NAM summit: starring Castro, Ahmadinejad, and the global economy

Formed as a cold-war forum for developing countries that didn’t want to take sides, the movement has struggled to find its way since the USSR collapsed.

Chris Bouroncle/Reuters
Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua attends the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on Wednesday.

CAIRO – The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) opened its 15th summit meeting in Egypt today with a bold call for a global financial system that gives “preferential treatment” to the world’s poorest countries.

“We demand the establishment of a new international financial and economic structure that relies on the participation of all countries,” said Cuba’s President Raul Castro, the outgoing secretary-general of NAM, adding an apparent jab at the United States amid the continuing fallout from the sub-prime mortgage meltdown.

“There must be a new framework that doesn’t depend solely on the economic stability and the political decision of only one country,” he said, according to Reuters.

However bold, Mr. Castro’s call raises the question: does the Non-Aligned Movement have any pull to make it, or anything, a reality?

'Crisis of credibility'
Formed as a cold-war forum for developing countries that did not want to take sides between the US and the Soviet Union, the NAM has struggled to find its way since the USSR collapsed. On Wednesday, Egypt took over the presidency from Cuba for a three-year term.

“There is no serious reason for the Non-Aligned Movement to continue to exist,” says Nabil Abdel Fattah, assistant director of Cairo’s Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, a think tank with government ties. “It faces so many challenges and problems, it has a real crisis of credibility.”

He – like other observers – says that with names like Castro or Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad headlining the group’s annual meeting, the group’s ability to shape international affairs is limited. Iran is due to assume the presidency in 2012.

“Influence is very relative depending on who is in charge,” says Mr. Abdel Fattah. “Both these men are very controversial and isolated. Castro is a phantom from the past that belongs in a museum of global politics, and as for Ahmadinejad, where is his influence now? He has caused so many problems in the world and in our region. Who would follow him?”

Egypt, a Sunni Arab country, has long been wary of Shiite Iran’s revolutionary rhetoric and its popularity among Egyptians for challenging the West. Mr. Ahmadinejad has gone global with this “resistance” brand, presenting himself as champion of the world’s downtrodden. The summit presents the first big test of whether he has retained his cachet despite mass protests in Iran over his reelection June 12. (Yesterday the Monitor wrote about whether Ahmadinejad has lost his global following.)

The US-aligned movement?
The NAM is equally hobbled by internal tensions and disagreements among its 118 members, such as: age-old enmity over terrorism and Kashmir between India and Pakistan, border raids between Sudan and Chad, and lingering hostility between Ethiopia and its former possession, Eritrea. Such intense internal divisions make any kind of collective action hard to achieve.

Throughout the movement’s history, many of its members were in fact aligned with one of the two powers – even its founders Yugoslavia, India, and Egypt.

Today, most gravitate towards the US, says Abdel Fattah, “as the empire of the global system.”

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.