Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad (right) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan talk on December 18, 2019, before the Kuala Lumpur Summit. Photo: AFP / Maszuandi Adnan / Malaysian Department of Information

The Kuala Lumpur summit run by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad just came to an end. The four-day conference aimed to bring Muslim heads of state together to discuss various problems facing Islamic countries.

Several leaders boycotted the summit since they argued it was created to compete with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Those absent included King Salman of Saudi Arabia and the Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. Despite their absence, the summit went ahead, and is being lauded for its success.

The conference, which brought together right-leaning Islamic regimes including Iran, Turkey and Qatar, aimed to deal with issues such as Islamophobia, leadership, and poverty. Yet several of the other initiatives discussed, and alliances formed, have sparked worry among some in the West.

It is reported that during the summit, Mahathir stated his desire to create an economic alliance of the countries in attendance. This initiative aims to encourage Muslim countries to use a “gold dinar” as a way of trade.

The goal of the proposed trading system would be to “free themselves” from what they believe are Western sanctions targeted at Muslim countries. Of course, the country that would benefit the most from this deal would be Iran, which has been under increasingly strict sanctions from the US.

Indeed, this could be one of Mahathir’s reasons for suggesting the gold dinar. The Malaysian prime minister has been outspoken regarding his disagreement with the sanctions on Iran, stating at the Doha Forum this month that “Malaysia does not support the reimposition of the unilateral sanctions by the US against Iran,” and claiming that they violate the United Nations Charter.

However, these sanctions were reimposed as an effort to assure the safety and security of the Western world after Iran’s continued illicit nuclear activities were claimed. These activities, which allegedly take place in a facility several hundred meters below the ground, have long been feared for their possible ability to create and use nuclear weaponry.

Mahathir’s proposal, which was warmly received by those at the summit, would inhibit the effectiveness of the sanctions and go directly against the aims of the US to prevent dangerous nuclear activities, and down the line could have serious consequences.

An additional topic that sparked controversy during the KL summit was the inclusion and participation of Hamas, a fundamentalist militant organization that is considered a terrorist group by most of the Western world, including the US. Hamas has always found a partner in Mahathir, in part because of their shared hatred of Israel. Malaysia has become known as a leading anti-Israel country, with Mahathir never missing the chance to express his views.

Al-Monitor reported that Malaysia is becoming the “Hamas gateway to Asia.” When assessing recent events including the involvement of Hamas leaders in the KL summit, the close relationship between senior Hamas politician Ismail Haniyeh and Mahathir, and Malaysia’s decision to set up an embassy for Palestine in Jordan, it certainly seems this is the case.

We can only hope that the conference focused on positive goals, and that the extreme anti-West views of the summit’s leader, Mahathir, did not permeate the initiatives of the meeting and encourage possibly harmful outcomes.

Albert Wilkins

Albert Wilkins has been working as a freelance political risk analyst specializing in Southeast Asian markets for the past five years. He has a specific interest and passion for analyzing and writing about corruption and human rights.

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