Thursday,25 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1338, (30 March - 5 April 2017)
Thursday,25 April, 2019
Issue 1338, (30 March - 5 April 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Summit message

Western moves to block or regulate travellers from Arab states are an indication of Western biases against Arabs and demand a collective Arab response

Last week, the US government followed by the British government tightened restrictions on passengers flying to the US from many Arab cities, whether with the national airlines of those countries or other airlines. The only non-Arab country on the list was Turkey. Passengers flying out of Istanbul are subjected to the same regulations as those flying out of Cairo, Rabat, Jeddah, Riyadh, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Kuwait and Amman. They are not allowed to take laptops or any other electronic devices on board apart from their cell phones. Washington and London did not bother to explain the difference between the Arab airports and all other foreign airports that have flights bound for the UK or the US. Nor did they offer any explanation for why some Islamic states or other countries with large Muslim minorities, such as India, were exempted. Clearly this delivered a message to Arab countries as well as to Turkey. The message came on top of that delivered by the US president in the form of his decree to ban Arabs and Muslims from seven countries from entering the US. Six of those countries are Arab countries (which were then reduced to five when Iraq was taken off the list). Trump’s decree was provocative, even in the eyes of many Americans. In fact, US Supreme Court justices overturned the initial decree as well as the “watered down” version.

I do not intend to discuss here the recently imposed US and British regulations. Every country is free to take the measures it believes necessary to defend its security. But the Arabs and Muslims got the message that will certainly have reached the 28th Arab Summit. It states that the Arabs are a special case in the world, that they are stamped “Dangerous” and need to be handled with the utmost caution and extraordinary measures. No differentiation is made between the overwhelming majority of respectable, law-abiding Arab citizens and that minuscule violent and terrorist minority whose war targets Arab and Muslim societies more than the rest of the world. The problem is that this message will not be the last of its sort. The mood in the US and the West in general is foul. After decades of intermittent terrorist attacks and two decades of war against terrorists and Arab and Islamic countries, the world seems to have run out of solutions other than to put Arab countries in “quarantine”. They might not call it that, but the actions that are being taken speak for themselves.

Unfortunately, the foregoing is only the tip of the iceberg that threatens an impending clash between the Arabs and the world. Arab leaders certainly know this and it requires no amplification. The essential fact remains that however close or good relations this or that Arab country has with Western powers, their only real allies are other Arab countries. Quite simply, no Arab country, regardless of how large its area, population or wealth, has the luxury to imagine that it is special and will somehow be spared from Western wrath against Arabs and Muslims. In past eras, greed and colonialist competition governed the behaviour of Western powers towards our region. Today, their behaviour is governed by anger, racism and fear for their way of life due to the threat from terrorist movements that rely on exposure in developed societies.

The 28th regular Arab Summit has to achieve in a single day what it failed to achieve in the past. Its first and most pressing task, if it is to implement all other tasks, is to dispel the various clouds that have darkened the inter-Arab climate. Fortunately, many efforts have already been exerted towards this end so that, now, Arab leaders should be able to crown these efforts when they meet face-to-face. The second task is to convince the world and ourselves, as well, that we will defeat terrorism, not just through regional and international cooperation but, above all, through inter-Arab cooperation. The third task is to establish that our war against terrorism, of which we are the first victims, involves not just killing terrorists and winning that war, but also rescuing Islam from their clutches. There are no countries in the world like the one that is home to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, or the one that is home to Al-Azhar University, or the ones that contain the Islamic universities and institutions that understand the difference between the Islamic faith, which is based on mercy, love and sound counsel, and an invented religion that is based on murder and destruction.

The fourth task is for the Arabs to adopt a single perspective on the volatile regional conditions that create a violent climate in which terrorist groups and movements thrive and transmit their toxic ideas to the rest of the world. In this framework, perhaps the most important step Arab leaders should take is to agree on a “charter” for restoring stability to this region by settling current conflicts. This charter, which we have discussed in this column and elsewhere on previous occasions, would rest on several principles:

1- The states of this region that emerged as the product of historical developments in the 20th century were meant to stay, and all alternatives that promote partition will only perpetuate violence and the spread of terrorism.

2- The government of the nation state is the sole entity that is legitimately entitled to monopolise the means of force within its borders. There can be no place for militias or paramilitary entities; no army but that of the state.

3- There must be an interim phase in which elections are held (under an appropriate form of international supervision) in conflict-riven Arab states, to create constituent assemblies to draw up constitutions that guarantee human rights, provide for the separation of powers and the rotation of authority, and safeguard the rights of ethnic and religious minorities within an appropriate framework for decentralisation.

4- The international community and the Arab states shall work to ensure a peaceful transition from the current miseries to conditions conducive to stability and cooperation. Perhaps the Arabs could best underscore the credibility of their resolutions by demonstrating their readiness to take part directly in the elimination of terrorist organisations or in peacekeeping efforts during the interim period.

5- Resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict at its heart is an integral part of building stability in the region. In this regard, Israel has a golden opportunity to reach a comprehensive, just and lasting peace that will guarantee its national security and the security of its people. That opportunity resides in the implementation of the Arab Peace Initiative which has been embraced by the regional and international orders.

Undoubtedly, the Arab Summit in Amman will be in a race with time in order to accomplish all the abovementioned tasks. However, the summit can formulate the broader frameworks while follow-through mechanisms can be developed during subsequent scheduled communications. Actually, some mechanisms already exist and maybe all that is required is to stimulate them and put them into action. Perhaps, too, this would be the best response to Washington and London’s message.

The writer is chairman of the board, CEO and director of the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies.

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