable both the OIC and the Bank to regularly participate in the various formal and informal multilateral formats, happening daily in Vienna.

Absence is the most expensive

International security is a constant global challenge that is addressed the best way through the collective participation in multilateral settings. It is simply the most effective, cheapest, fastest – therefore, the most promising strategy to sustainability and stability of humankind.

According to the Global Peace Index (2019 figures), the economic impact of violence on the global economy in 2018 was $14.1 trillion. This figure is equivalent to 11.2% of the world’s GDP, or $1,853 per capita. The economic impact of violence progressed for 3.3%only during 2018-19. Large sways of it were attributed to the Muslim Middle East.

The OIC fundamental purpose is to contribute to the maintenance of international peace and security, as embedded in its and the UN Charter and other acts of the international (human rights and humanitarian) law.

In this light, requesting the Observer status with the largest Security mechanism on the planet (outside the OUN system), that of the OSCE, which has rather specific mandates; well-elaborated politico-military, early prevention and confidence building mechanisms; net of legally binding instruments; extensive field presence (incl. several OIC members), and a from- Vancouver-to-Vladivostok outreach is simply the most natural thing to do. This would be very beneficial to the OIC MS, as well as one of the possible ways to improve its own instruments and their monitoring of compliance and resolution machinery.

That move can be easily combined with the bolder presence before the Vienna-based Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in advocating a just and sustained settlement for the Middle East – which is a nuclear free MENA.

Among the 57 OICMS, 21 of them are listed within a top 50 countries in the Global Terrorism Index for 2019. (With a ranking of 9.6 points, Afghanistan is infamously nr. 1 on the global terror index, making it the nation most affected by terrorism on Earth. The OIC member – Afghanistan, scored the most terror attacks in 2018 – 1,294; and the most terror-related deaths in 2018, with 9,961 casualties. Several other MS follow the same pattern.)

The OIC Charter (article 28, Chapter XV) clearly states that the Organisation may cooperate with other international and regional FORAs with the objective of preserving international peace and security and settling disputes through pacific means.

As said, Vienna is a principal seat of the second largest security multilateral mechanism on earth, OSCE. This is a unique three-dimensional organisation with its well elaborated and functioning: politico-military, economy-environment; and the human dimension – all extensively developed both institutionally and by its instruments.

No doubt, the OIC so far successfully contributes to international peace and security, by boosting understanding and dialogue among civilizations, cultures and religions, and by promoting and encouraging friendly relations and good neighbourliness, mutual respect and cooperation. But to remain to the contemporary challenges, it necessities more forums to voice its positions and interests. Many of the OSCE Member states have even three different ambassadors and three separate missions in Vienna. Presence of other relevant international organisations follows about the same pattern.

The strategic importance of the MENA (Middle East- North Africa) lies on its diverse resources, such as energy, trade routes, demography, geography, faith and culture. The OSCE has a Mediterranean partnership outreach, meaning some of the LAS and OIC members states are already participants, whereas the Central Asian states, Caucasus as well as Turkey, Albania and Bosnia are fully-fledged member states of the OSCE.

Taking all above into account, the OIC should not miss an opportunity to open another powerful channel of its presence and influence on the challenging and brewing international scene. It would be a permanent office to cover all diplomatic activities and within it– the observer status before the OSCE (perhaps the IAEA, too). This would be to the mutual benefit of all; Europe and the Muslim world, intl peace and prosperity, rapprochement and understanding, present generations and our common futures.

* Sara Al-Dhahri is an International Relations scholar of the Jeddah-based Dar Al-Hekma University and the Project Coordinator for Sawt Al-Hikma (Voice of Wisdom) Centre of the OIC. 

Emmy Latifah is a professor of international law and is an international relations coordinator of the UNS University of Indonesia.

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Diplomacy

Soft Power Dynamics in Middle Eastern Conflict

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The Middle East is synonymous with eternal conflict as being at the cross-point between Africa, Europe, and Asia.

The paper intends to understand how the power could be derived from the cultural roots in a world filled with pre-existing biases based on religious values, nationality, and interpretation of history.

Palestine receives strong international support through social media by sharing its pain and grievances increasing its soft power that hampers Israel’s international relations. A new question emerges can the soft power paradigm be used to resolve the problem?  

The roots of the Middle Eastern problem are driven by historical-religious literature which shows the Middle East to be the historic homeland of Jews and they wanted to get back to their original homeland due to two-millennium long suppression that finally ended up as the holocaust.

Israel continues to emphasize and promote stories related to Second World War which help them gain the legitimacy to exist as a state. It is also remarked that the holocaust may have been a decisive condition for the creation of a Jewish state but this action would have occurred sooner or later.

One of the biggest strengths for Israel and its legitimacy comes from the Biblical literature which has some historical stories in it and mentions Israel and Judah in the Middle East providing American Christian Support which seems to be dropping as a result Israel needs to work on its soft power.

A similar strength can be found in Quran for Israeli as Surah Al-Ma’idah in Chapter 5 verse 12 states about the Children of Israel and verse 21 explains that they are “destined to enter and not to turn back else they will become the loser.” These verses motivate Israeli for their cause which raises an interesting phenomenon that some pro-Israeli media would use Quranic verses to gain legitimacy.

History needs to be studied to understand how and where the differences between Jews and Muslims started. Originally there was a peaceful relation between Jews and Muslims but Jews refuse to acknowledge Muhammad a non-Jew as one of the prophets of God which caused the relationship between Jews and Muslims to deplete.

Finally, Banu Qurayza a Jewish community allied with Qurashites against Prophet Muhammad that caused Medina to suffer a war-built hatred towards Judaism.

However, even after looking at the differences Muslims, Christians, and Jews are Abrahamic religions maintaining their base Judaic-monotheistic tradition as both Roman Catholics and Arab previously had polytheistic culture and Israel has indirectly benefitted from this historical fact.

Israel could benefit from various religions by showing show respect to the leaders of Abrahamic religions and even maintain an apologetic attitude on behalf of some of the members of the Jewish community which may have conducted villainous actions as per some stories based on other religious doctrines.

The tower of one’s ego can prohibit supporting the national interest which could only be achieved by becoming softer to gain soft power.

It is argued that the ancient Philistine is related to present-day Palestine. Palestine as a result gets associated with David and Goliath or Samson’s struggle with Philistine. However, the term Palestine is more complicated which had developed in the period.

There are also claims that the Syria Palaestina was constructed as a punishment for Bar Kochba Revolt in 135CE while the name Palaestina given to the region seems to be older than Bar Kochba Revolt and even older than the Roman Emperor Hadrian.

The image of the Israel and Palestine conflict is connected towards mythical combat between David and Goliath. David was an inexperienced youth who later became king of Israel and defeated a giant from ancient Philistine called Goliath.

Some actors who are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause have also connected Palestine with David who was weak at the beginning of the story while they perceive Israel as an unjust giant and the toughest fighter in the region.

The Middle Eastern conflict goes beyond religion and history as it has multiple dimensions due to multiple crimes against humanity causing people to be refugees that inflict social, political, and economic damages.

A medium to obtain soft power is by resolving the humanitarian crisis and Israel being perceived as a perpetrator tampered with its national image.

Israel as an economically advanced country with large spending power can establish economic institutions to raise funds in providing education, training, and employment to victims of that conflict regardless of their religion, ethnicity, gender, or political views who have been scattered around the world which would help Israel gain legitimacy.

The economic recovery of the war victims can minimize some damage enforced upon the national image but there is a strong opinion that the Palestinian community lacks legal rights as being in Israeli jurisdiction. So, political rights might have to be secured to the Palestinians while they have to live in Israel for Israel to create a positive national image.  

The Israeli government also create an option for the Palestinian community to have the right to return, granting them protection in Knesset (Israeli Parliament), while promoting Arab Israeli politicians, and can even reflect how they have shaped the Israeli government in the international arena to build Israel’s soft power.

Finally, the last piece of the puzzle is the social affairs which are closely tied to the soft power paradigm.

There is a clear fear that the Jews are eclipsing the social identity of the Palestinian people but in reality, they are closely linked as Arabic language and Hebrew are Semitic languages, their scripts have common Aramaic ancestry, and Halaal and Kosher dietary cultures are also similar.

There should be an effort to study the similarities to build unity and to study unique qualities as to appreciate one another’s differences. Israel could also create Cultural Relations Centers around the world that promote both Jewish and Palestinian language, culture, and cuisine to create respect and solidarity. 

There can also be the production of television programs, movies, digital applications which could allow people to understand the Middle Eastern community.

Tel Aviv is the center for the development of many technological advancements and carries great potential to build creative applications and visual storytelling that could help spread awareness about the Middle East.

On the other hand, the Palestinian Authority could request the Israeli government to provide scholarships in various Israeli Universities which could enhance their credential for making effort to create a peaceful world as well as proposing exchange programs by inviting Israeli students to visit regular Palestinian colleges and working spaces decreasing bitterness.

The Palestinian Authority could also pursue Israeli investment in core-Palestinian settlements that could create employment as well as mutual dependence allowing Palestine to grow with a greater bargaining power while maintaining a symbiotic relationship.

Culture, history, and institutions can be combined to create harmony. A key aspect to gain soft power and legitimacy is by becoming softer by showing respect to the opponents while appreciating and accepting others’ viewpoints.

Therefore, the study of religion, history has to be conducted from a neutral perspective that can be trusted by all international actors and could serve as a uniting factor while maintaining an apologetic attitude towards historic mistakes. There needs to be an effort to provide economic and political compensation for the victims which have caused notoriety in the international arena and finally the culture of the two competing communities needs to be celebrated through cultural institutions to build trust and harmony.

