A meeting of Muslim nations to be held in Malaysia failed to attract key Middle Eastern powers amid differences over regional issues, diplomats said.
No agenda has been released for the meeting to be held in Kuala Lumpur, which has been shunned by more than half the invited nations including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Pakistan.
Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are expected to speak during the four-day summit, which begins with a welcome dinner on Wednesday and wraps up on Saturday. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamid al-Thani are also expected to attend.
Diplomats said the meeting could address divisive issues including the Kashmir region, which is disputed between India and Pakistan, the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, the plight of Myanmar's Rohingya Muslim minority and mounting outrage over China's camps for Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang.
Explaining its decision to stay away, Saudi Arabia said the summit was the wrong forum for matters of importance to the world's 1.75 billion Muslims. Saudi state news agency SPA reported that on a call with Mahathir on Tuesday, King Salman reaffirmed that such issues should be discussed through the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
Even as delegations were arriving in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysian officials were unable to provide a final list of who would be attending. Mahathir's office said invitations had been sent to all 56 OIC member states, but officials said only about 20 were sending delegations, and fewer would be led by heads of state.
One Saudi commentator said the summit was intended to further the cause of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist regional group that is classed as a terrorist network by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain.
“More pluralist” Islam is code word for Muslim Brotherhood ideology. What’s a better forum to provide a truly more pluralist Islam? A summit of 5 countries or an organization made up of 57 countries? https://t.co/JeMFQRfk5K— طلال محمد العبدالله الفيصل (@tmafaisal) December 18, 2019
Defending the summit, Mahathir's office issued a statement saying there was no intention to create a "new bloc as alluded to by some of its critics".
"In addition, the Summit is not a platform to discuss about religion or religious affairs but specifically to address the state of affairs of the Muslim Ummah," it said, using the Arabic term for community.
Speaking to Reuters last week, Mahathir expressed frustration with the OIC's inability to forge a united front and act decisively. During that interview, the Malaysian leader also raised the possibility that the alleged mistreatment of Muslim Uighurs in China's Xinjiang would be discussed.
Beijing describes the camps where Uighur Muslims are being held as "vocational training centres", while critics say they are mass internment camps.
- With Reuters