The Arab League Summit: Arabism is Back – Syria is In

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.

Bush Rejected by Middle East Royalty?
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, an interesting program designed to bring together teenagers who are around 16-18 years old, is looking for Syrians who want to participate.
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.

Comments (18)

ausamaa said:

“Once the US is gone, Syria’s interests will be with Saudi Arabia”.

Not so Fast!!

Relations with Iran are as Important to Syria as its relations with Saudi if not more. Saudi remains the US prime agent in the area, Iran is the counter balance. The fact that Saudi is being been “nice” to Syria now is because it needs Syria now, not because it shares a common strategic vision with Syria (unless the opposit can be proven in the years to come), but I believe Iran, on the other hand, does share such a vision. Also if Iraq is going to be a troubled country for a while, then Syria must maintain a very good relationship with Iran. On all counts, the Syrian-Iranian relationship is a strategic -as opposed to a tactical- one for Syria, and is needed for the security of not only Syria and Iran, but for the security and balance of power in the whole area.

March 29th, 2007, 4:37 pm


Joshua said:

Ausamaa, Syria will have to retain good relations with Iran even as it tries to find common agreement with Saudi Arabia on Iraq, Palestine, and Lebanon. This will be very hard, if not impossible to do. The main source of the Iranian-Syrian alliance has been a strong and threatening Iraq. The US presence in Iraq, in the place of Saddam’s regime, made it all the more threatening.

Once the US begins to withdraw, the core of the alliance loses its importance. Syria cannot side with Muqtada al-Sadr against the Sunnis in Iraq. Syria’s historic and kin relations are with the Sunnis.

Why is Syria refusing to hand over the Baathist Iraqis and other Sunnis who have taken refuge in Syria? It hopes that one of them will turn out to be a leader in Iraq in the future. This principle, which paid off so handsomely with Syria’s protection of Hamas and Mashaal in its Palestine politics, is no doubt behind Syria’s protection of Iraqi resistance elements.

I suspect that the Syrian visions of future Iraq are closer to Saudi Arabia’s than they are to Iran’s.

As for getting back Golan, Saudi Arabia can help to pressure the US and Israel on this issue better than Iran can in the long run. So long as Syria is embattled and on the defensive, Iran is the better protector and can supply money and arms, but if ever Israel contemplates as deal with Syria, Saudi help may prove decisive.

That is the way I see it. Syria needs both, but it cannot afford to be at war with Saudi Arabia.

March 29th, 2007, 5:42 pm


majedkhaldoun said:

Iran is power center, KSA is financial center,and arabic center,the syrian iranian relation is temporary,as USA pull out of Iraq Syria position will be much stronger,however KSA is needed for Syria to regain its influence in Lebanon,and Iraq, USA will never allow syria to have Iraqi ruler who is pro syria, but will allow one who is pro KSA.
Syrians are arabic, if they have to choose ,they will choose KSA, now they are not comfortable for the regime to be pro Iran and against KSA,KSA as they shunned Syria recently,Syria was isolated, when Mubarak leaves,KSA will be the leader of the arab.

March 29th, 2007, 6:48 pm


ausamaa said:

Josh, Of course, but one has to form an opinion based on “precedents”. Iran stuck to Syria when the going was rough, and Syria stuck to Iran when the going was rough too! Can not say that for KSA. KSA stuck to Syria either because it could not go against the Arab street, or did so in the hope of taming Syria. No love lost. I like the pictures of Arab Soldiarity during the summit, but I am not that sentimental. I love to, but the history of the area would not support such an argument. When we say KSA, I remember Nasser, and I remmeber Lebanon 1982, and I remember the last July war, and I remember the years when Syria was at the brinks while KSA was busy counting how much its oil revenues were. And then I remember that Syria would not have been portrayed as the “darling” of the Riyadh summit if it was not for Hizbullah victory in Lebanon. That was the tipping point for every one. Not the sudden awakening of their brotherly feelings. I do not like hand me downs! Which is exactly how KSA thinks it can treat others.

