Turkey, Qatar and Iran gather with Malaysia’s antisemitic leader for forum
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Qatar’s Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gathered at a forum in Malaysia to listen to Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad. Malaysia’s leader has justified antisemitism on the grounds of “free speech,” and accused Jews of having “hooked noses” and “running the world by proxy.”
Turkey, Malaysia, Qatar, Hamas and Iran are seeking to create a united front on certain issues. Turkey and Malaysia suggested creating an Islamic TV channel during a meeting at the UN. However the Kuala Lumpur Summit appeared to be a partisan affair linked to a Turkey-Qatar-Iran-Malaysia emerging alliance. Pakistan decided to skip the meeting after discussions with Saudi Arabia.
Mahathir said that the Islamic world is today facing a crisis and that a solution must be found “if not to end these catastrophes, at least to awaken the Islamic world, the ummah, to the need to recognize the problems and their causes.” The forum is predicated on putting “Islamic” causes first. There is no similar forum of Buddhist or Christian states that seek to view the world solely through a religious lens.
“Everywhere we see Muslim countries being destroyed, their citizens forced to flee their countries: forced to seek refuge in non-Muslim countries,” he said. Turkey recently launched an invasion of northern Syria, causing around 200,000 to flee, who were mostly Muslims. Malaysia did not touch on conflicts such as Yemen or Boko Haram’s attacks in the Sahel that have also caused Muslims to flee.
Iran, whose role in supporting the Syrian regime has displaced millions of Muslims since 2011, also attended the forum. Rouhani said that the US has used economic tools to push for global hegemony. Tehran is under US sanctions. Rouhani claimed that the US has used instability in Muslim countries to intervene. Iran has accused the US and other countries of supporting protests in Iran and Iraq. Iran is increasingly seeking to work closely with Turkey, and both countries work with Russia. “We are not discriminating or isolating anyone,” Mahathir said.
Turkey stressed that there are more than four million Syrian refugees in Turkey, and that 500,000 could flee Idlib due to a Syrian regime offensive that is backed by Iran and Russia. Ankara is buying S-400 systems from Moscow. Turkey critiqued the UN Security Council at the Islamic summit, arguing that the world is bigger than the five permanent members. “As they try to silence Turkey, we insist on calling attention to Palestine, Gaza, the Rohingya, Libya, Somalia and Syria,” Turkey’s president claimed.
The conflict in Somalia is one in which Islamist groups are targeting civilians. Turkey has a base in Somalia. In Libya, terrorists, including ISIS, have been slaughtering people for years, and the country is in the midst of a civil war. Turkey wants to send forces to Libya to support one side in the war. Egypt, which supports the western Libyan government, was not at the Malaysia summit.
Pakistan chose to skip the summit at the last moment. According to several reports at the Economic Times and Reuters, it appears that Pakistan did not attend because Saudi Arabia is concerned that Malaysia and Turkey are trying to replace the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. The presence of Iran and Qatar, as well as Turkey, made Riyadh's high-level participation difficult, and it also caused concern for key Saudi allies such as the UAE and Egypt.
Larger issues may be at play as well. Turkey and Malaysia want to stress both India’s role in Kashmir and China’s treatment of the Uyghur Muslim minority. Anadolu in Turkey suggested that the Malaysia summit may be the foundation for more business and defense cooperation. Malaysian Charge d’Affairs Arhan Syafrisyah Shah Anuar suggested that defense cooperation could be in the cards.
Pakistan’s Imran Khan called Prime Minister Mahahir to say he would not attend. Mahathir later said that Malaysia reiterates that the forum sent invitations to 56 Islamic countries and that they will be represented. The absence of Pakistan was clearly felt, because it appears that Riyadh and Ankara are competing for Pakistan’s friendship. Pakistan ostensibly wants to be “neutral,” but historic relations with Riyadh are stronger. Pakistan’s leader was in Iran in mid-October seeking mediation with Saudi Arabia, according to Al-Jazeera. Khan then traveled to Riyadh to meet with the Saudi King and with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He was back in Riyadh two months later on December 14 for a meeting with the prince.
The multi-day Malaysia conference appears to underpin a new strategy by Turkey and several countries to form an Islamic alliance that will strategize on several topics, such as involvement in Libya, Somalia, or even on policy regarding the Palestinians. Hamas traveled to Malaysia to attend the Kuala Lumpur summit at Mahathir's invitation. Hamas recently held high-level meetings with the Turkish president and Qatari emir. The Hamas trip to Malaysia therefore is part of the larger context of the Turkish-Qatar alliance that sees Hamas and Malaysia as key elements.
The larger context may involve similar leanings toward the Muslim Brotherhood, in which Turkey’s ruling party and Hamas both have roots. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE view the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. They have also cut ties with Qatar, which has hosted Hamas for years. This is the wider context of the Malaysia meetings.
The presence of Iran shows that the meetings are not an intra-Sunni controversy between states, but rather between countries like Qatar and Turkey, and groups like Hamas that work with Iran, contrasted with countries that currently do not work with the Islamic republic and view the Brotherhood with suspicion. Leaked cables have revealed that the Brotherhood and Iran’s IRGC met in Turkey in 2014 to suggest working together against Saudi Arabia and Egypt’s current leaders. That will not easily be forgotten in the kinds of meetings that take place in Kuala Lumpur.