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Arab League leaders agree not to agree

The summit was the first since Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar.
Last modified: 27 Mar 2014 22:46

The Arab League's 25th regular summit, which concluded on Wednesday, was preconceived as toothless before it even kicked off. There was too much tension between leaders convening in Kuwait to discuss issues in a region bubbling with political instability and violence.

The notion was so strong, in fact, that a rumour circulated ahead of the opening ceremony in the Bayan Palace, where the leaders were to meet, that the summit was to be reduced to a one-day event rather than two, as an indication of its fruitlessness.

The gossip was so widespread among reporters that an official denial had to be made via Kuwait's state-run news service.

With a busy agenda, topped with the stymied peace talks between Palestine and Israel, bloody war in Syria, and increased attacks in the region by al-Qaeda-inspired groups, there was a fear that differences among politicians would come in the way of reaching tangible resolutions.

A brief scene of the host, Kuwait's emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, walking hand in hand with the Qatari ruler, and the Saudi crown prince, ahead of the opening session, spoke of the role Al-Sabah's country is playing to mediate between the two members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, whose rift jeopardises the bloc's unity.

But little was revealed on whether updates were made in this matter, and others. And as speakers started delivering their speeches, blame and accusations started flying around.

The first to deliver his speech was the outgoing head of the Arab League, Qatar's emir Sheikh Tamim al-Thani, and he seized the opportunity to reject accusations made against his policies.

"It is not proper for everyone who fails to preserve national unity, to blame other Arab countries of supporting terrorism in his country," he said.

His comments could have been directed at Egypt, which accuses Doha of not supporting the July military action and backing the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, or Iraq, which accuses Doha of inciting Sunni citizens against the Shia-led government, or Bahrain, which has joined Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in accusing the oil-rich state of interfering in its internal affairs.

It was said that the UAE sent the ruler of one of its smaller emirates to head its delegation, rather than a higher-ranking official, to express anger at Qatar and Kuwait.

Later, Egypt's interim President Adly Mansour in his speech renewed his call to "those who continue to stand at the wrong side of history's path, to reassess their position and reconsider their choices." He didn't name the countries he was addressing, but it is most likely Qatar.

Meanwhile, Lebanese President Michel Sleiman hinted that the roughly one million Syrian refugees in his country are not welcomed on permanent basis, echoing comments made earlier by his foreign minister who spoke of plots to create military groups within its borders.

Head of the Syrian National Coalition, Ahmad al-Jarba, made sure to point out in his speech that "we are against Syrians remaining outside their nation, in any case".

Amid the veiled messages, Syria's three-year civil war was the summit's core subject, and while there was a consensus on the need for a political solution and for support to the rebels, there was a disagreement on what support to be provided and how.

Jarba, along with Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, both criticised the league's decision to prevent the opposition from filling the Syrian chair in the bloc and lobbied for two days to get consensus for it to happen.

Meanwhile, Lebanon, Iraq and Algeria defended the Syrian empty chair, to the extent that Lebanese Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil tweeted that he had stepped out of the session during Jarba's speech in line with my convictions and my obligations.

The standoff went on until after the summit came to an end, and played out in the phrasing of resolutions concerning Syria.

While the Kuwait Declaration, which summed up the summit's key resolutions, referred to the SNC as one of Syria's legitimate representatives and enabled it to attend ministerial meetings starting from the next round, a more detailed handout entailing all resolutions, of which Al Jazeera obtained a copy of, described the SNC as the sole legitimate representative of the country and granted it the Syria chair.

The Arab League's general secretary Nabil Al-Araby described the summit as "successful in all aspects". To many in this part of the world, it was successful in being on a par with a decades-long saying that has become renowned among Arabs to describe the outcome of this annual event: "Arab leaders have agreed, once again, not to agree."