I do not want to be a party spoiler. I want to share in the festivities, if they were true. But, it is a sellers market now. And Syria is the seller. So Syria has to set the price for what they want Syria to sell!

Now, if we look at a scenario where a real peace process is on , then things will have to change. And then, Iran will change too. It is gonna to be part of it anyway. But I do not believe this is the case. Israel is neither realistic enough, strong enough nor week enough to seek peace! So it is all a long break in the long match. And I would rather trust Turkey and Iran. They are the powers that matter, and they are strong enough and principled so as not dump Syria at the first bend in the road. They are capable of making their own decision, which can not be said of KSA.

I hope I am wrong!

But do you really think that KSA told Rice at the meeting which was called in Egypt two days before the summit: sorry madam, but we are going to be more independet as of tomorrwo?? If so, why was there no Egypt-Syria-Saudi meeting during the summit? Why were there many long faces around that table?

I hope I am wrong ! but meanwhile, Syria shall sail with the wind while keeping both eyes open! Syria should work for a better understanding with all, and with Saudi and Egypt first and foremost? But was “undestanding” the problem? or was it “intentions”??

March 29th, 2007, 7:32 pm


ausamaa said:

I love this description of the chances of the peace process has. This is what Yossi Sarid wrote in Haaretz in his article of 28/3/2007 “Washington sits on its hands”:

” Instead of going from here to Riyadh, Rice preferred to return to Washington. How could she come to an Arab summit conferenc with empty hands? Once again the United States is missing an opportunity, for the umpteenth time, and who knows when it will present itself again”.

I assure you, every one sitting around that table in Riyadh knew that this was the case!

Which forces me to say: “I am from Missouri….!”

But I will keep quite; this is party time, some people are saying! So, let us really give it the best shot and let us try to make the best of it while it lasts.

March 29th, 2007, 7:56 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Yossi Sarid whined –

“Instead of going from here to Riyadh, Rice preferred to return to Washington.”


What do you care about Rice? Why don’t you go to Riyadh instead? You didn’t consult with the US when you started your negotiations with the PLO in Oslo. Go for it Dude!

March 30th, 2007, 1:44 am


norman said:

Ausama, I agree with you , KSA should show Syria results , I doubt that they can ,They are puppet of the US.

March 30th, 2007, 3:05 am


sam said:

The King knows that Bashar will be president for a very long time. Bush & Ahmedinajed won’t be around in a couple of years. Despite of all the talk from the opposition, The Assad is gaining strength. Syria is the main piece of many PEACE puzzles that needs to be put back together again. All solutions have failed in the past, I truly believe, that Pan-Arabism (that recognizes Isreal) is the only way that the region will pull out of this perilous situation.

March 30th, 2007, 3:58 am


Jason said:

When I first read this headline and other various reports about the Arab League Summit I thought, wow, King Abdullah is serious. Playing the “Pan-Arabism card” could be argued as the best strategy/stance for the Saudis to take. Mediating the recent Hamas-Fatah unity government while at the same time putting pressure on Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories in exchange for peace with other Arab states is the approach that can shine a positive light on Saudi and can balance Iran’s influence in the region.

Since Bush’s days in office are numbered and with Rice’s new ‘public relations peace campaign,’ King Abdullah can put pressure on the Bush administration and dodge considerable criticism, by simply pressuring the US to actually do something positive and lay the ground work for serious negotiations. The statement “Bush wants to make it look like he is solving the problem. The king wants to actually solve the problems” is very true. Rice’s new initiative is purely a PR campaing to say ‘we’re committed to peace,’ when in reality nothing ever evolves from the talks. If the current administration is committed to peace they would stop standing behind Israel and actually step in between the Israelis and Palestinians for negotiations, while pressuring Israel to withdraw to the 67 borders. That would only be the beginning of the peace negotiations. One thing is for sure, there will be no peace until the US puts pressure on the Israelis to withdraw to the 67 border.

