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Saturday, 12 May 2012

Interview with Sheikh Saleh Kamel, a pioneer of Islamic banking (Albaraka)

JEDDAH: Saleh Kamel is a leading Saudi businessman and philanthropist who is popular worldwide as a renowned pioneer of Islamic banking and finance. He is the founder of Dallah Albaraka Group, one of the Kingdom's largest and most diversified conglomerates, spanning across 40 countries. He heads the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI) as its chairman, Islamic Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ICCI) and a number of other organizations.  (source)

Kamel is a visionary business leader with a great mission to support the Islamic cause. The credit of establishing Islamic banks, and working out a system that governs the functioning of modern Islamic banking goes mainly to him. Nearly 35 years ago, Kamel established the first Islamic bank, together with prominent businessmen Prince Muhammad Al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia and Saeed Lota of Qatar. Since then, the Islamic banking sector has witnessed remarkable growth, and the number of banks shot up at present to over 300 with their total assets crossing $500 billion. Kamel made this pioneering initiative as per the will of his mother who persuaded him to focus on a banking system based on Islamic Shariah, which renounces interest. Well-known Egyptian Islamic preacher Sheikh Muhammad Mutawalli Al-Shaarawi and Bahjat Khalil, manager of Cairo Bank, lent him a helping hand in making the concept of Islamic banking a reality in the Muslim world.

Kamel had a simple beginning from where he rose to the position of a business magnate through personal endeavors, hard work, coupled with entrepreneurship and strong faith in God. He established his own business, Dallah Establishment, in the early sixties, and by early eighties he established the huge conglomerate company Dallah AlBaraka Investment & Development, a holding company for many Islamic banks and financial institutions operating according to Islamic teachings in various diversified business activities all over the world.

Apart from Islamic banking, his companies are known as pioneers in many business adventures throughout the region. As founder of Dallah Albaraka Group, Kamel took up the challenge of implementing major governmental plans and visions through the group participating in major national infrastructure projects. The group has expanded its business activities to several countries, and now it has become one of the leading business groups in the Arab world. He is also keen to generate as many employment opportunities as possible for young Saudi jobseekers.

In an exclusive interview with Arab News at his JCCI office, Saleh Kamel opened up his mind to share his candid and outspoken views on a number of issues, as well as his areas of concern. He had also shed light on his deep-rooted and longtime association with Arab News, describing it as the best Saudi English language newspaper. He praised Arab News for its professionalism as well as for its outspokenness on almost all local, regional and international issues.

Kamel spoke about his initiatives to launch the SR100 million endowment fund at JCCI, $11 billion Islamic bank based in Doha, and SR100 million company for generating employment for Saudis, in addition to a series of measures aimed at addressing the Kingdom's unemployment problem. While noting that there are 1.2 million unemployed Saudis, he emphasized that effective utilization of Zakat revenues would do a lot in addressing the unemployment problem.

Replying to queries from Arab News about retirement from public life, Kamel said he wishes to be active in public life until his last breath.

Could you explain the special endowment project, the first of its kind in the Kingdom, launched by JCCI?

First of all, I would like to mention a few words about the importance of endowments in Islam. During the glorious period of Islam, proceeds from Zakat were utilized to set up schools and hospitals as well as to dig wells and construct hotels along highways. At present, we can see such endowments in America where endowment revenues were used for establishing and running Islamic research centers, universities and hospitals. However, if we look at the last century, we -the Arabs and Muslims - don't see any properties set aside for endowments. We see only traditional endowments that were made in the past. The main reason why people pay little or no attention to endowments these days is apparently because of their apprehension about a government intervention to usurp endowments in almost all Muslim countries. The Prophet (peace be upon him) highlighted the significance of endowments by calling it a virtue of which the reward will continue to reach the person even after his death. "The best that a man can leave behind after his death are three things: A righteous child who makes prayer for him, an ongoing sadaqah whose rewards continue to reach him, and a knowledge that continues to be implemented after him." Taking into account the paramount importance of endowments in Islam, we, the officials of the Islamic Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ICCI) worked out a plan to set up endowment organizations. Minister of Islamic Affairs, Endowments, Call and Guidance Sheikh Saleh Al-Asheikh was impressed with the idea when I spoke to him about this.

