Albania and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation

2024-04-20 22:46:00, Opinione Dr.Arben Ramkaj
Albania and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation
Dr. Arben Ramkaj

The crisis and the great challenges of the time we are living in, in an increasingly interconnected and interdependent world, have only emphasized the vital importance that alliances have for a state, wherever it is located.

The relatively short state-forming history of our country has unfortunately been dominated in a good part by the diplomatic isolation, which has been attached to the economic-social one.

Half a century of extreme communism turned Albania into the "North Korea" of Europe. Therefore, in the genesis of political pluralism in the early 1990s, it was imperative to break that self-imposed blockade and expand cultural, political and economic relations to the maximum, to regain lost time.

At the same time, the restoration of democracy restored the recognition and respect of basic human rights, including the freedom of religious belief, which was violently stopped with the infamous decree of 1967.

In this context, in addition to the reopening with Western countries, Albania requested and received in 1991 observer status in the Islamic Conference, which today is called the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

Full membership occurred a year later during the first Democratic Party administration. Despite the objections and accusations from a part of politics and certain segments, the benefits from this membership were and remain very great.

First in the spiritual aspect. Dozens of governments of the countries of this organization but also many independent foundations helped in the cultural and religious promotion.

Secondly, as far as the economic aspect is concerned, it is difficult to calculate it. But the humanitarian aid given to our country as a whole, and in particular to some areas that were on the verge of starvation in the first months of pluralism, was quite significant. There was also no lack of investments in health, education and road infrastructure, which may have reached the figures of hundreds of millions of euros.

The Islamic Development Bank, one of the most important bodies of the organization, collected 415 million euros in aid for Albania in February 2020 as part of the major reconstruction campaign for the areas affected by the earthquake of November 26, 2019.

But the funds of this bank are also visible in a series of large infrastructure projects such as Rruga e Kombit, the Tirana-Elbasan road or the new Librazhd-Korçë road.

Third, in terms of geopolitics. Being part of an organization with 57 members, with 1.8 billion inhabitants in total, and the second largest in the world after the United Nations, Albania has had the opportunity to strengthen its security and position in the region first.

Let's not forget that in the 1990s, very troubled by the war in Bosnia, Kosovo with a centuries-old opponent like Serbia, but also the tense relations with our southern neighbor. The countries of this organization, led by Turkey, have always shown a friendly attitude towards us.          

But we Albanians, like all people in the Balkans, forget quickly. The terrible terrorist attack by some radicalized people, part of an equally extremist organization, on September 11, 2001 against the USA was enough to revive, this time more forcefully, the attacks against our country's membership in this organization.

Harsh criticisms of an Islamophobic nature were not limited to certain groups or citizens in various internet networks or forums, but also to some political forces. Among them, the Democratic Christian Party of Albania has stood out, which has repeatedly asked the Democratic Party, in a joint coalition at the head of the government, to officially withdraw the country from this organization.

I say it officially because unfortunately, the Albanian governments, the political class as a whole has shown to be complex in relation to this issue, when in fact there are many reasons to be proud. Under these conditions, the representation at the summits of this organization (as a rule once a year, but even more often if there are important developments), has often been of the lowest possible level.

There have even been cases, such as the one in 2014, when Albania was not represented at all. An extreme act that was officially explained by the lack of sufficient funds, and unofficially justified by the Islamophobia of some extremist parties in the EU, such as that of the extreme right in the Netherlands.

Opponents of participation in this organization flagrantly abuse the fact that Albania is constitutionally a secular country, where religion is separated from the state.

Because no point of the basic statute or documents approved since 1969, when the Organization of Islamic Cooperation was established, imposes or dictates that the Islamic religion intervenes or becomes a state religion.

While it happens that even in the 57 member states there are quite a few such cases, there are many others where secularism is strictly respected. This depends on the state-forming tradition and the political culture of each of the countries.

When this issue is cunningly and abusively mixed with the issues of terrorism and radicalism, which have no bearing on the sound and true principles of the Islamic religion and the many believers who truly follow them, a section of public opinion, generally disinterested or uninformed as it is known on this issue, it is affected from time to time by waves of Islamophobia that are fueled by people with narrow and dark agendas.

Because the truth is as simple and clear as sunlight. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation is an international organization, as is that of Francophonie. We have been part of the latter for more than 2 decades. Although a small minority of people speak French.

Francophonie has France and its former colonies at its core. However, many other countries also belong to it, which, like us, aim to strengthen cultural ties, and with them, also political and economic ones. Meanwhile, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation includes countries that share, among other things, the value of the Islamic faith, which is a factual part of the Albanian nation.

But it is not a religious organization but a political one and it connects and interacts in the relations of the Albanian state with other states that are members of this organization. Therefore, the occasional attacks by politicians or some influencers on public opinion, stem from an obviously Islamophobic approach, but also the ambiguity regarding the methodology of operation of international organizations.

The organization itself states in its charter that its main objective is to strengthen the Islamic solidarity of the member states of this organization, supporting and cooperating among them in various fields such as economic, cultural, scientific, social, etc.

Even in 2008, it revised several points, emphasizing the promotion of human rights, fundamental freedoms and good governance in all member states. Also, the organization fully supports the United Nations Charter and international law.

Therefore, Albania should not behave shyly towards this organization. Because it currently enjoys a very important position in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. First, Albania and Turkey are NATO member countries, and it is a different voice within the organization regarding approaches and conflicts in the Middle East. Secondly, being a part of this organization and very powerful countries, Albania, in addition to having economic benefits, also has advantages of other types, which are related to the resolution of international crises, where our country can play an important role.

The Gaza war, the most recent of the clashes between Israel and Iran, with the dangerous potential to spread throughout the region, requires the contribution of the most geographically distant actors to reduce tensions and broker a compromise.

Turkey represents an excellent example in this respect, being very active in ending the conflict in Gaza and Ukraine. The countries that are in conflict with the countries of this organization, such as Israel, consider Albania's contribution very important, because it is the only country, along with Azerbaijan, that has a normal relationship with Israel.

This is very important in the context of conflicts in the Middle East.

The fact that Albania is represented at a very low level in its summits is an approach that our Foreign Ministry must change. Since many powerful countries of the world such as Russia, the USA, or even other Western countries follow its works closely and have acquired the status of permanent observer, sending their respective ambassadors.

In addition to the Islamic Development Bank (IDB), the organization has several other bodies that aim to address the main challenges of the time, such as the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO), the Islamic Broadcasting Union (IBU), the Union of Broadcasting Agencies News of Member States (UNA), Science, Technology and Innovation Organization (STIO), Islamic Organization for Food Security (IOFS) and Women's Development Organization in Member States (WDO).

So as can be seen, the scope of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation is very wide, and the opportunities and benefits that can be derived from it are very large. It would be incomprehensible if Albania knowingly wastes them./ CNA

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