Defined By Division
The annual summit of the Arab League came and went this week. Held in Damascus, the meeting can be added to the long list of useless Arab summits. This one, however, reached a new low point. Boycotted by the main Sunni heavyweights, the meeting presented more of a front of regional division, than unity. As Syria’s Bashar al-Assad was making his opening remarks, Saudi Arabia was busy bashing Damascus for its interference in Lebanon. Jordan, Egypt, and Yemen also stayed away. In fact, only 11 of the 22 Arab League members even decided to show up.
The dispute between Syria and its regional neighbors is based on two factors. First, with the ongoing failure of Lebanon’s deadlocked parliament to appoint a new president, Sunni governments have jumped on Syria for its role. In particular, Damascus has been criticized for its support of Hezbollah, its alleged involvement in a series of high-profile Lebanese political assassinations, and its continued efforts to undermine the ruling March 14th coaltion. There’s a reason cited for Syria’s alleged involvement: the Assad administration hopes to ensure a victory for Lebanese opposition parties in order to maintain its influence in the country and block additional cooperation with the UN’s Rafiq Hariri investigation. Second, Sunni countries are upset with Syria for its close links to Iran. As Damascus has worked to shield itself from American aggression, build itself up against Israel, and maintain its historic role in Lebanon, a close relationship has been established with Tehran. An unwieldy match, for sure, the alliance has nonetheless allowed Iran to bolster its Hezbollah and Palestinian proxies, a situation that is making neighboring countries (particularly Egypt) extremely nervous.
The result was a broad boycott of the summit, providing a clear image of a divided Arab world. In fact, perhaps in an effort to undercut even the limited political gains that Damascus may have received from hosting the meeting, Jordanian, Egyptian, and Palestinian leaders are hosting their own meeting this week to discuss regional issues. Ultimately, it’s not clear what of substance came out of the Arab League summit. Poor results, however, are just par for the course. Besides the 2002 Arab peace proposal towards Israel, I’m not sure anything major or substantive has ever come out of these much-touted annual potlucks.