Review Of Guyana in the Islamic World, 1948-2008

Guyana and the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC)

The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) is an international organization grouping fifty-seven countries and whose charter was finally revised after four decades to tackle social, political and economic troubles in the Muslim World in 2008. The Organization was established in Rabat, Morocco, on 25 September 1969 when the first meeting of the leaders of the Islamic world was held in the wake of the Israeli occupation in 1969 of Jerusalem. In 1969 the organisation had less than 20 members, and today that number has grown to 57 which include two countries in the Americas, Guyana and Suriname. Russia, Bosnia, and Thailand are observer member of the OIC, and another 10 countries are looking to join the group. The Islamic Development Bank (IsBD) is an affiliate organisation of the OIC and all member states except Guyana are member of that Group as well as the Islamic Scientific Cultural and Education Organisation (ISESCO).

Six months after that historic event in March 1970, the First Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers was held in Jeddah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia during which the OIC General Secretariat was established to ensure coordination among member states. The Conference appointed a Secretary General for the Organization and chose Jeddah as the city to house its temporary Headquarters, a new and very modern headquarter is being constructed in Jeddah at the moment. At the early stages the OIC focused much attention to Arab/Israeli conflict but the organisation made little success because its charter has constrained it ability to become more than a paper tiger.

The OIC is the world’s largest pan-Islamic body, and the 2nd largest multi-lateral organisation after the United Nations, is looking for reinvent itself in 21st century. The OIC is a not a religious organization contrary to misconceptions. More recently, US President, G. Bush appointed Sada Cumber, a Pakistani born Texas businessman as US envoy to the OIC. “It is an important organization, it has a constructive role to play in the world, and the president is signaling our desire to have a greater dialogue with the organization as well as Muslims around the world,” said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. The UK also, for the first time, sent an envoy to the OIC Summit, Mr. Shahid Malik, and Minister for International Development. Russia is also a member of the OIC and India is keen in joining this body but its application has been stymied by Pakistan.

At the recent 11th OIC Heads of State Summit in Dakar, Senegal, the organisation adopted a new charter. The summit focus attention on growing “Islamophobia” in the West, the revision of its charter, the implementation of the 10-year OIC Programme of Action, the renaming of the organization and tangible steps to forge better cooperation among member states. A 10 billion dollar economic development package put together by Saudi Arabia, Iran, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and the UAE will be unveiled to tackled poverty and other social ills in member states including Guyana and Suriname, who will benefit from these new developments. Debt relief for leased developed members is also part of the economic relief package.

It was also in 1996 that Guyana officially became a permanent observer in the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC). This further strengthened Guyana’s ties with the Middle East, coupled with its traditional support for a Palestinian homeland. In 1997, during the 8th Summit of the OIC in Teheran, Iran, Dr Mohammed Ali Odeen Ishmael, Guyana’s Ambassador to Washington represented Guyana. With strong support from the Islamic Republic of Iran, Guyana’s application for permanent membership in the OIC was accepted in 1998 and Guyana became the 56th member state of the OIC that year. Minister of Foreign Affairs, Clement Rohee was head of the Guyanese delegation to the OIC heads of government summit in Doha, Qatar in 2000.

Dr. Ishmael was a member of the Doha delegation as well. The Ambassador has attended all OIC Heads of States Summit and Foreign Minister Conferences since Guyana’s membership. In June of 1999 Ambassador Odeen Ishmael led Guyana’s delegation to the twenty-sixth session of the Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers in Ougadougou, Burkina Faso. Dr. Odeen Ishmael was also head of the Guyanese delegation in June of 2000 at the 27th session of the Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Most recently, in June of 2001, the Washington based diplomat was once again head of the delegation of Guyana to the 28th Session of the Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers in Bamako, Mali. He is indeed the unofficial ambassador of Guyana to the OIC. Naturally, Guyana’s participation in the OIC has strengthened ties with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Their strong support for the Palestinian causes has drawn these two countries closer. Dr. Odeen Ishmael also attended the OIC Foreign Ministers Summit in Tehran in May of 2003.

At the Bamako Conference Guyana made a call for international observers in Palestine. The Palestinian delegation in Mali was very pleased with Guyana’s call for international observers, and actually the Guyanese delegation was the only delegation that made this demand. In his speech, Odeen Ishmael said, “In this regard, effective mechanisms must be identified to implement the relevant proposals aimed at achieving a lasting settlement to the situation. Guyana supported the call for international observers to be positioned in Palestinian territory to monitor the situation” according to Ambassador Odeen Ishmael.

The ambassador represented Guyana’s interest in this organization and shaped his country’s strong ties with member states and the politics of the organization. At the OIC and at the UN Guyana continue to champion the fight for a Palestinian homeland. Guyana also supports UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, and has called on Israel to implement them. At the Doha Summit, Chairman Arafat held discussion with Ambassador Odeen Ishmael. The Chairman acknowledged Guyana’s continued support towards the Palestinian cause and promise to pay an official visit to Guyana to say thanks.

Since the presidency of President Bharrat Jagdeo, Guyana has attached little importance to the OIC. Behind the scene the president micro-manages the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and delays the appointing of delegations to attend OIC meetings, an example was the recent Dakar Heads of State Summit. Two days before the summit President Bharrat Jagdeo approved CIOG’s CEO, Fazeel Ferouz and Guyana’s Ambassador to India, Ronald Gajraj to attend the summit. The delegation was sent without any briefing and without the necessary documents to enter the summit. It turned into an embarrassing situation. Gajraj never made it to Dakar and Ferouz was initially denied entry to conference because Georgetown did not inform Dakar of his attendance. They did not send him with the necessary papers, nor fax them to Dakar. The fact that Senegal’s Presidential Envoy had met Ferouz in Guyana cleared the way for him to sit in the Guyana chair.

Senegal placed great importance to this summit and sent a three-member delegation to personally invite the presidents of Guyana and Suriname to attend the upcoming summit. To date, no Guyanese heads of state have attended an OIC summit. The visit of the Senegalese delegation to Guyana was ignored by the Guyana state media, GINA. The delegation paid a visit to President Jagdeo which the state media, GINA did not cover. Guyana’s relationship with the OIC under the current government has wane. It was under the leadership of Dr. Cheddi Jagan that Guyana became a member of the OIC in 1998, and under the presidency of Mrs. Jagan, Guyana actively participated in OIC meetings and was represented by Dr. Odeen Ishmael, an astute and charismatic diplomat who attended all OIC meetings up to 2003. Mr. Clement Rohee, while he was Minister of Foreign Affairs, attended the Heads of State Summits in Malaysia and Qatar. However, the current Foreign Affairs Minister, Mr. Insanally is yet to attend an OIC Foreign Minister Meeting or heads of government summit. Suriname, which became a member of the OIC in 1996, has been actively represented in OIC forums by Mohamed Rafeeq Chiragally and Dr. Anwar S. Lall Mohamed.

Thirty-Seven heads of states attended the Dakar Summit, and according to the OIC office in Jeddah and ISESCO in Rabat, Morocco, CIOG’s Fazeel Ferouz was there only on the final day of the summit because get left Guyana on March 12 and arrived in Senegal on the evening of March 13. The Heads of State Summit began on March 13 and ended on March 14, 2008. This is another embarrassing diplomatic blunder especially after Senegal sent a three-member delegation to invite President Bharrat Jagdeo personally to the Heads of State Summit.

Why not designate desk officer in handle, inter alia, OIC affairs like what normal countries do? We do not have to look too far, just next door Suriname’s Mr. Rafiq Chiragally is that government’s Envoy to the OIC. Dr. Odeen Ishmael served for several years in a similar capacity when he represented Guyana at many OIC forums but the Government of Guyana is yet to give a logical answer as to why he has been sidelined from the OIC. Sending Mr. Gajraj from India to Senegal is not an issue of geography and money, because it is easier to get from Caracas to Dakar. The PPP Government needs to put personal grudges aside and conduct international affairs professionally.

According to the Surinamese Mission to the United Nations, Paramaribo was represented by a robust four-member delegation led by its Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lygia L. Kraag-Keteldij and comprised of its Ambassador to the UN, Henry L. Mac Donald, Ambassador of OIC Affairs, Mr. Rafiq Chiragally and Ms. Jacintha Asarfi. The OIC and its subsidiary organs, the IsDB and ISESCO have been supporting the health, transportation and education infrastructure in Suriname. It is not only for this reason that this small Dutch speaking country in South America sent a strong delegation to Dakar, but more importantly the recognition at such global foras to lobby for development assistance for the country and forging of other multi-bi collaboration. Suriname is now eligible for a 35 million dollar debt write off from the OIC and will benefit from the proposed 10 billion poverty and development programme. Saudi Arabia already pledged 2 billion dollars to this fund.

The OIC and its arm, International Islamic Organization for Education, Science and Culture (ISESCO) have taken important decisions in favour of Least Developed Countries. Again, ISESCO prepared the “Letter of Intent” for Guyana to join that group and Guyana is not expected to pay dues, which will be waived. With no member of the government present in Dakar, according to ISESCO, the letter could not be signed and has been sent to Guyana for signature. After four years of failed attempt to get Guyana to sign the “Letter of Intent,” to Dr. Frank Anthony for signature. Guyana Ministry of Foreign is micro-managed and diplomats are not brief before they attend these meetings, and often are confused or have not idea what to expect. And more recently, in June 2008, Guyana did not attend the OIC Foreign Minister Conference in Kampala, Uganda adding more credence to speculation that Georgetown is scaling back relationship with the OIC.