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Diplomacy

Biden-Putting meeting: Live from Geneva

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19:00 The places of the flags on the Mont Blanc bridge on which President Biden and President Putin will pass to reach the meeting venue on Wednesday usually hold the flags of the different Swiss cantons. Not today. The American and Russian flags have been placed to welcome the two leaders. 

18:00 A day before the Geneva summit: Hotel Intercontinental where the American delegation and probably President Biden himself is staying, how the city looks like a day before the meeting, what are the security measures like, why isn’t the UN involved and are the usual protests expected?

Iveta Cherneva with live video political commentary from Geneva one day ahead of the Biden-Putin Summit

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Diplomacy

Will the promotion of cricket in GCC add to its Soft Power?

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In recent years, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, have been trying to bolster their ‘Soft Power’ in a number of ways; by promoting tourism, tweaking their immigration policies to attract more professionals and foreign students and focusing on promoting art and culture. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has taken the lead in this direction (in May 2017, UAE government set up a UAE Soft Power Council which came up with a comprehensive strategy for the promotion of the country’s Soft Power). Under Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS), Saudi Arabia has also been seeking to change its international image, and it’s Vision 2030 seeks to look beyond focusing on economic growth. In the Global Soft Power Index 2021, Saudi Arabia was ranked at number 24 and number 2 in the Gulf region after the UAE (the country which in the past had a reputation for being socially conservative, has hosted women’s sports events and also hosted the G20 virtually last year)

Will the promotion of cricket in GCC add to its Soft Power?

   One other important step in the direction of promoting Soft Power in the GCC, is the attempt to popularize cricket in the Gulf. While the Sharjah cricket ground (UAE)  hosted many ODI (One Day International )tournaments, and was witness to a number of thrillers between India and Pakistan, match fixing allegations led to a ban on India playing cricket at non-regular venues for a duration of 3 years (for a period of 7 years from 2003, Sharjah did not get to host any ODI). The Pakistan cricket team has been playing its international home series at Sharjah, Abu Dhabu and Dubai for over a decade (since 2009) and the sixth season of the Pakistan Super League is also being played in UAE. Sharjah has also hosted 9 test matches (the first of which was played in 2002).

 Sharjah hosted part of the Indian Premier League (IPL) tournament in 2014, and last year too the tournament was shifted to UAE due to covid19 (apart from Sharjah, matches were played at Dubai and Abu Dhabi). This year again, the UAE and possibly Oman are likely to host the remaining matches of the IPL which had to be cancelled due to the second wave of Covid19. The ICC Men’s T20 World Cup to be held later this year (October-November 2021), which was actually to be hosted by India,  could also be hosted not just in the UAE, but Oman as well (there are two grounds, one of them has floodlights). International Cricket Council (ICC) is looking for an additional venue to UAE, because a lot of cricket is being played there, and this may impact the pitches. The ICC while commenting on the possibility of the T20 World cup being hosted in the Middle East said:

, “The ICC Board has requested management [to] focus its planning efforts for the ICC Men’s  T20 World Cup 2021 on the event being staged in the UAE with the possibility of including another venue in the Middle East’

GCC countries are keen not just to host cricketing tournaments, but also to increase interest in the game. While Oman has a team managed by an Indian businessman, Saudi Arabia has set up the SACF (Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation) in 2020 and it has started the National Cricket Championship which will have more than 7,000 players and 36 teams at the school level. Peshawar Zalmi, a Pakistani franchise T20 cricket team, representing the city of Peshawar the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which plays in the Pakistan’s domestic T20 cricket league – the Peshawar cricket league —  extended an invitation to the SACF, to play a friendly match against it. It’s owner Javed Afridi had extended the invitation to the Saudi Arabian team in April 2021.  Only recently, Chairman of SACF Prince Saud bin Mishal  met with India’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Dr Ausaf Saeed, to discuss ways for promoting the game in Saudi Arabia. He also visited the ICC headquarters at Dubai and apart from meeting officials of ICC also took a tour of Sharjah cricket ground.

GCC countries have a number of advantages over other potential neutral venues. First, the required infrastructure is already in place in some countries, and there is no paucity of financial resources which is very important. Second, there is a growing interest in the game in the region, and one of the important factors for this is the sizeable South Asian expat population. Third, a number of former cricketers from South Asia are not only coaching cricket teams, but also being roped in to create more enthusiasm with regard to the game. Fourth, UAE along with other GCC countries, could also emerge as an important venue for the resumption of India-Pakistan cricketing ties.

Conclusion

In conclusion, if GCC countries other than UAE — like Saudi Arabia and Oman  — can emerge as important cricketing venues, their ‘Soft Power’ appeal is likely to further get strengthened especially vis-à-vis South Asia. South Asian expats, who have contributed immensely to the economic growth of the region, and former South Asian cricketers will have an important role to play in popularizing the game in the Gulf. Cricket which is already an important component of the GCC — South Asia relationship, could help in further strengthening people to people linkages.

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