Low expectations for Arab summit in Nouakchott

Sunday 17/07/2016
Former Egyptian Foreign minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, elected in February as Arab League secretary-general.

Cairo - The failure of Arab leaders to reach common ground on problems facing their countries, uncertainty over the outcome of the meetings and the lack of a clear plan of action made it difficult for officials to decide the time and place of the next Arab summit, ob­servers say.

“The Arabs are divided on almost everything in the region,” said Barakat al-Fara, a retired Palestin­ian diplomat. “Arab leaders cannot reach any agreement on any of the problems facing their countries.”

The Arab League summit, the apex of regional political and eco­nomic coordination, was to con­vene in April in Morocco. Rabat apologised for not hosting the event, expressing fears that it would be a copy of previous meet­ings: purposeless Arab gatherings at the highest level.

Mauritania then said it would host the summit, inviting Arab leaders to meet July 25th-26th. Nevertheless, those following news of the potential summit seems to have low expectations for the outcome of the event. Some are even pessimistic.

This, observers like Fara say, stands in stark contrast with the enormity of the challenges facing Arabs as a nation.

Whether it is in Syria, Iraq, Yem­en or Libya, Arab countries need to reach agreement, they say. The spectre of federalism, if not utter partition, looms over some Arab countries. Terrorism poses un­precedented threats to Arabs and interference by foreign powers in Arab states had never been more blatant, the observers added.

“The situation in these countries is tearing the Arab world apart,” Fara said. “Every Arab country has its own different stance on how the conflict in each of these countries should be resolved.”

These conflicts are at least what Arab leaders who attend the sum­mit agree they need to discuss at the meetings in Nouakchott, Mau­ritania.

The conflict in Syria has entered a decisive stage, with the Syrian Army advancing towards Islam­ist strongholds in Aleppo and Is­lamic State-held Raqqa. Millions of Syrians have been displaced and hundreds of thousands have been killed or injured. Arabs are divided on whether a settlement to the conflict should start with the removal of Syrian President Bashar Assad from power.

Libya is falling prey to Arab inac­tion, having previously been vic­tim to a rush action by an interna­tional coalition bent on deposing of autocrat Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. Libya has turned into a bat­tleground for Libyan and foreign forces acting not only to stem the ISIS tide but also to impose their influence.

Since 2011, Libya has been a bat­tleground between rival Libyan militias. Here, too, Arabs are di­vided on which group to support or whether to stay away from the conflict altogether.

Yemen, where a Saudi-led coali­tion is trying to prevent an Iran-backed insurgency from control­ling the country, is probably the only conflict in which the majority of Arabs agree. The same Arabs, however, disagree on the means of ending the conflict and bringing national unity back on track.

“These are all differences that threaten to turn the Arab summit into yet another opportunity for Arab leaders to just air their disa­greements,” said Rekha Ahmed Hassan, a member of independ­ent think-tank Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs. “Will the Arabs wake up, cast these differences aside and rise up to the enormity of the challenges facing their coun­tries?”

Despite this, some see a glimmer of hope in efforts by Saudi Arabia to unite Arabs around a common agenda. In March, Saudi Arabia succeeded in bringing troops from several Arab armies closer together in military drills. In April, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud said in Cairo that his country would move ahead with an Egyptian pro­posal for forming a unified Arab military force.

Some who closely follow regional developments say the Saudi efforts are crucial, given the need to stem fallout from conflicts in Syria, Lib­ya, Yemen and Iraq but also to face up to the danger posed by Iran’s de­signs for Arab national security.

Iran, which has managed to get rid of West-imposed economic sanctions, has been jockeying for influence in a number of Arab capi­tals, including Beirut, Baghdad, Damascus and Sana’a. Iranian at­tempts are seen as a direct threat to Sunni Arabs, with Saudi Arabia at the forefront.

Optimists say dangers surround­ing the Arab world will force partic­ipants at the Arab League summit.

“This is about time Arabs thought of their interests as a nation, not as individual countries” said Saad al- Farargi, Egypt’s former assistant foreign minister. “Otherwise, none of the Arabs will be immune from the dangers besieging the region.”