This was undoubtedly BIG. Everyone and his neighbor were there. The Emir of Qatar, President Morsi from Egypt, President Gul from Turkey, Palestinian Authority's Mahmud Abbas, Hamid Karzai The Afghan, Prime Minister Zardari from Pakistan, Marzouki the new Tunisian leader, King Abdullah from Jordan, Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad himself. All 57 member-states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) - representing no fewer than 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide.
"In Makkah, last night the Holy Kaaba and the Grand Mosque was bathed in bright lights. The giant Clock Tower glowed in green lights on a clear, moonless night. As the muezzin's heart-warming voice reverberated in the mountainous city at Isha, the world's leaders, sitting in the Al-Safa Palace next to the Grand Mosque, repeated Allah-o-Akbar after him."Allah Akbar indeed -- and then straight to the business in which these "leaders" excel; squabbling among themselves -- and suspending Syria from the OIC. So much for the idea sponsored by "the Islamic world's respected leader, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah" of how to "unify and strengthen the crisis-riven Muslim world."
The real nitty-gritty -- off limits to everyone -- was what the Saudis, the Iranians and the Turks actually discussed behind those Mecca doors after the heart-warming-voiced muezzin went to bed. For show, the Mecca notables passed three resolutions. They suspended Syria; recognized Palestine as a sovereign state (once again, note that Palestine was treated as just a side issue); and defended the cause of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar (the military in Naypyidaw are not exactly quaking in their boots).
The Custodian's show
Not so fast. My colleague Kaveh Afrasiabi has argued Tehran may have fallen into a trap; they were expecting a real effort of mediation and political dialogue instead of the meeting's priority -- to suspend and eventually expel their ally Syria (See Saudis use summit to isolate Syria, Iran, Asia Times Online, August 15, 2012).
Behind all the syrupy shenanigans, the fact is the House of Saud and Tehran didn't -- and couldn't -- possibly agree on anything; this was more like a "let's keep talking" -- the Mecca version of the good ol' US-USSR red telephone. The "Custodian" called for "solidarity, tolerance and moderation"; hard to see any of this as the House of Saud -- and Qatar -- weaponize runaway gangs and an array of beheading-happy Salafi-jihadis in Syria.
The OIC as a whole defended Syria's "unity, sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity," exactly as the House of Saud and Qatar are doing all they can to undermine all of the above. Here's the OIC as an extension of the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council (other GCC members being Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and United Arab Emirates). Quite a few countries -- from Southeast Asia to Africa -- are very uncomfortable with the whole thing, but in the end deferred to the "Custodian."
The "Custodian" also wants to set up a "center for dialogue" in Riyadh. The verdict is open whether this center will examine who's really responsible for what is now practically all-out war between Sunnis and Shi'ites all across the Ummah. Imagine a center like this coming to the conclusion that the protests in Bahrain were legitimate; as legitimate as the protests in the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia. And as legitimate as what happened last year in Cairo's Tahrir Square (everyone remembers the House of Saud's sheer horror at its ally Hosni Mubarak being defied by scores of young urbanites).
The "Custodian" also said, "The Islamic nation is living in a state of sedition and disunity that led to bloodshed of its people in this holy month in many parts of our Islamic world."
That's exactly what is happening as the major -- intended or unintended -- blowback of Syria's proxy war.
Why not have it both ways?
So the "Custodian" seems to have sold the notion that Iran and the GCC are talking -- even if practically at each other's throats. But the House of Saud agenda remains extremely tricky; it may not dream of a smashed Iran, but certainly a very weakened Iran, either by years of Western sanctions or by a potential Israeli attack. It's no secret the GCC badly wants Israel to attack Iran; it then could reap the benefits of inwardly delighting over a weakened regional Shi'ite power while publicly condemning Israel's unilateral aggression.