Al-Ahram Weekly Online   30 March - 5 April 2006
Issue No. 788
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Salama A Salama

International intervention and the Arabs

By Salama A Salama

In a strange case of parallel timing the Arab summit in Khartoum convened on the same day Israeli elections were held and only hours after the UN Security Council decided to send UN troops to Darfur to replace African Union forces. It also came in the wake of the initiative to hold US-Iranian talks on Iraq and the ongoing saga of the UN, Syria and Lebanon.

Despite these developments the summit packed no surprises. Those attending merely reproduced old positions, and the meeting singularly failed to convince the Arab public that any benefits could come from it.

The one positive decision was Amr Moussa's acceptance of a new term as secretary- general of the Arab League. It is a post that can kill the holder with frustration at the inability of Arab regimes to shoulder their responsibilities. What can any secretary-general do when the relationship between ruling regimes and their populations has reached an all time low and any joint Arab activity is a hollow slogan with no content?

Khartoum struggled for the summit to be convened in Sudan despite the opposition of Washington. The situation in Sudan remains tense. As soon as there was progress on the problems of the south, Darfur exploded.

International intervention serves to underline the humiliating failure of Sudan's government. International organisations have joined in a chorus of criticism, berating Khartoum for human rights violations and the violence, rape and pillage committed by gangs subservient to Khartoum. The criticism opened the door to intervention by neighbouring states. Then came the decision of the Security Council, accepted by the African Security and Peace Council, to replace African Union forces with international peace-keepers.

What kind of resolution could the summit take other than to express its support for Sudan should Khartoum find itself confronted by NATO forces that will arrive under the UN flag?

The Israeli elections resulted, as expected, in victory for the Kadima Party led by Olmert, Sharon's successor. At the same time relations between Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas -- charged with forming a new government -- are imploding while Israel, led by Olmert, appears more determined than ever to move forward with its plans to unilaterally draw its own borders with approval from Washington and assistance from the European Union. It is also completing the construction of the separating wall and its consolidation of West Bank settlements. Against such a backdrop the summit merely rejected unilateral moves by Israel.

In Iraq, meanwhile, the Arabs are no longer even able to mediate between the various Iraqi factions. The Arabs have all but exited the equation, and Washington now finds itself having to negotiate with Iran to save whatever can be saved from the debacle. Summit resolutions on Iraq can only fall on deaf ears.

Determining the nature of Syrian-Lebanese relations is now firmly in the hands of the United Nations and its envoy Terje Roed-Larsen, who is touring the region in an attempt to find solutions to this thorny file. Arab leaders have not been able to make a clear statement on the issues involved, whether regarding the drawing of borders, the presidency of Lahoud, Hizbullah's arms or the Palestinian resistance. Foreign ministers, unable to agree on anything, merely handed the issue over to the summit.

The paralysis of Arab regimes and their inability to act has come to encapsulate the political impotence that has spread across the Middle East and Africa. International intervention has become the most notable feature of attempts to deal with Arab problems. It sometimes takes place with the knowledge of the relevant parties, though more often without. Arab states can say yes, or no, as much as they like. It makes not a blind

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