The road ahead for the Arabs

Hussein Haridy
Friday 7 Jan 2022

The Arab world is still searching for consensus on the critical questions that face it, casting shadows on this year’s planned Arab Summit meeting in Algiers, writes Hussein Haridy

Algeria is expected to host the next regular Arab Summit meeting in March this year after a hiatus of two years. According to the Arab League Charter, regular Arab Summit meetings should be convened once a year.

Last year, the summit meeting did not take place, either for reasons related to the domestic political situation in Algeria or because of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, most probably other compelling reasons were responsible. 

There had been speculation that the Algerian government as the host of the summit was eager to invite Syria to resume its membership of the League, a desire that was not shared across the Arab world, particularly among some Gulf countries.

These countries believe that the reasons behind the suspension of Syria from the League in 2012 are still valid and that the Syrian government has not shown any political will to carry out UN Security Council Resolution 2254 of December 2015 on the political transition in Syria.

Other Arab countries preferred to stay on the fence without taking up any clear-cut position on whether to readmit Damascus to the Arab League or not.

At the same time, the situation in North Africa in general and the relations between Algeria and Morocco in particular were at a very low ebb. Developments in both Tunisia and Libya were complicated for different and unrelated reasons. 

Tunisia was in the midst of a struggle for power between the executive and the legislature. The situation was not much better in Libya, with a new government in place and ensuing jockeying for power in anticipation of general and presidential elections before the year’s end.

In the Middle East from Lebanon to Iraq and passing through Syria, political developments were no less complicated, with regional interference in the domestic affairs of all three countries rendering any political overtures and solutions next to impossible.

In Sudan, the democratic transition was proceeding by fits and starts, and in Yemen the civil war was still raging as part of a proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Notwithstanding the insecurity, the political instability and the complications of inter-Arab relations, Egypt and the Gulf countries after their reconciliation in January 2021 were possibly the only countries in the region enjoying a degree of security and stability high enough to allow them to concentrate on Arab questions. 

As mentioned above, these countries have seen eye-to-eye on most issues apart from the question of the readmission of Syria to the Arab League.

Today, the Arab world is still searching for consensus concerning the critical questions that face it. To make things more complicated, Algeria has severed diplomatic relations with Morocco. To make matters worse, the Moroccans have signed a security agreement with Israel that portends future instability between Algeria and Morocco and in North Africa in general.

The democratic transitions in Tunisia, Libya, Sudan, Lebanon and Iraq have been on shaky ground of late. The general and presidential elections that were supposed to take place on 24 December in Libya were postponed, for example, just three days before they should have been held. 

In Lebanon, the elections have been moved from March to May, provided no unforeseen developments take place pushing for their postponement. In Iraq, some pro-Iranian factions have refused to concede defeat at the ballot box in last year’s elections, and despite the Iraqi Supreme Court ruling last month that the election results were sound, these groups have still not accepted the popular verdict.

Three months before the Algiers Summit, if it is not postponed, the Arab countries still have not come up with new approaches to deal with old and persistent questions. The only bloc of Arab countries that has “more or less” come up with common positions in this regard are the member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

Last December, Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman toured the other member states of the GCC, and according to official statements after each of his five visits the Gulf countries will go to Algeria next March with coordinated positions on the various crises facing the Arab world. However, as far as the question of Syrian membership of the Arab League is concerned, I am not sure that the six countries of the GCC have the same position. 

In order to reach permanent solutions to longstanding Arab crises and conflicts, the Arabs should seize the moment and turn the next Arab Summit meeting in Algiers into a turning point in their decade-long handling of these same crises and conflicts. That will necessitate putting aside their differences and looking for common ground that will empower them to push for permanent solutions to these problems.

Egypt is expected to play a prominent role in helping to formulate an Arab consensus in this regard.

Some months after the last regular Arab Summit meeting a major earthquake jolted inter-Arab relations. Inspired and led by the Republican Party administration of former US president Donald Trump, four Arab countries reached peace agreements with Israel in the context of what have been referred to as the “Abraham Accords.” 

However, while relations between these countries and Israel were moving forward, complete paralysis had set in with regard to the discreet efforts aiming at resuming the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks. Moreover, with a new Israeli government that has only a razor-thin majority in the Knesset, it seems that the shaky Israeli coalition is doing its best to scuttle the two-state solution.

In its stead, the Israelis are talking about an “economic peace” based on the premise of security for the Israelis and economic prosperity for the Palestinians.

It is to be hoped that at the next Arab Summit meeting there will be unmistakable calls for a political solution to the Palestinian issue according to UN Security Council Resolutions and based on the two-state solution. Decoupling progress in Arab-Israeli relations from the Palestinian problem does not serve Arab and Palestinian interests in the medium and longer terms.

* The writer is former assistant foreign minister.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 6 January, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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