Guyana’s ties with Iran, Libya and Syria dates back to the anti-colonial struggle of the 1940s, and before the split between the two former Presidents, Cheddi Jagan and Forbes Burnham.  When he became president in 1966, Burnham boldly embraced the Middle East by championing the Palestinian cause, cutting ties with Israel, supporting the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973 and opened Guyana’s first embassy in Baghdad, Iraq.  Forbes Burnham also travelled to Algiers, Cairo, Somalia and other Arab capitals. Thus it’s merely a continuation of old relationships and a new emphasis on “economic diplomacy” by the Jagdeo administration to expand ties with Gulf Arab regimes such as Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia because of their vast reserve of the world's sovereign-wealth funds. 
 
Guyana has had historical ties with Damascus and Tripoli since these regimes shared common ideologies.  The Jagdeo Middle East initiative will not be “extinguished by the rebellion in Libya” nor the uprising in Syria.  In fact, on the issue of Libya, it’s good for Guyana. Qadafi was not willing to reset Guyana/Libya ties, which has worried the Jagdeo administration.  Various Libyan properties in Guyana have been illegally sold, and Libya is demanding their return to Tripoli before any new initiative is taken in the area of investments.  However, Muammar Qadafi has written off US $100 million in debt accumulated by the former PNC regime.  On the issue of Syria, ties with that country have been based on mutual respect and support at international forums.
 
Guyana today is emphasizing economic diplomacy with an eye on Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members such as Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. The region accounts for a large share of the world's sovereign-wealth funds. Guyana is looking to expand new ties also with Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) members such as Turkey, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan.  Since taking office in 1992, the PPP administration has established diplomatic ties with Arab Gulf states, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan. Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan are future Kuwaits, and Turkey has become an economic and political giant in the region.  More recently, Guyana established an embassy in Kuwait City due to the generosity of the Emir of Kuwait, and a brilliant diplomat, Dr. Odeen Ishmael, is representing Guyana there.
 
In a letter I last penned, I emphasized that the Arab uprisings will have little effect on the Gulf States, thus Guyana has faced little set back in its effort to expand and consolidate Middle East ties.  Basically, there have been set backs on follow up bi-lateral meetings and multi-lateral meetings such as the Arab South America Summit and OIC Summits. 
 
UNASUR – Union of South American Nations has increased trade tremendously with the Middle East and especially with Gulf states. Today, almost every South American country has an embassy in the Middle East. The third UNASUR-Arab States summit will be held in the last quarter of this year in Peru. (It was postponed from earlier this year due to the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia). Guyana will have a leading role in the upcoming summit because as the Chair of UNASUR for this year it will have a big input in framing the agenda of the meeting. Guyana is also expected to co-chair that summit.
 
With the presence of more South American embassies in various parts of the Gulf region (as well as the wider Middle East) greater interest is now being shown by the Arab states towards South America where there is a growing Arab Diaspora in countries such as Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and Paraguay. There are more frequent business and ministerial delegations making regular visits to South America. Guyana has been visited by such teams from Kuwait and Qatar recently and negotiations are expected to result in an opening of investment in the areas of communication infrastructure and housing. Moreover, there is on going efforts to establish diplomatic ties between Guyana and Saudi Arabia.

Whether it’s the PPP or the PNC that takes office in 2012, Guyana Middle East ties will not be affected since both parties are strong proponents of Middle East ties, especially since they both historically have supported a Palestinian state. On the other hand, the Alliance for Change (AFC) has little experience in foreign affairs.  The AFC has made some wild accusations and generalizations about the Middle East. One such is branding the region an axis of evil. The anti-Middle East /Muslim hysteria emanating from the AFC is alarming. A press release by the AFC condemned Guyana’s Middle East ties. Part of the release reads –“We warn that the high wire act being performed by Mr. Jagdeo could lead to our becoming embroiled in a dangerous game being played out in a larger arena and one in which we could find ourselves impaled on the horns of an axis of death and destruction.” This anti-Middle East/Islamic posturing by the AFC is alarming to the local Muslims of Guyana.