By Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the Hill’s Congress Blog – 20 November 2012
The presidential elections in the United States are watched with great interest and concern in every part of the world, including in the Islamic world. The results will have impact on countless international issues.
With President Obama’s re-election, we believe there is an opportunity to continue an unprecedented engagement with the Muslim world, which he began at the beginning of his first term. President Obama undertook a bold initiative in his first four years to engage with the Muslim world in June 2009 at the Cairo University, which demonstrated vision and leadership.
I was among the audience at that event, which aroused great hopes and expectations of an evenhanded U.S. policy in addressing the outstanding issues in the Middle East region and in combating and countering the forces of intolerance and prejudice that seek to create divisions. It was a landmark address wherein the president reached out to the Muslim World seeking a new beginning a relationship based on mutual interest and mutual respect. It is my hope that the enthusiasm generated from the Cairo speech will find greater resonance and translation into policy in President Obama’s second term.
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has been able to build up a relationship of trust, confidence and cooperation with the U.S. since President George W. Bush appointed the first U.S. Special Envoy to the OIC in 2008.
In the course of this new relationship, the OIC and the United States have cooperated on serious and significant issues with global consequences including the promotion of religious tolerance and understanding, the partnership between the OIC General Secretariat and USAID, the promotion of the role of women and girls in science, technology and innovation, and the launch of a joint healthcare programs for mothers, newborns, and those suffering polio.
Now that President Obama has been re-elected, his leadership is fundamentally important on a series of issues close to the OIC that have international impact.
More than ever, the president’s leadership is required to bring a permanent resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on the two state solution. Both Palestinians and Israeli peoples long for and deserve a permanent peace to focus their energy and resources on developing their societies in peace, harmony, and co-existence. Death, destruction, insecurity and mistrust should no longer be part of the prospects for the new Palestinian and Israeli generation.
U.S.-OIC cooperation will be vital for supporting the efforts of the Governments of Afghanistan and Somalia to ensure stability, security, socio-economic development and reconstruction in their countries.
The president’s trip to Myanmar offered an unprecedented opportunity for America to influence developments in the country. The U.S. role will be important in bringing an end to the plight and suffering of the Muslim Rohingya minority and encouraging the Government to develop a long term plan for the reintegration of the Rohingya and Rakhine people while ensuring that the democratic development in the country continues uninhibited by their internal conflict. While the president is rightly concerned about democratization and the opening up of Myanmar, as International Crisis Group warned in its latest report “there is a real risk that the localised conflict in the Rakhine State could take on a more general Buddhist-Muslim dimension and spread to other parts of the multi-religious and multi-ethnic country”.
Under the president’s administration, the OIC General Secretariat and the State Department supported the Istanbul Process which seeks to implement UN Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18 by protecting freedom of expression and encouraging respect for every religion and belief system. It is important that this dialogue continues strongly in the president’s new term and that the current resolutions are implemented in order to solidify relationships among all religions and the protection against intolerance; not just for one religion but for all.
We must also further our cooperation on humanitarian issues in the framework of the MoU that I and USAID Administrator signed in March this year. It is important that we bring aid to those in need and assisting in development that will stabilize countries whose humanitarian crises are compounded by domestic conflicts, extremism, government transition, and civil unrest. The OIC has worked to assist both Somalia and the Sahel in this way, but these situations can only be resolved through a global approach, which emphasizes relief and sustainable development together.
The president’s re-election frees him from the strictures of electoral politics and allows him to exercise leadership and judgment unfettered by an impending election. I assured him of our commitment to work with him and his government in close cooperation to bring peace, progress and harmony to all, and the OIC looks forward to strengthening this relationship with the United States substantively in the coming years. We continue to believe in what President eloquently stated in his election-night acceptance speech in November 2008, “our stories are singular but our destiny is shared.”