Ex-Arab League official speaks of Arab policy shortcomings

Sunday 31/07/2016

Beirut - A half-day Arab League summit attended by only a few leaders who approved a prearranged final communi­qué before hastily leaving says it all. The July 25th meeting in Mauritania reflected how much the Arab world is fragmented and its leaders incapable of getting together to face multiple and dangerous threats to its exist­ence.
The summit, which was sched­uled to take place in Morocco in March, “went like it is a ceremo­nial rendezvous that we need to observe”, according to Ambassador Nassif Hitti, a former senior Arab League official.
“It has left a very bitter taste in terms of going down at a moment when we need to stand up and face the dangers,” Hitti, the former head of the Arab League Mission in Paris, Rome and the Vatican, told The Arab Weekly.
Terrorism, foreign interven­tion, growing regional ambitions, increasing sectarianism and radi­calisation, disintegrated societies, weakened state structures are only a few of the challenges facing the embattled region.
“We are living in a very disor­dered, very anarchical order and I would have and still expect that the Arab leaders would sit together because the danger will reach everybody at different times,” said Hitti.
Political rivalries and divisions have hindered any collective Arab action, starting with the 1948 war that led to the creation of Israel and the loss of most of Palestine.
“There is a major symptomatic problem in collective Arab diplo­macy. There is a divorce between the use of different instruments of power and diplomacy,” Hitti explained. “We are always reacting (to events) instead of adopting a proactive strategy.”
Even when the Arab leaders came up with what Hitti described as “the most courageous and most comprehensive initiative” to settle the Arab-Israeli conflict — the Arab peace initiative adopted in Beirut in 2002 — they simply failed to promote it.
“We adopted it and put it on the shelf… Did we fight for it? No. Did we commit ourselves in a collective diplomatic action? We should have gone to the key influential actors in the world and say: ‘My relations with you tomorrow will depend on how you position yourself on this issue’,” he said.
With Iran and Turkey stepping in to fill an emerging Arab power vacu­um in the last decade, the outbreak in late 2010 and 2011 of the “Arab spring” revolutions that turned into bloody civil wars in many countries and attracted direct and indirect foreign intervention left the region in disarray and pushed it towards collapse.
“We have been an open thea­tre for others’ competition… The Arab regional order has been de- Arabised, not in terms of cultural identity but in terms of projection of power,” Hitti said, noting that unless Arab countries decide to develop a “certain common strategy of action”, they will not have “the capacity to heavily weigh in the equation of the region.”
Such a strategy is needed if the Arabs are to confront Iran and other ambitious forces, deter their actions and force them to rethink their poli­cies, according to the former Arab League official.
Although he admitted that this might sound “idealistic”, Hitti suggested Arab heads of state hold an informal meeting to “reach common minimal denominators on ways of handling the growing chal­lenges and threats”.
“It might not be for tomorrow but continuing on the path of ceremoni­al rendezvous void of any collective policy and oriented actions… will allow the fire to reach every place,” he noted.
A comprehensive strategy to combat terrorism is a most urgent priority that should not be limited to security and military but extend­ed to include religious, cultural, educational, social, economic and political aspects, according to Hitti.
“The imminent priority to combat terrorism must not make the Arabs forget that serious genuine home-led reform is equally necessary in the hotbeds of crises,” he said.
Another key challenge is the increasing number of failing Arab states that could turn into failed states, he said, adding: “Salvaging these states whose societies are be­ing fragmented by ongoing conflicts and crises is a main task, otherwise they will turn into hotbeds for regional conflicts and wars of all sorts.”
Economic cooperation and economic integration become more than necessary as a strategic com­ponent of an Arab collective action.
How to salvage the Arab state and prevent the proliferation of So­malisation? How to reconstruct and consolidate the Arab state? How to address the fears of certain social components to undercut the fear of being used by countries outside the region? How to address the issue of comprehensive development in the region? How to create a sort of Arab integration respecting the sovereignty of each state but build­ing on identifying areas of common interest?
To answer these questions and many others, Hitti said: “We need to develop a political culture of a gradual selective cooperation. We might agree on one area and disa­gree on others. We should not allow areas of disagreement to overcome areas of agreement.”
Hitti concluded by referring to the “European experience, though it is not an ideal one especially today”, to draw lessons on “how important to work together, respect the sovereignty of the others and to build on common ground”.