Monday, 17 March 2008
By Sabria S Jawhar
By Sabria S Jawhar
THE Arab summit is just around the corner for March 29, but things already look very rocky. When Crown Prince Sultan announced that Saudi Arabia will attend the summit in Damascus, but with no mention of who will be the Kingdom’s representative, you just know that very little – if anything – will be accomplished.
The Crown Prince’s announcement brings up several questions, such as why the heads of some Arab states, such as Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz wouldn’t attend Syria’s summit.
For starters, Damascus neighbors are miffed that Damascus has failed to heed repeated requests to convince its “allies” in Lebanon to give up their opposition to electing a president (for the country) and demand they get the job done. Arab leaders are fearful that if an election continues to be delayed, the Lebanese government, already in a precarious situations, will collapse.
But the Arab Summit, as a concept, is not a laughing matter. Arab countries should give weight to the summit by taking it seriously, no matter how poorly the host country behaves and, this is what Crown Prince Sultan clearly stated when he put an end to the rumors that Saudi Arabia may boycott the event. He told Al-Jazerah newspaper that “it’s an Arab summit that we can’t give up.” However he was very honest and realistic when he added that “the goals of the summit would depend on who will participate in it.”
To tell you the truth, I don’t detect a lot of enthusiasm there. Even Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is not coming. And the Egyptian government indicated that it won’t send its prime minister to head the Egyptian delegation. Like the Saudis, the Egyptians want a new Lebanese president before March 29. That apparently isn’t happening, so Egypt’s Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit will go instead.
Iran is also sending its foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, who has taken the stand that Iran wants a Lebanese president that is acceptable to all religious and ethnic groups. To me, that sounds like a policy that is doomed to failure. Government leaders can lead by consensus, but leadership can’t be all things to all people.
Adding insult to injury, Syria has not formally invited Lebanon to attend. But Egypt and Saudi Arabia seem to believe that boycotting the summit will only lead Syria to play a more dangerous game in Lebanon.
Though not officially announced yet, the Arab grapevine tells us that perhaps Prince Saud Al-Faisal, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, will attend the summit, which is, to me, the highest appropriate level of representation under these circumstances. Yet this might be a sort of disappointment to the Syrians, who are hoping King Abdullah would make the trip and add some urgency to the deliberations of the gathereing.
Prince Saud is a very intelligent diplomat and a good choice to represent Saudi Arabia, but Syrian officials should have known by now that he does not tolerate fools. He was a reluctant participant at the Annapolis conference last year because he was afraid it would be another dog-and-pony show in which Israel gets to talk about peace.
Look how true that turned out. The only positive thing that came out of Annapolis was that Israel and Syria indicated a willingness to settle the Golan Heights issue. But it turns out that the Bush administration has shown little interest in that deal, so the Israelis have conveniently forgotten about it.
Yes, it sounds like rehashing old news here, but Saudis are well within their rights to view the Syrian event with skepticism. What exactly is going to be accomplished at the summit if Syria can’t even heed, or at least discuss, the wishes of its Arab neighbors?
Arab leaders have demonstrated a commitment to keep the unity and credibility of the summit, and will send their foreign ministers despite Syria’s poor manners. Syria doesn’t deserve the number of high-level ministers who will attend, but the summit itself certainly does.
King Abdullah took the high road by agreeing to participate. If anything, the summit will serve the purpose to allow Arab nations to voice in unison their displeasure over Syria’s behavior.
Syria will have Iran on its side, but the collective condemnation of Syria’s meddling in Lebanese affairs could very well make attending the summit worth it.Despite the circumstances and lack of enthusiasm for the summit, I have high hopes that Syria can get on track and act like a responsible country.