On Thursday this week the two-day summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) was hosted by the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul. Over 30 national leaders from the Muslim world were invited to the summit, which aimed at overcoming differences on issues of migration, terrorism, and Palestine. Issues and disputes concerning Syria and Yemen, however, dominated the summit; with the Saudi King Salman bin Abdullaziz Al Saud and the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on opposing sides of the conflicts. According to the Turkish foreign minister Hevlut Cavusoglu, the gathering came at a time when “the Islamic world is experiencing many disputes within itself.” The absence of prominent leaders King Abdullah of Jordan and the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was notable.
The continuous rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran was notable during the summit. Even before the gathering, the Iranian foreign minister condemned Saudi Arabia’s endeavours to introduce anti-Iran resolutions in the draft declaration of the OIC. According to the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani “no message that increases division between Muslims should be put out.” Their diplomatic relations were ceased after protesters stormed the Saudi Embassy in Tehran in January. This event occurred after prolonged regional tensions and the deadly hajj stampede in Saudi Arabia, killing 464 Iranians in September last year. Rouhani however emphasised that the problem for Iran is not Saudi Arabia, or vice versa, but “the main problem is ignorance, extremism and violence.” Rouhani continued his speech mentioning Islamic progress through cooperation towards science, development and employment. Despite these pacifist remarks, Iran’s support of the Syrian government was acknowledged, something that the Saudi Arabians actively work against.
According to the Turkish President Erdogan, the mediation between the two rival states during the OIC did not succeed. A Turkish diplomat argued that the Saudi’s multiple conditions and lack of openness was a huge constraint to the negotiations. Not only do they want Iran to change its support for al-Assad, but also to stop their support of Hezbollah in Syria and Lebanon. Overall, Saudi’s influence over the gathering was stronger than ever, as they passed a resolution warning Iran against interfering into other OIC member states international affairs and “its continued support for terrorism.” As a result of this rebuke, Rouhani boycotted the closing gathering at the OIC in protest of the final statements. Despite the outcomes of the OIC, Iran succeeded in coming into agreement with Turkey to boost their trade. While they remain on the opposing sides of the civil war in Syria, they seek to triple bilateral trade to $30bn annually.
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