Qatar and the Five-Minute Summit

Acting contrary to the bylaws of the Arab League, the state of Qatar has bestowed upon itself greater powers, especially regarding pressing issues such as the Syrian crisis, reports Rouba al-Husseini.

Topics covered

syrian, saudi, salafist, qatar, arab

Apr 16, 2013

It was an Arab summit that lasted five minutes. The parties involved were dissatisfied but unwilling to express their opinion, particularly to Qatar. And so their interests are left in the hands of those who effectively control joint Arab decision-making.

This small emirate has compelled even Saudi Arabia to stand behind it, deferring its quarrels with Qatar until after the fall of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, when they will promptly evolve into a quarrel over who will take his place.

Here are a few notes summing up the most recent Arab summit held in Doha on March 26–27, during which the Syrian National Coalition was granted Syria's place in the Arab League, as provided to As-Safir by certain well-informed sources:

  • The events which transpired in no way comply with any legal basis, and they stand in violation of an Arab League ruling issued during a ministerial council meeting on March 6, 2012.
  • Qatar can do whatever it likes, even if its actions are purely symbolic and utterly detached from events on the ground. The Syrian people, their revolution and their future are the last things that concern this small emirate; its first and final priority remains the country's leadership.

  • According to our sources, what happened at the recent Doha summit was that "the Gulf States appointed a ruling authority in Syria, saying: "Here is the president, and here is the head of the government."

It is well-known that the decision to replace Syria's leadership in the Arab League was both prearranged and inevitable since, according to our sources, Qatar was not prepared to so much as discuss the issue. The attendees entered the meeting session, sat down for five minutes and then left without engaging in any discussion. Equally well-known is the fact that only two countries abstained from the decision, namely Algeria and Iraq. According to these sources, the majority of the other countries consented, despite their concealed opposition.

Describing what happened, and what continues to happen, since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, our source states: "There is one party actively supporting a certain policy, and other parties do not agree with its views or the thrust of its activity. However, these parties agree to every decision without public objection, in order to safeguard their own narrow interests and avoid being forced into reigniting old conflicts over issues they believe to be purely symbolic, devoid of any impact on the ground.  

Because the Arab League does not usually make unanimous decisions — and since its rulings are anyway not binding upon those who support them — the Arab states see no great loss in having this summit or decisions on issues that have no effect.

To put it succinctly, what took place in Doha "is not applicable under any legal basis," according to our sources. This decision did not expel a member state, but rather merely replaced its representative leadership. It demonstrates nothing other than the fanciful logic and weakness that has plagued the Arab League for ages.

In comparison to the Libyan situation, this decision reflects a total lack of legal reasoning. When it was decided that the National Transitional Council should be granted Libya's seat, this organization had already been recognized by the UN Security Council. The Libyan regime had already lost control of the capital city of Tripoli, as well as several other regions, all of which had been taken over by the armed opposition. Thus, all the elements of sovereign rule were in place.

The situation in Syria, however, is totally different. The regime is still present in Damascus, and many countries still recognize its legitimacy. Moreover, this regime remains the Syrian representative at the UN, and this is precisely what causes the glaring contradiction between the Arab League and the UN. Despite the fact that Qatar and its allies will act to expel the Syrian regime from the UN, there are nevertheless a number of countries which will stand in opposition to this move, for fear that the same thing could very well happen to them in the future.

This absence of logic is compounded by the fact that this decision itself stands in contradiction to previous rulings issued during the Arab foreign ministers' gathering in Cairo, when the Syrian opposition was called upon to form a transitional or temporary body. In accordance with specifically delineated mechanisms, upon its formation this opposition body was to direct its president — who had effectively assumed the role of head of state, head of government and foreign minister — to send a letter to the Arab League's secretary-general informing him that the league's request had been fulfilled, at which point it would be recognized as a permanent delegation within the organization. However, none of this actually ever happened in the first place, which means that procedural rules were skirted or overlooked.

Our sources add that the office of the secretary-general actually sought to clarify this fact, noting that the decision contradicted its predecessor and lacked legal authority, but nobody listened. It is ironic that the Arab states, which objected to this or other decisions, lacked the courage to express their positions publicly, fearing a detrimental impact on their own interests in the Gulf States, especially Qatar. Instead, they take refuge in the office of the secretary-general.

For example, the Egyptians come and say, "This is not possible." They ask the office of the secretary-general to intervene; however, this office does not constitute a member state and does not possess the authority to make decisions. When the secretary general's office asks the officials from this Arab state to voice their opinion, they demur, citing [unnamed] "calculations." This is what actually happened with Oman, which could not bring itself to oppose the Gulf states' decision.

In addition to this, our sources note that what transpired at the latest Doha summit directly impacted the Arab League mission to Syria of UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. This, in turn, raises another issue — namely that Brahimi was not even invited to attend the Arab summit in the first place! In short, one needs to focus on the absence of logic within the Arab League in order to understand what took place — or, rather, what was imposed upon the joint Arab decision-making process: an act of bid'a, or heretical innovation.

Our sources indicate that Qatar is in effect wagering that two member states will abstain from voting, and that another will simply refuse to object. Despite the fact that the majority of members do not agree with the proposed plans and decisions, they will nevertheless submit in what can be described as "negative support."

The current change in the balance of power between the Arab states is, in the view of our sources, chiefly the result of the vacuum left by the effective absence of Egypt, Iraq and Syria. Qatar's current policy is clear: It is pushing the Muslim Brotherhood everywhere, from Egypt, to Tunisia, to Syria, to seek greater authority. Thus, it has gone from being Syria's ally to its enemy.

As one of our sources put it, "That's Qatar's modus operandi: switch from one ally to another and sleep with everyone." With regard to the decision about Syria, it happened that Qatar stumbled upon a moment where it could anoint itself great power, once other nations had abandoned the field.

However, Qatar's support for the Muslim Brotherhood could lead to regional clashes in the future. Although Qatar has taken the helm with regard to Syria (with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia following in tow), matters will not remain this way forever if the Assad regime does not fall. The UAE in particular is in direct conflict with the Qataris everywhere, and Dubai's chief of police Dhahi Khalfan effectively speaks for the UAE. Another, albeit more minor conflict is actively brewing with the Saudis, for they do not want to see the advent of popular Islamic rule, preferring instead a military government in which the Salafis act as mere instigators against the ruling regimes.

Qatar has done everything regarding the Syrian opposition represented by the National Coalition: it set it up in the first place, brought in some key figures and sent them traveling from one place to another. And all without them possessing any influence on the ground.

The final act witnessed by participants at the Doha council was Ghassan Hitto who is, as it happens, a totally unknown figure. His brother is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, and he is merely a conservative activist whose area of practical influence is limited to matters of humanitarian aid. On the political level, however, he is relatively unknown. Even National Coalition President Moaz al-Khatib was forced to ask: "Who is he?!"

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