Arab leaders convene in Tunis for 30th Arab League summit

Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi called the event a “summit of determination and solidarity."
Sunday 31/03/2019
Arab leaders pose for a photograph during the 30th Arab League summit in the Tunisian capital Tunis on March 31, 2019. (AFP)
Arab leaders pose for a photograph during the 30th Arab League summit in the Tunisian capital Tunis on March 31, 2019. (AFP)

TUNIS - Arab leaders gathered in Tunis March 31 for the 30th Arab League summit, hoping to forge a unified stance on crises from Libya to Palestine. 

Numerous Arab heads of states attended the gathering, including powerful Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. 

Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, Jordanian King Abdullah II, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, Mauritanian President Mohammed Ould Abdel-Aziz and Lebanese President Michel Aoun were also present.  

Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi called the event a “summit of determination and solidarity,” saying that while the Arab world faces a number of conflicts and challenges, it does not lack the “mechanisms, principles or resources” to rebuild the region and help it realise its potential. 

High on the agenda was the Palestinian cause, with Arab leaders reiterating their support for a two state solution with Jerusalem as Palestine's capital and their opposition to US President Donald Trump’s “divisive” stance on the issue. 

"The Palestinian issue should be a priority in the joint Arab action and highlighted in the international arena,” Caid Essebsi said. “It is necessary to send a message to the international community that reaching security and stability in the area and in the entire world is done through a just settlement.”

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres also declared support for a two state solution, saying “there is no plan B and no solution without two states,” a possible reference to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent remarks that the US’s peace plan would “discard old parameters.” 

Abbas, meanwhile, struck a pessimistic tone, predicting that Palestine’s fortune “would get worse and we will be forced to take bold actions and measures.” 

“We count on our Arab brothers to stand with us as usual,” he said. 

While Arab leaders agreed on the need to forge consensus on the region’s crises, signs of divisions crept in early on. 

Questions were raised when Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani left the summit after Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit singled out Doha’s allies Iran and Turkey for “meddling in Arab affairs.” 

However, a senior Tunisian official denied that the Qatari emir had left the summit prematurely and without delivering his expected speech. 

“It was expected from the start that the emir attends the opening of the summit and takes part in the group picture before leaving and letting his foreign minister replace him," Saida Guerrach, political advisor to the Tunisian president, told the Arab Weekly.

"He had confirmed his attendance of the summit based on his respect for the president," Guerrach added.

The summit had brought the Saudi and Qatari monarchs face to face for the first time since a diplomatic row broke out between the countries in 2017. 

One point of contention was the status of Syria, whose absence at the summit was underlined by an empty chair in front of its national flag. Damascus has been suspended from the Arab League since President Bashar Assad’s violent crackdown on protesters in December 2011. Its potential readmission is to be decided at the summit. 

Caid Essebsi, addressing the region’s conflicts and crises, pointed out that the Arab world has the world’s worst indicators in terms of “violence, strife, humanitarian tragedy and stalled development” and encouraged leaders to move forward with meaningful change. 

“It is not reasonable that the situation remains like this,” he said.