Consensus at the summit

Hussein Haridy
Thursday 10 Nov 2022

This year’s Arab Summit meeting in Algiers was marked by consensus on a range of issues as a result of changes in the international context.

 

Algeria hosted the 31st Arab Summit on 1-2 November, the first such meeting since the last summit of Arab leaders in Tunisia in 2019.

The last three years have altered not only the international scene but also the regional and Arab ones. The Covid-19 pandemic was one main reason for not holding a regular Arab summit meeting on time, but the change of administration in Washington in January 2021 and the emergence of a post-Trump US also altered international relations.

The new US administration has sought to build alliances across the globe with the aim of confronting both Russia and China, on the one hand, and of dividing the world into democracies versus autocracies, on the other. It has also sought to make the spread of Western-style democracy and respect for human rights – from a unilateral US point of view – one of the priorities of US foreign policy.

This change of strategy in Washington has had a perceptible impact on Arab-American relations in general and particularly on the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the US. To put things differently, this and other changes have altered the overall context of the relations of the Arab world with both the US and the EU. This goes a long way towards shedding light on some of the results of the Algiers Summit and to a large degree explains the consensus among the Arab states meeting in Algiers, something that has not been easily obtained on similar occasions in the past.

One clear example is the Arab consensus on the war in Ukraine. The summit rightly adopted an independent and unbiased position in this regard that is different from US and EU policies. It reaffirmed the Arab stance vis-à-vis this war, one which is inspired by the principle of non-alignment and the call for the peaceful resolution of the military conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

The call made in the Algiers Declaration issued at the summit for depoliticising international organisations when dealing with the war in Ukraine was also noteworthy. It is an implicit and polite rejection of the use of the UN on the part of the West as an instrument in the confrontation between the US-led Western alliance and Russia.

Another example of the growing gap between the Arab world and the US is the support that the Arab leaders have shown for the OPEC + group decision to cut oil production by two million barrels a day, a Saudi-Russian agreement, that infuriated the US administration and led to calls in the US Congress for retaliatory measures against Saudi Arabia.

The Arab support expressed in the Algiers Declaration for full Palestinian membership of the UN also runs counter to the US position. The call in the declaration to hold Israel accountable for its war crimes against the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories will also not be welcome in the West.

Another important area of the new Arab consensus deals with Syria. The Algiers Declaration called for a “leading collective role” that would contribute to the peaceful resolution of the Syrian crisis. The word that stands out here is “collective,” as previously there had been some disagreements among the Arabs as how to handle the complicated situation in Syria.

However, the most important item of Arab consensus in Algiers was understandably the Palestinian question, the two-state solution, and the lifting of the Israeli siege of the Gaza Strip.

Regarding the situation in Libya, the Arab leaders meeting in Algiers, probably not wanting to contradict fundamental Algerian positions, stuck to general principles that are part of the international consensus on the democratic transition in Libya. Foremost among these is the holding of elections as soon as possible in Libya and for the Libyans to own the solutions that will guarantee the transition.

This comes within the framework of Arab solutions to Arab problems, the overall approach taken by the summit.

The Arab consensus achieved at the Algiers Summit was the result of the efforts made by the Algerian government to make it a success. It was greatly helped by the new context of international relations based on ever-growing polarisation.

It is now incumbent on the Algerian one-year presidency of the Arab Summit to safeguard this consensus until Saudi Arabia convenes the 32nd regular Arab Summit meeting next year according to the provisions of the Arab League Charter. 


* The writer is former assistant foreign minister.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 10 November, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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