Tuesday Dec 17, 2019
KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia will host a summit this week of Muslim leaders billed as a forum to look at the Islamic world's problems but it will be closely watched for Middle East power plays.
Leaders from Iran, Turkey, and Qatar will be among hundreds of delegates attending the three-day event set to discuss myriad challenges faced by Muslims.
The summit has been pushed by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who has long championed greater solidarity among the world's Islamic communities — and wants to boost his country's standing on the international stage.
With no high-level Saudi delegation coming but the President of arch-rival, Iran, and the emir of Qatar — under a Riyadh-led blockade — in attendance, there has been speculation the forum could be used to counter the kingdom's influence. Also present is Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose ties with Riyadh have worsened in recent times.
Saudi Arabia's King Salman was invited but is not coming, Malaysian officials say.
The meeting comes against the backdrop of high tensions between the Kingdom and Iran after assaults on oil tankers and installations in the Gulf.
Analysts Giorgio Cafiero and Khalid Al-Jaber, in a commentary for the Middle East Institute think-tank, said some Muslim-majority countries were uncomfortable with Saudi Arabia.
Mahathir's office swiftly rejected a suggestion that the Kuala Lumpur summit would be an alternative to the OIC, insisting the summit "is not intended to create a new bloc".
Leaders are likely, according to analysts, to condemn the treatment of Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar — who fled their mostly Buddhist homeland in droves in 2017 after a bloody military crackdown — and the Palestinians, which would come at a lower cost.
Following the summit, Iran's President Hassan Rouhani heads to Japan on Friday in the first trip to the country by an Iranian head of state for two decades, official news agency IRNA reported.
For 94-year-old Mahathir — the world's oldest leader and in his second stint as premier — the most important outcome could be boosting Malaysia's international reputation which suffered under a corruption-mired regime that was ousted last year.
The summit is "a vehicle to return (Mahathir) and Malaysia into a position of prominence in the Islamic world," said Shahriman Lockman, an analyst from Malaysian think-tank the Institute of Strategic and International Studies.