Arab League chief decries Turkish and Iranian ‘recklessness’

Ahmed Aboul Gheit in an interview with The Arab Weekly: Trump’s “Deal of the Century” will not constitute a starting point for the new US administration.
Wednesday 02/12/2020
The secretary general of the Arab League talks to the Arab Weekly.
The secretary general of the Arab League talks to the Arab Weekly.

CAIRO--The Arab Weekly met with Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit to sound out his views on numerous regional issues and what the League’s role is in addressing them.

We sat down with Aboul Gheit at the Arab League’s headquarters in Cairo, a day after his meeting November 29 with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) in the city. It was only natural to ask him about that meeting.

Aboul Gheit said, “There was a dire need for this meeting in light of the results of the US elections, and to hear Abu Mazen’s views regarding relations with Israel, the fate of the inter-Palestinian reconciliation, and the impact of the regional situation on the Palestinian issue, because the presence of a new US administration opens the way for Washington to play a more positive role in the peace process, and for pursuing the implementation of the two-state solution.”

Regarding outgoing US President Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century,” he said, “In my view, the plan adopted and proposed by the departing administration will not constitute a starting point for the new administration in dealing with the file of the peace process between the Palestinians and the Israelis.”

Secretary General of the Arab League Ahmed Aboul Gheit at the Munich Security Conference on 17 February 2019. (DPA)

He pointed out that “Biden seems closer to the traditional American diplomatic and institutional methods, which has worked for decades to sponsor a peace process based on the two-state vision, ending the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, and not on legitimising (Israeli) settlements.”

Regarding normalisation agreements between a number of Arab countries and Israel, Aboul Gheit said that “when we look at matters from a comprehensive angle, the general trend in the Arab world regarding the conflict with Israel proceeds towards a political settlement, and has been progressing in that direction at a varying pace since after the 1973 war and up to the Arab peace initiative proposed by Saudi Arabia at the 2002 Beirut Summit. What we have witnessed in the past forty years was the continuation of the Israeli occupation of Arab lands and the continuation of military confrontations, violence and resistance in various waves with ups and downs.”

Regarding the role of Iran and Turkey in the region, Aboul Gheit said, “Iran and Turkey, in addition to Israel, have had, for the past decade, goals and interests that they want to achieve in the Arab region, and we have witnessed a kind of political recklessness on the part of Turkey and Iran, which have shown their opportunism and desire to attack what they imagined to be gains for them due to the chaos that befell some countries in the region since 2011.”

He explained that “the Turkish interventions have become more and more reckless with time. The Turks are now present in more than one theatre in our region, and they are practicing something like a plan for total hegemony with ideological, military and economic dimensions.” Aboul Gheit thinks that the new US administration should pay attention to the risks involved in Ankara’s policies, because these policies are based on “nourishing turmoil and instability in the region.”

Optimism about a solution to the Libyan crisis

The Arab Weekly asked Aboul Gheit about the significance of international efforts to forge a settlement in Libya.

He said, “There is indeed a great political and diplomatic movement to resolve the crisis and reach an integrated settlement in Libya, where the situation is very complex and complicated, with its political, military, security and economic dimensions. We have always emphasised that a military solution to the crisis was not possible, and that the settlement must be purely Libyan and purely national, according to inclusive foundations that the Libyans themselves agree upon in a way that preserves the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the state and away from any external interference in its various forms and manifestations.”

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit speaks with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas (L). (REUTERS)
Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit speaks with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas (L). (REUTERS)

On the perceived absence of the Arab League in the settlement of the Libya crisis, Aboul Gheit indicated that the League is involved and is participating in the ongoing effort, but that “there was international agreement that the settlement efforts should take place under the auspices of the United Nations and its support mission in Libya, and this is the framework that the League is supporting and working with. It is also the framework that was agreed upon by the participants at the Berlin conference, including the Arab League and the various countries and regional organizations concerned with the Libyan issue, who also agreed to follow up on the outcomes of the conference.”

Syria’s unity

About Syria’s status with the Arab League and how Damascus could regain its seat in the pan-Arab organisation, the Arab League secretary-general said, “The Syrian file has been transferred since the beginning of the crisis to the United Nations, and this was a big mistake, and I expressed this opinion more than once, because Syria is an important country in the Arab system, and its crisis should have been addressed in the Arab context. I do understand, however, the confused circumstances that produced this wrong situation in 2011 and 2012.”

“What I want to say is that the internationalisation of the Syrian crisis, and the direct and indirect military intervention of a number of parties contributed to complicating this crisis and prolonging it. And what is dangerous is the intention harboured by certain of these parties for a long-term presence that would pave the way for measures and policies aimed at changing demographics in some Syrian regions, and this is unacceptable to the Arabs,” he added.

Aboul Gheit added that what matters most to the Arab League in the end is preserving the integrity and Arab character of Syria and the security and stability of the Syrian people.

We asked Aboul Gheit about the situation in the Arab region, especially in light of the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Secretary General of the League of Arab States meets with United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres on September 28, 2018,  at the United Nations in New York. AFP
Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Secretary General of the League of Arab States meets with United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres on September 28, 2018,  at the United Nations in New York. (AFP)

He said that the economic situation in the Arab region as a whole has been severely affected by the crises that have shaken the region since 2011, and that the most dangerous aspect of these crises is uncertainty about the future, which is the number one enemy of long-term strategic investment.

He pointed out that there will be a aneed to intensify Arab economic integration, strengthen intra-regional trade and create joint and cross-border projects going forward, especially due to the danger of relying on long supply chains in times of crisis, such as the coronavirus pandemic.

In concluding his interview with The Arab Weekly, Aboul Gheit said, “I’m one of the believers that awareness and culture are the protective shield for any renaissance project. I have observed the existence in the Arab region of a determination that was not present in the past to engage the issue of religious reform and promote the idea of ​​citizenship and national belonging, and these are, in my view, crucial files, as extremists target the awareness of youth. So if societies are able to form an awareness capable of confronting extremism, and promote a culture that rejects violence and pushes for social progress and a confident and active engagement in contemporary human civilisation, then extremism will lose its most important weapons.”