Leaders of Muslim countries are expected to suspend Syria’s membership of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation at a summit in Mecca today, despite objections from President Bashar al-Assad’s main ally Iran.
The decision by the 57-member organisation, which requires a two-thirds majority, will expose divisions within the Islamic world over how it should respond to the crisis in Syria, a country that straddles the Middle East’s main sectarian fault line.
Syria’s mainly Sunni Muslim rebels are backed by Sunni-ruled Arab states, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, while Shiite Iran supports Assad, a member of the Alawite minority sect, an offshoot of Shia Islam.
This division has thwarted diplomatic efforts to halt the bloodshed in Syria, where opposition sources say 18,000 people have been killed since March last year, and have raised the prospect of Syria becoming a proxy battlefield for outside powers.
In related news, Assad’s former prime minister, Riyad Habib, a Sunni who defected this month, made his first public appearance on Tuesday since he fled, telling a news conference in Jordan that Assad controls less than a third of Syria and his power is crumbling.
“The regime is collapsing, spiritually and financially, as it escalates militarily,” he said. “It no longer controls more than 30 per cent of Syrian territory.”
Hijab was not in Assad’s inner circle, but as the most senior civilian official to defect, his defection after two months in the job was a blow to the president.