For the last nine and a half years, the Arab world has failed to have a determining say in how Arab crises and conflicts unfolded. Most Arab countries stood almost helpless before the Arab drama of countries torn apart, and Syria is a crying example, with Arab people either displaced, killed, maimed or seeking asylum in foreign lands. In some cases, they became silent numbers among those drowned in the Mediterranean while escaping the countries of their fathers and grandfathers.
The near absence of Arab countries from international and regional efforts to search for permanent solutions to these crises and conflicts made it easy for regional powers to shape the outcomes and the destinies of Arab lands and people. It is no wonder that the Astana Process comprises Russia, Turkey and Iran, and these three powers have been trying for the last three years to shape the future of Syria without the presence of any Arab power.
Sadly enough, the future of the Middle East has been discussed, debated and is being negotiated at the expense of Arab interests and future security.
The Arab League is another absentee from international and regional deliberation concerning Arab questions. However, Libya is an exception for the Arab League has partnered with both the European Union and the African Union in a joint effort to push for a negotiated solution to the intractable Libyan question, which the United Nations has warned lately could trigger a regional war.
This near Arab paralysis is unprecedented. Previously, the Arabs had mustered enough political will coupled with a common vision to deal with a myriad of threats and challenges to their independence and national security. That coincided, historically, with an active Arab policy by Egypt. Egyptian diplomacy had been proactive at dangerous crossroads in modern Arab history. In 1961, Egypt was behind the decision to send Arab peacekeeping forces to the Kuwaiti borders with Iraq after the latter, under the Abdel-Karim Kassam government, threatened to invade. Nine years later, Egypt under the leadership of late president Gamal Abdel-Nasser called for an emergency Arab summit to defuse the Jordanian-Palestinian crisis that could have pitted the Jordanian army against Palestinian national liberation forces in Jordan.
Egypt hosted in 1990 another summit to deal with the catastrophic Iraqi invasion of Kuwait that had taken place 2 August the same year.
In the last nine and a half years, Egyptian diplomacy has faced serious challenges to which it allocated almost all of its resources, let alone the internal political situation up to 2014. After the election of present Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, we could argue that Egypt has become more involved in Arab affairs based on the perception that Egyptian national security cannot be delinked from the national security of other Arab countries. We have seen how Egypt has taken a firm stand on the Libyan question, and how the Egyptian president let it be known that Cairo could intervene militarily in Libya under certain circumstances that could develop into a major threat along its western borders.
On 27 July, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faysal Bin Farhan paid a visit to Cairo where he held talks with the Egyptian president as well as Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry. His visit came in the context of a tour in North Africa that included Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.
Judging from the statements he made in the capitals he visited, it seems that Saudi Arabia is trying to elaborate a joint Arab position against growing Turkish meddling, mainly in Libya, along with other Arab countries like Syria and Iraq.
The Saudi efforts are welcome by Egypt and other North African countries, save the Libyan Government of National Accord based in Tripoli — a government whose will has been superseded by Turkish dictates.
The recent Arab awakening could become a driver for the implementation of UN Security Council resolutions pertaining to Libya and other Arab crises. Needless to say, the road would be relatively bumpy, for the regional powers that have held sway during the last decade in Arab affairs would not welcome easily the return of a more proactive Arab diplomacy. These regional powers have enjoyed a free hand for a long period of time, meddling dangerously in Arab countries. Still, there is no other alternative before the Arabs if they are really serious in regaining the initiative in finding permanent Arab solutions for Arab conflicts.
Libya is a good starting point on this path. If the neighbouring countries of Libya with the weight of Saudi Arabia could come together, once again, to broker a negotiated political solution to the Libyan question, that could be tried elsewhere in the Arab world — particularly in Syria. For this to succeed, Arab countries, or some of them, particularly in the Gulf, should think seriously hard about dropping their grievances and objections to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.
In the not-too-distant past, the Arabs were always successful in marshalling enough political will to find quick solutions to problems that could develop into major conflicts if kept unresolved. The Arabs have a chance today to try and muster enough political will to turn the page of their paralysis in the last nine and a half years. For this to materialise, Egypt should take the initiative in sustained diplomatic efforts across the Arab world. It should seek common denominators with other Arab countries, and its objectives should be in complete alignment with resolutions adopted by the Security Council related to the crises and conflicts that have been raging — unnecessarily — across the Arab world.
The writer is former assistant foreign minister.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 6 August, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly