About 100 members of the Islamic group Hizbut Tahrir Malaysia demonstrated outside of the ASEAN Summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Saturday. The protesters accused U.S. President Barack Obama of being an enemy of Islam just hours before he arrived.
Muslim protests underscore deep divisions both between and within the ASEAN member nations.
“Get out of the country, we don’t want to sign anything with you. It will be paving our way to hell,” said activist Razi Salleh. Protesters chanted, “Reject Obama” and held banners stating “America’s war of terrorism is a war against Islam,” and “O Terrorist, you are not welcome here.”
Razi accused Obama of only coming here to “see his capitalist plans go through”, referring the the TPP, a controversial trans-Pacific trade pact championed by Obama. He urged Muslim leaders to join him in protest.
At the summit, both Obama and the leader of Muslim-majority Malaysia voiced condemnation of the Islamic State. Obama promised that Islamic terrorists will find no safe haven anywhere. Referring to recent terror attacks in Paris, Mali, and Egypt, Prime Minister Najib Razak said in his opening remarks, “the events of recent days and weeks have cast a shadow over us all. Be assured that we stand with you against this new evil that blasphemes against the name of Islam.”
In a historic note, Southeast Asian leaders formally created a unified economic community on Sunday, after 13 years of debate. The 10 ASEAN nations boast a population of 630 million. The unity of the Asian Economic Community (AEC) will bolster its competitiveness with regional economic powerhouses India and China, according to Michael G. Plummer, a professor of international economics at the Europe Center of Johns Hopkins University, based in Bologna, Italy.
Leaders of the 10 ASEAN member nations pose at the summit.
Yet “implementation of the AEC is increasingly uphill,” said Plummer. “Much remains to be done and the region faces many challenges in finishing.” Obstacles include widespread corruption, the vast economic gulf between rich and poor member nations, uneven infrastructure, military flareups between member nations, stark religious, language, and cultural differences, and entrenched trade restrictions. Trade between ASEAN member states has been only 24 percent of their global trade over the past decade, in sharp contrast to 60 percent in the European Union.
The ASEAN nations include Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei, Thailand, the Philippines, Communist Vietnam and Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia. They were joined at the summit by Obama, Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, and the leaders of Australia, New Zealand, and four non-member Asian nations.
The protests on Saturday underscore the great challenge of bringing unity to a region characterized by division and strife.
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