King Abdullah’s new stance is the stance Arab leaders should have been taking all along. Abdullah is the only person in the region that can put serious pressure on the US to force them to take progressive steps in negotiating the peace process. Can the US negotiate anything with 150,000 troops in the region? Probably not, but the Arab states (specifically Saudi) uniting would be a positive step in order to put pressure on the US.

March 30th, 2007, 4:57 am


majedkhaldoun said:

we are arab american,we must be loyal to the USA,and we are, and we need to prove this loyalty, our loyalty is no longer to the old country,if we are then we should go back there, however we are against lies and deception,we are free to think fair and just with correct rational,if we see something wrong we should criticize it,and be against it.
the other point I want to make is,KSA is a religious center for ISLAM,they can not be radical,and aggressive and militaristic,so I do not consider KSA as puppet to america, however jordanian king and Mubarak of Egypt are puppets to USA.
Bashar Asad speach in the arab summit was subdued, the main subject was to invite the next summit to be held in Damascus, next year, I do not know what he said in his secret meetings, the future may tell. however the summit was 30% successful, as we say the weakest degree of faith,(Ad-af al Eeman).I think the success of HA in the last war has made the arab leaders more defiant, and encouraged them not to give more concessions to Isreal,Thanks Nassrallah.
I hoped that those self claimed leaders talked about water in the arab world, about liberty to their people,and more democratic system, about investing in their countries,bring the monies back home,increase the budget for the arab league,and establish an arab defense army,unifying the educational system and creating one currency.

March 30th, 2007, 5:41 am


Akbar Palace said:

Josh –

Any idea why “Children of Abraham” does not accept kids from Israel?

March 30th, 2007, 10:54 am


Mustapha said:

I don’t know what to say Joshua. Your literalist reading of saudi posturing baffles me. It can’t possibly come from someone with a grasp of the facts.

Special treatment for Assad?? where did you get THAT from?

Do you really think the Saudis will oppose the Americans?

who provides security for the Saudi Royal family from Persian expansionism? Syria?

March 30th, 2007, 3:13 pm


G said:

Behold the Landis double-speak:

I suspect that the Syrian visions of future Iraq are closer to Saudi Arabia’s than they are to Iran’s.

Compare with Landis from the summer:

I think we are seeing a restructuring. This has to do with Iraq changing from a Sunni to a Shi’ite power – from a power that was aligned against Iran and promoted itself as a defender of the Gulf to a power that is looking towards Iran. Shi’ite success looks like it is going to realign Iraq with Iran and possibly Syria against the Gulf. This will fundamentally change the balance of power in the region.

America is resisting this change that it set in motion because it means oil and gas pipeslines will be running from Iran through Iraq and Syria up to Turkey and on through to the EU. Just as importantly, they will be running in the other direction to China, India and Russia. This will reorient world power towards the East. It’s going to pull Europe away from its dependence on the US security umbrella, which is under-girded by US domination of oil markets and oil producers. Europe will become more dependent on powers like Russia and Iran. The stakes are high for American as it loses control of oil. It will not be able to retain its status as the single great superpower; rather, it will become one among equals, which is precisely what Cheney and Rumsfeld are determined to prevent.

Iraqi technical committees have already been meeting with their Syrian and Iranian counterparts plan for these pipelines. This will allow them to challenge Saudi Arabian dominance in OPEC. It’s what you might call an axis of oil – or access of oil – and the Russians and Chinese are eager to connect to it. As I see it, this is the big battle. My hunch is that within five or six years, when Iraq beings to consolidate under a Shi’ite dictatorship, it will not ask American oil companies to run the show, but rather, Russian and Chinese oil companies. For political and economic reasons, Iraqis will want to move away from American domination. Economic imperatives make linking up to Iran and the East logical. Such a combination will be powerful.

Then Landis had placed Syria (and Iraq) in the Iran-Shi’a axis, against Saudi Arabia and the gulf!

