Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
23 - 29 December 1999
Issue No. 461
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

 
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Closing Arab ranks

By Nevine Khalil

President Hosni Mubarak began a four-day Gulf tour on Saturday, accompanied by a high-ranking delegation, travelling to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain and Abu Dhabi for talks with their leaders. Topping his agenda was the possibility of organising an Arab summit in the near future, ideas for closing Arab ranks, developments in the peace process following the resumption of Syrian-Israeli negotiations, the situation in Sudan, conditions in Iraq and bilateral relations.

The president's tour was part of ongoing consultations between Arab leaders to crystallise an Arab position on developments in the region. Mubarak was accompanied by Foreign Minister Amr Moussa, Information Minister Safwat El-Sherif and presidential adviser Osama El-Baz.

The president expressed hope that an Arab summit could be held "soon" in order to address pressing Arab issues, but added that "such a meeting will take time to organise." He added that contacts are continuing with Arab leaders on the subject.

El-Baz said that an Arab summit will need "a lot of preparations" in order to decide on its timing and goals and Mubarak, as the president of the 1996 Arab summit, is coordinating the inter-Arab contacts. "Agreement is necessary before a summit is held," El-Baz said. "A summit is a means, not an end, and, therefore, it must achieve its aims; otherwise it will not be successful." He added that unanimity and reconciliation among Arabs are the only way to achieve progress along the road to a summit.

Speaking to journalists aboard his plane, Mubarak said that during a visit to Cairo last Thursday, Sudanese Defence Minister Abdel-Rahman Sirr Al-Khatim did not ask for military, or non-military, assistance from Egypt. He added that he was in close contact with Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir even before the latest developments, which included the announcement of a state of emergency and the dissolution of parliament on 12 December. "We confirm our support for Bashir's legitimate rights as the elected president of Sudan," Mubarak noted. "We do not interfere in the internal affairs of Sudan, but we are following developments there very closely." Al-Bashir was scheduled to visit Cairo yesterday for talks with Mubarak, after meeting with Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi in Tripoli on Tuesday.

El-Baz denied that Egypt had encouraged Al-Bashir to oust Sudan's National Assembly Speaker Hassan Al-Turabi. "We do not push anyone towards a confrontation. We are concerned with achieving stability in Sudan for the good of the people there," he said. "We want a settlement that will ensure its stability and security, without the shedding of blood. We hope that Sudan overcomes this crisis in order to avoid foreign interference and division."

Foreign Minister Moussa said that the Sudanese people took action "because they realised that too many cooks spoil the stew" -- an allusion to the duality in decision-making between Al-Bashir and Al-Turabi. "A new Sudan must emerge and look towards a better future."

 
King Fahd Hammad bin Khalifa Al-Thani
Hammad bin Eisa Al-Khalifa Sheikh Zayed Al-Nahyyan
Clockwise from top left: During this week's Gulf tour, President Mubarak met with Saudi Arabia's King Fahd, Qatar's Prince Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, United Arab Emirates' Sheikh Zayed Al-Nahayyan and Bahrain's Prince Hamad bin Eissa Al-Khalifa

During meetings with Saudi Arabia's King Fahd and Crown Prince Abdullah, the peace process topped the agenda, following last week's Washington meetings between Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Al-Shara'a and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Mubarak also discussed the problems the Palestinians are facing in their negotiations with the Israelis. The Egyptian and Saudi sides emphasised the importance of reaching a comprehensive and just peace in the region.

President Bill Clinton and Barak had telephoned Mubarak in Riyadh to brief him on the outcome of the Washington meetings. The president asked Barak to reconsider Israel's policy of building settlements in occupied territories, because "an increase in settlements means an increase in violence and hatred." At the same time, he said that Barak's government is "serious about the peace process [and] Jerusalem is a very important and fundamental issue in this process."

Arab countries support Syria in its effort to end the Arab-Israeli conflict and regain the Golan Heights, and also support Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon. "The Palestinian issue is at the heart of this conflict; therefore, achieving peace between Israel and each of Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon does not end the conflict without a just solution for the Palestinians," Mubarak said.

El-Baz said that progress on the Syrian track should strengthen the Palestinian track. "The time will come when both the Syrians and Palestinians will cooperate in consolidating each other," he asserted. He added that coordination on the peace process between Egypt and Syria was "unnecessary" because the process is already based on the Madrid principles. Moussa denied reports that an Egyptian-Syrian summit might be held soon.

At the same time, the foreign minister counselled that Arab negotiators should be supported by "an Arab safety net" so that they may not worry that one track will overshadow another. "We should not fall into this trap," he said. Moussa anticipated that if progress continues in the peace process, the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) economic conferences could resume, beginning in Cairo in the second half of the year 2000. "Progress on all tracks reopens the way to multilateral negotiations," he said. "We have always said that these negotiations cannot move forward unless talks on all tracks are resumed."

After an iftar banquet on Sunday, official talks began between Mubarak and Qatar's Prince Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani in Doha. Speaking to reporters, both leaders emphasised the "strong ties between the two countries," and denied that tensions exist between Cairo and Doha. "Relations will never be strained, so long as the media do not interfere," Mubarak said.

Talks in Doha focused on developments on the Palestinian and Syrian tracks, Egyptian-Gulf cooperation and recent developments in Sudan. Both sides "have identical views" on all these issues, according to Information Minister El-Sherif. The two countries agree on supporting Al-Bashir's recent actions and decisions, he added. They both believe steps should be taken to create a common Arab market soon; and that bilateral relations should be given a boost

Mubarak said that economic blocs are proliferating around the world, and that the Arabs need to organise themselves into a bloc, or else "all will be lost". Qatar's Hamad said that holding an Arab summit will close Arab ranks in preparation for the next century "when we will face an economic battle." He continued that Egypt, "which has always led the Arab world, should take the lead at times such as these."

In Bahrain on Monday, Mubarak discussed with Prince Hamad bin Eissa Al-Khalifa ways of strengthening Arab ties, various developments in the region, as well as ways of boosting bilateral relations. The two leaders had last met in Cairo in June.

Wrapping up his tour, Mubarak decided to stop over in Abu Dhabi for talks with Sheikh Zayed Al-Nahayyan before heading home on Tuesday. Mubarak briefed Sheikh Zayed on his meetings with the other Gulf leaders, and also discussed bilateral relations.

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