The minister encouraged us and extended his full support to set up the endowment project. His Egyptian counterpart Mahmoud Zagzoug also supported this initiative, and we are going to set up the project in Egypt soon. Three months ago, we had set up a separate department for endowments at JCCI. The department is tasked with looking after endowment properties especially their management and protection. We have established the first endowment fund at JCCI. The proceeds from the fund, with an initial capital of SR100 million, would be utilized for supporting productive families and small enterprises. After this, we also launched another endowment fund worth SR15 million for ICCI, which is also headquartered at JCCI.

Now we are making preparations to set up an endowment for those people with special needs. The JCCI endowment department would be a permanent one, and the proceeds from endowments will be utilized for hospitals, treatment of patients belonging to poor families, including foreigners, as well as for scientific research. We will also hold annual charity endowment events, in addition to setting up two or three funds to manage endowments at JCCI with the objective of expanding this pivotal part of charity work and Islamic heritage.

Your viewpoints about Zakat Al-Mal?
I have dealt in detail with this topic and delivered a number of lectures on it. You need to set aside a number of pages of your newspaper to give full coverage of it. Anyhow, let me sum up about it. It is unfortunate that most Muslims are not aware of the seriousness in fulfilling their religious obligation as regards Zakat, the third pillar of Islam. I do not say that they are renouncing it but are unaware of fulfilling this religious obligation. Zakat can be considered as a comprehensive divine scheme, introduced by God and not by any finance minister or economic minister or prime minister of a country. Zakat Al-Mal can be defined as the obligatory charity paid by an individual to the needy. It is obligatory on an individual who possesses wealth equal to or above a minimum amount called Nisab for an entire lunar year. For the purpose of calculating Zakat, different categories of wealth are defined. The Holy Qur'an mentions Zakat more than 34 times. It is a duty to Allah that obligates every wealthy individual to share with the needy a portion from his or her wealth. If you plan your work in accordance with the rules of Zakat, it will help create immense job opportunities. If you pay your Zakat in the specified time, you can see that it will help address the unemployment problem. Zakat will ease the burden on your work. The lowest rates of Zakat are for agricultural produce from cultivated land and industrial output by using machinery. Hence, if all people engage themselves in cultivation or industrial production by using machinery, then it would generate enormous employment opportunities and thus the workers would get salary and eventually would have a higher level of purchase power. In this process, there would be huge pumping of wealth to the market and increase in supply of goods thus creating an economic boom. This divine mechanism would eventually lead to eradication of poverty from the Islamic world.

You are planning to establish an Islamic banking entity. What are the steps taken in this respect?

When we started setting up Islamic banks together with Prince Muhammad Al-Faisal and Saeed Lota more than 35 years ago, we were three pioneers in this field. We established some of these banks independently while some others jointly. When we embarked on this mission, we never dreamed of such a robust growth for these banks that have now become as strong as commercial banks. At present there are more than 300 Islamic banks across the Muslim world and Europe with their total assets exceeding $500 billion. We have performed well with excellent results in a number of banks. As for the mode of their functioning, they differ from country to country. We know that there are some objectives, mechanism and outcome for the functioning of Islamic banking. If we accomplished these three components, we can say that it is Shariah-compliant. There are several banks that are keen only in their separate working mechanism, and the outcome would be the same for all. The new large Islamic bank, which is in the pipeline, would be similar to traditional banks but the difference would be only in the technical terms used. We want to change this concept. I hope that we could realize it when we establish this Islamic bank with a capital of $11 billion. Two weeks ago, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed by the Qatari government, the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) and Dallah Albaraka Group in Sudan to establish the bank, which would solve a number of problems facing the Islamic banking sector. Through this, we would change the course of Islamic banking to the rank of development banking rather than banks for giving loans. As everybody knows, there are only soft loans in Islam. We want to return to the fundamental principles of Shariah while establishing the new bank. We have been planning and making preparations since nearly eight years to set up the bank, in cooperation with IDB and the General Council of Islamic Banking and Financial Organizations of which I am holding the presidentship. It was IDB that promoted the project and Qatar donated headquarters for the bank. I have decided to contribute $300 million, in addition to $100 million each from Dallah Albaraka Group and IDB. Apart from this $500 million, we will raise another $500 million from various Islamic banks from around the Muslim world. In addition to the shares of founders amounting to $1 billion, we will raise the remaining $10 billion capital through launching initial public offering (IPO). The bank would be in a position to launch investment funds to the tune of $100 billion at the time of its formation to make way for issuing Islamic bonds (sukuk). Through this, we can manage to raise the huge amount of money equal to those invested by the Islamic banks in the markets of London and New York for buying and selling copper. Here the mechanism is Islamic while the purpose is non-Islamic - buying and selling copper that will benefit Muslims.

