At the Arab League Summit, Which Political Islam Will Win?

Article Summary
In the run-up to the controversial 22nd Arab League Summit to be held in Baghdad on March 29, Talal Salman speculates on the likely participants and subjects of discussion. But just as significant, he notes, is who will not be in attendance, and what is being left off the agenda.

In a few days, the leaders of the Arab order, or their representatives, will head to Baghdad to participate in the 22nd Arab Summit. The most pressing issue at hand: The return of the “Arabs” to Iraq after an era of estrangement, and after enormous transformations in the political, social and economic situations of the vast Arab world. The “center” has disappeared and a state of comprehensive chaos has prevailed as a result of the public separation between Arabism and political Islam. In the midst of all of this, Israel has been quietly dropped from the discussion.

As for the seriousness of the situation, the justifications that make the meeting necessary resemble those that prevailed in late 1963, which prompted the late Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser to call for an urgent summit. All the Arab leaders to respond to his call, overcoming their sharp differences. Thus, they rushed to Cairo, where the Arab League hosted their summit over three days under the title: "The need to unify the Arab position to face an Israeli war project on Arab waters and attempts to convert the tributaries of the Jordan River."

It was necessary for the leaders of the Arab order to hold a second summit after nine months, on September 5, 1964, in Alexandria. The summit lasted for six days, in which they approved what constituted a framework for a unified military command, under a political leadership that converged on the goal of confronting the Israeli enemy and protecting the natural rights of three of the “Ring Countries:" Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon.

Several questions and doubts revolve around the Baghdad summit: Who of the “Arabs” will attend the Baghdad summit? Where will the Arabs head after Baghdad? Will they achieve a rapprochement during the Baghdad summit, or will it be the last such meeting?

Previous experiences indicate that the institution of the summit has lost its role as a special unifying framework bringing together the leaders of the Arab system. The “Arabs” are no longer Arabs. And the common denominators between them no longer exist, or are the least-subscribed to.

Islamists of all types  the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafists and the fundamentalists, some of whom are borderline Al-Qaeda  today constitute a prominent majority, and their principles and proposals have surpassed nationalism (and Arabism). They will most certainly also try to take the summit in a different direction, away from the disputes that previously took place in its arena.

Unfortunately, the summit can no longer be considered an arena of conflict between Arabism and political Islam. This is because Arabism is defeated, and the Islamists are currently riding the horse of victory. And perhaps the participants, or some of them, may have considered the idea of changing the term Arabism itself, the role of the Arab League or the summit.

But, which political Islam will win in the Arab League, and does it have a formula and congruous trends?

Is the Islam of the winners of the elections in Egypt the same as the Islam of the leaders in Tunisia? Is it the same Islam as those lost in Libya’s “states” and exiles? Where do the Islamists in Morocco  who rose to power through elections and under the direct guidance of Amir al-Mu’minin (Leader of the Faithful)  stand in this regard?

Will Palestine be present in the meeting, and under which name: the Palestine Liberation Organization, the authority in the West Bank sponsored by the International Quartet, or the Gaza Strip, which was liberated via Islamic slogans from an Israeli siege?

Will the summit be able to justify the absence of Syria, which is drenched in blood? Has the summit anything to offer to this state and its people, who have sacrificed in every liberation movement in the Arab world? Or will it tighten the sanctions that aim to starve the people, under the pretext of punishing the regime?

The Arab League's decision-making power was curtailed at its headquarters in Cairo. As a result, its role in Damascus was annulled and it became merely the messenger who delivers the Arab crises to the UN Security Council, so its member states make decisions that suit their interests in the region  which is of great importance due to their sources of wealth strategic locations  before discussing the rights of the people and their legitimate aspirations for a better life.

Remarkably, most Arab kings will not attend the one-day or half-day summit. Also, some are trying to downplay its importance of their attendance, which may be an endorsement of the divided authority. The kings of Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Bahrain will probably not attend. But the King of Jordan may do so for security and economic reasons, and interests related to the border crossing with Israel (oil, direct aid and the number of Iraqis living in Jordan, most of whom are wealthy and influential).

Likewise, the interim Egyptian president, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, will not attend the summit for reasons related to the volatile situation in Egypt, especially given the government's shaky status.

The Tunisian president, brought to power by the revolution, will attend, as will the acting president of Libya, which is headed toward secession. The attendance of the leaders of Djibouti, the Comoros Islands, Mauritania and Somalia is understandable. But their presence can only increase the influence of those with the ability to influence, and does not add momentum to the resolution.

The president of Lebanon will attend because he has no reason not to. The emir of Kuwait will be there for reasons related to Kuwait, and to try to solve the historical conflict on the geography of oil, both on land and at sea.

In brief: the meeting in Baghdad will be a symbolic summit, the most important aspect of which will be bringing respect back to Iraq as a state, although its role in the Arab region has yet to be tested and examined.

The most serious threat to this summit  in which serious decisions are impossible to make  is for grudges to control the decisions that may be issued by it. Consensus is impossible to reach, as are decisions through majority votes. This is due to the absence of the “super” states: Egypt, which has no leader; Saudi Arabia, whose foreign minister cannot replace the king himself; and Syria, which has been expelled from the Arab League, in which it had been deeply ensconced.

The big question remains: How will the Syrian issue be dealt with?

The summit host does not want war on Damascus. Iraq has tried to absolve itself of the requirements of a boycott of Syria, at least economically. It also appreciates Syria's principled position on the US occupation and the efforts it provided to support the Iraqi authority and protect the unity of the country. Many questions arise about the host country concerning its exceptional conditions, which are taking their toll on the country politically, in terms of security, and economically, due to the corruption of the administration.

The summit will be held in the capital of a state that has broken wings, whose national unity is threatened and whose political entity in the Kurdish region is cracked.

As much as the summit means returning respect to this giant Arab state which was one of the founding members of the League of Arab States, the reality of its authority could waste many potential ways to benefit from it, to reinforce the status of Iraq and its Arab and international roles.

The central government is flawed from the top and its real power is largely symbolic, as a result of the political conflict which has in reality descended to the sectarian, religious and ethnic levels.

The question currently being asked in Baghdad, as well as in the Arab capitals, is: Will President Jalal Talabani or Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki head the Iraqi delegation to the summit?

The question conceals (or attempts to conceal) a political problem with a racial undertone: Will a Kurdish president head the Arab League for the first time in its history? Or will this president not attend for health reasons, leaving the presidency of the summit to an Arab, the prime minister?

The Arab summit in Baghdad will only last for one-and-a-half days, during which time aircraft carrying guests will most likely remain idling.

The souvenir photograph will be the most important achievement of this summit: The Arab leaders returning to Baghdad in the renaissance era of the Islamic movement. They try to take it back and fold the dark page of the era of the tyrant Saddam Hussein, and the darker-yet page of the US occupation, which has surpassed its “good predecessor” in its bloodiness, and in the displacement of the people of Mesopotamia, which was once seen as the fortress of the Arabs and the symbol of their steadfastness in the face of the division and fragmentation that currently threatening Iraq.

The first Arab summit, held almost half a century ago, was a promising sign that the nation had restored awareness of itself and the unity of its destiny in the face of the Israeli enemy and all the international powers that support it. This support is growing to the extent that Israel today openly states that “it is America and America is it.”

It is not prudent to assume that the Baghdad summit will achieve what previous Arab summits have failed to. But it is enough that the summit will symbolically restore respect to Iraq as a state and lift the ban it had imposed upon it.

Found in: political islam, baghdad summit, baghdad, arab nationalism, arab league summit, arab league, arab history, arab

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