Dr. Hasan Askari
The Muslim majority states are located in Asia (including the Middle East), Africa and Europe. The Muslims constitute substantial minority in several states, ranging from 10 percent to 40 percent population. Not all Muslim majority states officially identify with Islam. The states do not assume the responsibility of enforcing Islam. However, Islam is integral to their culture and societal affairs which influences politics and state affairs indirectly.
These countries face numerous challenges in the New Year which are domestic, regional and global. All these problems have created problems of governance in most of these states.
The Muslim states that have precious natural resources like oil and gas are rich enough to pay greater attention to socio-economic development of their people as well help other Muslim states. These states also accommodated a large number of labor and professionals when these states launched construction and development projects with the oil wealth to modernize their societies.
The first major challenge these oil rich states face is how to sustain the pace of their development because the oil prices have declined over the last 18 months. The price of oil dropped from over one hundred dollars a barrel to less than 40 dollars. Now the oil price in international market is slightly above 50 dollars a barrel. Though the decline in oil price has given some relief to those Muslim states that have to buy oil from international market for their use, the oil producing countries are facing financial difficulties.
Their construction and economic development work has slowed down. This means they can no longer accommodate labor and professionals from the Muslim states in such a large number as they used to do in the past. This has negative implications for the economies of the non-oil producing Muslim countries because of reduced employment opportunities for their labor in oil producing countries.
The second major challenge for the Muslim countries is how to reduce mutual jealousies and conflict in the Middle East? The civil wars in Syria (since February 2011) and Yemen (since 2015) have virtually divided the Gulf region and the Middle East. In a way this is not something totally new. These states often adopt different course of political action mainly because of different historical and colonial experiences, dynastic and regime rivalries, super power rivalry, and different political agendas. The rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia is a feature of current political situation in the Middle East. They support different groups in Syria and Yemen. Other conservative Arab states like the UAE, Bahrain and Kuwait are critical of Iran’s regional policies.
The third challenge for the Muslim countries, especially the Middle East, is if they can create an effective regional or global organization. The rivalries and conflicts among the Muslims states have made two major Muslim Organizations quite ineffective. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is the biggest organization of the Muslim countries. Another organization is the Arab League comprising the Arab states of the Middle East and Africa. Both these organizations failed to resolve the Syrian war and the Yemen Crisis because the member states are divided on these two wars. The disunity among the Muslim states is exploited by the major world powers to pursue their respective agendas.
The Muslim minorities in some non-Muslim majority states face discrimination and violence. The Muslim states are unable to protect them.
The fourth issue that will have to be dealt by the Muslim states in 2017 is how to limit military intervention of the major powers in the Middle East. The major world powers have taken the advantage of rivalries and wars in the Middle East for advancing their economic, political and military agendas. They support different competing parties rather than working towards solving the problem. The most unfortunate example of internal strife and major powers military intervention are Syria (since 2011), Yemen (2015), Iraq (since 2003) and Afghanistan (since 2001). Colonel Gadaffi of Libya faced an internal revolt which resulted in the overthrow of his regime because the European states and the U.S. used their military power against the Gaddafi regime. Now, Libya is in internal turmoil.
These developments in the Middle East diverted attention from the Palestinian issue. Israel continued to expand its settlements in the West Bank, occupying permanently more Palestinian land.
The fifth challenge faced by the Muslim states is that most of these states have authoritarian or semi-democratic system where governance is poor. With the exception of the oil producing countries, these states spend a small part of their financial resources on education, health care and provision of civic facilities. Poverty and underdevelopment is widespread. However, a small affluent class of people lives a comfortable life. The socio-economic inequities have made it possible to articulate radical Islamic ideology in most of these countries.
Radical Islamic movements not only challenge the western policies but also target their own governments and societies so as to enforce their religious-political ideology on them. They use violent methods to enforce their ideology on people, overthrow the government to establish their own government to enforce their narrow, extremist religious ideology as articulated by them. The conflict between the violent radical Islamic movements and others or the established governments has resulted in much violence and killings in Muslim countries.
The Muslim states could be described as a big group when it comes to population, territory and resources are concerned. But they are so divided that they cannot adopt a coherent approach to their problems. They become victim of power politics of powerful states.