"I can’t say there’s agreement on the proposal by some Gulf states to suspend Syria’s membership in the Arab League," said one league official who spoke to Al-Ahram Online as Arab foreign ministers made their way to the pan-Arab organisation’s Cairo headquarters.
According to the official, a proposal made by the six member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – which includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Oman – has met with opposition from several league members. "Some are opposed to it, while others simply don’t support it," the official said of the proposal.
A lunch hosted on Sunday by Qatari Foreign Minister and Prime Minister Hamed Ben Jassem at a top Cairo hotel had been intended to garner support for the initiative, but Gulf sources acknowledge that an agreement on the issue between league members will be difficult to conclude.
The Arab League meeting, which began at 7:30pm after a two-hour delay, could end up adopting a decision to open dialogue with Syria’s opposition-led transitional council. "We’re not talking about recognising the council, but about allowing league officials to talk with its members," the official explained.
Arab League Secretary-General Nabil El-Arabi has already been publicly rebuked by Damascus for having met with representatives of the Syrian opposition. He has since bowed to the wishes of Damascus, declining to formally receive opposition representatives.
El-Arabi did, however, delegate a member of his cabinet to meet with the many Syrian opposition figures that have recently visited Cairo to rally support against the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.
Sunday’s Arab League meeting is expected to reiterate calls for the Syrian regime to halt the use of violence against demonstrators or else face collective Arab action. But one Syrian diplomat told Al-Ahram Online that his country would likely receive support from fellow member states that consider such declarations as interference Syria’s internal affairs.
According to Arab diplomats, the Arab League will only ratchet up pressure on Syria when there is a better idea of who will replace Al-Assad, or, in the words of one diplomat, "when the international community is ready to take some serious steps against the Syrian regime."
Western diplomats in Cairo, for their part, tell Ahram Online that there is no obvious replacement for Al-Assad – yet. Syria’s transitional council, they add, is neither serious enough nor truly representative. Nor, said one Western diplomat, "has it found consensus within itself."
Ahram Online has also learned that GCC delegations are expected to use the Arab League meeting to air fears of alleged Iranian machinations. Saudi Arabia is expected to share its concern over an alleged Iranian plot to assassinate a Saudi ambassador to the US; Bahrain is expected to complain about Iran’s alleged instigation of its Shia majority against the ruling Sunni minority; and Kuwait is expected to provide "evidence" of alleged Iranian espionage.
It remains unclear, however, whether the league will adopt a GCC-proposed resolution calling on Iran to refrain from interfering in the affairs of GCC member states.