Being the chairman of JCCI, what is your vision about Saudi businessmen?
Really speaking, the future of Saudi Arabia and Saudi businessmen is in a good position. Chambers of commerce and industry across the Kingdom, especially JCCI, are keen to undertake new projects, mainly those focusing on development. For example, JCCI established the Business Development Center, which is virtually a meeting place of wealth and ideas. Two months ago, the center established the Saudi Company for Opportunities with a capital investment of SR100 million. Formation of the company was under the supervision and auspices of JCCI, with its businessmen representing most of the shareholders. The company's main purpose is to explore investment opportunities. The center consists of offices for consultants and lawyers who will carry out economic feasibility studies about the investment opportunities presented to it by businessmen, and give its endorsement to launch the project.

What about the future of sukuk in Saudi Arabia?
Sukuk is one of the major arms of Islamic financing. The planned new bank would issue fully Shariah-compliant sukuk. Now there are large numbers of Islamic bonds that do not have any legal basis and are defective as they were constituted in a non-Islamic way. Generally, Islamic bonds must be one of the major financing arms in the Muslim world both at the government and individual levels.

The Centenary Fund and the Federation of GCC Chambers recently signed an agreement under which the fund would expand its activities to support GCC young men. Do you think that this initiative would in any way be a direct support to Saudi youth?
Really, the fund was established to extend support to only Saudi youth and not the GCC youth. When its activities expand to GCC states, I hope this would not be at the expense of the Saudi youth. We have to start from ourselves and then to others, and in this context, our first responsibility is to Saudi youth and then only to the GCC youth. As for GCC youth, they have vast employment opportunities in addition to enough funding. Hence, why should I take a specialized means for the Saudi youth and invest it outside the Kingdom? Even though there are strong bilateral relations and cooperation existing among the GCC states, I am personally not supporting this agreement as it virtually involves taking support out of the Saudi youth and giving to the GCC youth. We are more in need of creating job opportunities for young men and women than those in other Gulf states.

The performance of Saudi economy shows excellent results at a time when the global economy faced an economic crisis, thanks to the wise policies of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah. What about the position of the local economy in 2012?
Even though Saudi Arabia is blessed with its rich reserves of natural resources, including oil and gas, coupled with the wise policies of King Abdullah, it faces problems like unemployment. Our production and export of nonoil products are also very little. I don't think that the ministries concerned with economic affairs as well as our business sector have performed their responsibilities in the best possible manner so as to enable the Kingdom to play its real role as the largest Arab economy.

There has been an upsurge in the Saudi stock market following a steep crash in 2008. But in a comment to a local newspaper you said that the bourse is similar to a balloon that may be exploded at any time. Do you believe that the stock market policies rest on strong foundations and the market value of stocks is on the right track?
I have spoken about this matter several times earlier. As you pointed out, I had warned about this situation while speaking to a local Arabic newspaper. After this warning, I had to come across with a volley of criticism and abuse from many quarters, including online. As is my custom, I did not respond to any one of them. As days passed, the criticism also began to subside. It was evident that those who abused me were none other than market speculators who either want to suck the blood of weak-minded people or have to realize some ulterior motives. I take this opportunity to respond to this people through Arab News for the first time. Regarding the question about the foundations of the capital market, I can say that the market value of stocks is in the right direction. Before everything else, we have to understand about the nature of the secondary market that it would not create any single job opportunity. This market was created for successful beginners who can offer their projects in the market in order to make investments in other projects. This enables those with limited income to buy them and earn their livelihood from the revenue, and their aim is not to make any speculations. We have so far not realized what is the real role of the secondary market, and have wasted a whopping sum of SR20 billion in the stock market.

The first company to create job opportunities for Saudis in the Makkah Region will be operational within the next few days. What about the role of the company, which has a capital of SR100 million?
Establishment of such companies is the outcome of the initiatives and continuous efforts being made by Minister of Labor Adel Fakeih. The company is expected to solve a number of problems faced by the employment market. Main priority of the company would be to address the problem of cover up (tasattur) and then unemployment. None of us want to hide the fact that we are suffering a lot from disguised unemployment represented by foreign workers who come over to the Kingdom. Under the labor contract, they are supposed to work for a period of one or two years but their actual requirement would be for one or two months. The new company would address the problem substantially by hiring Saudis in accordance with the actual requirements in the employment market. In this way, we can create more job opportunities for Saudis and address the problem of disguised unemployment. I am personally expect that this would fetch numerous advantages, in addition to ensuring prosperous future for young Saudi jobseekers.

