Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Arab league values

Arab League's selective silence
April 4, 2009
THERE WAS nothing new about the rifts and contradictions on display at this week's Arab League summit in the small Gulf state of Qatar. Indeed, fretting about the cost of Arab disunity has been a frequent refrain at such meetings. Sure enough, Arab leaders in Qatar disagreed so profoundly on how to deal with Iran that they passed over this key question in silence. But they did find common ground on another central issue: condemning the indictment of President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan by the International Criminal Court.
On both issues, the summit only made a bad situation worse.
The dignitaries could not find a way to talk about Iran, even though some Arab states say it is their top security concern. Leaders of Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia have expressed alarm about Iran's projection of influence into the Arab world, even alleging that the first loyalty of all Shi'ites is always to Iran.
But Iran also has Arab allies and clients. Qatar itself has cordial relations with the Islamic Republic. Syria's President Bashar Assad has developed significant political, military, and financial links to Iran.
Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak stayed away from the summit because Qatar had castigated Egypt's refusal to open the Rafah crossing from Gaza into Egypt during the Israeli attack on Hamas this past winter. Hamas receives money, arms, and political support from Iran. To Mubarak, Hamas represents a two-fold danger - both as a protégé of Iran and as the Palestinian offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, his primary domestic political opposition.
Other Arab anxieties about Iran were also suppressed at the summit. Some leaders there oscillate between their fear that Iran will become a nuclear power and a worry that President Obama might somehow reach an accommodation with Tehran at the expense of Arab interests. These anxieties could not be broached because doing so would reveal the depth of Arab disunity.
Assad made the case for a selective silence about Iran by saying, "Inventing imaginary enemies in our region, to replace Israel as the only enemy, means helping Israel."
But neither Assad nor the joint statement issued at the summit's conclusion was silent on the ICC arrest warrant for Sudan's Bashir, who is wanted for crimes against humanity in Darfur. They expressed solidarity with Bashir and rejected what Assad called the court's "fabricated accusations." And while the Arab leaders in Qatar were united in defending Bashir, 4 million Muslim men, women, and children in Darfur were at risk of perishing because the Sudanese tyrant chased international aid organizations from the region. This is not the unity the Arab states ought to seek.

No comments: