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Light Diplomacy | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Anyone who thinks that Amr Musa’s diplomacy will resolve the crisis in Lebanon is dreaming. In today’s world diplomacy can not be successful without power to support and consolidate it. I wonder, what are the elements of power on which Amr Musa relies in his repeated visits to Lebanon?

It cannot be denied that the man comes and goes without any power to support all his initiatives and maneuvers other than what can be called “shame politics”.

Diplomacy means that the negotiator holds the cards to persuade and threaten, as we saw in the negotiations by Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, during the era of Saddam Hussein, and former US Secretary of State James Baker before the war to liberate Kuwait and as we also witnessed between the British and Irish negotiators. A diplomat without power to support him is like a public relations man whom no one takes seriously. The Lebanese crisis needs diplomacy supported by power.

Amr Musa is not Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary General, behind whom stands a strong UN Security Council that can adopt war-and-peace decisions, has peacekeeping forces, and can impose sanctions, as it did few days ago on Iran. Despite all this, the United Nations is considered as a weak institution. There are those who call for restructuring it because it is no longer suitable for the post-World War II conditions.

Amr Musa does not have any of these resources, and the Arab League is not the place to resolve major problems.

Since its establishment in 1945, the Arab League has been merely a forum for meetings and coordination of stances. Neither I, nor anyone else in my generation remembers any significant role for the Arab League. The only scene we remember is that of the flying plates in the Arab League hall on the day when the summit was convened following Saddam’s occupation of Kuwait in 1990.

Thorny issues, such as Lebanon’s, need bilateral and quadripartite alliances supported by comprehensive powers capable of solving the problem. Until this moment both the Arab and western stances have not reached a degree of seriousness sufficient to compel the Lebanese sects to solve the problem. It seems that the Lebanese are happy to be the center of the world attention.

Some of them do not want anything besides this role, because not solving the problem will keep Lebanon and its sects in the spotlight. The world now knows Nabih Birri, Hassan Nasrallah, Al-Siniora, and Jumblatt, the stars of the crisis. Lebanon is important as long as there are “people going to and fro.” The repeated visits by Amr Musa are part of the strategy of focusing the light on Lebanon; when Musa visits, he drags behind him cameras, television stations, and “all what is required.”

Solving the problem in Lebanon lies in resorting to “rough” diplomacy supported by real power. The destructive chaos in Lebanon after the civil war was not resolved in the corridors of the Arab League, but it was resolved by the Saudis in Al-Taif.

There is no need for the Arab League secretary general to give a deceptive impression that his role is important and that he is capable of solving the problem. In the absence of power to support them, the many moves by Musa have become a part of the problem rather than a part of the solution.

There is another important factor behind the preservation of the pending problems in our region, namely that Arab politics has not reached a degree of maturity that allows frankness and the facing up to these problems. Today, we have a Saudi-Syrian dispute, a Syrian-Egyptian dispute, and a Saudi-Egyptian-Jordanian coordination over which suspicions prevail. Quite clearly, what is required is that the Egyptians and the Saudis talk to Syria frankly. If Syria is the one with its grip on the neck of Lebanon – in my opinion, today Syria is not the main player in the Lebanese equation – Iran plays the stronger role through Hezbollah.

Also the United States does not really confront Iran, because it establishes a dialogue with the Iranians about Iraq, and “tackles them gently” about the issue of Lebanon. The Arabs are doing the same thing; here is the Iranian Foreign Minister touring the Arab countries, and Ahmadinejad visiting an Arab capital on a daily basis. Has all this “amicability” resolved the issue of Lebanon whose most important cards are undoubtedly held by Iran?

After the liberation of Kuwait, the Arab world was relying on the Egyptian-Syrian-Saudi triangle. Indeed there was a reliable Egyptian-Syrian-Saudi triangle. However, now we are talking about bilateral and Egyptian-Saudi coordination. Frankly, if indeed there is coordination, this will be a unique alliance, because Egypt has the manpower, diplomatic weight, and armies, and Saudi Arabia has immense financial resources and an extremely important spiritual status. Combining Egypt and Saudi Arabia in a serious alliance will turn the balance upside-down in the region.

However, unfortunately the closer the Saudis and the Egyptians get to each other, the stronger their obsession with their own roles gets; as Saudi Arabia sponsors the Mecca agreement, the Egyptian newspapers scream announcing that the role of Egypt will not be eroded, a Saudi writes in the Al-Itihad newspaper about the retreat of the Egyptian role, and so on. The point here is that both the Egyptian and the Saudi sides ought to clean and disinfect these pimples before we can talk about Saudi-Egyptian coordination over the major issues. Relations that become tense because of a traffic incident in Cairo or an accident befalling an Egyptian in Riyadh certainly are not of the caliber of the British-US relations.

As for the Syrians, this is another story. Anyone who knows the nature of the Arab-Arab relations feels certain that Syria will come back to be a side of the Saudi-Egyptian triangle, and that its relations with Iran are not permanent. However, the question is: When will each of Egypt and Saudi Arabia need Syria, and when will Syria need Egypt and Saudi Arabia? If they are going to close their ranks in two or three years, frankly this will be a meaningless unity. The major international opportunity is today. There is an offer on the table to resolve the Palestinian issue once and for all and there is an offer related to the Golan Heights. These two offers might not come back until seven more years have passed, after the new US president learns that the Middle East issue is an important one.

The Damascus summit ought to convene on its scheduled time, and the Arab leaders have to confront each other in Damascus. The summit is an opportunity to put an end to the existing state of deterioration. Moreover, the respect for the dates and venues of convening the summits is what gives joint Arab action institutional credibility. Diplomatic moves only for the sake of moves are not enough. A move is not always a blessing. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem is distributing the invitations to the summit while he knows the depth of the disputes and the strength of rejection; and Amr Musa is distributing hopes on the television screens while he knows that the solution is difficult to achieve. Today, the Arabs are in a crisis, and there is no need to prevaricate about this. It is a crisis that neither Musa nor Al-Muallem can resolve or move forward.

Today, the message to the Arabs is: If you do not confront the reality of the disputes and talk without shyness about their core and not their appearances, there will be no point in concerning yourselves with the slogans of false Arab coordination, or in blaming any Arab country for acting according to its narrow national interests.