Do you have plans to pump new investments either in the Kingdom or abroad in the near future?
Really speaking, I consider myself as a person who has already retired from the business life. Hence, I do not have any relations with investments either in the Kingdom or abroad. I handed over the flag to my sons in whom I see goodness and blessing. They are now managing all my businesses and investments both in the Kingdom and abroad. As for me, I have now turned to public work and is currently chairing the following bodies: JCCI, ICCI and the General Council of Islamic Banks and Financial Organizations. I think these posts are enough for me.

There are rumors that you have decided to retire from a long career in the business and financial fields. Your comment please?
If your question is about retirement from business activities, then the answer is that I have retired. But if your implication is about retirement from public life, I can say that I would continue to remain in the field until my death. As long as people live and enjoy good health what does prevent them from continuing work? By the grace of Allah, I will go on working until my last breath. Allah blessed me with sons who are capable of shouldering responsibilities and therefore I handed over the key of my business management to them. As for my retirement from work and sit at home without doing anything, it is impossible for me and that is not a lifestyle that I have been accustomed to ever in my life.

Do you have any intention to implement a program like the Bab Rizq Jameel (BRJ), an initiative of Abdul Latif Jameel Community Services Programs (ALJCSP), in your Group in the near future?
I don't like to speak about such matters. However, let me inform you one thing that we had started such a program in Dallah Albaraka Group long before Abdul Latif Jameel Group started Bab Rizq Program. We introduced a social responsibility program called "Toward the best society" when we established Dallah Company 35 years ago. Like Bab Rizq Program, this program also involves in making aware of the society and creating job opportunities for young Saudi men and women. In addition to this, we also established Dallah Voluntary Academy. Our policy is that we work silently without giving any publicity, especially with regard to activities that have the hallmark of charity and voluntary works. Our real motive behind these activities is supporting the society and winning the pleasure of God.

What do you think are the special programs and procedures to create job opportunities for young Saudi women?
King Abdullah has given great care and concern for the Saudi women by opening up new horizons of job opportunities that we had never dreamed before. Each chamber has the responsibility to train Saudi women to take up jobs in ladies' stores, especially lingerie and cosmetic shops in line with the Shariah rules and regulations, and not on the basis of customs and traditions. For example, Islam forbids only seclusion of woman with unrelated man and not their mixing. Men and women are normally mixing during performing Tawaf (circumambulation around the Holy Kaaba). We encourage women doing any job in compliance with the Shariah principles.

Unemployment in the Kingdom is one of the major concerns of the government, which in turn is vigorously implementing the Nitaqat Saudization program at present. Could you assume the expected number of job opportunities created through this program?

According to the latest figures, there are about 1.2 million unemployed Saudis whereas the number of foreigners working in the Kingdom exceeds eight million. This means that the real problem that we face now is not unemployment but making a minor replacement of foreigners by Saudis to accommodate some one million jobseekers. But unfortunately, we have some strange and surprising customs that made Saudis unwilling to take up jobs in certain trades not withstanding the fact that their parents and grandparents engaged in these trades with full pride. I used social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter several times to encourage and persuade Saudi youth to shun their shyness and apathy toward some trades and take up jobs such as fruit and vegetables sales. But to my utter regret, they scorned and laughed at me and criticized my opinions. They observed that Saleh Kamel wants Saudis to engage in the sale of fruit and vegetables.

What prevents Saudi youth from taking up jobs in this field like the young men in other Arab countries and the rest of the world? Is there a feather on the head of Saudi young men? They are hesitant to take up a job, which was done proudly by their ancestors. There is a respectable rich Saudi family called Al-Khodari — a name attributed to their trade of greengrocers — spread all over the Kingdom. Similar is the case of Al-Jazzar family, whose name denotes their traditional trade of butchery. Why don't Saudi youth take up such jobs that would help them earn huge amount of revenues that are many times higher than the salary of a Saudi graduate working in a private company? Moreover, they can enjoy much freedom in these trades. It is also noteworthy that Islam encourages Muslims to engage in such trades. When I speak about work, I don't mean an office job but rather a job opportunity. I am inclined to create those job opportunities that give freedom to young Saudis more than any other jobs. Office jobs are destined for people who do not want to develop themselves and want to stick to their work hours.

