CAIRO — Arab foreign ministers held an emergency meeting at the Arab League headquarters on Oct. 12, at the invitation of Egypt, to discuss the ongoing Turkish offensive on northeastern Syria launched Oct. 9.
In the final communique of the meeting, the Arab ministers condemned the “Turkish aggression against Syria,” demanding Turkey's immediate and unconditional withdrawal from all Syrian territory. The final statement warned that the league will consider taking measures against Turkey, including severing diplomatic ties, halting military cooperation, and downgrading economic, cultural and tourism cooperation.
Speaking at the meeting, Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit labeled the Turkish attack “an invasion of the territory of an Arab state and an aggression against its sovereignty.” In turn, Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohamed Ali al-Hakim warned of “this dangerous escalation that will exacerbate humanitarian crises and enhance the ability of terrorist groups to reorganize their remnants.”
Ambassador Ahmed al-Quesni, Egypt's assistant foreign minister for Arab affairs, told Al-Monitor in a telephone interview that Egypt's call for an emergency Arab League meeting aims to reach a coherent Arab position on the Turkish aggression on Syrian territory, which is also being discussed at the UN Security Council. “It is crucial for the international community to find a clear Arab position formulated collectively within the framework of the Arab League, especially as this offensive threatens regional security.”
In turn, Tarek Fahmy, professor of political science at Cairo University, concurred with Quesni on Egypt’s efforts to reach a united Arab stance against Turkey’s so-called Operation Peace Spring. He explained that Egypt is spearheading a movement in coordination with Arab countries such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia along with other countries, including Cyprus and Greece, to counter and contain the Turkish move inside Syria.
The meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo came as part of a string of Egyptian moves against the Turkish-led military operation in Syria.
A day before Ankara’s military offensive, on Oct. 8, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had discussed the Turkish attack at a tripartite summit with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
The tripartite summit’s final statement expressed the deep concern of three countries over the “illegal and unlawful military operation declared by Turkey in Syrian territory.” It stressed the need to work to preserve the unity and territorial integrity of the Syrian state.
The next day, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry issued a statement urging the international community to confront this very serious development that threatens international peace and security. The ministry pressed the UN Security Council “to stop any attempts to occupy Syrian territory or to force any demographic engineering step to restructure the population in northern Syria.”
In tandem with the ministry’s condemning statement, Sisi had vowed with his Iraqi counterpart, President Barham Salih, in a telephone conversation to keep up bilateral consultations in support of an Arab action to counter the Turkish move and to preserve the integrity and unity of Syria.
Sisi’s efforts did not stop here. A day into Ankara’s offensive, he discussed the situation in Syria with Jordan's King Abdullah II. According to a statement following their meeting in Cairo Oct. 10, the two men agreed to reach a comprehensive political settlement that would end the suffering of the Syrian people and preserve the unity of Syria.
Praising the Egyptian moves against the Turkish attack, Quesni affirmed that they are commensurate with Egypt's weight and regional influence. He clarified that Egypt is expected to act against any attack on any fellow Arab state, in particular Syria, in light of the historical relations between the two countries. “Egypt’s stance is based on its entrenched belief in the need to preserve the unity of the Syrian soil and the sovereignty of the Syrian state. This is in line with Egypt’s calls for safeguarding Arab national security,” he said.
Quesni added, “Sisi has always called for preserving the nation-state from disintegration and collapse and demanded the international community to assume its role in this respect.”
On Oct. 10, the UN Security Council members discussed upon the initiative of the United States a statement calling on Turkey to return to diplomacy. The five European Security Council members — France, Germany, Belgium, Britain and Poland — called on Turkey to stop its “unilateral military action” in Syria. So far, the Security Council members failed to agree on a final statement on Turkey’s fresh offensive.
“The Egyptian efforts against Ankara prompted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to lash out at Egypt for its condemnation of the military operation, requesting it to back off,” Fahmy said.
Speaking at a conference for his ruling Justice and Development party on Oct. 10, Erdogan had slammed Sisi’s condemnation of its military operation accusing him of “killing democracy” in his own country.
Nevertheless, Fahmy expects Arab coordination to begin with international parties, especially the United States and Russia, to end the Turkish military operation in Syria.
“Meanwhile, Egypt will keep up its endeavors to formulate an Arab position to deter Turkey from its actions in Syria,” Fahmy concluded.