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April 1, 2012

Another fruitless Arab summit


If the Arab leaders held a summit conference annually after the establishment of the Arab League in 1945, then, the Baghdad Arab summit which was held on March 29, 2012, would have been number 67. But, the Baghdad summit, which was held last week is only the 23rd. The question is, what did the Arabs gain from these summits?

The first official Arab summit was held in Cairo on Jan. 13, 1964. Only politics were discussed at the summit. The discussions ranged from the diversion of the water flow of the Jordanian river, the establishment of the PLO, the set-up of unified military command headed by Egypt and many other issues. There were no discussions in the first Arab summit about education, health care, trade agreements or highway systems connecting different Arab countries. There was nothing for the simple Arab citizen.

After the 1964 summit, it was decided to have annual summit meetings to be attended by all Arab leaders. But, every single Arab summit was only held after an obstacle or a crisis facing the Arab world. The most notable summits were held in Khartoum in 1967, Baghdad in 1978 and again in Baghdad in 1990. The Khartoum summit was held after the 1967 war. And the 1978 Baghdad summit held after President Anwar Al-Sadat of Egypt went ahead with the peace agreement with Israel. As for the 1990 Baghdad summit, it took place just before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. All the other summits were management by crisis conferences. But, do the Arab masses take the Arab summits seriously and did these conferences accomplish any unity among the Arab countries?

The Baghdad summit was held in the most difficult times for the Arab countries and their people. The summit was held at a time when the Arab Spring is still in full swing. It was attended by a few Arab heads of state. The most notable attendee among Arab leaders was Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah. He was the only GCC head of state to attend. Saudi Arabia, which is the center of power in the Arab world, was represented by Ahmad Qatan, the Saudi ambassador to the Arab League. Saudi leadership’s presence always adds charisma and power to any Arab summit. The summit had the lowest number of Arab leaders and it was the shortest summit. It was only a one-day event. Security was an issue. The summit was held in a very tight security with about 100 thousands security personal protecting the conference surroundings. Baghdad needed the summit to show the world its stability. But, most of the Arab countries are lacking stability and many of the Arab leaders have their hands full of internal conflicts and uprising. About five Arab countries have no leadership in the first place. There is power vacuum in Egypt, Somalia, Yemen, Libya and Syria. The 23rd Arab summit was held in Iraq, a country divided by deep mistrust among its own people, weak government and violence. So, the question is, why do the Arab summits fail to accomplish its goals?

The Arab world was never united. No matter how many beautiful words were used after each summit. For decades, the Arab masses see the closed borders between neighboring Arab countries. There are borders between some Arab countries that have never been open. The Moroccan and Algerian borders are an example. And some Arab countries are divided from within. Yemen never had a central government and each province is ruled by a tribe. So, what do the Arab masses want from their leaders?

The Arab League and all the conferences that were held didn’t achieve anything for the Arab masses. The simple Arab man, women and child want the summits to tackle issues, which would make their lives easier. We see and hear that the Arab world has the worst form of education, but not one single summit was dedicated to improve the education system in the Arab world. The Arab world has the highest form of pollutions, but the Arab masses never heard any discussion regarding giving the Arab masses clean air and unpolluted water. The Arab world has the highest unemployment rate in the world, but the Arab summits never studied ways to improve the job markets. The summits never seriously discussed the tariff, passport control, justice systems or the importance of the research centers. We saw many Arab brains leave the Arab world in search of better education and more freedom. The average Arab citizen has no interest about the relation between the leaders. A simple Arab citizen wants to know about the investment rules between the Arab countries. He or she wants to know his or her right when going from one Arab country to another. The Arab masses, now-a-days can't accept the inflammatory speeches of the 1960s. They want better education and brighter futures for their children.

The Arab masses are sometimes confused by the lack of accomplishments in many Arab countries. Libyans and Iraqi people should have the highest standard of living. Both countries have tremendous wealth. But, most of the people in these two countries don’t even have the basic needs. And what is worse, is seeing the amount of violence in these two countries among its people. Libya’s Qaddafi is gone, but the tribal clashes continue beyond any one's imagination. The Arab leaders should stop all conflicts among themselves. And the Arab masses should learn how to live in harmony with each other and with the outside world. We, in the Arab world have wasted the energy, money and blood and forgot about building the human being. As for the Arab summits, the Arab leaders never asked their people about their needs...........This is why the Arab summits never fulfilled the Arab people's dreams. 

Abdulateef Al-Mulhim is Commodore (Retd.) of Royal Saudi Navy.