It was made clear in a following post:

How the break-out of Shiite Islam, started by the Iranian revolution but unleashed in the Arab World by the US invasion of Iraq, is changing the balance of power in the region and will force the US to engage Iran and, by extension, Syria and the Shiites of Lebanon.

Back then, Syria was an extension of Iran and the Shi’a!

This guy will say anything the regime says. You can’t take him seriously. He’ll say anything as long as it’s the official line in Damascus.

March 30th, 2007, 4:23 pm


Joshua said:

Mustapha and G.
Good points. Mustapha, to suggest that Syria and Saudi Arabia are on the same page or that the many bitter words and conflicting interests that divide them are forgotten is wrong, but to argue that the summit rhetoric means nothing, as is my understanding of your interesting post, is to whistle past the graveyard.

I think a shift is going on, which will require SA to be more solicitous of Damascus’s interests.

The reason for this is that the balance of power has turned in favor of the vision that I outlined this summer and which G quotes above. Iran has made inroads into the Arab world, extending its influence in Damascus, Lebanon, and Palestine. Russia is defending Iran. Turkey is taking a cautious “wait and see” stand and refusing to join the US bandwagon. So far Iran’s influence is mostly military. It is far from achieving the sort of oil axis vision.

This is a threat to Saudi Arabia. Abdullah has two options. One is to join more closely with the US in the attempt to defeat Iran and break up the emerging possibility that Iran will consolidate its gains and build the kind of oil axis I outlined this summer, which I believe Iranians do dream of and which also attracts Syria.

The other option is to use diplomacy to defeat it. This means trying to rebuild “Arab solidarity” and to prove to Syria and others that they will prosper more by following SA and not Iran. For Syria this would have to mean improving its chances of getting back the Golan, which now look dim. Iran has invested a lot of money in Syria, but it is chump change to what Saudi Arabia could invest and the kind of positive influence that SA could play in helping Syria achieve the economic growth figures it wants in the coming years. Also, Arab nationalism still holds much public appeal in Syria. Many are not comfortable with Syria’s close embrace of Iran. If SA makes an effort to woo Syria, the government would have to respond in kind, as we saw at the summit.

In short, I do not think that the two scenarios outlined – Shiite or Sunni axis, if you will – are exclusive. Syria would like to be the man in the middle, wooed by both sides and able to negotiate from a position of strength. This seems rather rudimentary to me.

The Saudi summit was a small step, which makes the prospect of Syria becoming the man in the middle more likely.

Best, Joshua

March 30th, 2007, 5:46 pm


G said:

The man in the middle!? Saudi held and is holding direct talks with Iran, without any need for Syria. In fact, everyone’s doing that. Syria is superfluous. It’s small fish. Iran controls Hizballah. Iran and Saudi Arabia are fighting over Hamas. Saudi Arabia and Iran don’t need Syria to be “middle man.” That’s just Syrian fantasy, which you are selling as well.

March 30th, 2007, 6:02 pm


Med Darnell said:

The only way to get peace in the Middle East, at least for the foreseeable future, with all of the DIFFERING opinions, politics, egoes, religions, financial and socio-economic disparities, nationalities and terrorism is to effectively HAMSTRING and bind-up these loose ends by consolidating and merging all of the constituient players into a MIDDLE EASTERN UNION with a single constitution and governing laws, which will level the playing field and force mutual status quo. JERUSALEM will no doubt become internationalized, with all religious entities having equal and unrestricted access.

July 10th, 2007, 10:42 pm


Med Darnell said:

Moderation is for the slow of mind and foot. I’m convinced that this merger and consolidation will become a world-wide phenomenum, with all the nations of the world forming their own UNIONS. It’s the character of the planet. They do not want to be enlisted into these mergers, but are forced to by globalization and its’ social benefits.
Try this on for size and lets see if it fits. How about this scenario– NAU, SAU, MEU, AU, EU, NAU, EAU, SAU, SEAU, SPU.

July 10th, 2007, 11:11 pm


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