A first in UN history, the last chance for UN dignity
A first happened last week on October 28 at the United Nations (UN) Headquarters in New York which I had the chance to observe first hand. The 15-member U.N. Security Council held a special session dedicated solely to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) which has been chaired by a prominent Turkish scholar, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoğlu, for the last eight years. This was special because the U.N., for the first time in its entire history, held a special session on a regional organization. It was special also because the world’s largest organization, the U.N., and its second largest organization, the OIC, embracing 57 Muslim countries and representing 1.6 billion of the world’s population, agreed to work more closely to find solutions to regional conflicts. Needless to say this was a great achievement for the OIC itself and its Turkish head. Yet what makes this summit so crucial and timely are the recent regional and international developments.
The region is on a roller coaster. The Sunni-Shia tension is at its peak. The Syria conflict is a dead end and efforts to hold peace talks are being bogged down. Israeli-Palestinian negotiations stumble. This shift in the regional balance of power does also shift regional alliances. Arab uprisings, most profoundly Egypt and Syria crises, have created a new wave of regional competition and deep rifts among regional powers. While for example Gulf countries support the military regime in Egypt and Turkey sides with Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, they all stand in the same camp in Syria, siding with the Syrian opposition. But still, they support different factions within the opposition. Within this over-complicated and fragmented picture, the region is further than ever from unity. International alliances are also shifting. Most recently, ties between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have become strained over Washington’s Syria policy and its rapprochement with Iran. Earlier this month Riyadh even turned down a non-permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council to protest the U.N.’s inaction on Syria. And on top of it all, the international community is completely paralyzed. This all urgently requires regional leadership to overcome the rifts and develop intra-regional cooperation. And the U.N.-OIC summit raised hopes since the leaders of the world’s two largest institutions, Ban Ki-moon and Ihsanoğlu, vigorously emphasized the urgency of doing everything possible on the regional conflicts and repair rifts between Muslim countries.
This is actually what Turkish leaders have been advocating for a while on various international platforms. Turkey has been endorsing the idea of bolstering regional unity and regional leadership. President Abdullah Gül put forth this vision in his interview with the Guardian published yesterday when he also described the response of the international community to the Syrian crisis as “very disappointing” and the U.N.’s performance as a “disgrace.” He had brought up the very same issues during his address at the U.N. General Assembly on September 26 and underlined the need for a new international concept to cope with the regional conflicts. Toward this end, in 2012 he had also suggested to create an OSCE-like (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) regional security organization in the Middle East.
Be it Turkey, be it the OIC. Actors don’t matter. What matters is that last week’s session took down the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door of the international community and hung up a “Housekeeping Needed” sign instead. And a humble warning: This might be the U.N.’s last chance for some housekeeping before it decays for good.