After finishing duty, they don't want to engage in any other job that would benefit them and their children in the future. In my view, a job that entails freedom to the person is the best job, and it is also highly suitable for the Saudi youth. When I speak about creating job opportunities, I see Nitaqat as the ideal program introduced by the Ministry of Labor to create job opportunities for young Saudi men and women. I expect that if the program implemented effectively in the right manner, it would contribute substantially in reducing the number of unemployed people in the Kingdom, through creating about half a million jobs. But my humble opinion is that launching a program to encourage young Saudi men and women to take advantage of all types of trades available in front of them in the society is better than the Nitaqat program. These trades have the potential to accommodate millions of jobseekers. If we implement such a program effectively in the right perspective, it could enable us to replace eight million foreigners with Saudis, in addition to creating jobs for 1.2 million unemployed people. We must also consider the case of tens of thousands of young men and women who study abroad. When they return home after completion of studies, we have to find out jobs for them in addition to those who presently doing their courses in various Saudi universities.

Do you think that the Hafiz Program would be helpful in addressing unemployment problem?
Really speaking, the program, which is being implemented by the Ministry of Labor, is in a sense part of the carrot and stick policy. If you have done well, you will have the carrot and if your performance is bad then you have to face the stick. Nitaqat program reminds you of a stick in the sense that you have to face penal action if failed to implement it. As for Hafiz, it gives you carrot (remuneration). However, there is no doubt that both programs would contribute substantially in short and long run in addressing the unemployment problem.

Saudi Arabia embarked on a great task of building economic cities in various regions of the Kingdom. Do you believe that such projects would produce positive impact on Saudi economy?
All these economic cities did not happen by chance but are the outcome of extensive economic feasibility studies carried out by leading international consultancy firms. Moreover, several businessmen have also come forward to make investments in these cities. I believe that these cities would play a major role in further strengthening the Saudi economy. These are long-term projects that cannot be realized in a month or a year and we should have patience to wait until reaching the time when we can reap their fruits.

There is a shortfall in the residential facilities in the Kingdom. Do you think that the contribution of private sector would help in finding a real solution to the problem?
The much-awaited mortgage law would be instrumental in solving this problem. At present, there are no laws to mortgage houses and real estates in the Kingdom. If somebody wants to sell a real estate in installments, how is it possible without mortgage the property? I don't know what is the reason for delaying the law in the Kingdom whereas such a law governs the buying and sale transactions of real estates all over the world. As you know, the private sector needs a formal document to protect their rights while undertaking such transactions. If it is impossible for me to safeguard my rights, how can I sell a real estate to anybody in installments or on credit without any mortgage? I believe that issuance of the law would contribute substantially in solving the housing shortage problem in the Kingdom.

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) play a key role in creating new job opportunities for Saudis. The government is also extending support to projects of these firms. Do you think that these projects would help create job opportunities for Saudis?
These projects are instrumental in creating immense job opportunities. I have mentioned earlier about setting up an endowment at JCCI with the objective of taking care of the projects of SMEs as well as that of the productive families in addition to supporting funds, such as the Centenary Fund and the Human Resources Fund. There were fabulous success stories scored by young Saudi men and women in this field. The number of young Saudis who enter the field is growing day by day. We have organized recently an exhibition for young men and women who are owners of SMEs as well as for productive families at the JCCI's International Exhibition and Convention Center. More than 600 young men and women showcased their products at the fair.

Saudi Arabia's Capital Market Authority (CMA) has taken a number of initiatives and decisions aimed at realizing transparency. Do you think that these initiatives would help in creating an ideal financial culture among young businessmen and small investors?
Transparency is a must in the capital market. But at the same time, I think that this was not enough. As for educating young men and small investors, it cannot be realized through enforcing the rules and regulations, but only through books, intellectuals and other sources.

The number of younger Saudi generation is rising rapidly and they make up about 60 percent of the Saudi population. What is your message to them?
First of all, they must show gratitude to God for the great blessing bestowed on this country and its people. Secondly, they should not be instrumental in changing this blessing to wrath of God. As everybody knows, work is worship and honor. Let the financial potential of the country not deter them from work. My advice to all young men and women is that they should not sit idle but instead find jobs and work.

