President Jagdeo recent visit to Greece and Libya demonstrates Guyana's new trust in renewing ties with countries in that region.  The President's state visit to Qatar was cancelled at the request of the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, to convene an emergency meeting on 17th January 2009 with other Gulf countries leaders calling for a halt to Israel's deadly attacks on the civilian population in the Gaza.However, Qatar is eager to have the Guyanese leader in Doha, dubbed as the education, medical and sports centre of the Persian Gulf. Qatar is a dominant economic and political power in the region and is winning the hearts and minds of the masses in the Arab world. Recently, Sheikh Hamad single handedly brokered a peace agreement between the different political factions in Lebanon and encouraged Syria to open an embassy in Beirut.  The Qatari recognizing the role of women in development has entrusted his wife, Sheikha Mozah a role in overseeing education and educational reforms in the Kingdom.This is a leader who is more liberal and open-minded than many of his peers in the region.

Guyana should strive to forge closer relations and engage in meaningful dialogue with countries in the region. A good starting point would be in its active participation in the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). Attending the summit and the foreign ministers meeting on an ad-hoc basis is not enough, Guyana needs to be more proactive in this fora.  In fact, this has been not been done at any level in recent times. Guyana should participate in some of the working committees, through which Guyana representative will be in a better position to establish a strong working relations and get to know the main players at a personal level. This is very important, especially when you are dealing with the Arab culture. When Dr. Rudy Insanally served as the UN Ambassador and later as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, he was familiar with some of the protocols and more importantly was aware that if Guyana could not participate in all the meetings of the main committees, at least a designate could write short papers on specific issues or agenda items and transmit them to the committees for discussion or even if its just for the records and duly noted. Such actions would surely demonstrate to other OIC member states Guyana's willingness and interest in the proceedings and work of the organization.

With the non-attendance of Dr. Odeen Ishmael for several years now, no one has delivered a statement on behalf of Guyana at the OIC meetings since. Dr. Ishmael had established close ties and had a good working relationship with some of the Foreign Ministers and Ambassadors from the Middle East. Even today, some of these diplomats I met in Morocco and in the Persian Gulf States where I currently live are enquiring about him. Many of these diplomats indicated that they are eagerly waiting for Dr. Ishmael participation in the various OIC fora.


The Central Islamic Organization of Guyana (CIOG) and other Muslim groups should encourage the government to become active again (at high levels) in the OIC.  It is not a question of cost, since Guyana can easily obtain assistance such as paid tickets from the host country of an OIC meeting. During one of my meetings with other OIC representatives, they indicated that Qatar, Bahrain, Iran, Libya, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia would gladly pick up the tabs for Guyana (and Suriname) participation in the OIC. These two countries would also have their membership fees waived if they are serious about actively participating in the OIC in the future.

 

Through the local media, the Guyanese public should be made aware of the work of the OIC and the benefits Guyana could derive from participation in this group. Many Guyanese, including so-called educated ones, are under the misguided belief that the OIC is a religious organization for Islamic countries, which is a fallacy.  In fact, the majority of the 57 OIC nations are not Islamic states. What is most significant is that the Charter of the OIC, (adopted in 1972) while it stressed the importance of Islamic values of peace, compassion, tolerance, equality, justice and human dignity – overall it embodies principles of the United Nations Charter. Furthermore, there are a number of member countries within the OIC that have an overwhelming Muslim majority which are secular and not Islamic states, like Indonesia and Turkey. While there are also other states which can never be termed Islamic states due to the fact that they have a Muslim-minority population (of 20 per cent or less), like Cameroon, Mozambique, Suriname, Uganda, Guyana, Togo and Gabon.

 

To date Guyana is still not a member of the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) or the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO). According to senior representatives at the ISESCO Secretariat in Rabat, Morocco, the Secretariat is eager to collaborate and assist the University of Guyana in various programmes. Suriname is a member of both of these organizations which brings with its many financial and other benefits to the Surinamese people. To date, the IsDB has funded the upgrading of Suriname's airport, the building of a medical centre in the interior of that country, and the modernizing of Port Nickerie, among other projects. It is worthwhile to note that in December 2008, the IsDB awarded the CIOG a grant of US$495,000 to fund the construction of a medical centre in Georgetown which will strengthen Guyana's health sector and benefit all Guyanese.


There are pools of funds available within the IsDB and OIC that Guyana can tap into should the country decide to foster closer relations with these two organizations. For example, in April 2006 the IsDB board of governors meeting in Kuwait established a special fund the principal aim being poverty reduction in OIC member countries. Recognizing the overall objectives, the launching of this fund was well received by the UN General Assembly the same year. HadGuyana attended the meeting they would have been aware of all the details and Guyana's eligibility to access this and other funds.

It is important that President Jagdeo return to the Middle East, his trip should bear political and economic benefits for Guyana. Guyana should also join the IsDB and ISESCO and become an active member of the OIC once again to access grants and interest free loans.More over, ISESCO is planning a seminar which is to be held in Guyana later this year for members of the Islamic Organizations of Latin American and Caribbean Countries (OIPALC) under the auspices of Fazeel. M. Ferouz, President of the CIOG.On another positive note, Dr.Abdul Aziz Al-Twaijiri, Secretary General of ISESCO will travel to Guyana to sign the necessary documents for Guyana to become a member of ISESCO.

Guyana is well respected in this part of the world and Georgetown should exploit this goodwill gesture, thus it is welcoming news from the Guyanese president himself that "Guyana will be beefing up its diplomatic and economic relations facilities in the Middle East," (Guyana Chronicle, January 20).Guyana's President Jagdeo will be back in the Middle East in March 2009 to attend the 2nd Arab-South American Summit in Doha, Qatar.A Qatari delegation visited Guyana in January 2009 to deliver an invitation to President Jagdeo.

[this piece is co-authored by Raymond Chickrie & Shabnam Ali)