IT IS only fitting for someone listed in the “The Muslim 500: The World’s 500 Most Influential Muslims 2024” like Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim (PMX) to take his charm offensive to the Muslim world.
This time, it is not to tell his own story of being politically persecuted but to draw attention to the Israel-Palestine crisis as PMX told the Dewan Rakyat on Oct 16 where he also reminded that Hamas is the elected government of Palestine (since 2006).
Anwar left for Riyadh on Oct 19 to attend the inaugural Gulf Cooperation Council-ASEAN (GCC-ASEAN) Summit.
His itinerary included meetings with Saudi Arabia Crown Prince and his counterpart Mohammed bin Salman with stop-overs In Istanbul (Turkey) and Cairo (Egypt) to discuss ways to resolve the existing humanitarian crisis. Both Turkey and Egypt are not members of the GCC.
Speaking to Arab News on Friday (Oct 20) on the sidelines of the GCC-ASEAN summit, Anwar mentioned that he had been a frequent visitor to Riyadh as a young graduate and was well acquainted with the region.
He added that Malaysia was fully behind the efforts of Saudi Arabia and the GCC (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates) to bring the conflict to a close and prevent the outbreak of a wider war.
The GCC-ASEAN summit issued a statement calling on all the parties involved in the conflict to implement a permanent ceasefire and condemn the attacks against Gaza’s civilian population.
While speaking at a dinner organised for the Malaysian diaspora in Riyadh, PMX disclosed that Malaysia will host the next GCC-ASEAN Summit in 2025.
He talked about the politics of dispossession in which the land of the Palestinians – and their dignity – had been seized and occupied for more than 70 years, asking, “Where is the humanity?”
“It is not about wanting to be a champion. In fact, there are many problems in Malaysia that we have yet to solve. So, why do we bother (about Palestine)? Because it is our responsibility to voice out.”
Speaking to the Malaysian media at the end of his visit to Saudi Arabia on Sunday (Oct 22), Bernama quoted PMX as saying that Malaysia was aware and expected repercussions from Western countries for championing the Palestinian cause.
But PMX affirmed that he would continue to highlight the plight of the Palestinian people at the international stage as they have continued to suffer due to the oppression and cruelty of the Zionist regime.
“But I’m not concerned (about the repercussions) as all (GCC-ASEAN) countries are of the same opinion. There is consensus about the humanitarian issue in Gaza,” he added.
This pledge from PMX is a continuation of his maiden speech at the 78th session of United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York last September when he drew attention to the “flagrant hypocrisy” surrounding the issue of Palestine.
In Riyadh, PMX also met privately with the secretary-general of the Muslim World League (a Muslim NGO based in Saudi Arabia) Dr Muhammad bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa.
Indeed, PMX has had a long history of involvement in Islamic movements having co-founded the Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia (ABIM) in 1971, served as the Asia Pacific representative of World Assembly of Muslim Youth (from 1975 until 1982) and the list goes on.
As he is among the most famous personalities sought after by the international media, Anwar’s wide network of friends – both in the Middle East and in the Western world –might be able to bridge the divide.
Although he is no stranger to controversy because of his renown personality as an outspoken advocate of Islam and his long political backstory, the expectation of success would be high.
Can he deliver or will he stir more controversy?
In recent interview on the Keluar Sekejap podcast aired on Oct 16, the Asia Middle East Centre for Research and Dialogue’s founding director Dr Muslim Imran became the target of attacks by Anwar supporters.
Imran – who is also a member of Hamas international bureau – had remarked that PMX’s response to the Israeli bombardment of Gaza on Oct 7 was inadequate and that he (Anwar) could have contacted Hamas political bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh or Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas.
In the podcast – as reported by MalaysiaNow – Imran also recalled a conversation with the then opposition leader who had said he (Anwar) could do a more for the Palestinians if he was PM.
After he became PMX in November 2022, Imran had opportunity to remind Anwar of the promise. Perhaps Imran was disappointed as he had expected more from PMX.
That episode of Keluar Sekejap gained millions of views on social media with many criticising Anwar. Many also attacked Imran personally that he felt compelled to clarify he never intended to belittle the great work of PMX or his government.
Interestingly, on Oct 17 following a telephone conversation with Haniyeh, PMX reiterated Malaysia’s unwavering support for the Palestinian people and that he strongly advocated for immediate ceasefire and the establishment of a humanitarian corridor in Rafah.
With Anwar’s experience in diplomatically manoeuvring complex political situations within his unity government in Malaysia, could he be poised to influence leaders in the Middle East and the world?
At this stage of the Israel-Palestine crisis, any diplomatic effort is better than silence. If PMX succeeds in gaining diplomatic ground in the midst of a devastating conflict, it would certainly boost his image a global statesman. – Oct 25, 2023
Niza Shimi was a former journo with a leading mainstream English media.
The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.
Pics credit: Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s Facebook