May 20, 2023
The agenda of Friday’s Arab League Summit is brimming with topics that will differentiate it from past summits, especially in view of the ongoing shifts on the Arab, Middle Eastern and even global stages. The most important sign of difference is perhaps its location in Jeddah, which is a real embodiment of a different situation on the political, economic and social levels in Saudi Arabia, particularly the Jeddah ar
The first major topic to be covered is Syria’s return to the Arab League. Leaks from behind the scenes of the summit indicate the serious desire of everyone for Arab reunification. The term “resolving crises” has circulated widely, as well as the formulation of a collective Arab vision taking into account the mistakes of past years and the desire to find a way to redevelop the mechanisms of joint Arab action in light of the regional and global challenges that have emerged.
The Syrian crisis is, without doubt, one of the crises that the Arabs want to resolve. After a 12-year hiatus, Syria is returning to the Arab fold, as it will be participating in the Jeddah summit with a high-level delegation. Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad stated on his arrival at Jeddah International Airport that Syria would “not look to the past, but rather to the future.” Mekdad enumerated the challenges that, according to him, Arab leaders should address and mobilize their forces to confront, including the Arab-Israeli conflict and climate change.
Syria’s return represents a real test for the issue of the compatibility of the Arab parties in the future, coming after the Arab reconciliation with Qatar and the current political openness to all global and regional powers. Syria is important to this harmony because it is a force to be reckoned with on the political and civilizational levels.
Some talk about a conditional return of Damascus to the Arab fold, with it being contingent on Bashar Assad’s regime meeting some of the demands hinted at in the recent Arab League statement. These include the formation of a national consensus government, the creation of a harmonious political climate that reduces the opportunities for clashes with opposition forces, and a readiness to cooperate in order to meet the demands of the Syrian people, which is the concern of all Arabs.
The reconstruction of Syria may be one of the files that makes the Jeddah summit completely different. It will be necessary to communicate with the international parties to the conflict and apply pressure to start the reconstruction process, as some Arab and international countries have many investment projects in this framework. Similarly, we have to keep in mind the return of the Syrian refugees, who are scattered around the world, to their country, which is in need of them in this delicate period of their lives.
The Jeddah summit also comes at a time when the whole world is suffering from severe economic crises due to the years of COVID-19 and the Russian-Ukrainian war. This file requires work on several levels, including in the leaders’ summit, but it also deserves to be an ongoing topic in all Arab League meetings.
Leaks from behind the scenes of the summit indicate the serious desire of everyone for Arab reunification. The reconstruction of Syria may be one of the files that makes the Jeddah summit completely different
Dr. Abdellatif El-Menawy
Economic topics rank high on the priority list, notably Lebanon’s unprecedented economic and financial collapse. The summit will seek to address and assist Lebanon’s recovery in all areas, especially after the agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran on the one hand and the return of Syria on the other.
The Arab leaders will also capitalize on the summit to reconsider the economic systems implemented in the Arab world. They will aim to achieve sustainability and economic balance between their own resources and their production and service capabilities in terms of raw materials, markets and investments, using advanced and diverse technological methods.
One of the outcomes of the summit that the Arab peoples aspire to and wait for is the activation of the Arab Common Market, the Greater Arab Free Trade Area, to unify customs tariffs, in addition to the digital economy and green economy. Other coveted outcomes include the implementation of sustainable development plans and the continuation of the process of economic and social development at various levels, as well as Arab space cooperation, sustainable Arab agricultural development, improving the production and preservation of natural resources, sustaining Arab pastures and raising the rates and percentages of intra-Arab trade.
The current events in Sudan undoubtedly occupy the minds of Arab leaders, just as they worry everybody with Arab blood running through their veins. The Sudanese people themselves are the only losers in the conflict between the army led by Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan and the Rapid Support Forces led by Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo.
The summit will definitely discuss this conflict and I pray that the solution will be in Jeddah, in the land of the Kingdom that has hosted talks between the representatives of the conflicting parties. I imagine that the decision of the summit will be to urge all of the conflicting parties on the Sudanese scene to remain calm and sit at the negotiating table in order to defuse the crisis.
One of the most urgent issues that concerns Arabs in general — and which they hope will be a key focus of the summit — is water resource management in the region, as several countries suffer from water scarcity, particularly Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Jordan and the occupied Palestinian territories. In the face of this reality, the Arab countries are being called on to take a broader and stronger stand, putting forward principles for Middle Eastern regional cooperation that supports and does not detract from international rules.
Hence, the significant issue of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which threatens water security in Egypt and Sudan, is a key concern. Egypt has submitted a draft resolution to the Arab League to discuss and negotiate this file with Ethiopia, while the latter rejects the intervention of the Arab League, considering it an African affair and not an Arab one.
Finally, Palestine, which is in the heart of every Arab, will be present at the summit. During this summit, the discussions pertaining to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will be different from previous summits, whose positions were limited to condemning and demanding that Israel stop its settlement projects.
The delegate of the state of Palestine to the Arab League, Muhannad Al-Aklouk, has said that the Arab League will adopt a resolution legally defining the Nakba for the first time, condemning those who deny it and making May 15 of each year an Arab and international day to remember the Nakba.
Al-Aklouk said: “This is an important and historic achievement, as important as the continuous efforts that were exerted during the few hours preceding the summit to discuss the challenges of providing financial and material support to the Palestinian people, through frameworks and projects that secure sustainable support that is not subject to political blackmail, as well as providing the political and legal support to the Palestinian people in international forums to support the Palestinian cause at the highest levels.”
• Dr. Abdellatif El-Menawy is a critically acclaimed multimedia journalist, writer and columnist who has covered war zones and conflicts worldwide. Twitter: @ALMenawy
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