Since its foundation as a conference half-a-century ago in order to defend the cause of Al-Quds (Jerusalem) and Masjid Al-Aqsa on behalf of the Muslim world, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has grown into a comprehensive and complicated international institutional network. Representing 57 member states spread over four continents across the globe, the OIC came to constitute the second-largest intergovernmental organization after the United Nations in terms of its wide scope of membership.
Yet despite its declared stature as the sole collective voice of the Muslim world in international politics with high expectations on the peaceful resolution of long-drawn conflicts, i.e. the Palestinian issue, the enhancement of multilateral cooperation, defense of the rights of Muslim minorities, promotion of human development and contribution to effective governance in economic, cultural and social realms, the OIC has so far failed to realize its potential and assume global prestige and clout at the level of similar international organizations.
Numerous reasons could be given to explain the OIC's far-from-satisfactory performance in the international scene over the course of its long existence, including conflicting national interests and grave disagreements among the members, which have made collective decision-making difficult; endemic weakness of coordination mechanisms among the plethora of OIC institutions; structural problems in transmitting member-states driven initiatives into bureaucratic action plans; vagueness of key legal rules and regulations pertaining to key appointments and organizational matters which cause friction; and weak institutional capacity to elicit financial contributions required for the day-to-day running and long-term projects of the institution.
The patchwork institutional architecture of the OIC includes the Islamic Summit and Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) recognized as the highest decision-making platforms by the member states, the General Secretariat defined as the chief administrative body undertaking policy coordination and implementation, as well as a series of subsidiary, specialized and affiliated organs operating autonomously in their distinct realms of official mandate.
There is widespread consensus among the members on the need for swift and comprehensive reform to increase both the legitimacy and efficacy of the OIC since the adoption of the Ten-Year Program of Action in 2015. However, the main priorities, modalities and scope of the institutional reform process triggered lively debates among both the member states and various OIC institutions which I have been following with great interest in my capacity as an academic and Consultant to the Research Center for Islamic History, Art and Culture (IRCICA).
In this vein, this week I had the chance to participate in the first brainstorming session which was held in Jeddah as an informal gathering of representatives from the member countries as well as subsidiary and specialized institutions in an attempt to gather novel ideas on how to proceed with the reform process with respect to the organic structure, rules and procedures and financial matters.
As one of the co-chairs of the event and one of the most ardent supporters of OIC reform over the years, Turkey's permanent representation at the OIC, showed the courtesy to nominate myself as the moderator of the second part of the brainstorming session on the reform of rules and regulations. Since this was not an official intergovernmental meeting during which diplomatic representatives restrain themselves on the protection of national positions on critical matters, the floor was open for frank and candid discussions on how to improve the international standing and performance of the OIC.
Therefore, on a personal capacity it was an inspiring experience to witness the candidly-expressed views by prominent diplomats and experts from a wide spectrum of OIC member states, as well as subsidiary, specialized and affiliated institutions.
The reform proposals ranged from improving professional specialization of high-level personnel to clarifying procedures regarding the Chairmanship of the Summit, CFM and General Secretariat; from improving private sector and NGO participation in OIC conferences to representation of different legal traditions; from coordinated voting in international platforms to improved global visibility and public relations.
The process of institutional reform at the OIC is bound to be difficult and continue in the medium-term as the organization tries to reconcile internal differences while coming to terms with a changing international system and shifting balances among global and emerging powers.
Particular member states might have different visions of reform in line with their perceptions on critical national interests, as well as regional and global configurations of power going to the future. However, reinforcing the OIC with greater sociopolitical legitimacy and institutional effectiveness as the collective diplomatic representative of the Muslim world, rather than placing structural barriers to its improvement, will serve the interests of all stakeholders in the long-term.