The history of attendance by state leaders at Arab League summits

Ahram Online , Sunday 15 Apr 2018

Arab leaders gathered for the 29th Arab Summit that took place in the city of Dhahran in Eastern Saudi Arabia (AFP)

The 29th Arab Summit took place in the city of Dhahran in Eastern Saudi Arabia, where 16 out of 22 Arab leaders participated.

Ever since the first Arab Summit in Inshas (in El-Sharkia, Egypt) in May 1946, very few summits have seen attendance from all Arab leaders.

As such, the Dhahran gathering, which King Salman dubbed the "Jerusalem Summit" after suggestions from other Arab leaders, is not the only summit that has had absent leaders.

Both Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika and the UAE's Sheik Khalifa Bin Zayed excused themselves due to health reasons, and the President of the Algerian Council of the Nation and the leader of the Emirate of Dubai took their places, respectively.

Moreover, the Sultan of Oman Qaboos bin Said and the King of Morocco Mohamed VI were not present because they have never participated in Arab Summits outside their home countries. They often send high ranking officials such as a minister or a deputy prime minister in their place.

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, who was usually keen to attend the Arab summits before the Arab Spring, could not participate in this summit due to the suspension of his country's membership in 2011 over its crackdown on pro-democracy protests.

Syria's membership still remains frozen, even though there is no explicit Arab objection to Al-Assad's survival in office as part of a political solution to the Syrian crisis.

Qatar's Permanent Representative to the Arab League, Seif Bin Al-Moqadem Abo Al-Anein, also took the Emir's place in the Summit, which came 10 months after several Arab Gulf states as well as Egypt cut ties with Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorist groups. 

It is often rare when all Arab leaders participate in Arab summits.

At the Inshas Summit in 1946, the Egyptian King Farouk, the Jordanian King Abdullah I, and the Yemeni King Hamid Al-Din were present.

Saudi Arabia was represented by its Crown Prince Aznak Saud Bin Abd Al-Aziz and Iraq was represented by its Guardian of the Throne Prince Abdullah. In addition to these five leaders, both the Syrian and Lebanese presidents were present.

At the second summit, which took place in Beirut in 1956, nine leaders participated after Libya and Sudan gained their independence.

All the Arab leaders took part in the 1964 summit in Cairo, which the late leader Gamal Abdel-Nasser called for. At the time, the number of Arab states had increased to 13 after Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria and Kuwait became independent. Additionally, Palestine joined the summit that took place in Alexandria later that year.

Ever since that summit, no other future summit had full participation from all Arab leaders. At the following summit in Casablanca in 1965, only 12 leaders participated.

Despite the fact that the 1967 Khartoum summit was held to display Arab steadfastness after the Six-Day War, Syria still abstained from partaking.

Damascus would again abstain from the 1970 Cairo summit, which was held to end the fighting between the Jordanian government and Palestinian factions, and this time Iraq, Algeria and Morocco also decided not to join.

At the 1973 Algeria summit, in which Mauritania joined the League, the list of boycotters included Libya and Iraq.

In the 1974 Rabat summit, Somalia joined the League, but still not all Arab leaders participated.

But the great schism was at the Baghdad summit of 1978, which was attended by only 10 countries along with the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) because of the widespread disagreement over Egypt's signing of the Camp David Accords with Israel.

This in turn resulted in Egypt's suspension from the Arab League and as such the countrdid not participate in most of the summits that took place in the 1980s.

Egypt's absence remained until its return at the Casablanca emergency summit in 1989.

Since then, no suspension had taken place until Syria was suspended in 2011.

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