It’s true that the upcoming Arab Summit in Riyadh [Scheduled for March 28-29] is expected to spark and shift around the stagnancy and gridlock that surrounds the issues in Iraq, Lebanon and Iran – which has now become a fellow member of the Arab nation – but we must acknowledge that the capacity for the persistence of the problems has been greater than the ability for solutions to elicit any change. Still, a little optimism will do no harm.
Within a historical context, the Riyadh summit is part of a long line of Arab conferences that have been held ever since the Arabs discovered the concept as a mechanism through which they could discuss their affairs and problems – much of which has remained unchanged. There are some exceptions, however, some crises ended in resolution such as Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, the Egyptian unilateral Camp David treaty with Israel during Sadat’s era, in addition to putting an end to various intra-Arab wars, such as the war in Lebanon and Jordan’s war with Palestinian fedayeen or guerrillas [members of the Palestinian Liberation Organization PLO] in Black September.
However, apart from the aforementioned cases, the agenda has been the same. The Palestinian cause has taken the uncontested lead in the top Arab summits since the Egyptian Anshas Summit held in Alexandria, held during the reign of the late Egyptian King Farouk on 28th May 1946, unto the March 2006 Arab summit held in Khartoum. And yet, there is still no ‘real solution’ proposed for the Palestinian issue, only sedatives and statements and proclamations of solidarity that simmer down to nothing in the end. Moreover, when Arab leaders did actually suggest initiatives that were realistic and useful for the Palestinians, it took no time for countries afflicted with ‘chronic’ rejection to make themselves heard, as was the case after the famous initiative proposed by King Fahd in Fez, Moroccan in November 1981. The aforementioned summit ended five hours after it began because Syria had rejected King Fahd’s initiative to resolve the Middle East crisis beforehand – notwithstanding that the fact that decision was made before the summit even took place.
But why do we hold summits when it has been almost 60 years now that we have discussed the same causes and still fail to arrive at any solutions? In fact, we are lagging further in terms of the Palestinian cause, the notion of Arab solidarity, the Arab Common Market (ACM) and in strengthening Arab unity ¬– and all other such big talk We find that Arab summits have not accomplished anything worth mentioning except when it comes to addressing specific or emergency issues after which the required decisions were bolstered with support and the needed amassing while all circumstances were appropriated to serve the causes.
Cairo’s famous August 1990 summit is a prime example, when Saddam invaded Kuwait and came so close to the Saudi border that he nearly lit a match in the Gulf’s oil reserves. During this time, the Cairo summit issued a number of firm stances in rejection of Saddam’s occupation of Kuwait and started the process of forcibly removing him from Kuwait – despite the existence of a camp that wanted to postpone the issue claiming the need for an Arab solution. Some Arab leaders nearly turned the Kuwaiti crisis into a chronic one like the one in Palestine, however King Fahd’s firmness and President Hosni Mubarak’s strict administration coupled with the danger and enormity of the crisis – or rather, the catastrophe that could not withstand any delays – it ended in the liberation of Kuwait and the expulsion of Saddam’s army. At the time, the intervention of the US army wasn’t deemed a grave matter and neither did the Arabs sever relations with Riyadh or Cairo. Times of necessity allow the forbidden and former boycotts have not achieved anything, not with Egypt nor with any other country.
Does this article aim to highlight the futility of Arab summits? Not at all. But one wonders what would have been the case of the Arabs had made use of 60 year of Arab summits, since the Anshas Summit to make the decision to be more focused, realistic and to tackle more specific and practical issues. The issues need not be political, yes, politics invariably imposes itself but it would be good if issues related to the economy, political development and the development of the Arab society were granted a degree of importance and an equivalent, or even comparable, degree of the urgency that is ascribed to other fateful Arab causes.
