Posted by Joshua on Sunday, April 6th, 2008
Damascus Summit Attendance was Close to Average Despite US Pressure
April 6, 2008
For Syria Comment
After reading report after report in the Western media proclaiming that the attendance of only 11 Arab heads of state was a "rare" snub by Arab states (e.g. http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/03/31/opinion/edarab.php), I killed some time this morning on Lexis Nexis looking up the numbers for past summits, and the results were rather surprising:
I begin with the year 2001 (Amman), as this was the first year that the Arab League decided to hold annual spring summits.
2008 Damascus . . . 11
2007 Riyadh . . . 17
2006 Khartoum . . . 12
2005 Algiers . . . 13
2004 Tunis . . . 14
2003 Sharm al-Sheikh . . . 10
2002 Beirut . . . 10
2001 Amman 15
Average . . . 12.75
In light of the heavy pressure that Washington was putting on Arab leaders to boycott the summit (the only time this has ever happened to my knowledge), the fact that the Damascus summit still hit close to par is astonishing. The fact that two preceding summits – one of them in Egypt, the largest Arab state – only got 10 is also striking.
It's probably worth mentioning that 2001 and 2007 were exceptional years, coming in the aftermath of the Al-Aqsa Intifada and the Israel-Hezbollah war, respectively (both of which made it rather unseemly for Arab leaders not to show up).
Also, there is no Lebanese head of state right now. Given that Lahoud attended most of the previous summits, the fact that there is a vacant Lebanese presidency now means that Syria's "score" relative to the others would have been docked a full point irrespective of the diplomatic climate . . . So the *real* score is arguably even closer to average.
Reading through the news archives, it appears that Arab heads of state habitually stay away from these things for the most trivial of reasons (e.g. Abdullah because Qaddafi's there). If Arab displeasure with Syria was all that it's hyped to be, one would think Washington could have convinced the vast majority to stay away. Cheney's arm-twisting tour of the region the week before the summit may have kept Iraq and Bahrain away.
US sources were not precise on the number of heads of state that attended. The LA Times wrote that 12 attended the Damascus summit. The NY Times' Robert Worth got it right at 11.
"Arab leaders leave Jordan at end of two-day summit," Agence France Presse, 28 March 2001. "US acknowledges Arab summit in chaos, hopes slim for peace consensus," Agence France Presse, 27 March 2002. "Arab League Adjourns in Angry Discord," The Los Angeles Times, 2 March 2003. "Arab League Summit Opens in Tunis," Voice of America News, 22 May 2004. "Arabs avoid summit controversy, renew Israel peace offer," Agence France Presse, 23 March 2005. "Arab leaders adjourn annual summit with little action taken," Associated Press, 29 March 2006. "Saudi Arabia steps up diplomatic efforts on Mideast front," Xinhua, 29 March 2007. "Despite Infighting, Meeting of Arab Leaders Gets Under Way in Damascus" The New York Times, March 30, 2008.
Addendum by Landis
Ibrahim Hamidi was asked for clarification about the heads of state who came. He sent this:
The final answer is 11.
The countries whose Heads of State came were: Syria, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE, Mauritania, Algeria, Tunisia, Sudan, Kozzor
al kamar, Palestine, Libya,
Heads of State who never attend Arab summits: Oman, Morocco
Heads of State who declined to attend: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain.
Sami Moubayed reminded me that Syria hosted an Arab Summit previously in the year 1948. He writes:
"It was held in Daraa, with Shukri Bey al-Quwatli President of Syria, Bshara al-Khury President of Lebanon, Riad Solh PM of Lebanon, King Abdullah of Jordan, Prime Minister Samir Pasha Rifai of Jordan, Prince Abdul-Illah of Iraq, Abdul-Rahman Azzam Pasha of the Arab League, and of course, Prime Minister Jamil Mardam Bey. The Mufti, Amin al-Huseini, represented the Palestinians!
It should be noted that the Arab League official site does not consider the 1948 Daraa meeting a proper summit.