Muted Arab Summit ends with no Lebanon solution

Abdel-Rahman Hussein
6 Min Read

CAIRO: The Arab Summit in Damascus drew to a close Sunday without reaching a resolution on the Lebanese crisis, which was the reason the summit was convened in the first place.

The summit was practically boycotted by major Arab nations, and even Lebanon itself was absent.

Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan – major US allies in the region – protested at Syria hosting the summit as they believe that it is responsible for the prolonging of the crisis.

The Damascus Declaration, read by Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, called on Lebanon to elect a consensus president.

“Arab leaders stress their commitment to the Arab initiative to solve the Lebanese crisis, and call on Lebanese leaders to elect consensus candidate General Michel Sleiman at the time agreed, stated the declaration.

Lebanon has been without a president since Emile Lahoud stepped down last November. While there is a consensus agreement to appoint General Michel Sleiman in his place, there is disagreement over the level of representation of various sects in the new government.

“The Gulf position is aligned with the Arab position, which sees the failure of the summit because it diluted Arab problems to Lebanon, ignoring Darfur and the Iranian threat, Ahsraf Keshk, expert on Gulf Affairs at the Diplomatic Center, told Daily News Egypt.

“What if Lebanon goes without a president for five years? They hold Syria responsible for what is going on Lebanon. Also they demand more than paper on ink, they want to see results from these summits.

The declaration read by Moussa also suggested that the Arab states considered a review of the peace initiative. “The Arab peace initiative is tied to Israel executing its commitments in the framework of international resolutions to achieve peace in the region.

“(The Arab heads of state decided) to evaluate and review Arab strategies and the plan of action regarding reviving the peace process as a prelude to decide on next Arab moves.

There was also a message for Iraq, urging the war-torn nation “to disband all militias without exception … and speed up the building and training of the Iraqi armed and security forces … in preparation for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq.

Almost half the leaders of the Arab League – comprised of 22 nations – boycotted the summit. Egypt did not even send its foreign minister, instead sending Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Mufid Shehab Eldin. Saudi Arabia was represented by its ambassador to the Arab League.

“No one expected something new from the Arab Summit, Emad Gad of Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies told Daily News Egypt.

“To talk about a summit that would bring results you need the presence of major Arab powers such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria. If Egypt and Saudi Arabia reduce their representation then nothing will be done.

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad had denied that his country was meddling in Lebanese affairs, insisting that, in fact, the opposite was true.

Speaking in his opening statement on Saturday, Al-Assad said, “I would like to make a point with regards to Syrian interference in Lebanon. It is the contrary which is true because pressure has been exerted on Syria for over a year to interfere in Lebanon’s affairs, adding that Syria has refused to do so.

“They have their nation, their institutions, their constitution, he added.

Despite these claims, Gad believed progress could be seen in Al-Assad’s speech.

“There was rationalism in his speech, he said, “he was not confrontational and that in itself is an achievement. He was originally bringing an Iranian agenda to the summit, but the Egyptian and Saudi message was clear, so Syria might conform to an Arab agenda. There were insinuations that something might be worked out in Lebanon.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Seniora did not share Al-Assad’s view concerning Syria’s interference in Lebanon and explained in a televised address last Friday that Lebanon would not attend specifically because of Syrian interference in its affairs.

“Syria played a leading role to exacerbate the crisis… interfering in Lebanon’s internal affairs and blocking the election of the consensus candidate to the presidency, he said.

“The Arab summit still cannot be compared to the 1990 summit which showed a huge division, Keshk said,

“However, there is a fear a cold war might emerge between Arab states.

The failure of the summit gives more ammunition to radical states towards moderate states. We must ask: Have the regional powers weakened?

“It also shows that countries not from the region, namely Iran, now have influence on the goings on within the Arab League, Keshk added.

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