Undoubtedly, the situation in the Arab region is presently tense (when was it ever stable!); the situation in Iraq is frustrating and Lebanon stands at the mouth of a volcano – although it is currently inactive. Syria is struggling to come out of its siege and Ahmadinejad’s Iran is readying for a confrontation – let alone Sudan and the Darfur tribunal that could topple the leaders in the Sudanese regime. So what else remains? Yes, add Somalia and the Islamic Courts’ war and Ethiopia, Yemen and the al Houthi rebellion that is backed by the Iranian regime, and others as some believe, and others and others…
These are all major issues so when will we have the time to raise issues related to economic, political, social and educational reforms, topics that are always postponed or addressed in a tangential manner. The problem is they have been postponed for over half a century now!
If you want to be realistic, you cannot ignore the significance of the running war in Iraq or the impending one in Iran or the one Syria fears. You cannot underestimate the importance of these wars or call upon Arab countries to postpone discussing related issues – particularly the key players such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and even Morocco. Furthermore, if being realistic is what you’re after then you must acknowledge that problems involve Arabs, or some Arab parties to be more precise. For example, the Iraqi problem involves Iran as the most implicated regional player while the US and Britain have the leading roles in the crisis. In Lebanon, Israel is a major regional player since Hezbollah and its armament are deemed to be vital issues for Israel – let alone the United States. Such is the case with Somali and Ethiopian relationships which are certainly far more important, for example, than Kuwait’s relationship with the problem in Somalia, and yet this same issue is an important one for some Arab countries such as Yemen.
The Arab world is not uniform in terms of concerns and interests. Accordingly, there is no purely Arab action. There are Arab parties that are directly concerned with certain issues and other Arab parties, such as Mauritania, that are indirectly concerned with these same issues. We should not equate between Saudi Arabia and Egypt on the one hand, in terms of their degree of interest in the Iraqi or Lebanese issue, and another distant party such as Iran on the other hand.
This boils down to the fact that even in political matters, realism and not falling into the trap of slogans along with the awareness of the true size of action, roles and capabilities is the primary key to creating a solution or approaching one.
In all cases and despite the awareness of the gravity of the political issues, the question remains: What would happen if we were to focus on a particular issue and try to resolve it rather than the inclusion and vagueness that weakens the joint efforts? What if we were to conserve all energy and use it in dismantling a single issue? What if the summit were to address the issue of stability in Iraq, only that, and back it with the necessary funding and politics to reach the problem at its root? Or if we sought to be more humble, what if another summit were held to tackle educational reform or even the environmental issues?
If these summits cannot take place because of the ‘fateful moment’ or the ‘historical crossroads’ through which the Arab world is passing through, then how about holding two summits; one for the crucial matters and another for the less fateful ones such as education, economy and the environment?! However to say, as did Mr. Amr Moussa in a previous interview in ‘Al-Hayat’ newspaper, that the current Arab summit will not be a “a summit of statements” and that it will tackle “all” the issues raised in the Arab world (Al-Hayat 13th March 2007), then this would indicate that it will come to nothing. Attempting to resolve everything means resolving nothing!
As I had mentioned at the beginning of the article: optimism is the oxygen in life and we must live. There are enough reasons in the world to make living worthwhile, as Mahmoud Darwish once said [renowned Palestinian poet]. Thus we say that the next Arab summit will be held in Riyadh, the capital of rationalism in Arab regional politics, under the leadership of King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz who presented the Arab Peace Initiative – the same honest and frank man who sponsored the conciliation between Hamas and Fatah. In the presence of these factors there is a revival of hope. We hope that the Riyadh summit will prove to be different because times have changed and the different challenges require different efforts.
As an Arab people, or at least for the younger generation, we deserve much better circumstances than what we have. If it hadn’t been for our ‘immortal’ penchant for erring – and then repeating these mistakes down to the details – coupled with our aversion to frankness and our submission to sentimentality, you’d think that perhaps we deserve the failures that have afflicted us, which it’s something we’ve earned. But maybe our path will lead to light one day – the path to hope is paved with pain. Or so we like to dream.