Futile Arab Summitry (Extract)

01sami (do not publish again) (photo credit: Avi Katz)
01sami (do not publish again)
(photo credit: Avi Katz)
Extract of an article in Issue 1, April 28, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. In Syria at the end of March, while the 20th Arab League summit was under way in Damascus, I heard two completely different discourses: The state-controlled media praised Syria for welcoming all Arabs, but ordinary folks whispered, "It is a futile exercise." Ahmed told me: "We watched them [Arab presidents and kings] on TV sitting in luxurious halls. They look absent-minded and bored. Their speeches are boring. They have been repeating the same things for over half a century." Ibtisam said: "Which summit are you talking about? I don't care. The whole meeting is irrelevant." Fadi, a physician: "It is an ape theater play. Who cares? The millions of dollars spent on the conference are precious money thrown out of the window. People are sick and tired of empty rhetoric." Half the leaders of the 22-member Arab League, including the heads of state of heavyweight U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and Egypt, as well as Jordan, boycotted the summit, blaming Syria for Lebanon's protracted crisis. The summit failed utterly to come up with a plan of action to solve the Lebanese situation. The Ba'ath regime meanwhile used the summit to intensify its belligerent rhetoric against the West. It utilized its media to depict a black-and-white picture of the "Arab-Western" and "Arab-Israeli" conflicts. The Syrian media claim that both Israel and the West have a hidden agenda, which aims at "destroying" and "exploiting" the Arab world. The transgressor behind Arab problems and conflicts, Arab feuds between Fatah and Hamas, the factional conflicts in Lebanon, and violence in Iraq is clearly identified - it is the West and Israel. Even the boycott by the Saudis and the Egyptians of the summit was depicted as part of Western conspiracy. As always, the Arab regimes were engulfed in secrecy, dishonesty and self-deception. Neither King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia nor President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt had the guts to openly declare why they stayed away from the summit, mouthing the usual platitudes instead of slamming Damascus's nefarious practices in the land of the cedars. Radical Arabs, spearheaded by Syria, claimed that both leaders bowed to the American pressure. Still the Syrian regime insisted "the summit was a great success." Arab regimes love lavish ceremonial events. Arab summits have been held for decades, but agreements and decisions stay on paper without any kind of implementation. Over and over again, the failure to implement them is blamed on the West and Israel. Rhetoric replaces action all the time. In the realm of realpolitik, while some Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, and the UAE publicly condemn the U.S. military presence in Iraq, they feel comfortable with having American forces on their territories and, in fact, they see the Americans in Iraq as a shield against their new arch enemy, Iran. Arabs are divided by Arab media and Arab commentators into the "axis of resistance," which includes Syria, Sudan, Hamas, Hizballah, and the "axis of the meek," including the Gulf States, Egypt, Jordan, Fatah, and the pro-Western forces in Lebanon. However, both "axes" compete to polish their images as "saviors" and "protectors" of the Arab world from the "American and Israeli monsters." The writer, a commentator on Arab affairs, is a professor of sociology living in Germany. Extract of an article in Issue 1, April 28, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.