Members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) need more than a shared religion to ensure unity and must work towards building a Muslim trade bloc, the OIC chief says.
"There have to be common interests. Cooperation in the economic and trade spheres can enhance unity," Ezeddine Laraki told AFP in an interview on the sidelines of this week's meeting of OIC foreign ministers.
Laraki, a Moroccan whose four-year term expires December 31, warned Muslim countries that the emergence of dominant global economic blocs would have negative consequences on Islamic countries.
"Whether we like it or not, we have to be committed to the idea of a Muslim bloc," he said, speaking in Arabic through a translator.
"The benefits from economic and trade cooperation are very much in need today to safeguard the Muslim organization."
Laraki had told delegates Tuesday that global trade liberalization "constitutes an environment which is fraught with danger.
"The OIC is regrettably on the weak side. But there is power in unity and Islamic states have to cooperate and show solidarity," he said, calling for steps towards an Islamic common market.
Draft resolutions to be considered later Friday reiterate the "urgent need" for steps towards economic integration "with the ultimate objective of establishing an Islamic common market."
They also call for strategies to minimize the adverse effects of globalization and urge that its benefits be equally shared by all.
An Asian diplomat said trade between the 56 OIC members currently accounted for less then 10 percent of total world trade, blaming tariff barriers.
Laraki's successor chosen on Thursday, fellow Moroccan Abdelouhed Belkziz, will be under pressure to reform the 31-year-old body to strengthen its relevance in the modern world and sort out its precarious finances.
The Asian diplomat said the OIC pays too much attention to politics.
"It continues to harp on old resolutions over and over again. The war between Iraq and Kuwait is over more than a decade ago but you still see resolutions on it."
Another diplomat urged a greater focus.
"It covers dozens of issues from poverty to minorities issues. Volumes of reports are produced and nobody reads them. We are ineffective," he said.
Laraki disagreed, saying: "The OIC allows ministers and heads of member states to exchange views. This is an approach which has helped us to overcome many problems which would have otherwise erupted," he said.
But he admitted that the OIC was constrained by its constitution and lack of resources.
"Our charter does not allow us to play the same role like the United Nations. We do not have troops like the UN to be sent to trouble spots."
Resolutions are not binding on member states, he said.
Laraki also acknowledged that he had failed to make it mandatory for members to pay their subscriptions.
"If members want to see the organisation fulfill its obligations they should pay up."
Laraki said the present annual budget of 11 million dollars was insufficient, especially since "we only get slightly less than half of the money." -- KUALA LUMPUR (AFP)
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