With the opening of a new session of the UN General Assembly, New York has become the capital of international policies and the center of secret deals — whose time has finally come after a long hiatus — between the major powers over various volatile world problems.
US President Barack Obama is no longer the king of the universe. Some major political partners, after being kept away from the decision-making center by a series of internal crises, have returned to the scene. Most notable among them are Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
There will not be a repeat of the historic summit that took place at the peak of the division between East and West, when the West was led by US President John F. Kennedy and the East by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. That division allowed for the emergence of the Non-Aligned Movement, some of whose members attended that summit. Among them was the representative of the Arab revival, the late Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser. Also attending was Cuban President Fidel Castro, who took the opportunity to visit New York’s black neighborhoods and play soccer with youths in Harlem.
Here is the heart of the matter: The Arabs’ presence among the international community and the extent of their presence in international decision making, regardless of the level of their representation at the UN session, will be marginal. The Arabs have no leader and no political project. They are going to their new “wailing wall” divided to the point of war. Some are fighting their Arab brothers, whom they consider “enemies,” with foreign help. It is enough to look at the map of the war in Syria to realize the seriousness of the Arab war over that country.
All taboos have been broken, such as seeking the help of foreigners against fellow Arabs, fanning the flames of civil war in an Arab country and giving valuable services to the Israeli enemy to achieve victory over an unjust Arab ruler.
There is no longer an “Arab referent,” such as the Arab League, that the major Arab leaders are keen to strengthen. Egypt’s leaders after Nasser’s death drained the Arab League of any substance. Worse, they made the league work against the Arab nation’s needs and aspirations.
Former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat’s peace with Israel on the latter’s terms, after the October War’s “assassination” by the Deversoir flaw [Bar Lev Line], followed by a catastrophic military setback, vanquished Egypt’s role as an Arab referent.
The first result of that catastrophe was the decline of the Arab League as an institution that embraces all Arabs and that tries to formulate a unified Arab position, even if by adopting the choice of its weakest state.
When the Arab League left Cairo for Tunis, it had become a frail institution, with no spirit or active role. Tunisia is not Egypt, nor could the surrounding climate revive a league for states divided among themselves. Some Arab states sided with Sadat on the peace treaty. Others opposed him, but without the ability to stop this violation of the league’s role and charter.
So the Arabs lost two referents: Cairo, with its widespread influence and influential leadership role, but then the opposite of what it once was; and the Arab League, which became paralyzed in Cairo’s absence.
By the time the Arab League returned to Egypt after Sadat’s death, it had become a soulless bureaucracy without will, especially since member states had managed their own affairs without the league and announced Egypt’s return to its general secretariat as a belated “recognition” of the Camp David agreement and its repercussions. The opposition to Egypt’s unilateral peace treaty became a minority, regardless of the statements, speeches and festivals denouncing “normalization.”
To be historically accurate, it is necessary to recall the hastily formed “steadfastness and obstruction front,” whose first summit was held in Tripoli, Libya, under Moammar Gadhafi. It was attended by Syrian President Hafez al-Assad and Algerian President Houari Boumediene. Absent was Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, who was in the process of being “handed” the presidency in Baghdad from his relative, President Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr. Saddam sent to the summit a representative, who was not authorized to make decisions on his behalf.
It was only natural that [PLO] Chairman Yasser Arafat be present. He was an eloquent orator. He denounced Camp David by words but in his mind, he understood Sadat’s venture and tried to benefit from it. It was not easy for the Palestinian leader to lose Cairo’s role as an influential intermediary in politics after losing Cairo’s role as the Arabs’ leader in the battle to liberate Palestine.
After Camp David, the center of gravity moved to the Syrian capital, Damascus, where the second summit was held. The third summit was convened in Algeria. There was no need for further summits after they became powerless toward the status quo.
In the meantime, Iran’s Islamic revolution was finding its way into several Arab capitals. It was welcomed by Hafez al-Assad, who knew how to take advantage of “cooperation” without forming an alliance.
After the 1991 US invasion of Iraq, which made it easier for the Arabs to ally with the Americans under the pretext of protecting Kuwait, it was natural that Tehran would consider itself a partner in shaping the new situation in Iraq. So Iran became a major player in Baghdad and strengthened its alliance with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, heir to his father, the biggest player in the region.
Before all that, Tehran had found its way into Lebanon through its support of the resistance to the Israeli occupation, which included most of south Lebanon, in March 1978, before sweeping through Beirut in the early summer of 1982 and managing to evict the Palestinian resistance from Lebanon and elect a new president, who was assassinated before he could take office.
When the Islamic resistance triumphed in the withdrawal of the Israeli occupier, Tehran was celebrating as a partner in the victory.
These facts are recalled to point out that the Iranian presence at the United Nations this year will be strong, as Iran is confident of its role in the Arab region around it, as well as of its influence in its Muslim neighborhood.
It is obvious that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will be a star at the United Nations, given that Iran has succeeded in being quite influential in the East, especially when Egypt is not leading. As the Arabs are fighting in and around Syria, and most Arab regimes are busy with their internal problems, their unifying cause, Palestine, which the Iranian regime has always retained in its discourse, is fading.
The Arab presence at the United Nations will be barely noticeable, and the Arab discourse will be empty words because the Arabs states that have the ability to make a decision, mainly Egypt, are preoccupied with themselves. The Gulf states are busy in Syria. Those states never played a prominent international role anyway and are satisfied with their alliance with the United States. Algeria is busy in its presidential battle and over whether President Abdelaziz Bouteflika will renew his mandate for a fourth term, with or without an understanding with the army.
Once again, political Islam is overtaking Arabism in international forums. Arab issues are being presented in the bazaar of international understandings, while the Arab people are absent.
And always, we are awaiting Egypt’s return to its leadership role, for which there is no alternative.
Continue reading this article by registering at no cost and get unlimited access to:
- The award-winning Middle East Lobbying - The Influence Game
- Archived articles
- Exclusive events
- The Week in Review
- Lobbying newsletter delivered weekly