Arab summit meetings are generally pointless and uninteresting. While they are sometimes invested with some forlorn hope, for most Arabs they virtually epitomize the stagnation and failure of the Arab status quo. Example: al Jazeera ran an online poll which asked "will the Arab summit be able to arrive at a solution to the Syrian-Lebanese crisis?" 87% of respondents said no (as of the time I looked at it, with over 30,000 respondents). Another example (via al Safir): al Arabiya's "most e-mailed story" yesterday had nothing to do with the Arab summit... it was about the medical problems of Ahmed Zekki. Virtually every Arab summit is accompanied by an outpouring of commentary bemoaning this uselessness, earnest proposals to reform the Arab League which never go anywhere, and then frustration of whatever hopes might have still been secretly harboured.
Still, let me do my duty and round up some commentary and look for something interesting. First off, a whole bunch of Arab leaders (nine of them) didn't attend. King Abdullah, as I mentioned yesterday, suddenly found himself with other commitments once the Arab summit adopted all of his proposals (not really). Crown Prince Abdullah reportedly didn't make it because he's still pissed that Qaddafi tried to have him killed (oh, grow up... what's an assassination attempt among friends?).
Most of the commentary mentioned the unusually "calm" atmosphere of the summit. This is code for "deadly boring... please can the next summit not be in Algiers?" One report mentioned that the final statement was passed with "remarkable speed" compared to other summit meetings. This is code for "it didn't say anything, and nobody could be bothered to make a fuss." Several noted that the opening session was the longest ever, with a remarkable number of lengthy statements by Arab and non-Arab guests. Does the code here really require translation?
Next, what did they talk about? Well, they offered to start up the Abdullah peace plan with Israel again, asking for specific Israeli concessions in response for Arab normalization with Israel (instead of Abdullah's idea of making Arab concessions first in the hopes that Israel would reciprocate). Israel said no. (Not surprisingly to me, but perhaps to some readers, al Jazeera gave ample time at the end of the summit to an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, and I just now saw a lengthy exchange with Shimon Peres; I don't know what other stations did because I wasn't watching them).
Most of the Lebanon stuff seemed pretty uninteresting, although some of the reports suggested that there was more entertaining and important discussion behind closed doors. They always say that.
They also argued about money. Secretary General Amr Musa reportedly threatened to quit over the non-funding of the Arab League. I hope they got that important business sorted out. The Arab people sure wanted to know where the Arab leaders stood on the vital question of Amr Musa's salary.
Some foreign guests were rather more interesting than the Arab leaders. A Spanish proposal to create an "alliance of civilizations" got some play on al Jazeera. A lot of the press commentary noted the wide array of languages being spoken, with some making snide remarks about how "Arab" the summit really way (Jordan's proposals were routinely described as "American" proposals). Also, an Israeli journalist apparently showed up and got a televised interview with Bashar al Assad, which created a bit of a stir.
Finally, some excerpts from the commentary:
Ahmed al Rubai, al Sharq al Awsat, "Dissolve the Arab League": "I don't know why people are angry about the failure of the summit meeting... when the truth is that the Arab League as it is currently comprised will never achieve success. The failure of summits is not a surprise.. if it succeeded, that would be the surprise."
Abd al Bari Atwan, al Quds al Arabi, "Summit of the Impotent in Algeria": "The decision of the Arab summit to activate the Arab peace initiative is laughable to the extreme... they behave as if they are really important, as if the world is awaiting their pronouncements... they don't seem to realize that an OPEC mini-summit is ten times more important then them."
Abdullah al Asha'al, al Hayat, "The Algiers Summit and the Crisis of the Arab League": "Amr Musa was interviewed on Dubai TV the other day.. and he was asked whether the Algiers Summit would look to implement the reform agenda from the Tunis Summit... and the Secretary General explained that he had received reports from eight countries about their progress on reform and he would present this to the summit... and when he was asked whether this would be used to persuade the United States to stop pressuring Arab regimes for democratic reforms... he said that he expected that.... The truth is that this interview demonstrates the crisis of the Arab League... the issuing of a resolution about reform issues has no relationship to any will for reform inside of any Arab state..."
Abd al Rahman al Rashed, al Sharq al Awsat, "This is the best Arab summit ever": he lists a whole series of things that would make it a success: resolving the Lebanese crisis, activating an Arab common market, building consensus for rebuilding and stabilizing Iraq, ending the conflict in the Western Sahara, and so forth.. and then: "the truth is that the summit will not resolve any of these conflicts this year or any other year... the Algiers summit is no better than any other Arab summit and no worse."
Hazem Saghiye, al Hayat, "On the summit and the base": "the summit came out with strong support for Lebanese president Emile Lahoud (against whom?) and suported President Assad in his confrontation with Western pressure... what can we expect of the Arab summits?... some might say that it has lost its representativeness of the people, or its base... it emanates from regimes.. and aims to defend 'Arab national security'..."
Salah al Din Hafez, al Ahram, "Reforming the Umma... does not concern the Summit": like it sounds.
Ali Muhassen Hamid, al Hayat, "Reforming the Arab League": there are many views about reforming the Arabbbbb.... whoops, sorry, just kind of dozed off for a second there. Next?
OK, done now. Til next year. Oh, the Arab Summit goes, oh, I miss it so.