H.E. DR. ABDELOUAHED BELKEZIZ, SECRETARY GENERAL OF THE ORGANIZATION OF THE ISLAMIC CONFERENCE (OIC), AT THE TWENTY-SIXTH ISLAMIC COMMISSION FOR ECONOMIC, CULTURAL, AND SOCIAL AFFAIRS
JEDDAH, KINGDOM OF SAUDI ARABIA
9–13 DHUL QUIDA 1423H, 11–15 JANUARY 2003
Bism Allah Arrahman Arrahim
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Assalamu Alaikum Warahmatullah Wabarakatuh
I have great pleasure to welcome you all at the inauguration of proceedings of the Twenty-sixth Islamic Commission for Economic, Cultural, and Social Affairs, to express to you my appreciation of your continued interest in the Commission’s activities, and to wish you a pleasant stay in this hospitable country, the cradle of Islam and the holy site of revelation.
Since the inception of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) as a practical forum for Islamic solidarity, the Member States have realized that this solidarity cannot be achieved without true and effective cooperation at every level so as to foster the prosperity of the Ummah, uphold its dignity, and enhance its stature.
Proceeding from this premise, we have started joint cooperation under the umbrella of the Organization in many spheres, and in addition to the political cooperation, there is for example cooperation in the economic, cultural, and social spheres. These are the focus of the mission of the Islamic Commission for Economic, Cultural, and Social Affairs, which today is convening its Twenty-sixth Session. What is particularly gratifying is that the meetings of the Commission have helped a great deal in strengthening the existing spirit of cooperation among the governments of the Member States. We have high hopes that your proceedings will produce positive results to achieve at least a part of the aspirations of the Ummah.
As we strive to develop cooperation amongst our Member States, we are not inventing anything new. In fact, our magnanimous religion urges us to work for the progress of Muslims in all those arenas as long as our endeavors lead to the population of the earth and to development, growth, and prosperity. If Islam has tackled the higher concerns of religion, it has also addressed those of life on earth and ordered social and economic relations among others, exhorting the pursuit of science and knowledge, giving productivity its due place, and exalting work above all else. What preoccupies us here is to be living under these circumstances which cast their shadow on our march as they obstruct our progress and impede our action. The persistent oppressive aggression against our Palestinian brothers, the stranglehold suffocating the Iraqi people, and the gathering clouds of war moving in on its soil—all this keeps draining a major part of the resources of the Islamic Ummah but urging upon us the necessity of more efforts to free our steadfast brothers in the land of Palestine from the inferno of occupation and humiliation and ward off the danger of war from the Iraqi people.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
The veritable onslaught being waged against the Islamic world today along many fronts constitutes indeed a vicious attack on the Islamic Ummah, which has turned this era into a defining epoch for the Ummah that is fraught with dangers and beleaguered by major challenges. Therefore, we have to rise up to these challenges with all the capabilities at our disposal, because one of the first duties of true Islamic solidarity is to close our ranks to repel any assaults or attacks against one of the Member States and because the more we hesitate to take the necessary steps in this confrontation, the more our critics become virulent and potent.
One of the major priorities we have to meet in order to strengthen our Islamic front is to consolidate the ties of cooperation and solidarity among the OIC Member States. Economic cooperation comes at the top of these priorities because it represents the bonds that cement relations and give solidarity a true concrete meaning based on joint and mutual interests beyond emotional or sentimental notions. Furthermore, our international standing and the ability to have our say in international affairs in the world of today hinge on our economic power.
However, the concrete reality still shows that we are far from this strategic and essential objective. Recent economic studies published by reliable international economic institutions show that the global Gross National Product (GNP) has recently been on the upswing, whereas most of the Member States have not been able, individually or collectively, to take advantage of this fact. In addition, the aggregate GNP for the Member States has dropped lower than any level on record prior to the world financial crisis of the mid-1990’s.
