The participation of Guyana’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett, in the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) 36 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Damascus, Syria on May 25 did not make news in Guyana.
The OIC is a grouping of 57 countries, the second largest inter-governmental organization after the UN, and a major ally of Guyana in its effort to protect its territorial integrity. It can be a source of capital for Guyana in its quest to diversify its economy and to lessen its dependency on the IMF and the World Bank. Oil rich Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, Brunei, Nigeria, Kazakhstan, Qatar, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Iran and Iraq are members of the OIC.
The opening speech by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad was comprehensive, moving and inspiring. The OIC on May 25 passed a resolution on Kosovo. The resolution welcomed the progress made during the first year of independence and did not call for recognition, which was resisted by Iran, Syria, Egypt, Algeria and Azerbaijan. Rather, the resolution urged members to support Kosovo’s economic development. Guyana so far has not recognized Kosovo’s independence. The meeting also discussed the idea of an OIC peace-keeping mission and the implementation of the OIC-10 year poverty eradication plan for member states which include Guyana and Suriname. The latter has been an OIC member since 1996.
Recognition of states is not in the jurisdiction of the OIC and is left to member states to decide. However, with 60 nations recognizing Kosovo after the disintegration of Yugoslavia, supporters of Kosova such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United States and Malaysia claim that Kosovo should not be held hostage to political wrangling by some states that face secessionist movements. Only after Kosova is admitted to the United Nations is membership in the OIC possible. Thus, it’s up to Guyana to decide on this issue bilaterally.
Ritually, the OIC passed resolutions on the Sudan, Azerbaijan, Kashmir, the Philippines, Somalia, Comoros, Palestine, the Golan Heights, among others. These resolutions are non-biding.
A lack of consensus led to the failure of the Philippines efforts to gain observer status, which was rejected fiercely by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran, because of Manila’s ongoing conflict with the Moro Muslims of Mindanao. Thus, it is a great achievement that Guyana, a country with a 10 per cent Muslim population and known for its religious harmony, to have been granted membership in the OIC in 1996.
According to Guyanese and OIC diplomats they envision Guyana in the future hosting an OIC meeting. The OIC is keen to gather in Guyana or Suriname, for the first time bringing an OIC meeting to South America.
Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett did not deliver a speech at the OIC gathering in Damascus. The last Guyanese diplomat to deliver a speech to the OIC was Dr Odeen Ishmael. Thus, we know little of Guyana’s political stance on the many issues debated during the meeting in Syria. But the foreign minister had an intense introduction to the deliberations of the OIC, and the Guyanese public may see a more robust role for Guyana at the next OIC foreign ministers conference to be held in Dushanbe, Tajikistan in May 2010.
When the foreign ministers of the OIC hold their consultative meeting at the UN at the time of the General Assembly, Rodrigues-Birkett will have an opportunity to make a statement on any important issue there. When Dr Odeen Ishmael attended those meetings he both participated in the discussions and made a statement.
The visit to Syria by Foreign Minister Rodrigues-Birkett was a boost to the diplomatic relationship between Guyana the OIC and member states. During the group picture, Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett was flanked next to Syrian President Bashar Assad, who had met her a few months earlier when she was part of President Bharrat Jagdeo’s delegation to Syria. Guyana’s participation at this forum indicates a shift in foreign policy promised by President Jagdeo, who is keen to foster closer ties with the Middle East and Islamic nations that range from Mozambique to Gabon, Morocco to Albania, and Qatar to Indonesia. And maybe in the near future, Guyana will set up a diplomatic mission in the Middle East and appoint a special envoy to the OIC like its neighbour, Suriname.
One concern of Guyana is the membership dues of the OIC. Joining ISESCO, an arm of the OIC, will be an additional financial burden. Guyana’s arrears were all waived when Dr Odeen Ishmael was envoy to the OIC. In a meeting with OIC and ISESCO diplomats in Rabat, Morocco, it was revealed that Guyana’s membership in the OIC and ISESCO is certain and that there is an understanding of Guyana’s economic difficulties. Guyana can expect its OIC and ISESCO membership fees to be waived. This was revealed candidly by OIC diplomats who have asked nations like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Iran and Oman to support Guyana and Suriname. It is not certain that Guyana has pursued this goodwill gesture by the OIC. There is no information coming out of Georgetown on this subject.
ISESCO is an international organization working under the supervision and responsibility of the OIC. The organisation supports member states in the fields of scientific research, and the development of science. ISESCO seeks to broaden understanding among peoples of different cultures and to foster the dialogue of civilizations, bringing together diverse people through education, culture and science. Once Guyana becomes a member of ISESCO, it can begin to draw funds.