Arab rethink on India

Can the Arab world regain what it lost?

In an article in Al-Ahram, Mustafa El-Feki, chairman of the Egyptian parliament’s foreign affairs committee argues that “over the years, the Arab world has let India down even though the Asian giant championed the Palestinian cause”. He cites five reasons why the Arab world ‘lost’ India: viewing the India-Pakistan conflict through a religious prism, denying India membership of the OIC, improved India-US relations, India’s suspicion of the rise of radical Islam and finally, the Arab world’s inability to maintain balanced relations with both India and Pakistan.

We have lost India so far for no good reason, I should say. We have failed to stay close to an industrially advanced state, one with nuclear and space capabilities. We have failed to do so although there is a clear ethnic resemblance between the Indian subcontinent, including Pakistan and Bangladesh, and the people in our Arab world. It is time we mend this error. It is time to bring Arab countries closer to both India and Pakistan, rather than take one side or keep our distance altogether. I believe the Arabs have only themselves to blame for India’s change of heart on the Palestinian question. [Al-Ahram via Intellibriefs]

El-Feki calls for the Arab League to ‘start a coordinated effort to improve Arab links with India’. The Arab League would do well to heed this advice and not only because of the Palestinian issue.

35 thoughts on “Arab rethink on India”

  1. He is correct that the arab world closed the door towards India, not only the arab world but also other moslem countries like Bangladesh. But it is not only about foreign policies, arabs consider us as inferior, racism against Indians is worse in the ME than in any where wlse in the world. However Indias drift towards the US would have come anyway, what is it that they can offer us? Cheap oil? I don’t think they would give us a discount and I’m pretty sure that India would rather build nuclear fascilities to get cheaper, cleaner and more reliable energy sources. It’s nothing wrong with better realtions with the arab world, but they are dead wrong if they believe that would mean India will side with them on foreign policy issues.

  2. “We have failed to do so although there is a clear ethnic resemblance between the Indian subcontinent, including Pakistan and Bangladesh, and the people in our Arab world.”

    I don’t have any ethnic resemblance with Arabs, and while I am all in favour of closer (where closer means Wahabis not funding jihadis) ties, I am not overwhelmed by Hindi-Arab bhai bhai tripe.

  3. It is time to bring Arab countries closer to both India and Pakistan..
    India should strive to avoid this India Pakistan hyphenation.

  4. Gaurav,

    First, an aside:
    After greeting the ‘foreigners’ with a good morning, the restaurant manager welcomed me with an “Ahlan Wasahlan”. It was my first trip to the Gulf, and since then, this episode has recurred once in a while.

    It’s not as if they don’t know what Indians look like. But there’s a lot of variation in features among Arabs so there you are.

    But yes, it is neither ethnicity nor religion that should motivate Arab foreign policy (if there is such thing as an ‘Arab’ foreign policy in the first place) towards India. Vice versa.

    As for Sriram’s point about hyphenation…ideally, yes. But from where Arab countries are now, hyphenation and ‘balanced relationship’ may be called progress.

  5. It would be prudent to carefully scrutinize every non-NRI remittance petrodollar that comes into India from the mideast. Especially, the monies purpoted to be for charitable purposes (such as building more mosques and madrassas, and particularly so in our border areas with BD and Nepal). Like the FBI motto says, ‘trust but verify’. In this case, IMO, past record shows that there isn’t much reason to trust the arab world so much in the first place. Of course it behooves Delhi to be polite, and cultivate good ties wherever but NEVER let down your guard.

    In a globalized world, the Arabs need the rest of the world as much as anyone else, seems like. No more kowtowing and pandering to their interests. Gone are the days when we sought an obsercver status or something at the OIC and championed the palstine cause as fervently as the OIC. The votebank and NAM type of considerations that prompted such foolish behaviour haven’t entirely disappeared yet but have weakened significantly.

    The OIC is a failed club of despots and our membership there serves only to discredit our constitutionally secular national character.

  6. It is good that some soul searching is beginning among the Arabs but i’am not keeping my fingers crossed on them taking a pragmatic approach anytime.

    And why should India, a supposedly secular state even bother with trying to join a religious body like the OIC? Why did our government ever entertain such an idea?

    And pray what ethnic resemblance he is talking about? perhaps he means we are all brown skinned? Let us stick together because we are all brown skinned(presumably against the white skinned joos and amrikans.hint! hint!). that sounds quite racist and ridiculous.

    I think the author is missing the good old days of NAM when India bent over backwards to please the Arab lobby and got stabbed in the back royally in return.No way we are going down that lane again. From now on our policy towards the Arab world should be based on realism and nothing else.

  7. important question is can the arab world remain unbiased in the kashmir issue.

    and i still dont get why india needs OIC member states. its organisation of ISLAMIC STATES, last i heard india wasnt an islamic state.

    india should ideally have enough relationship with the arab world to see to it our workers are safer. pardon me for being a cynic, but the arab world can never take a neutral stand on kashmir and this will affect the indo-arab relationship

  8. Gentlemen,

    I think the burden of evidence is on those who argue why India should not be a member of the OIC, just like it is on those who argue it should not be a member of the UN Security Council.

    The OIC is not a religious organisation. It is as much a political organisation as the UN. It cannot be wished away. It exists, so why not participate in it to defend/advance the national interest?

    Instead of taking an ‘all or nothing’ position, we must see arguments like those made by El-Feki as getting a foot in the door.

  9. nitin, it is a political organisation agreed, but then is it only political? i doubt it. it is Organisation of Islamic States, and if we do become a member, it will cause communal tensions, remember only 12% of indias population is muslim, 80% is hindu, and membership will cause communal tensions. secondly, this might bring indian law under the scrutiny of the OIC, and of course the OIC might add another extra layer of lobbying to protect the interests of muslims in india, is that necessary? (I don know what the OICs scope exactly is)

    we could have cordial relations with the arab states without being a member of the OIC, the OIC has religious connotations attached which could have serious political repercussions back home.

  10. Yes, India is a non-Islamic state but we are home to one of the largest Muslim population. Sure OIC is corrupt – just like UN and we are still engaged in UN. OIC is just a forum to engage with Arab/non-Arab Muslim nations (just like APEC is a forum – we clamour to join that group although we are not a Pacific Ocean state). I don’t see anything wrong with it.

    While I don’t know much about El-Feki influence, Arab region itself is turmoil, beyound Iraq. Egypt is a puny self of yesteryears with Saudi (with Jordan’s backing) and Iran (with Syrian backing) taking the lead roles. And because we want good relations with Israel, may be we can moderate OIC stand on Israel-Palestinian issue among others. And we do have interests from east Africa to South China Sea, which includes, probably, all OIC members. In any case, we achieve nothing by sitting on the sideline (and let the Chinese have this area too?)

  11. The Chinese will have more influence in the Arab world than we do. Unless, of course, we start selling them cheap weapons and Agni-III missiles.

  12. Gaurav, Vatsan,

    The thing to worry about is not so much what will cause communal tensions or constrain Indian law but rather, as Chandra puts it, whether the Arab League and OIC are ready to consider views such as El-Feki’s.

  13. Mihir,

    Pakistan will sell them the weapons and send troops to fire them too. Between Pakistan and China, they’ve got the Middle East customer base covered. The fact that China will also buy enough oil to balance purchases by the United States will also give it greater influence. Perhaps India’s role then will be to play ‘balance of purchase’ politics, and therefore the attraction.

  14. Hi, just wanted to point out that the article is really dated. It is from the February 2005 edition.
    I totally agree with Nitin about becoming a member of OIC, or at least an observer.
    Also on Indo-Arab relations, there has been an substantially increased engagement with the Gulf and mid-east, especially with economic relations becoming two-way – there is significant Indian investment in UAE (remember the LNG deal) and other key strategic countries.
    It was also in 2006 that the Saudi King visited India after fifty years.
    And I believe that Bahrain is also now going to open a embassy in India, finally.

  15. Yes Nitin it is not about communal tensions, it is about the fact the organization is concerned with Muslims, and no amount of re-interpretation can make “Islamic”, sound like “Political”, it is a identity very much forged on religious context, a sort of “Ummahlite” if you like. When someone supports OIC, because at best this is a node and wink legitimizing Ummah, which is distinct Islamic identity implicitly and at worst tolerating (and even encouraging) the muslim belonging to the nation to a) Identify with Ummah b) And mark a seperate identity from co-patriots (of different religion). It was this kind of intellectual feebleness and expediency for sake of immediate (albeit a different set) goals which caused the partition. May be those seduced by secularism find it easy to jettisons lessons of history, but History never forgets and she takes her revenge on those who disdain her.

  16. Dear All,

    India is the “unfinished” business of the muslim world. India, like Israel is surrounded by muslims hell-bent on subjugating ALL non muslims, forced conversions, and impose sharia and jizya. Do read islamic history of India please.

    Muslims are indoctrinated by their quran to subjugate all non muslims and turn the world into their Dar ul Islam. The Quran contains 164 violent verses of Jihad. The mission of a
    Caliphate beats in every muslim’s heart. is complete quran with the hadiths.
    You’ll find the jihad verses therein.

    Look no further than Britain today that suffers from homegrown muslim [British born] terrorists . In a country of 60 million and only 1.6 million muslims, political correctness and the need to appease Arabs and muslims has turned that nation with a deep sickness of the heart.


  17. Zena,

    Much as I sympathize with your views (in that I understand where you’re coming from), experience tells me such views are unwelcome in polite society- primarily because they are impolite, even if grounded in fact. If we say that the problem is not izlamism/radical izlam/political izlam etc but izlam itself, we’ve essentially closed all doors to alternative paths. From there, the road leads only to toal war – a full scale mobilization of us kaffirs against ’em mujahids. I fear such a situation is but a ‘WMD attack on a western city’ away. Unless we are ready to fight to the finish, we should be careful with the ‘izlam is the problem’ assertion. Just my 2 cents.

  18. Nitin>> “Perhaps India’s role then will be to play ‘balance of purchase’ politics, and therefore the attraction.”

    I’m just speculating here, but another avenue could be to adopt an implicit pro-Israel policy. Burgeoning trade with the Yehudi Devils and and a defence relationship that gets only stronger will worry the Arabs no end. That is something Pakistan and China can’t do… yet.

  19. Gaurav, I don’t think joining OIC is not about secularism or about Indian laws or culture. It’s about foreign policy. I know we have the likes of Natwar and others in Congress who like to think membership in OIC in terms of appeasing Indian Muslims and vote bank politics and we should guard against it. Ultimately, OIC, as forum, is for national relationships (albeit all Islamic) and geo politics.

    BTW, Israel is trying to join OIC too – obviously its reasons are different. But the thought is significant.

  20. Hello Nitin,

    The arab world, without its oil reserves, is an intellectual doghouse. As most countries in the west, including India and China, work on finding alternatives to hydrocarbons, the arab world would sink lower into its fetishes {destroy israel being one of them}. I think feki is one of the smart arabs who is trying to tell his fellow men what is good for them, ie, co-opting India.

  21. I agree with Nitin that India should be a associate member or atleast have an observer status in the OIC like Russia. Surely India with its huge muslim population is better entitled than Guyana,Suriname and Uganda.
    Also Indian participation in the OIC subsidiary organizations like the Fiqh Academy would be useful.

  22. It is interesting to note what has resulted in this “rethink” (at the fringes though it might be). Not molly cuddling with Arafat or espousing the Arab cause. Only when we acted in our interests, reduced harping on “old historical ties” and focused instead on “building future interests”.

  23. Nitin,

    While accepting your premise that OIC cannot be wished away, surely, seeking a membership of OIC is going too far. OIC might be a political construct, but at least as far as it’s posturing goes, it is obligated to take a Islam-in-danger-fasten-your-seatbelt outlook. Kashmir-how will OIC vote?

    IMO, actively engaging the OIC without actually seeking to be a part of it should serve India’s interests.

  24. Gaurav,

    Disagreement is welcome…especially since you will lay out your arguments. Look forward to it.


    Given its very nature, any outside engagement will be seen from an ‘us vs them’ perspective. We cannot guess what Indian membership will do to its outlook, but there’s a possibility that it can be changed. As for Kashmir – how they vote will be immaterial, whether in or out.

  25. Sudhir,

    It’s precisely the back-bending appeasing political correctness that has Britain in the grip of sickness in the heart. This time there is no Churchill.

    The similarity of islam and fascism is the disdain of Reason and Intelligence. Islam is political. Hardly a religion.
    with 164 violent verses of Jihad against non muslims and branding non muslims najis, pigs, monkeys, doomed to hell?
    Do read up on islamic history Sudhir.
    The next global war will be a clash between Civilisation and Barbarianism.

    Do not ignore History. George Santayana said: “Those who forget the past are condemned to RELIVE it”
    History is the Script of World Drama in Action.

    I do not live in UK. Where I am there is no muslim. All moved out after 9/11 when the 99.9% Roman Catholics enforced laws that shut down the mosques and expelled the imam for rabid sermons of jihad every friday.



    No, I live in a country, a state where it is 99.9% Roman Catholic and the imams in their impoverished mosques are very silent and watched over. They have stopped their rabid sermons after 9/11 .

  26. Zena, you come off as pretty ignorant
    Spend some time in a mosque with an open mind and then make your mind up about Muslims.

Comments are closed.