Arab League chief Ahmed Abul-Gheit says that Arab countries need to make a concerted effort to counter outside meddling in their internal affairs, and that an Arab Summit in Riyadh scheduled for mid-April will help resolve crises and tensions in the region as well as discuss counterterrorism efforts and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In an interview with Al-Ahram daily newspaper’s editor-in-chief Alaa Thabet on Wednesday, the Arab League secretary-general and former Egyptian foreign minister said "I am optimistic the Riyadh summit will create a new momentum similar to the momentum we have seen towards the Palestinian issue, which was reflected in active Arab moves to support the Palestinian people vis-a-vis the pressures they have been facing from the recent stances of the American administration and the continued intransigence of the Israeli side.”
Aboul-Gheit added that the Arab states will seek to prevent Israel from gaining a rotating seat on the UN Security Council during the summit.
Foreign interference in Arab affairs
Egypt and Arab allies have accused Turkey, Iran and its Lebanese Shia ally Hezbollah of interfering in their internal affairs.
Abul-Gheit says Iran's growing influence in the region is "very dangerous and involves clear threats to Arab national security," but explains that he understands Turkey's wish to combat what it sees as threats to its domestic security by Kurdish fighters on its southern border.
Nevertheless, he says, Arab states must combat Ankara's interventions in the region to avoid any "possible long-term repercussions on Arab countries."
He also urged Iran and Turkey to change their policy of meddling in the internal affairs of the Arab countries, saying this would lead the region to a "critical juncture."
"Egypt should not face such interference on its own. There must be a strong Arab coalition that backs Egypt's vision of achieving balance in the relationship between the Arab region and its neighbours."
Al-Ahram daily news paper editor-in-chief Alaa Thabet interviews Arab League chief Abul-Gheit (Photo: Al-Ahram)
Egypt’s regional role
Abul-Gheit said that he believes that after 2013, Egypt has returned to its active role in the Arab world, adding, however, that the country is not required to shoulder the task of facing the dangers in the area alone on behalf of Arabs.
Restoring Egypt's central role in the region will come through strengthening the country economically and activating its role in the area through its soft cultural and intellectual power and eradicating terrorism.
"In my opinion, President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi’s vision and his qualitatively transformative policies in Egypt make him one of the greatest leaders who will contribute to Egyptian society for decades and maybe centuries, especially in the area of infrastructure."
Abu-Gheit added that he believes that in El-Sisi’s second term, Egypt needs a comprehensive and rigorous project to eradicate illiteracy and slums to improve the standard of living of Egyptians.
He said that to improve its economy and ensure security at home, Egypt needs to "step up production, bring stability and combat terrorism," adding that Cairo will need political backing from other Arab states who share the same vision.
Arab League's role and financial straits
Abul-Gheit, who has chaired the 22-member Arab League since March 2016, said that over the past two years, he has aimed to bolster the organisation's role, which he says has waned following the 2011 Arab Spring unrest.
During his tenure, the league has formed an international four-body group comprising the Arab League, the United Nations, the African Union and the European Union in an effort to ease a humanitarian disaster in Libya. The Arab League has also named a special representative for Libyan affairs and adopted new channels of communication with UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura.
The league also continues to play an active role in monitoring elections in member states, addressing humanitarian issues, migration, refugees and safeguarding human rights and supporting Arab civil society organisations.
Abul-Gheit says the league's cash shortage has crippled it on many levels, making it difficult for the organisation to conduct humanitarian activities and at times even pay the salaries of its employees.
He partially attributes the crisis to the delay or failure by some members states to pay their share of the league’s almost $60 million annual budget. He says the league has been receiving only around 50 percent of the funds needed for the proposed budget in recent years.
He added that Iran and Turkey’s questioning of the efficacy of the Arab League is aimed at "undermining the interests of the Arab states."
Abul-Gheit, who served as Egypt’s foreign minister during the last seven years of former president Hosni Mubarak’s rule, says the biggest challenge facing Arab states is dealing with the considerable repercussions of the Arab Spring, which he said has cost the region's economies more than $600 billion and unleashed an influx of millions of refugees and migrants.
He urged concerted efforts between Arab countries to rebuild war-torn areas in the region and use the league’s expertise and its network of Arab governments, organisations and international allies to do so.