I believe that there is no further point in either hosting or even holding the Arab League’s summits. After being an “honour” for the host country and a source of diplomatic, political and even tourist marketing, the Arab summits have in recent years become a heavy and embarrassing burden for the host country as well as the invited presidents and leaders.
The reason lies in the tensions across the Arab region and deeply intertwined crises. There is also the harmful presence of regional and international parties to consider; those which play bigger roles than the Arab governments, including sabotage, although most of that is done with Arab complicity.
I am becoming more and more convinced that it is in Algeria’s best interest to abandon the hosting of the next summit scheduled for 1 November. If this were to happen, it would not be a concession, negligence or diplomatic defeat; it would be a wise move.
Today, there is not a single Arab country that maintains normal and strong relations with all of the other Arab countries without exception. It is difficult to find an Arab country that is not a party to a bloc or alliance, open or secret, against another Arab state or bloc. The issues between the Arab countries and the conspiracies against each other are more dangerous than the conspiracies from beyond the Arab world.
Even the countries that have taught the people of the region to call them big brother or sister, such as Egypt, have fallen into the trap of blocs and narrow-minded considerations, losing the credit accumulated over many decades. The exception is Saudi Arabia, which is also building its relations with Arab countries from a position of strength and a sense of superiority, but other Arab countries suffer in their relations with each other; there are too many pitfalls and missing links.
Every area in the Arab world is a ticking time bomb or trap. Palestine is a time bomb; Libya is a trap; Syria is another trap; Yemen is a problem; and Iraq is half a problem, open to all possibilities. To this must be added all of the other problems, like the Western Sahara, the borders, the conspiracies and tensions, and relations with regional parties that are tampering with the Arab fabric: Israel, Turkey and Iran.
Relations between the Arab countries today are based on a rule that is similar on the outside to the “oil for food” programme that Iraq was forced to follow in the 1990s. On the inside, though, it has a brutal and unjust pragmatism based on blackmail and bullying. The rich are bargaining with the poor for their livelihood in order to drag them into their camp. The contented (although there are very few of them) blackmail those in crisis, feeling strong with the backing of the US and Israel.
Elsewhere, the bigger neighbour tampers with the security of their smaller neighbours. And if it wasn’t for its economic failure and the consequent domestic distress and suffering, it would be impossible for Egypt to hand over the sovereignty of its diplomatic decision-making and follow the whims of some Gulf States with such ease.
I imagine that those responsible for protocol and organisation at each Arab summit are suffering when thinking about who deserves a fancy welcome and how will it be done; who sits next to whom; will so and so shake hands with his counterpart; and other awkward questions. One mistake could cause a diplomatic crisis.
So how does anyone hold an Arab summit in such toxic circumstances? How do you expect those who host it to achieve miracles? Moreover, why is any country keen on hosting the summit, knowing in advance the minefield that it is entering?
A number of diplomatic moves were seen in more than one Arab capital last week, most notably Cairo, regarding the upcoming summit in Algeria. The goal, suggested some reports, was to get it postponed because regional conditions do not allow for it. However, the real reason is that some Arab parties believe that Algerian diplomacy has become controversial and cannot be trusted, because it does not conform to the official Arab mood. The latter has become dominated by the insistence on being anti-Iran to please Israel and giving in to the desires of some Arab Gulf countries and their regional agendas.
Algeria deserves to host the summit, of course, but in the toxic conditions from the Atlantic to the Gulf, it is wiser not to do so. The Arab necklace has snapped forever, and so-called Arab unity will never happen, even if all the Arab countries want it and agree to it, because the fate of the region is now out of the hands of its people, countries and rulers.
The Arab League is dead and should be buried, like its summits. Nobody cares about it except those who make money from it or attract certain prestige and privileges by being connected to it. It is almost obligatory to demand that it be shut down.
Furthermore, Arab leaders refuse to acknowledge the fact that societies across the region are witnessing massive social, cultural, psychological, demographic and other changes. These changes make the very concept, preparation and convening of the Arab Summit symbolic of a distant, failed and painful past for many people across the region.
What we must also remember is that the traditional Arab summit has been killed by the regional summits that have multiplied in number and size: between Egypt and the Gulf states; Iraq and its neighbours; countries bordering the Red Sea; and so on. There are also meetings of the foreign ministers of the countries which have signed the Abraham Accords — Israel, Morocco, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt — which are likely to become a leaders’ summit in the near future.
Ever since the Arab summit lost its usefulness, attention has focused not on its content and results, but on who attended and who was absent. The level of attendance is now the tool for judging failure or success. The presence of presidents and kings of influential and wealthy countries is synonymous with the success of the summit. The opposite is also true, and this is a humiliation for the host country.
There are a number of ways by which Algeria, or any other country, can regain the diplomatic initiative and its own voice, but hosting an Arab League get-together is not one of them. It’s time to bury the Arab summits for good.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.