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KL Summit 2019 might just be the same old, same old

COMMENT | If Kuala Lumpur Summit 2019 is a lesser or an ad hoc version of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), an event summoned immediately due to extraordinary circumstances affecting the Muslim world, the organisers have unwittingly enhanced the "Muafakat National" of Umno and PAS.

These two entities have nothing to contribute to national and international issues except to prey on the religious and racial sentiments of Malays and Muslims and by extension, the Islamic world.

Thus, what is ostensibly a summit to augment the geopolitical standing of Pakatan Harapan on "Islamic" issues have, ironically and paradoxically, given "Muafakat Nasional" a second and third breath of life.

While empowering the opposition is indeed a noble idea in a democracy, as all democracies do need a challenger to serve as a check and balance, but "Muafakat Nasional" is misguided as it aims to manipulate the views of Malays and Muslims. They don't need any assistance, if at all. If anything, they need an immediate intellectual put down.

With global Muslim leaders such as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (below), Indonesian Vice-President Amir Maaruf Amin, and Emir of Qatar Sheikh Amir Al Hamad Al Thamrin and Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan converging in Kuala Lumpur from Dec 17-18, the summit seems to be a strategic event too.

But if the Kuala Lumpur Summit is to become an effective amplifier of all the issues of war, peace and Islamophobia that affect the Muslim world, more thoughts have to be given to ensure their agenda are not wrongly hijacked by nationalist-religious groups. Thus, there is a need to focus on tangible actions that can unite the Muslim world as an alliance of Muslim Nations rather than mere public-relations choreography.

Top Muslim and non-Mulsim scholars such as Professor Cemil Aydin, with a PhD in Middle Eastern and Japanese Studies from Harvard University and now based at the University of North Carolina, should be listened as well as Professor Ho Eng Seng, a world-class expert on Yemini issues, who interestingly hails from Malaysia.

The list can include Georgetown University Professor John Esposito at and London School of Economics Professor Fawaz Gerwez, who have devoted their academic lives to understanding the weaknesses of the Muslim world. Even Professor Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former member of the Council of Eminent Persons, who has written on Islamic revivalism in the 1980s, should be kept in, rather than left out completely.

A summit is as good as the "mind melt" that comes during and after the meeting, not the mere completion of the stand-alone event which makes it a one-off catharsis.

KL Summit 2019, as this is written, also seems to ignore the lessons accumulated at the Alliance of Civilizations (AoC) at the United Nations. AoC was pioneered by Spain and Turkey between 2002-2015.

A co-sponsor of KL Summit would have to be found in the future. Although one would hope that President Hassan Rouhani of Iran would also revive the importance of the "Dialogue of Civilizations” that was pioneered by his predecessor President Ali Khamenei too, which again can come under the Kuala Lumpur Summit.

Indeed, the Muslim World, if KL Summit is supposed to be a microcosm of it, it is lacking the right depth to talk to each other bilaterally or multilaterally. If the high dialogue is confined to Malaysia, Indonesia, Qatar, Iran and Pakistan to make the Muslim world more dynamic, all-round trade must still be emphasised first to ensure high-quality interaction.

Yet, none of the five countries above trade widely. And if Iran is brought into the picture, one is confronted with international sanctions it still faces, putting a kink into the whole process of the KL Summit. Indeed, as recent as a month ago, Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamed confessed that Iranians living in Malaysia are now pressured by external forces not to be given the basic privilege of even having a credit card or bank account in the country. Such sanctions confront any Muslim or non-Muslim countries that want to trade with Iran.

Can the Kuala Lumpur Summit address such a complex issue across the Mulsim world? One would have to assume not right now, as the list of attendants in the Kuala Lumpur Summit did not include anyone from the United Arab Emirates or Saudi Arabia, let alone the Kingdom of Oman, especially representatives who can speak on behalf of Sultan Al Qaboos. The latter has done an excellent job of balancing Sunni-Shia rivalry despite being caught in the middle of the Sunni-Shia quagmire.

The Kuala Lumpur Summit seems to have included Rachid Al Ghanouchi, who believes in the concept of a "Muslim Democrat" in the Ummah - not unlike the noticeable absences of PKR president Anwar Ibrahim or Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin. But the very inclusion of Rachid Ghanouchi of the Ennahda Party in Tunisia also clashes with President Mohammed El Sissi of Egypt.

Therefore, the key is not to stage the whole summit as a diplomatic theatre without further forethought in future. Otherwise, the whiplash effect can be another "Maruah Melayu" (Malay dignity) congress which alienated non-Muslims in Malaysia who felt completely left out from the whole event if not insulted since a majority of non-Muslims had backed Harapan to be the government.

As things stand the Kuala Lumpur Summit appears to be an event that seeks to strengthen the relationship of Malaysia, Indonesia, Qatar, Turkey, Pakistan and Iran, not excluding some central Asian republics such as Turkmenistan, where Petronas wants to consolidate its commercial relationship in oil and gas exploration. But nothing more than talk and more talk will emerge if the summit does not first acknowledge that trade between and within Muslim countries remain low.

This would then be a rehash of the problems of the Muslim world and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) since 1967.

As of today, the entire Muslim world only contributes five percent to the global gross domestic product (GDP). If one removes oil and gas from the trade matrix, the figure will go down to as low as less than three percent.

The Kuala Lumpur Summit may try to be the Helsinki of Asia, as the late Nordin Sopiee at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) once called it, but it must be genuine and not staged just for the sake of staging it.

In conclusion, if Kuala Lumpur Summit can point towards a direction to trade more and fight less, especially in fields and sectors that are not in the sunset industries, the event will be a pivotal success.

One will have to see how the summit's organiser, the Malaysian government, avoid the trappings of previous failures. Not forgetting, even Helsinki itself was eclipsed by the great power rivalry between Russia and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato).

One wonders if the organiser of the Kuala Lumpur Summit would in future understand, not merely the complexities of the Muslim world alone but also concerning the non-Muslim community too.

At the very least, the Kuala Lumpur Summit 2019 must be able to talk about the problem of Uyghur Muslims in China, Rohingya refugees trapped in Cox's Bazaar in Bangladesh and the growth of Hindu nationalistic fascism in India. It is a long list and a tall order.

Kuala Lumpur Summit 2019, as all summits dictate, must come up with real solutions and not lofty rhetoric anymore. Perhaps, the summit may surprise all by coming out with resolutions that are pragmatic and workable solutions. You will never know.

But as it stands now, it looks more like a gathering for an end of the year party amongst a few selected friends!

RAIS HUSSIN is president / CEO at Emir Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.