Strategy Note /
Global

The Islamic Bloc: OIC a talking shop more than power base, but this could change

  • The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (57 in all) holds its annual conference this week (Russia has Observer status)

  • China is a special guest, confirming the "West" does not speak for the world and others value their China links

  • But also that OIC does not speak for all Muslims (Uyghurs not a topic for discussion) and is thinking realpolitik

The Islamic Bloc: OIC a talking shop more than power base, but this could change
Hasnain Malik
Hasnain Malik

Strategy & Head of Equity Research

Tellimer Research
23 March 2022
Published by

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation is a group of 57 majority-Muslim states, founded in 1969. It claims to "safeguard and protect the interests of the Muslim world in the spirit of promoting international peace". The OIC's annual Council of Foreign Ministers meeting is ongoing this week.

China is a special guest, confirming that the "West" does not speak for the world and others value their China links, in the same way that India values its links with Russia (which has Observer status at the OIC).

But this also signals that OIC does not speak for all Muslims — Uyghurs are not a topic for open discussion — and, more importantly for those looking at geopolitical risk, the OIC is thinking in realpolitik terms (interests, not ideals).

Organisation of Islamic Countries - 57 member states

Talking shop, not power bloc, but that could change

There are other multi-country organisations where Muslim countries, acting as a bloc, have had a much more meaningful global impact, eg OPEC, and to a much lesser degree, the Gulf Cooperation Council, Arab League, and African Union.

In this context, the presence of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, as a special guest, at this week's OIC Council of Foreign Ministers is noteworthy.

While the OIC remains more of a talking shop than a coordinated bloc capable of leveraging its scale to wield global influence or to arbitrate disputes among its own members, this signifies it is thinking, as a bloc, in terms that resemble realpolitik, ie putting interests above ideals.

With the decline in the influence of global organisations (eg UN, WTO, WHO) the world is becoming more polarised and countries below the largest global powers – the US, EU, and China – are likely to increasingly develop their own links with those global powers.

Largest OIC states: Global economy and military share

Intra-Muslim conflict since OIC founded

In the period since 1969, the Muslim world has arguably been characterised more by division than unity, with numerous examples of conflicts and rivalries among Muslims, for example:

  • Pakistan and Bangladesh in the run-up to and following the latter's independence in 1971.

  • Indonesia-East Timor in 1975.

  • Indonesia and the Aceh insurgency between 1975 and 2005.

  • Lebanese civil war in 1975 to 1990.

  • Iran and Saudi Arabia after the former's revolution in 1979.

  • Iran-Iraq War in 1980 to 1988.

  • Iraq attempted annexation of Kuwait in 1990.

  • Turkey, Qatar, Muslim Brotherhood opposed by the UAE after the 2011 "Arab Spring".

  • Civil wars in Syria, Libya, and Yemen following the "Arab Spring".

  • Morocco and Algeria's long-standing rivalry over Western Sahara and Kabylie.

  • Saudi-Houthi War in Yemen after 2015.

It would require a major change in the personal leadership and governance of the OIC for it to become much more effective in managing disputes within its own membership.