Posted by Joshua on Thursday, March 29th, 2007
Arab Unity and respect for the Arab nation were the overriding themes of the Arab League summit in Riyadh. Saudi diplomacy at the summit represents an important break with US policy in the region, designed as it is to pit "moderate" Arabs against "terrorist" Arabs. The Bush administration views Arabism as fascism, conjoint with Islamism in its evilness. Saudi Arabia has rejected the Bush notion that Islamo-fascism is the root of Middle Easter problems.
By embracing Arabism, King Abdullah has come to the conclusion that only Arab unity can restore the regional balance of power — so skewed in Iran's favor by the destruction of Saddam's Arabist regime. To do this, Saudi Arabia must reach an accommodation with Syria, Hizbullah, and Hamas; it cannot destroy them, as the US recommends.
This is why King Abdullah gave Bashar al-Asad special attention, why he allowed Lebanon's long-ostracized President Lahoud the opportunity to extol the virtues of Hizbullah, and why he has constructed and championed the new Palestinian coalition government in an effort to relieve pressure on Hamas and the Palestinians.
Where the US and Iran seek to divide the Arab states in order to rule them, Saudi Arabia is trying to unite them.
The "moderate" Arab states have come to the conclusion that the Bush plan in Iraq is dead. By calling the US occupation or Iraq "illegal," King Abdullah announced that he is seeking a new policy toward Iraq, one designed for the post-American phase in Iraq and one that must be coordinated with Syria. The alliance between Syria and Iran was strengthened by the US occupation of Iraq. The US made it clear that it considered both Iran and Syria as rogue states, that would have to make dramatic changes to their policies if they did not want to face American induced regime-change. But when the US withdraws from Iraq this calculus will change. The alliance between Iran and Syria will face serious strains. It is in Syria's interest to team up with Saudi Arabia in order to tip the scales of power in Iraq toward its Sunni community. This will divide Syria from Iran, which will be pushing down on the Shiite side of the scale. So long as the US is strong in Iraq, Syria's interests are with Iran. Once the US is gone, Syria's interests will be with Saudi Arabia.
In order to smooth the way for Syria to make the transition from Iran to Arabia, King Abdullah must advance Syrian interests in Lebanon, by finding an accommodation between the Syrian backed opposition and the US backed government. Even more importantly, it must advance Syria's desire to get back the Golan Heights and sign a peace agreement with Israel, based on the return of all occupied territories. Saudi Arabia's rejection of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s call on Monday for Arab governments to “begin reaching out to Israel” and to make changes in the terms of the Arab peace plan, most notably the call for a right of return for Palestinian refugees to what is today Israel, must be seen in this light. Regarding the Palestinians, the king said Wednesday, “It has become necessary to end the unjust blockade imposed on the Palestinian people as soon as possible so that the peace process can move in an atmosphere far from oppression and force.”
Turki al-Rasheed, who runs an organization promoting democracy in Saudi Arabia, said “Bush wants to make it look like he is solving the problem. The king wants to actually solve the problems.”
King Abdullah said the loss of confidence in Arab leaders had allowed American and other forces to hold significant sway in the region. “If confidence is restored it will be accompanied by credibility,” he said, “and if credibility is restored then the winds of hope will blow, and then we will never allow outside forces to define our future nor allow banners to be raised in Arab lands other than those of Arabism, brothers.”
Alex writes of the Arab League summit: "I just listened to most of the speeches given during the closing session of the summit.
Bashar surprised all by having the shortest speech!… He said that he was very satisfied with the decisions taken at this summit and that they seem like they will have a good chance of being implemented. He is confident that Arab national security will not be allowed to be compromised by outsiders who thought they could do so with ease.
He then expressed his hope that the next summit in Syria will achieve similar gains for the Arab world ..etc. At previous summits, he delivered long lectures.
Lahoud delivered a very hard line speech, praising Hizbollah's performance in its struggle with Israel last summer. The rest of the closing remarks were bland and generic.
Hassan Fattah has an excellent roundup, which I have quoted from above: "U.S. Iraq Role Is Called Illegal by Saudi King." He writes:
The Saudis seem to be emphasizing that they will not be beholden to the policies of their longtime ally.
They brokered a deal between the two main Palestinian factions last month, but one that Israel and the United States found deeply problematic because it added to the power of the radical group Hamas rather than the more moderate Fatah. On Wednesday King Abdullah called for an end to the international boycott of the new Palestinian government. The United States and Israel want the boycott continued.
In addition, Abdullah invited President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran to Riyadh earlier this month, while the Americans want him shunned. And in trying to settle the tensions in Lebanon, the Saudis have been willing to negotiate with Iran and Hezbollah.
Last week the Saudi king canceled his appearance next month at a White House dinner in his honor, The Washington Post reported Wednesday. The official reason given was a scheduling conflict, the paper said.
Mustapha Hamarneh, director of the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan, said the Saudis were sending Washington a message. “They are telling the U.S. they need to listen to their allies rather than imposing decisions on them and always taking Israel’s side,” Mr. Hamarneh said.
In his speech, the king said, “In the beloved Iraq, the bloodshed is continuing
The Project for Democracy in the Middle East, an excellent independent organization highlights on its blog the consternation in Washington at the behavior of the Saudis.
In the Washington Post, Jim Hoagland discusses the meaning of Saudi King Abdullah's recent cancellation of a White House gala to be held in Abdullah's honor in mid-April. This, on the heels of Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit's angry rebuff of unacceptable "interference" by Condoleezza Rice in Egyptian affairs, indicates an increased willingness by Middle East allies to reject the White House, or as Hoagland suggests, an increased political need to do so.
Children of Abraham is launching a ground-breaking online program connecting Muslim teenagers from Jakarta, Tehran, Riyadh, Dubai, Damascus and Cairo, and Jewish teenagers from Paris, London, Montreal, New York and Moscow. Participants are guided through a four-month program online using Wiki collaboration and photography that will require 2-3 hours per week. For a description and objectives, you can read here: Program Description. A full list of eligibility requirements is here: Eligibility. The application questions are available here in Arabic and English. But the ANSWERS must be filled out in English. Application 2007.