Tunis – The annual meeting of the Council of Arab Interior Ministers, which was lately held in the Tunisian capital, gathered high-level security, military and political delegations from all Arab states, some of which were headed by prime ministers, vice-premiers, or ministers.
While official speeches mainly focused on fighting terrorism and supporting the Palestinian people, intra-Arab disputes over the stance towards Iran and other controversial issues prevailed over backstage talks and closed sessions.
Disagreements arose between those who reject Iran’s interference in Syria, Yemen and countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) on one side, and political and military groups, which support the Persian State and its allies, on the other side.
The concept of terrorism was another subject of disagreement, and has clearly shown that Arab states have been divided into well-defined regional hubs.
Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi did not attend the opening session of the 34th meeting of Arab Interior Ministers’ Council to avoid being directly involved in a gathering that has seen regional and international disputes over the relations with Iran, the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine, Houthi rebels in Yemen and Shiite militias of Iraq.
When it came to fighting terrorism, a major point of disagreement emerged over accusing Iran of sponsoring terrorism and labeling Hezbollah as a “terrorist organization”.
During last year’s meeting of interior ministers, some countries refused to sign the final statement, as it pointed to Iran as a sponsor of terrorism. However, the subsequent Arab League Summit has seen the majority of countries backing the final statement, especially with regards to the attack against the embassy of Saudi Arabia in Tehran.
While Tunisian officials tried to avoid speaking about internal disagreements, statements made by Gulf officials to reporters, as well as speeches during the meeting, have confirmed the presence of those disputes.
Officials from the Bahraini interior ministry described Iraq as a hotbed of terrorist militias accused of perpetrating terrorist attacks in Bahrain and other Arab countries. Interior ministers of Iraq, Lebanon and Algeria rejected such claims.
As Tunisia was keen on avoiding severe intra-Arab disputes during the high-level meeting, some countries have pointed out to Iranian threats against their internal security,
while other states warned against using the Iraqi territories to attack Bahrain and Gulf countries.
A “mini” Arab Summit
The Arab interior ministers’ meeting has developed into a quasi-extraordinary economic, security and military summit, as it has seen a high level representation even during the sideline talks. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz, who is also Saudi Arabia’s interior minister, headed the Kingdom’s delegation, while the Palestinian, Qatari and Kuwaiti delegations were presided by Premier and Interior Minister Rami Hamdallah, Premier and Interior Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani, and deputy Prime Minister Sheikh Khaled Al Jarrah Al Sabah respectively.
Palestine, the “Present Absentee”
Consensus over the need to condemn terrorist organizations acting in the name of Islam, including al-Qaeda, ISIS and Ansar al-Sharia, has not prevented a number of delegations, including Palestine, Lebanon, Algeria and Iraq, from focusing on the terrorism exerted by the Israeli authorities inside and outside the occupied Palestinian territories.
In this context, Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah said that fighting terrorism imposed by the Occupation State should top the priorities of the Arab Anti-Terrorism Strategy, which was ratified during the meeting of the Council of Arab Interior and Justice Ministers in Cairo, 20 years ago.
In parallel, the meeting of the Arab Interior Ministers Council coincided with the holding of Arab and international security, political and cultural demonstrations.
The Arab Organization for Education, Culture and Science (ALECSO) hosted a conference in Tunis on challenges facing Arab regional security, in the presence of Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit and a number of Arab and foreign diplomats.
Libya, Syria and Yemen
Although Syria’s seat in the meeting remained vacant, and despite the fact that Libya and Yemen had a shy representation, official and backstage discussions have shown that the terrorism phenomenon was exacerbated following Iraq’s invasion in 2003 that has led to the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime, and also in the wake of the 2011 “Revolutions”, which ousted the presidents of Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.
The majority of officials have agreed that wars and security chaos in some Arab states were also linked to international “agendas”.