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A leading historian of Ottoman science, who has openly advocated closer links between research institutions in the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds, has been elected as the new head of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the main intergovernmental body of Muslim countries.

Turkey's candidate, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, 61, was chosen as the 57-member OIC's new secretary general at its annual meeting of foreign ministers in Istanbul on 16 June. He received 32 votes, compared to 12 each for candidates from Bangladesh and Malaysia.

Ihsanoglu will occupy the post, based at the OIC's secretariat in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, for four years from January 2005. He is currently director general of the OIC's International Research Centre for Islamic History, Art and Culture (IRCICA) in Istanbul, which he helped to found in 1980.

He is also the current president of the International Union for the History and Philosophy of Science. His latest book, Science and Learning in the Ottoman Empire: Western influence, local institutions and the transfer of knowledge, was published earlier this year. 

Ihsanoglu will be the first OIC secretary general with an intimate knowledge of science and its role in the history and development of Muslim societies. He is known as a reformer, and believes strongly that Muslim countries need more institutions of knowledge that are well connected to those in the non-Muslim world.

Ihsanoglu had previously promised that if elected, he would work to give the OIC a stronger external focus, in particular by strengthening links between the research institutions of Europe and the Muslim world.

The OIC has several constituent organisations that support scientific research in Muslim countries. One of these is the Islamic Scientific, Educational and Cultural Organization (ISESCO), based in Rabat, Morocco. Another is the Standing Commission on Scientific and Technological Research (Comstech), which is based in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Ihsanoglu will find a willing ally in Atta ur Rahman, the head of Comstech, who is also Pakistan's minister for higher education.

Rahman has been charged by Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf to reform the country's science and higher education infrastructure. So far, however, his efforts to generate a new US$1 billion fund for research in OIC countries has met with resistance from the organisation's larger countries, in particular Saudi Arabia and Iran.