The reasons for this are the fierce competition unleashed by globalization and the imposition by developed countries of protectionist measures against the exports of developing nations, particularly in the agricultural sector, thus marginalizing the economies of these nations. This situation can only be resolved by putting up a united economic front that is capable of vying with other such groupings and meeting concomitant challenges. This requires the Member States to work seriously to expand the scope of intra-OIC trade, increase the volume of Islamic investments in the Member States, and develop integrated joint ventures within the OIC countries.
What is regrettable is that the volume of intra-OIC trade so far has not exceeded 11% of the total volume of trade of the Member States. Yet, it is a matter of great satisfaction and optimism that with the recent entry into force of the Framework Agreement on the Trade Preferential System among the OIC Member States, the way is wide open to conducting a first round of trade negotiations.
In this context, I have great pleasure to convey to the Government of the Republic of Turkey our appreciation of its offer to host the first round of trade negotiations as I am sure the Islamic center for the Development of Trade (ICDT) will spare no efforts in preparing the groundwork for these negotiations. Therefore, I would like to avail myself of this opportunity to urge Member States that have not yet ratified this agreement to do so at an early date in order to reap their share of benefits from this agreement.
As to increasing the volume of Islamic investments in the Member States, I would like to emphasize the importance of the role assumed by the Private Sector in this respect, particularly under the current international circumstances, as the benefits and importance of investment in the profitable projects of Islamic States are no secret to anyone. I hope, therefore, that the resolutions adopted by the various Private Sector Meetings, which were held under the auspices of the Islamic Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ICCI), will receive your primary attention as a matter of high priority for implementation.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am certain that the role of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in developing countries in strengthening the chain of supplies has been well acknowledged, since these SMEs remain the mainstay of the industrial infrastructure in developing countries. That is why they merit that we should give them special importance by activating the role of the working group entrusted with developing them through the preparation of the necessary recommendations on the subject.
Also, I would like to avail myself of this opportunity to reaffirm that the OIC Plan of Action to Strengthen Economic and Commercial Cooperation among the Member States, which was conceived to provide the necessary framework for such cooperation, still constitutes the springboard for all our joint efforts. However, we need to speed up progress in its implementation. That is why I believe that the recommendations adopted on this subject by the expert group which met in Istanbul in May 2002 and subsequently endorsed by COMCEC must be put into practice as a matter of special priority.
In this context, I must also pay tribute to the commendable role played by the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) in serving the economic development of the Member States. The decision to increase its authorized and subscribed capital stands as a clear recognition of its growing activity and of the effectiveness of its initiatives. This encourages me to appeal to the Member States to mobilize all means and resources in order to support and help this major institution attain expected objectives.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
The cultural and social fields also have a special role in strengthening ties among the citizens of the one nation, because cultural and social bonds have a major impact on uniting views and opinions about the practical reality of the various Islamic societies. The OIC and its subsidiary and affiliated institutions are deploying valuable efforts in this regard according to the means at their disposal. The reports before you on these two subjects reflect these efforts and give the details regarding progress on each subject at the level of the General Secretariat. In view of time constraints, let me briefly cover the most important activities, starting with the Islamic universities in Niger and Uganda, given the special attention they enjoy at the level of the OIC General Secretariat and their key role in spreading Islam and its culture throughout the region. Last year, I brought to the attention of your august assembly the good news on the opening of the Girls’ College at the Islamic University of Niger. In this session, I am happy to report more good news with the inauguration of the King Fahd Plaza Trade center in Kampala last October and the assumption of its management by a Ugandan company specialized in centers of this kind. It is noteworthy that the revenues of this Trade center will be earmarked for expenditure on the administration of the Islamic University in Uganda and that the center has been erected on a plot of land donated by H.E. the President of Uganda and built thanks to a generous donation from the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.