JCCI has been organizing the Jeddah Economic Forum for several years. Do you think that these events were instrumental in creating a positive impact on the Kingdom's economic boom?
It is a well-known fact that the annual event, with the presence of several prominent international figures, including political and business leaders and economists from around the world, has become a resounding success at the local, Arab and global levels. I am proud to point out that the Council of Ministers, for the third time in a row, commended that the topics discussed at the forum and the outcome of the event held this year would boost the Saudi economy and serve its interests.

You are planning to establish an Islamic banking entity. What are the steps taken so far?
Truly speaking, we established big Islamic banking entities in the past. Al-Baraka Banking Group currently owns 17 Islamic banks in various Muslim countries. But now, we concentrate on the large Islamic banking project based in Qatar about which I mentioned earlier. We have so far not finalized the formal name of the bank. There are several names under consideration and we favor a name with a meaning of development or construction. A final decision in this respect will be made at the next meeting of the board of directors.

You are a pioneer in Islamic banking. Can you shed light on your long track record in this field?
I praise Allah for blessing me with the support of three great personalities who guided and directed me to the noble path of Islamic banking. Among them, my mother comes first, and then Sheikh Muhammad Mutawalli Al-Shaarawi and Bahjat Khalil who are no more now. As for my mother, she warned me against dealing with banks that lend on interest, and Sheikh Al-Shaarawi supported her position by advising me that giving or accepting bank interest is forbidden. I could not understand the meaning of what they said at that time, and this may be because of my younger age. Sheikh Al-Shaarawi guided me to the Islamic path of the interest-free Mudarabah, which is a special kind of partnership where one partner gives money to another for investing it in a commercial enterprise. On his part, Bahjat Khalil who was the manager of Cairo Bank during that time helped me in this respect at a time when no banks were dealing with Mudarabah in which there is no interest but only profit. This was my beginning in the field of Islamic banking. After dispensing with this disastrous disease of interest by the grace of Allah and with the support of the three persons, I started thinking and planning on how to help our Muslim brothers to follow suit. My thoughts focused on establishing interest-free banks, and after some time I met with Prince Muhammad Al-Faisal and Saeed Lota who had also similar plans. Eventually, we joined hands in establishing Faisal Islamic Bank in Egypt and Sudan, and Dubai Islamic Bank. After this, I founded Jordan Islamic Bank and then Al-Baraka Banking Group that has branches in 17 Muslim countries in various parts of the world.

As the founder of Dallah Al-Baraka Group, could you reveal the secrets of the group's success stories as one of the leading business groups in the Kingdom?
Truly, there are no secrets but only the grace and bounty of Allah, the Almighty. My sincere endeavors to be pious and God-fearing as well as to do work earnestly and not to cheat others have been rewarded. There are several factors that contributed substantially in maintaining a track record of successes in work and the epitome of all these contain in the last part and first part of the following two Qur'anic verses. "And for those who fear God, He (ever) prepares a way out; And He provides for him from (sources) he never could imagine (Surah Al-Talaq -2 and 3). This is the divine path that was put by the Creator of mankind, and we are striving to follow this in our entire work.

The last meeting of the information ministers from the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), held last month in Libreville, Gabon, had proposed to explore the prospect of establishing a satellite channel for OIC. Are you supporting such a channel? What are your expectations if the proposal gets an endorsement from the member countries?
As far as I am concerned, I do not believe that such a channel would be successful. There is no possibility for the success of any collective work in this field. Launching such a channel involves huge funding in the initial stage like the furnace, which needs firewood until it gets heated. It is well known that some member countries are not committed to making their financial contributions to the general secretariat of the pan Islamic organization. All of us know about this chronic problem faced by the organization since its inception. Then, where from can the OIC get the funding to establish a channel. Suppose we assume that the channel kick-started, then should the channel be inclined to or promote the programs of the countries, which made bigger contributions to the organization compared to those countries with smaller contributions. In such cases, there is every possibility of the channel being politicized in favor of some member countries at the expense of others. Eventually, this would put OIC in a precarious situation. At present, there are several channels focusing on news, education, religion and entertainment in the member countries. And then what is the relevance of such a channel? From my experience in this field, I can say that such an initiative would be a total failure, like several other experiments that ended in failure. Take the case of the International Islamic News Agency (IINA), the specialized media organ of OIC. Since its inception, IINA remains inactive in addition to a host of administrative and financial problems. The proposed OIC channel may have the same fate of IINA. I can't understand why we are repeating such mistakes.

(Arab News / 09 May 2012)

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