Arab summit breeds more apathy and frustration

Sunday 31/07/2016
Arab leaders pose for a group photo after the opening ceremony of the Arab Summit, on July 25th.

Cairo - The 27th Arab summit con­vened in Mauritania amid growing challenges fac­ing a disintegrating Arab world and political differ­ences reaching a peak.

In the final communiqué of the meeting, Arab government repre­sentatives used almost the same rhetoric to react to the emerging threats facing the region without suggesting any practical steps to ad­dress them.

They condemned terrorism, re­newed their commitment to coop­erate to defend Arab national secu­rity, welcomed a French initiative for resuming peace talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis and expressed support for Iraq in its bat­tle against terrorism.

The representatives reiterated their governments’ rejection of Ira­nian interference in the affairs of Arab countries, called on Syrians to seek a peaceful solution to the con­flict in their country and called on Israel to join the Treaty on the Non- Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

Nonetheless, the summit, which was notable for who did not show up as who did, went almost unno­ticed, overshadowed by the wars in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen as well as terrorist attacks target­ing Europe. Besides the feelings of apathy and frustration this has cre­ated among Arab masses, political analysts saw the summit’s failure as proof that Arab gatherings are good for nothing.

“The few Arab leaders attending the summit gave the public every­where in the Arab world nothing but words,” said Mohamed Hussein, a political science professor from Cairo University. “They convinced all Arabs that they should not wait for anything good to come from them.”

The summit should have been in Morocco in March but the North Af­rican kingdom refused to host the event, expecting it to be a copy of previous Arab gatherings: a meet­ing of a group of leaders who are divided.

Mauritania said it would be the summit host, being the next after Morocco in the Arabic alphabetical order. Nouakchott did everything possible to make the event a suc­cess. The summit was, however, skipped by about 15 Arab leaders and failed to grab the interest of the Arab public.

Those leaders who attended had to spend the night before the gath­ering in Morocco because of the lack of suitable accommodations in Nouakchott. The meeting lasted only half a day and the tenor of most speeches delivered was expressive of the enormity of frustration felt by Arab officials themselves.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari eloquently expressed this frustration when he left the piece of paper he was reading from and told summit participants that the Arab region was the centre of wealth and had also become the centre of con­flict and wars.

Lebanese Prime Minister Tam­mam Salam, whose tiny country is reeling under the burden of hosting more than 1.5 million Syrian refu­gees, suggested the formation of an agency to oversee the creation of safe zones in Syria for its refugees. Salam said accommodating the Syr­ians in their country would be less costly.

Arab League officials tried to spread optimism, saying the sum­mit opened the door to reform of the Arab League, for widening co­operation among Arab states that would show Iran that the Arabs are united in rejecting its interference in their affairs.

“These are all important mes­sages that came out of the event,” Arab League Deputy Secretary-Gen­eral Ahmed bin Helli told The Arab Weekly. “We should build on this.”

Probably mindful of the enormity of inter-Arab rifts, Arab League Sec­retary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit before the summit said that simply having the gathering would be a success in itself. He outlined a plan to put the pan-Arab organisation in control when it comes to conflicts in countries such as Syria and Libya.

Nonetheless, such rhetoric fell short of impressing Arab political experts. They said the event failed to rise up to the challenges facing the Arab world at present.

According to experts, the failure of Arab governments to see the dangers facing their countries and act accordingly, their inability to form a unified and practical stance to counter Iran’s growing influence in the region and their inability to adopt an equally strong and prac­tical position to counter Turkish ambitions in the same region prove beyond doubt that Arab leaders are not capable of giving hope to their people.

“The world is moving, while the Arabs are standing in their place and giving their people nothing but lip service,” said Mustafa al-Sayed, a Cairo University political science professor. “Arab rulers prove that they always betray the dreams of their peoples on one occasion after another by gathering and speaking without taking any action.”

Sayed is part of a growing chorus calling on Egypt to exit the Arab League.