This week’s Arab League summit in Kuwait convenes amid an all-time high of political tension among member governments, and an all-time low in terms of public expectations.
Instead of flowery language, Arab peoples might gain a tiny bit of respect for the Arab summit mechanism if officials admit that there are a few, crucial issues that must be addressed, and propose something feasible to address them. Otherwise, few people will have patience to hear about the Comoros Islands, or the need to counter desertification.
The controversies that perennially plague Arab summits are even starker this year. Gulf countries are at odds over Qatar’s intervention in the domestic affairs of member states, and the role of the Muslim brotherhood and other groups during a time of political turbulence. Arab countries also differ over how to deal with Iran, and the war in Syria. They are also struggling to agree on an effective way to promote the Palestinian cause, and how to counter the spread of terrorism by Al-Qaeda extremists.
Media reports indicate that the summit’s Kuwaiti hosts are focused squarely on ensuring that the meetings take place without incident.
While this is a logical objective, it does nothing to address the massive challenges faced by Arab states. If summit officials truly want to offer something useful to Arab audiences, they could tell people about how they will solve things in the future, instead of reiterating all of the problems and grievances of the past.
Statements of principle might be reassuring to Arab officials and while the words might be legitimate, it is a time for action – not language so watered down that no one can disagree, or expect anything tangible to result.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 24, 2014, on page 7.