Tunisia gears up to host Arab League summit

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud is expected to attend with a large delegation.
Wednesday 27/03/2019
Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed (2nd-L) gives a speech during the opening session of a meeting of Arab Interior and Justice Ministers in the capital Tunis on March 4, 2019. (AFP)
Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed (2nd-L) gives a speech during the opening session of a meeting of Arab Interior and Justice Ministers in the capital Tunis on March 4, 2019. (AFP)

TUNIS - Tunisia is gearing up to host the 30th Arab League Summit on Sunday, bringing together high level officials from 21 Arab countries to discuss the region’s biggest challenges. 

Preparatory meetings began in Tunis on Tuesday, ahead of a foreign ministerial meeting on the Syrian conflict on Friday. 

Also high on the summit’s agenda are the conflicts in Libya and Yemen, as well as the Palestinian cause. Syria’s possible reinstatement into the Arab League will not be a part of discussions, Arab League spokesman Mahmoud Afifi said earlier this week. Arab diplomatic sources say no consensus has been reached on whether Damascus should be readmitted.

A number of Arab leaders are expected to attend the summit, including Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, accompanied by a large delegation. 

Arab leaders will also be joined by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, head of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat and Secretary General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation Yousef bin Ahmad Al-Othaimeen.

The summit comes at a critical juncture for the Maghreb, whose countries are battling financial handship and readying for political transition. Tunisia and Mauritania are both scheduled to hold presidential elections later this year, while Algeria has been rocked by mass protests calling for 82-year old President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to leave office. On Tuesday, Algeria's powerful military chief Ahmed Gaid Salah said time had come for the political class to declare the presidential office “vacant,” adding further pressure on the embattled leader to step down after a 20-year rule. 

Tunisia said it was working to ensure optimal conditions for the annual summit, but a planned strike by air traffic controllers at the main Tunis-Carthage airport from March 29-30 has raised logistical concerns. 

Tunisian Ambassador and Arab Summit spokesman Mahmoud Khémiri told reporters on Tuesday that negotiations with airport officials were ongoing and that “the problem would hopefully be solved by the 29th.” 

Tunisia, widely hailed as a regional success story for its democratic transition following the 2011 uprising, hopes the summit will help bolster its position as an investment and tourism site and further promote its regional diplomatic role.