A lethargic Arab League – what else is new?

This past week the Arab League met with Kuwait at Bayan palace. Thirteen heads of Arab states attended the summit, including the Kuwait Amir, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Adly Mansour and Qatar's Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al- Thani. Other states whose heads were absent sent their high-ranking delegations to the summit.

That fact in itself is notable due to the rift in the GCC. Out of the GCC, the attending state representatives, besides the Qatari Emir, the rest of the delegations consisted of the following. The UAE was represented by His Highness Shaikh Hamad Bin Mohammad Al Sharqi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Fujairah. Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah will be represented by Crown Prince Salman Bin Abdul Aziz. Oman, whose leader Sultan Qaboos normally stays away from summits, dispatched his special envoy, while Bahrain sent the crown prince, Salman Bin Hamad Al Khalifa.

Kuwait Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah inaugurated the opening ceremony by urging for closer ties between Arab states. He stated that “This summit was held in difficult circumstances regionally and internationally. So it's very important to stand united and coordinate our policy for the sake of regional prosperity and security.”

Consequently, the theme of the summit, “Unity for a Better Future” is meant to target the Syrian crisis and the Palestinian cause. The Amir also argued that in regard to the stalled Palestinian issue, listed as the second session of the summit, “it's been the major challenge in Arab region, we'll continue to support the Palestinians.”

Both issues are continuing to flounder. Unfortunately, the Syrian seat at the summit was vacant since its membership has been suspended since 2011. And, as usual, the Arab League, while pronouncing support for the Palestinian causes, remains stalled in action.

Rift over the Muslim Brotherhood

Of interest, of course, too many observers, was whether the inter-GCC rift over Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood would burst into the open. Obviously, the presence of only Qatar’s Amir Tamim and no other GCC leader illustrated the seriousness of the divide. Two weeks before in a meeting in another Middle East country, Saudi Arabia had asked other Arab states to outlaw the “terrorist” Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan).

Syria’s problems and individual pleas from the Syrian opposition and the Saudis for help went unheeded, illustrating that the Arab League, when it comes to tough issues, is a debate club as well as a house divided.

Dr. Theodore Karasik

The Ikwan is at the center of the current deep division growing in the GCC and spreading into MENA. Consequently, the Muslim Brotherhood issue was kept off the agenda but the effects of the tensions could be seen in attendance of other Gulf members. As Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabeel Fahmi said, it would not be possible to forge a compromise with Qatar during the Arab League summit because “the wound is too deep.”

To drive the point home further, Kuwait’s foreign ministry undersecretary Khalid Al Jarallah also said the dispute between Qatar and its neighbors would “be resolved within the Gulf house,” not at the Arab summit.

Syria’s problems and individual pleas from the Syrian opposition and the Saudis for help went unheeded, illustrating that the Arab League, when it comes to tough issues, is a debate club as well as a house divided. Syrian National Coalition president Ahmed Jarba urged the Arabs to supply rebels with “sophisticated weapons.”

Saudi crown prince Salman bin Abdel-Aziz, whose country has financed and armed rebels, accused the world of “betraying” them by denying them weaponry to change the balance of forces on the ground. U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi, however, pressed for an end to the flow of arms to Syria, while Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi said the organization has “nothing to do with providing the Syrian opposition with weapons.”

Inaction on Palestinian issue

On the Palestinian issue, there still existed the same old tired language from previous Arab League meetings. The Arab League gave full support for Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in U.S-brokered talks with Israel, backed the creation of a Palestinian state within the ceasefire lines of 1967 and expressed “total rejection of the call to consider Israel as a Jewish state.”

Overall, the Kuwait Summit focused on major issues but with little more than just words, not actions. The final communiqué stated “We condemn in the strongest terms the massacres and the mass killing committed by the Syrian regime's forces against the unarmed people.” The Arab League cited the 2012 Geneva declaration that called for a ceasefire, release of political prisoners, and a peaceful transfer of power.

The echoes of this failed process for the Arab League to be a mediator in the Syrian mess is simply not an option. So what else is new? Where are the actions necessary to clean-up the geopolitical mess in the Arab League states? The Arab League seems to be more of a cadaver requiring a serious and extensive post-mortem.



Dr. Theodore Karasik is the Director of Research and Consultancy at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) in Dubai, UAE. He is also a Lecturer at University of Wollongong Dubai. Dr. Karasik received his Ph.D in History from the University of California Los Angles.

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:41 - GMT 06:41
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