Hopelessly Mired in Discord

Shared political visions were once again conspicuous by their absence at this year's summit of the Arab League. The heads of state from the key nations didn't even bother to come. Peter Philipp comments

Shared political visions were once again conspicuous by their absence at this year's summit of the Arab League. The heads of state from the key nations didn't even bother to come. And whether the topic was Lebanon, Iraq or the conflict in the Middle East: no common line could be discerned. Peter Philipp comments

Syrian President Bashar Assad (left) and Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi (photo: dpa)
Libya's head of state, Gaddafi, noted in his speech at the League summit: "Our blood and our language are one, but nothing can unite us"

​​In the course of its 64-year history, the Arab League has repeatedly demonstrated that it is incapable of accomplishing the goal for which such alliances are usually founded in the first place: displaying a united front to the outside world and solving problems within.

The League's 20th summit conference last weekend (March 29-30, 2008) in Damascus once again displayed to the rest of the world the dissension among the 22 member states and their inability to even begin to find solutions to their own problems.

No more than half of the member states sent their head of state to represent them in Damascus, the others dispatching only lower-ranking delegations. Chief among the latter were Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan.

Lebanon stayed away completely from the meeting in Syria. The reason for this is Syria's policy on Lebanon, which the latter country holds responsible for the ongoing political crisis in Beirut.

No new solutions forthcoming for the region's crises

The Syrian conference host, President Bashar el-Assad, objects to this accusation, but his arguments are not very convincing. Without his and Iran's concerted backing of the Lebanese opposition, a new president could have been elected in Beirut long ago and the situation in Lebanon would have been stabilized somewhat by now.

Lebanon has still not recovered from the July 2006 war. Although the Arab League pledged its support for the presidential candidate, who has long since been accepted by the government and the opposition, it was unable to offer any formulas for resolving the associated government and constitutional crisis in Lebanon.

Neither did the summit manage to lay to rest the allegations that Syria is more or less openly supporting terrorist groups in Iraq. And the participants did not see their way toward coming up with a common stance on Iraq – one that would at least have reflected a sincere effort to help the country out of its present plight.

And then there's the matter of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians: Here as well, the Arab League managed to do nothing more than summon to memory the fact that it has already twice offered Israel peace in exchange for its withdrawal from the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967. Israel – as the League's General Secretary, Amr Moussa, correctly stated – has thus far not responded to these overtures.

Few new ideas

The Arab Peace Initiative remains in place, that much was resolved at the conference. But any new ideas of what can be done and will be done if the present-day situation doesn't change were lacking.

It would be too simple to just reduce the internal dispute within the Arab League to a conflict between Western- or USA-oriented states on one side and USA-critical states on the other.

The League's problems are definitely homemade, and the relationship between Damascus and Beirut is a classic example: Although Lebanon was a founding member of the Arab League, it has still not been recognized by Syria, which has historically claimed Lebanon as its own sovereign territory and therefore also believes it is entitled to intervene there as it sees fit.

Peter Philipp

© DEUTSCHE WELLE/Qantara.de 2008

Translated from the German by Jennifer Taylor


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