Islamic summit censures Iran, Hezbollah for ‘support to terror’

Sunday 17/04/2016
King Salman of Saudi Arabia (front L) standing near Iranian President Rohani (front R)

ISTANBUL - The sectarian divide in the Muslim world was reaf­firmed during the Organi­sation of Islamic Coop­eration (OIC) summit in Turkey, which ended with censures of Iran and Shia militant group Hez­bollah for “support for terrorism”.

The two-day summit produced pledges for greater cooperation and to work together on projects such as a Turkey-introduced police centre. However, the closing communiqué directly cited Iranian “interference” in the region, suggesting that even bringing together 30 heads of state among representatives of the 57 OIC members was not enough to get past sectarian divides.

“The conference deplored Iran’s interference in the internal affairs of the states of the region and other member states including Bahrain, Yemen, Syria and Somalia, and its continued support for terrorism,” the statement said. A later clause condemned Hezbollah “for con­ducting terrorist activities in Syria, Bahrain, Kuwait and Yemen and for supporting terrorist movements and groups undermining the security and stability of OIC member states”.

“Muslim problems have to be solved by Muslims,” Turkish Presi­dent Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the summit host, said at an April 15th news conference. He said sectari­anism, racism and terrorism were the main dangers threatening the Islamic world. “We have only one faith: Islam,” he said in reference to sectarian tensions between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

Ahead of the meeting, Turkey, an aspiring regional power, set itself the goal of reducing friction among OIC countries but that target seemed elusive after the summit. Iranian President Hassan Rohani, protesting the tone of the final communique, boycotted the closing session.

The OIC summit was meant to be seen as a show of Muslim soli­darity, bringing together rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia, the main Sunni player in the Middle East. The two countries back opposing sides in conflicts in Syria and Yemen. Ri­yadh broke off diplomatic ties with Tehran in January.

Erdogan also took the undiplo­matic step of naming the 20 coun­tries that are current on their dues to the OIC, suggesting the unnamed members were in arrears.

He said terrorist groups, such as the Islamic State (ISIS), al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and al-Shabab, that kill innocent people could not be regarded as representative of Islam, which is “a religion of peace”.

Erdogan said Turkey would host a new OIC police cooperation and coordination centre to boost the fight against terrorism and other crimes. He welcomed an initiative by Saudi Arabia to establish a joint military force, dubbed the “Army of Islam” by Turkish media.

Turkey has been trying to im­prove relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, although Erdogan has made it clear that he shares Ri­yadh’s concerns about alleged Shia expansion pushed by Tehran when he accused Iran of trying to “domi­nate” the region.

The Turkish-Saudi rapproche­ment has been strengthened by Saudi Arabia’s disappointment about the deal struck by the in­ternational community and Iran regarding Tehran’s nuclear pro­gramme. Feeling abandoned by its main Western ally, the United States, Saudi Arabia has been try­ing to build alliances in the region to counter Iran.