As is well known, the universities of Niger and Uganda do not have fixed and stable financial sources and rely on the support of the Islamic Solidarity Fund (ISF) in addition to donations and grants from governments and institutions. Despite the proper management of the two universities, which have adopted effective methods to increase administrative efficiency and make optimal use of their financial resources to the point of austerity, they are still in urgent need of financial sources to ensure stability and avert any crises.
Therefore, we intend to organize a wide-ranging campaign to mobilize funds for the Waqf that we have established in favor of the two universities and that has so far realized more than two million dollars donated by the State of Kuwait and its charitable institutions with the funds being presently invested inside Kuwait. We have also set up two investment accounts at Al-Rajhi Investment Company in Jeddah in the name of the two universities to receive donations and grants in favor of the Waqf. As for the International Islamic University in Malaysia, the Twenty-ninth Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers expressed its appreciation for the increase planned for the coming years in the percentage of incoming Muslim students from 12% to 20%.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The OIC initiative on Dialogue among Civilizations received a positive international response and a wide welcome that was evident in the designation by the United Nations of 2001 as the Year of Dialogue among Civilizations. The two years 2001 and 2002 were marked by international conferences and symposia and were truly years of dialogue among civilizations so much so that no regional or international organization was left that did not call for a seminar or conference on dialogue. As 2002 began, the OIC organized the Islamic-European Forum in collaboration with the European Union (EU) to initiate an Islamic-European political dialogue at the highest level, thus realizing a historic landmark in this context while the Islamic Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) was able to organize more than five symposia in the past two years.
On a personal level, I participated in several international activities relative to Dialogue among Civilizations. To this day, Symposia and conferences are still coming thick and fast around the globe and at innumerable levels. The Republic of Tunisia will be kindly playing host to an international symposium in April 2003 in Tunis on Peace and Islam and what a role model to be followed by the Member States in organizing symposia on Islam in their country so as to achieve a quantum leap in Islamic culture at such a wide scale that it radiates the true tolerant image of Islam.
On another front, the Cultural Strategy for the Islamic World and its Plan of Action are still the subject of great attention and earnest follow-up. Within the context of the follow-up of its implementation, the Third Islamic Conference of Culture Ministers (ICCM) was held in December in 2001 in Doha, State of Qatar. In its capacity as the competent organ concerned with the implementation of this Plan, ISESCO works to implement it within the Member States with the able assistance of its Consultative Council. The Council has so far held three sessions, the most recent of which was held in Riyadh in March of 2002. The sessions approved the implementation of a number of projects meeting the required criteria and standards.
The Research center for Islamic History, Art, and Culture (IRCICA) is deploying successful efforts to increase awareness in world public opinion of the Islamic cultural heritage, while the Islamic Fiqh Academy (IFA) has realized important results in the area of Ijtihad on contemporary issues spanning all spheres of social and economic life.
Among the documents submitted to you in this session, there is the report on social affairs relative to women, the child, and youth, which reflects the orientation decided by the Seventh Session of the Standing Committee for Information and Cultural Affairs (COMIAC) to emphasize the necessity of paying attention to women’s issues, giving priority to their basic needs, and ensuring the protection of their interests in all projects and programs developed and implemented at the level of the Islamic world. The report also highlights the need to pay greater attention to the child and the protection of children from the dangers arising from harmful programs broadcast by the media. In this respect, I would like to renew my appeal to the Member States to pay special attention to the convening of the Ministerial Conference on the Child and Social Affairs in 2004 in collaboration between the General Secretariat and ISESCO. I am also duty-bound to appeal to the Member States to undertake—through multilateral cooperation and bilateral coordination—the necessary steps to produce appropriate programs to protect our youth from harmful media programs. In addition, among the documents submitted to you there is another report on Islamic centers and institutes, Dawa, and educational and cultural affairs in Palestine.
I pray to Almighty Allah that He may grant us all success in our endeavors to enhance the position of our Ummah and that He may unite us. “And say work. Allah will behold your works, and so will His Apostle and the believers!” The Words of Allah are Truth.