The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit at Cairo indicates that the 57-member Islamic body has endeavored to evolve a dialogue format to resolve the crisis in Syria. Despite differences among members on sectarian lines, the summit, held on 6th and 7th of February 2013, posed a common front in urging the Syrian government and opposition to engage in ‘serious dialogue’ for the resolution of the conflict. The summit urged for «a serious dialogue between the opposition (National) Coalition and government officials who believe in political change and are not directly involved in the repression». Estimates put the death toll at 60 thousand in the two-year old conflict in Syria, with casualties taking place almost everyday. The OIC summit upheld the principle that the conflict will be addressed not through extremist propaganda or killing of innocent civilians, but through dialogue and deliberation and through regional and international cooperation.
The meeting of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his Egyptian counterpart Mohamed Morsi, the first ever meet between the highest officials of the two countries after a gap of 34 years, was one of the major focus of national and international media. Morsi gave a red carpet welcome to Ahmadinejad, and as the two leaders deliberated on various issues, the prospects of an emerging Islamic cordiality between Egypt and Iran appeared in sight. Morsi agreed with his Iranian counterpart that Syrian crisis can not continue unabated, and a peaceful solution must be sought at the right earnest. It may not appear a surprise if Morsi and Ahmadinejad jointly develop a solution format, commonly agreeable to Syrian government and the opposition. The leaders of Egypt, Iran and Turkey met on the sidelines of the summit and deliberated on the Syrian issue. While the states like Saudi Arabia and Turkey may not hesitate to adopt military means to topple the Assad regime, and states like Iran, Iraq and Lebanon may prefer a solution tilting in favour of the current regime, the OIC emerged as a balancer, advocating for peaceful engagement between the parties to the conflict.
Another positive development worth noting is the appeal of the OIC to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to expedite the resolution process of the conflict. The summit urged the powerful international body to «assume its responsibilities to end the violence and bloodshed». The UNSC has so far failed to evolve a consensus on Syria. Russia and China have opposed any sanctions or military intervention in the country. They have vetoed three such proposals in this international body. The positive development is that Russian and the US diplomats and political leaders have met on many occasions at Geneva, Dublin and other places to evolve a common position. The United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has expressed keen interest for an expeditious resolution of the crisis. The UN and Arab envoys like Kofi Annan and Lakhdar Brahimi too played key roles in defusing tensions in Syria. Ban observed, «The Organization of Islamic Cooperation and United Nations have an important responsibility to address people’s aspirations, particularly by promoting democratization, good governance, the rule of law, and human rights, as well as socio-economic progress». He further stated, «I am encouraged that cooperation between our two organizations has significantly increased in the socio-economic and political fields, particularly in the area of conflict prevention and resolution».
The offer of the Syrian National Council (SNC) leader, Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib to Syrian Vice President, Faruq al-Sharaa may not be ruled out as a sham. Any proposal for dialogue needs to be welcomed in the present context. Reportedly, few days back the meeting of SNC with representatives of Russia and Iran in Germany led to the change of course of the opposition. Though the offer is with condition that the Syrian government must release prisoners, it can be considered as a move, howsoever fragile, by the opposition to talk to the Assad regime. Such a prospect was infeasible few months back. The Syrian government has not responded to this offer so far, but it can explore this opportunity or other avenues to engage the opposition by various peaceful means. The conflict is propitious for neither of the parties; hence an indigenous people-centric solution is an urgent task both for the Syrian government and the opposition.
The call for dialogue and negotiation by the OIC summit will have also another positive byproduct. This call will discourage the extremist groups in Syria, supported by Al Qaeda, and strengthen the constituency of peace. The extremist groups camouflage as the indigenous people and foment religious extremism and terrorism in Syria. The OIC distancing itself from violence may weaken their ideological sustenance. As reports suggest, religious extremists from various parts of the world have gathered in Syria and join the rebel ranks to fight the Assad regime by exploiting sectarian fault lines. It is not to argue here that there is no popular frustration against the Assad regime, but the joining of these extremist elements in the ranks of rebels have not only changed the character of the movement but also contributed to violence and consequent loss of lives. The killing of Tunisian opposition leader, Shokri Belaid considered to be secularist, supposedly by the extremists on the eve of the summit indicates that the Arab Spring might have empowered people, but it has also contributed to extremism at least in some parts of the Arab world.
The OIC has sent a clear message that the conflict in Syria can not continue for long. Now the question arises: how to deal with this conflict, which has been made complicated with passing months. The OIC may play an active role to distance the conflict from any ethnic or sectarian tangle, and mediate between the conflicting parties as an honest broker for peace, stability and development in the Arab world.