Sharm al-Sheikh and the fate of the Arab world

Sharm al-Sheikh and the fate of the Arab world
Comment: The Arab world is fractured and divided as never before, but has the recently concluded Sharm el Sheikh summit effectively addressed the challenges Arab states face?
4 min read
30 Mar, 2015
Will the Arab summit rise to the challenges facing the Arab world? [Mohammed el-Shahed/AFP/Getty]

The 26th Arab summit convened at an extremely tense and dangerous time, with unprecedented fragmentation and amid conflicts raging in Arab countries in a way that has never been seen since the foundation of the League of Arab States. The Arab world is also experiencing unseen levels of sectarian and tribal tension, all of which portends very serious consequences.

In moments like these, Arab people expect a summit to address these challenges, and to come out with binding decisions and measures to reduce the prevailing tension. The people of the Arab world  also expect a clear strategy followed by practical policies and actions, commensurate, for example, with the conclusions of the UN's Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia's (ESCWA) report on Arab Integration.

In contemporary Arab history, we have never seen this level of madness brought about by conflicts among and even within Arab countries.

With the issues facing the summit in Sharm el-Sheikh and Arabs, which are set to break some of the uneventfulness of previous summits, addressing the escalating Arab fragmentation and conflicts has become an urgent priority. The goal should be to help the Arab peoples restore their unity and independence, in a way that would ensure or rather restore their immunity.

Internecine conflict

In contemporary Arab history, we have never seen this level of madness brought about by conflicts among and even within Arab countries. This has reduced our international influence, to the extent that many of our countries are now designated as "failed states". This, in turn, has undermined the social and national fabric, contributing to the rise of nihilistic terrorism, as the Arab regimes shirked their responsibility to protect citizens, let alone empowering them.

True, the prevailing situation is extremely complex. This means some of our societies are more vulnerable, and have accepted the need to deal with one another on the premise that religious, sectarian, and ethnic affiliations are "plural" rather than "diverse". Plurality reinforces distinctness while diversity reinforces commonality, and by extension, one citizenship. The notion that underlies the view of distinctness as diversity could bring us together, while seeing it as plurality is something that takes us away from a common fate.

This introduction is necessary to lay out the situation in our societies as it is.

Some might ask about the link between these observations and the items prepared by the Arab League secretariat for the summit to decide on. It is a fair question. Indeed, many decisions made by previous summits remain on shelves gathering dust. There is also a near complete disconnection between the regimes and civil society throughout the Arab world.

This requires the gap between the Arab League and Arab civil society to be bridged, in a way that would improve the performance of the Arab League, its summits, and its secretariat.

The summit also convened in an international climate that will no doubt impact many of the issues and challenges, in a profound and unprecedented manner. The serious developments over the past days that triggered Operation Decisive Storm seeking to restore legitimacy and national unity in Yemen have increased tensions with Iran. This coincided with US President Barack Obama's need for a nuclear framework agreement between the P5+1 countries and Iran.

US-Israeli relations

The regional and international climate have made the summit a crucial milestone for the Arab people and the future of the Arab League.

There is also the growing tension between the White House and Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. If anything, this could improve the US handling of the Palestinian cause and the two-state solution, with the possibility the United States may stop wielding its veto at the UN Security Council against draft resolutions aimed at ending the Israeli occupation, or at least abstain from the vote. Blind US support for Israel is no longer automatic, and there is popular support for this direction.

The regional and international climate of the summit have made it a crucial milestone for the Arab people as well as for the future of the Arab League and its summits. 

The hope is that  the summit's decisions announced in the communique prove to be up to facing these challenges, and it is important here to stress the need to implement them, because the alternative is to allow the current fragmentation to run its destructive course.

Perhaps the restoration of legitimacy in Yemen will be the catalyst for subsequent achievements.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.