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Few official Arab speeches carry any important content; whereas the bulk of what is said in our Arab meetings is nothing but rhetoric, with no real meaning. However, the speech issued by Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi Foreign Minister, during the Extraordinary Arab Summit in Libya, was both different and historic. Al-Faisal was straightforward in his approach, he called things by their names, and this is what we need, as Arabs, rather than empty slogans.

This approach was apparent when al-Faisal spoke about his country’s opinion, regarding the initiative for Arab states to ‘open up’ to neighboring countries. He said, on the subject of the initiative: “We see it as stemming from a sense of erosion in the regional role of the Arab system, in its area of influence, and its status, compared to an increase in the role of some other countries, not to mention the continued Israeli challenge…” This is the correct interpretation; the Arab role has eroded, not only because we are faced with Israel, but also with Iran.

He spoke with confidence, due to his experience and significant political reputation. He said: “What do they want from this ‘neighboring countries initiative’? I do not understand what the Secretary-General wants. Would you open up to Iran, when they encroach on our territory, seize upon Arab political decisions, and fuel conflicts between us? We are in a state of weakness, yes, but to open up to Iran at this time, this is a fatal error”.

Al-Faisal confirmed this viewpoint, speaking on behalf of his country, when he stressed the need to get the Arab house in order first [before opening up to other countries in the region]. This was to be achieved through hard work, abiding by the resolutions issued by Arab summits, and being aware of the gravity of what is happening in our countries, which is clear for everyone to see. In Iraq, Iran is interfering to disrupt the formation of the government, because they seek to appoint a pro-Iranian candidate, rather than the choice of the voters. This is a clear and shameful infringement on the political process in Iraq. The case is the same in Lebanon, and when we consider what Hassan Nasrallah says these days, this is evidence enough of Iranian involvement, not to mention their fueling of the Palestinian division, by supporting Hamas. The issue does not end here; Iran also interferes in Yemen, and occupies islands belonging to the UAE. Furthermore, Iranian finances are penetrating many Gulf States, and their espionage networks have been discovered in the region.

Therefore, it is not logical to propose that the Arab world open itself up to neighboring countries, and what is meant here, of course, is Iran, at a time when Tehran is considered one of the most prominent causes of instability in the region. Hence the importance of al-Faisal’s words, and their sincerity, especially when he claimed that the expected forthcoming events in Sudan were more important for the Arabs, rather than irrationally getting preoccupied with neighboring countries. He told his audience frankly: “Arab League members cannot justify sitting on the fence, regarding what is happening in Sudan”. He added “In our view neither the interest of Sudan nor those of the rival parties can be achieved by the dangerous move of division. We must help Sudan to overcome this risk, but also ensure that the referendum will be fair, and without pressures, should it lead, God forbid, to ominous results”.

Therefore, it would be useful for the Arabs to deal with their own problems first, before offering concessions to Iran which does not deserve to be rewarded. This is the truth, even if upsetting, and it leads us to say with gratitude, to Saud al-Faisal: Thank you, Foreign Minister.

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. Mr. Alhomyed has been a guest analyst and commentator on numerous news and current affair programs, and during his distinguished career has held numerous positions at Asharq Al-Awsat, amongst other newspapers. Notably, he was the first journalist to interview Osama Bin Ladin's mother. Mr. Alhomayed holds a bachelor's degree in media studies from King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah. He is based in London.

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