Islamic world leaders seek to bridge differences
14 Aprile 2016
Summit opens in Istanbul with
Turkish president hosting over 30 leaders including Saudi king and
Turkish President Recep Tayyip
Erdogan is hosting more than 30 heads of state and government
from Islamic countries in Istanbul for a summit aimed at overcoming
differences in the Muslim world.
The two-day summit of the Organisation
of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) got under way at 06:30 GMT on
Thursday with a speech by Erdogan. The summit will end on Friday with a
news conference by Erdogan.
Prominent guests at the meeting
include Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Iranian
President Hassan Rouhani, whose countries find themselves on
opposing sides in the Syria and Yemen conflicts.
Turkey has said it wants to use the
meeting to narrow differences between the world’s estimated 1.7
billion Muslims. However, the gathering risks being
overshadowed by disputes on issues ranging from Syria to Yemen.
There is a security lockdown around
the summit venue in Istanbul, the former capital of the Ottoman
Empire from where the Ottoman sultans for centuries ruled Muslims
from the Balkans to Arabia.
While the summit marks one of the most
significant gatherings of heads of state for years in Istanbul, some
prominent leaders such as Jordan’s King Abdullah and Egyptian
President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi will be notable by their absence.
Turkey’s relations with Egypt have
still not recovered from the 2013 overthrow of President Mohamed
Morsi, a close ally of Turkey, while ties with Jordan are being
tested by differences over Syria.
Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkish
foreign minister, said the summit was being held at a time when “the
Islamic world is experiencing many disputes within itself.
Fratricidal conflict causes
great pain. Sectarianism divides the ummah, – he told OIC foreign
ministers on Tuesday, using the Arabic world for the Muslim
Hopefully, this summit will
pave the way for healing some wounds.”
But Turkey’s own policies in the
Middle East have been facing critical scrutiny, with several Muslim
states objecting to the backing by its government of rebels in Syria.
The run-up to the summit saw a visit
by Salman to Ankara which marked the visible improvement in ties
between Turkey and Saudi Arabia since he came to the throne in 2015.
Erdogan went to Ankara’s Esenboga
airport to personally welcome Salman on the tarmac and then gave him
Turkey’s highest honour for a foreign leader.
Salman landed in Istanbul on Wednesday
to find cars waiting on the tarmac to transport him and his
delegation to their hotel by the Bosphorus.
Saudi Arabia and Turkey both believe
the toppling of President Bashar al-Assad is the key to
solving the Syrian conflict and back rebel groups fighting his
However, Turkey needs to tread
carefully in its alliance with Saudi Arabia, which is also
overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim, so it is not seen as a sectarian union
aimed at mainly Shia Iran.