Browsing 'arab league' News

Kuwait's Sheikh Sabah, standing between Saudi Crown Prince Salman and Qatar's emir.

Via Nawaf Mudakha/Twitter

Kuwait's Sheikh Sabah, standing between Saudi Crown Prince Salman and Qatar's emir.

With reporting from Riham Sheble

Regional leaders discussed all the usual subjects during the opening session of the Arab League Summit in Kuwait today, including the conflicts in Syria and Palestine.

But one topic that will likely remain off the official agenda is the growing tensions between Qatar and three of its Gulf neighbors: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE.

The trio withdrew their ambassadors from Doha earlier this month, apparently to show disapproval of Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood.

Asked about whether the diplomatic row would be discussed, Khaled al Jarallah, Kuwaiti undersecretary for foreign affairs, told reporters, as quoted by Reuters: “Gulf reconciliation, and Gulf issues are something for inside the Gulf house.”

The lack of public discussion disappointed some Khaleejis, who have been discussing the meet under the hashtag #قمة_الكويت (Kuwait Summit):

Translation: Despite the (empty) smiles, the Arab summit fails in resolving the Gulf dispute with Qatar.

Unity call

However, the tensions and a need for unity were alluded to in a number of speeches today, including from the emirs of both Qatar and Kuwait.

According to QNA, in his address this morning, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani urged Arab countries to act on a resolution passed during last year’s Arab Summit in Qatar to establish a $1 billion fund to assist Palestinians in fighting Israel’s creeping annexation of Jerusalem. Qatar has pledged a quarter of that amount.

The Emir also turned his attention to the conflict in Egypt, emphasizing dialogue (presumably over government crackdowns):

“We emphasize the fraternal relationship that brings us together in Egypt, the big sister for which we wish security, political stability and welfare aspired by its people, hoping meantime that would be achieved through overall political society dialogue.”

Finally, he concluded by quoted Prophet Muhammad as saying:

” ‘Your best leaders are those whom you love and they love you, and you pray for them, and they pray for you, and the most wicked ones are those whom you hate and they hate you, and you curse them and they curse you.’

Oh Allah, we pray to you to make us among those beloved by their peoples, and with whom we reciprocate the same feelings.”

Kuwait’s Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah spoke more generally about unity, saying:

“The dangers around us are enormous and we will not move towards joint Arab action without our unity and without casting aside our differences.”

The Gulf rift was one of many stumbling blocks leaders expected to encounter when trying to reach a consensus on broader issues, such as whether to grant a coalition of Syrian opposition groups a seat at the Arab League table, and how to tackle the question of thawing Iran-US relations.

According to Kuwait’s news agency KUNA, Arab leaders will convene in a closed-door session tomorrow to approve draft resolutions, and then will publicly announce the Kuwait Declaration.

Here’s the full text of Sheikh Tamim’s speech:

Thoughts?

Note: One tweet quoted in the story has been removed because it belongs to an account that makes baseless attacks.

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The Syrian opposition has opened a new embassy in a villa in Doha on the heels of an Arab League summit that granted it legitimacy with a seat on its council.

“We are inaugurating the first embassy for the Syrian people, who have been deprived of their rights for 50 years,” opposition chief Moaz AlKhatib said during Wednesday’s ceremony, as ambassadors from the US, France and other countries saw the rebel flag raised on the building, QNA reports.

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Qatar promised to give the opposition the keys to the Syrian embassy last month. But the old building remains shuttered, and a new one has been opened.

The Arab League also issued a resolution that “affirmed the right” of Arab member states to provide arms and other support to the rebels. 

According to the National:

Although Qatar and Saudi Arabia have reportedly been supplying elements of the opposition with arms for months, the resolution offered both legitimacy and a shroud of legal protection to member states. The measure won the backing of 18 of the 22 members without reservation, said Qatar’s prime minister and foreign minister Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani.

Furious with the opposition’s diplomatic victories, Syria criticized Qatar for its role in the politics. 

“The emir of Qatar, the biggest bank for supporting terrorism in the region, began his presidency of the Arab League by hijacking it with tainted oil and money,” its state media said. 

Meanwhile, Al Jazeera reports that Russia and Iran, both supporters of Bashar Al Assad’s regime, scolded the Arab League for siding with the opposition.

Thoughts?

Credit: Top photo by Nora Basha on Twitter; second photo from QNA

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By Michael Stephens

There’s a good reason why traffic has gotten worse over the past few days: Most of the Arab World’s leaders are in Doha for the 24th Arab League Summit. Security is tight and Doha is once again the focus of Arab world politics. Apart from the traffic jams messing up evening commutes, here are three things to know about this summit:

1) Some headway has been made on the Syrian crisis. The Arab League has decided to recognize the Syrian National Coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. Sheikh Moaz AlKhatib, a popular former cleric of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, strode into the arena to popular applause this morning.

Although this does nothing at the present time to change the bloody carnage inside of Syria, it begins a process whereby the world can begin to envisage a political body the will exist after Bashar Al Assad finally relinquishes power.

The Arab League’s recognition of the SNC is the first step needed for the world to begin to enact political change in Syria. Simply put, without Arab backing, the coalition would lack the legitimacy needed for other countries to support a change in Syria. Giving the SNC Syria’s former seat will place more pressure on Russia and China to begin to accept that they must encourage Assad to do more to end the crisis and engage diplomatically with the opposition.

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2) Palestinians may get some humanitarian relief. As ever, the plight of the Palestinian people looms large on the agenda. As the territories struggle to maintain economic growth in the face of population expansion and continued Israeli restrictions, the Arab League plays an important role in bolstering financial support for the fledgling nation.

Today, Qatar promised to contribute $250 million to a $1 billion Jerusalem fund to assist Palestinians fighting Israel’s creeping annexation of Jerusalem. If the Arab League is serious about delivering this aid soon, it will provide a shot in the arm for the Palestinians, and prevent the potential for infighting amongst the residents of Arab East Jerusalem. It does not hasten the end of Israel’s occupation, but it does allow for a lessening of the humanitarian problems that the Palestinians suffer daily and delays the prospect of their homes being taken from them.

3) Arab League reform is in the works. Many of you may have noticed the #DissolveArabLeague hashtag appearing on Twitter today. It is a reflection of genuine popular disenchantment with the Arab League as a collective body that can act to solve Arab problems. Seen as a talking shop that has done little to change the problems of the region, there is understandable frustration bubbling to the surface.

The sense at this summit however is that reform needs to happen, particularly with regards to forming a collective body on human rights, and even the suggestion of an Arab Security Council. These are big steps to take, but if the groundwork for a more active, engaged Arab League can be laid in Doha, this can only be positive. It could even lead one day to the dream held by Qatar’s Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, of an Arab world able to take action to solve its own problems.

Michael Stephens is a researcher at the RUSI Institute in Qatar, specializing in the Gulf states, Israel and Syria.

Credit: Top photo by Michael Stephens; second photo by Hossam el-Hamalawy