Wednesday,20 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1335, (9 - 15 March 2017)
Wednesday,20 February, 2019
Issue 1335, (9 - 15 March 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Just a regular summit

Arab Gulf states expect the Arab Summit to not upturn Arab positions

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Abul-Gheit (r) and Algeria’s Minister Delegate for Maghreb and African Affairs Abdel-Kader Messahel during a meeting of Arab foreign ministers at the headquarters of the Arab League in Cairo photo: AFP
Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Abul-Gheit (r) and Algeria’s Minister Delegate for Maghreb and African Affairs Abdel-Kader Messahel during a meeting of Arab foreign ministers at the headquarters of the Arab League in Cairo photo: AFP

The leaders of influential Arab Gulf states expect to be present in Amman for the opening session of the Arab Summit towards the end of this month.

Their generally good and friendly ties with the host of the summit, King Abdullah of Jordan, would prompt their presence.

However, this presence is expected to be brief given the limited scope of the summit on producing any serious material for agreement on any of the key Arab issues.

There are three issues of direct concern to the six member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) that they expect to be adopted without much commotion at the Arab Summit: A strong-worded statement against any Iranian attempt to tamper with the security or interests of Arab Gulf states; a clear statement on the need for a consensual political agreement in Syria and that steers clear of hushed attempts to bring the Syrian regime of Bashar Al-Assad back to the Arab organisation; and a resolution on Yemen that keeps collective support on the side of the pro-Saudi government under the leadership of Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

“I don’t think that anyone has big expectations of the Arab Summit. For the Gulf states, particularly for Saudi Arabia of course, I think they want to make sure that Iran receives a strong-worded statement that keeps to the typical language of ‘refraining from interfering in the internal affairs of Arab countries’,” said an Arab League source.

According to the same source, on the timid suggestion by capitals like Cairo and Algiers, and by the Arab League secretary-general himself, to bring Syria back to Arab League, the Gulf countries don’t want any resolutions adopted by the summit to even allude to the matter.

A Cairo-based Arab diplomat said that the Saudis know this is secured, and that the summit will keep to the resolutions adopted by the league for the past five years since Syria’s participation in the pan-Arab organisation was suspended as a response to the repression of the Al-Assad regime of Syrian calls for democracy.

“Obviously, it is not a secret that the Arab world in general and the Arab League in particular is way beyond the Arab Spring, and in fact is now trying to reverse whatever this Arab Spring had meant,” the Arab diplomat said.

He added: “Clearly it was the wish of the Saudis to secure a secretariat and a secretary-general opposed to the Arab Spring.”

“The Saudis, essentially, had thought they would be able to keep the Arab Spring going where they wanted, like in Syria to get rid of Bashar Al-Assad, and to stop it where they wanted it to be stopped. But now it is clear that they lost control of the situation in Syria and Yemen and they just wish for the Arab Summit not to underline this failure with a change of the language of resolutions adopted on the situations there,” he argued.

The elementary outcome of the Arab Summit was expected to be sketched in the regular spring meeting of Arab foreign ministers that convened at the headquarters of the Arab League in the first week of March.

During a meeting of permanent representatives that took place Sunday to prepare for the ministerial that was scheduled for Tuesday, it was clear, according to one participant, “that nothing big is expected out of this meeting, or for that matter from the summit, unless someone decides to throw in a big surprise, which is unlikely.”

The meeting of the permanent representatives, according to the Arab League source, was “relatively fast and almost uneventful”.

He added: “When it comes to the agenda of the Arab Gulf states, if we were to say for the sake of argument that there is a united agenda, because I think they don’t really share the same views on all key issues, there was no opposition or resistance; they will get what they want because nobody is willing to go too far to oppose them.”

He argued that nobody would want to oppose a joint Qatari-Saudi wish to keep the pressure— even if ineffective — on Damascus.

“Egypt has so many internal issues to worry about and it would not want to further complicate its already tense ties with the Saudis or to start another confrontation with Qatar; Algeria has to worry about managing its internal succession given the declining health situation of [President Abdel-Aziz] Bouteflika; and neither Lebanon nor Iraq is in a position to be the one to start a fuss,” he said.

According to international relations commentator Gamil Mattar, for the most part the key issues that are scheduled to be examined by the Arab Summit are handled away from the umbrella of the pan-Arab organisation.

“Syria is handled essentially by the Russians in Geneva; Iran has been handled through the channels of a very slow and quiet but apparently effective Kuwaiti mediation that managed to reduce the volume of tension between Riyadh and Tehran; and Yemen is for now managed by the Saudis until further notice,” Mattar argued.

As such, he added, there is not much that the Saudis or any other Gulf country would want from the Arab Summit except to keep pronounced Arab positions where they have been.

Clearly, Mattar added, if the Saudis were stronger they would have expected the summit to deliver more radical positions, “but, of course, the past year has shown a Saudi Arabia that is willing to settle for political compromises more than it used to.”

According to Cairo-based European diplomats, the Saudis know that if they wish to put pressure to secure the elimination of Al-Assad from the political scene in Syria, they would need to knock on the door of Moscow— something that is already happening; and that if they need Islamic support for their presence in Yemen, they need to go to the Asian Muslim nations rather than Arab countries — and this is also happening.

Meanwhile, sources in the secretariat of the Arab League say that the things the Gulf countries wish to see done relate to the structure and budget of the Arab organisation itself.

They add that the Gulf countries, which provide the largest part of the funding of the Arab organisation, wish to have a tighter budget and see more influential posts going to their nationals.

It is an open secret that Gulf capitals have been saying that for over 40 years they have been financing the Arab organisation the most and not getting enough out of it.

The wish of Gulf countries to have the seat of secretary- general rotated to include their nationals has been repeatedly expressed during the past 10 years.

Today, however, it is the consensus in the Arab diplomatic quarters “nobody cares that much about the Arab League” and that “it is being deliberately put on the sidelines of the Arab political scene.”

There were moments where the Arab League served the interests of the many Arab powers, including the Gulf countries that turned to the Arab League to start a path of political and military action to get Iraq out of Kuwait in the early 1990s and to put pressure to end the regime of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad a decade later, and to promote the Saudi wish to expand its presence on the international political scene through the Arab Peace Initiative in 2002.

“But this is all gone now, and nobody has great expectations or is counting much on the Arab League,” said Mattar.

However, he added, nobody across the Arab world is willing to fully forgo the Arab organisation. “It remains an umbrella of sorts — not necessarily very effective in keeping heavy rain and the excessive heat of the sun away, but still.”

This, he argued, is perhaps the reason why the United Arab Emirates is proposing to host a venue for the pan-Arab organisation.

“The headquarters will remain in Cairo, of course. I don’t think that anyone in the Gulf, no matter the disagreement with Egypt, would attempt to challenge this,” Mattar said.

He added that given that there is already a venue for the Arab League in North Africa, in Tunis, there now may be another in the Gulf.

“This is, of course, about showing the influence of the Gulf,” Mattar said.

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