JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia -- The secretary general of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Dr Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, will arrive in Suriname on Sunday for a historic first visit of its only two member states in the Americas -- Suriname and Guyana -- to bring them into the fold of cooperation under the OIC projects, particularly in the field of economic development.

The OIC is a multi-lateral organisation of 57 countries from mainly Africa, the Middle East and Asia. The OIC includes many rich nations such as Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Brunei Darussalam, Gabon, Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia. The Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) is an organ of the OIC of which Suriname is also a member.

Guyana’s ambassador to the OIC, Dr Odeen Ishmael said, “The forthcoming visit of the secretary general of the OIC to Guyana and Suriname is of great significance since it will place both countries in the spotlight in all the member states of the organisation.”

Ishmael added that the secretary general’s visit will receive wide coverage in OIC countries, and particularly the Arab region, and that both Guyana and Suriname “can make use of this visit by promoting their economic development strategies and needs, while at the same time show that they are open to investment from the rich OIC member states.”

There is growing excitement about this long anticipated visit to Suriname, since President Desi Bouterse officially invited Ihsanoglu a year ago. Suriname’s ambassador to the United Nations, Henry MacDonald, who has been instrumental in putting together this trip, flew to Suriname last week to iron out every aspect of the visit and to receive the OIC delegation at the Johan Pengel International Airport.

Suriname will use the visit to showcase its multi-ethnic and religious diversity, its economic growth and trade and investment opportunities.

MacDonald said, “The visit of the secretary general of the OIC to its ‘only two’ member states in the Americas once again proves that the Surinamese government is serious in intensifying the notion of south-south cooperation in its overall foreign policy. Suriname and Guyana should approach this visit as an exceptional opportunity to make themselves and the business opportunities that both countries have to offer OIC member states in general and the Arab region particularly known.”

MacDonald added, “I am confident that this visit will further cement the Suriname-OIC relationship for generations to come. I am very satisfied the OIC secretary general will also meet with the members of the Inter Religious Council of Suriname, since interreligious cooperation, tolerance and celebrations are principles that we proudly promote nationally and internationally.”

Both Guyana and Suriname have considerable Muslim communities that arrived from West Africa during the period of slavery, from the Indian sub-continent and from the largest Islamic country, Indonesia, who make up about 15% of Suriname’s population.

Head of the Central Islamic Organisation of Guyana (CIOG), Al Haji Fazeel Ferouz, in response to Ihsanoglu’s visit to Guyana, said, “This is one of the most important visits of a high ranking official of the Muslim world to Guyana and Suriname and our governments should try their best to capitalize on this for the benefit of the respective countries.”

Ihsanoglu and his delegation, which includes Mrs Fusun Ihsanoglu; OIC ambassador to the UN, Ufuk Gokcen; director of the Cabinet, Amanul Haqq; director of protocol, Bilal Sasso; and press officer Mr Oktay, will hold meetings with Suriname’s vice president Robert Ameerali and foreign minister Winston Lackin, as well as meet with members of Suriname’s Inter Religious Council.

The presidents of Guyana and Suriname will be out of their respective countries during the visit of the OIC secretary general. Both will be in Trinidad to meet with US Vice President Joe Biden for a US/CARICOM summit.