Competing summits reinforce divisions in the Arab world

"The Arab situation is in great chaos and is very unfortunate and very damaging," Arab League chief says.

mashaal shallah arab summit 248 88 (photo credit: AP)
mashaal shallah arab summit 248 88
(photo credit: AP)
The Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani said Friday at the emergency Doha meeting on the Gaza conflict that there was no contradiction between the Qatari meeting and any other summit on Gaza. "I attended the Riyadh summit yesterday [Thursday] and we all, God willing, will attend another summit in Kuwait on Monday," the Emir said from Doha, according to the official Qatar News Agency. But the absence of US-backed heavyweights Egypt and Saudi Arabia and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, as well as the attendance of Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Syrian President Bashar Assad and Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, appeared to reinforce the deep divide between the two rival Arab camps and their approach to the conflict. Egypt said it preferred to discuss Israel's offensive in the Gaza Strip during a two-day Arab economic summit in Kuwait that starts on Monday. Saudi Arabia decided to host its own summit of Gulf States in Riyadh the day before the Doha meeting to discuss Israel's military operation. "The Arab situation is in great chaos and is very unfortunate and very damaging," Arab League chief Amr Moussa said on Friday before the Doha meeting. Both Egypt and Saudi Arabia oppose Hamas, which routed Abbas's forces from the Gaza Strip in 2007, while Iran, Syria and Qatar are sympathetic to the Islamist movement. Iran and Syria have provided Hamas with financial, military and ideological support. Ahmadinejad, Mashaal and Assad denounced Israel and called for Arab and Muslim nations to cut any bilateral ties they have with the Jewish state. Assad said the Arab peace initiative was "dead" and said that Israel aimed to make Palestine "a land without a people." Egypt, which takes pride in its role as an interlocutor and a regional power broker, was particularly concerned that the summit would jeopardize its intensive efforts to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. On Saturday, state-run Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram buried coverage of the Doha meeting on the bottom of page four, while an Egyptian opposition paper, Al-Dustour, ran a banner front page headline. "The rulers are at a summit while the Arabs are at the bottom," the Al-Dustour headline read. And on Friday, the day of the Doha summit, Al-Ahram launched a scathing attack on the Qatari leadership. In an editorial on its front page, chief editor Osama Saraya praised Egyptian diplomatic efforts to bring about an immediate cease-fire in Gaza, and ridiculed Qatar's diplomatic efforts. Amidst Egypt's great efforts, "a small Arab country - which is Qatar - is continuing her methods and small tricks, and her maneuvers at the expense of Palestinian blood and the Palestinian people, and at the expense of Gaza, and at the expense of the blood and dead body parts of our children," the editorial said. The editorial, entitled "The blood of our children, and Israeli crimes and silly tricks," said that by hosting the summit, Qatar sought to "thwart all the Arab efforts and perpetuate the Arab division to hand over the joint Arab efforts to the evil and destructive axis, the Iranian axis." The article accused this Iranian axis of stoking the conflict and delaying a solution through its opposition to the Egyptian cease-fire initiative and Egypt's role, "which exposed the Israeli aggression and hurried to stop the aggression since the first moment through the correct practical methods and not through the media and megaphones of propaganda." The last statement was a reference to the Al-Jazeera Arabic satellite network, which is subsidized by the Emir of Qatar. Egyptian officials have accused the station, the most popular in the Arab world, of siding with Hamas and being unfairly critical of Egypt's role in the Gaza conflict. But political experts say that such divisions are nothing new - neither in the Arab world nor elsewhere around the globe. "Since [former Egyptian president Anwar] Sadat went to Jerusalem, we have people that think that negotiations and settlement is the only logical solution, and others that want to keep fighting on, whether it's fighting on television or on the ground," said Abdel Monem Said Aly, director of the Cairo-based Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. "It happens in a variety of countries, between those that want to resolve conflict and those that want to continue it. Once the crisis is over, we will turn the page and look for the next crisis." AP contributed to this report