My call for cancelling Arab summits is not prompted by what happened at the latest Doha summit. Nearly all Arab summits ended up with more differences, underlining that the summits harm Arabs rather than improve their lot. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak did well when he decided not to attend the latest summit in Doha, because there is no use in summits that end in bitterness and create negative popular impressions. Despite all sincere attempts of the Arab summit establishment, it has not succeeded in achieving any of its plans or slogans on nearly all levels. I firmly believe that if Arabs were polled in any Arab country on whether or not they support Arab summits, they result would be negative because they have been held for decades without achieving anything for Arabs.
Do we really need to hold Arab summits? Definitely not, and the summits that have been held over the past 60 years prove the truth of this argument. The first Arab summit was held in Anshas, Egypt, and the key issue on the agenda of that summit was to stop Jewish immigration to Palestine. It was held two years before 1948 and the proclamation of the State of Israel. That summit was followed by decades of summits, speeches, and promises that came to nothing. The sultan of Oman knows this full well. He, thanks to his wisdom, has accustomed all Arab leaders to his position, avoiding attending Arab summits. Nevertheless, he always attends less significant summits, like the Gulf summits, because he is aware that they directly affect his country's interest, that most of their activities are effective, and that almost always they produce concrete results, notwithstanding the differences that occasionally arise.
Doing away with the Arab summits does not obviate the need for the Arab League, the presumed institution nurturing collective Arab activities. I believe that Arab summits undermine rather than strengthen the Arab League, as it was once believed. The Arab League has constantly focused on serving the working program of summits, which repeatedly focus on political affairs. As everyone knows, major political issues are beyond the capabilities of the Arab League and of the Arab summits, as we have seen from the early developments in the Palestinian issue up to the pursuit of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. Thanks to the domination of politics, impotence of the Arab leaders and the poor resources of their countries, and, needless to say, their numerous differences, everyone has become convinced that there is no need for Arab summits which widen rather than narrow Arab differences.
The noble goal that the Arab League is expected to achieve is to enhance Arab cooperation in all, not only the political fields. This is a tall order that requires the Arab League to focus its interest on, and not to be always busy preparing for summits and the ministerial meetings linked to summits. what made things worse is that Arab summits were usually held to address a certain need, so much so that the Arab leaders became convinced that in view of the numerous summits, both ordinary and extraordinary, they had better draw a timetable and hold summits annually in order to facilitate their organization and provide opportunity for good preparation. Still, Arab summits produced contrary results to what was expected. The annual summits widened differences over who will chair the summits, and created negative alliances prior to summits, prompting some to boycott them in protest. These problems recurred in every annual summit. So what is the use of an annual summit that has the same drawback as extraordinary ones?
The Doha summit and the differences that preceded it over hosting mini-summits, economic summits, and extraordinary ones, demonstrated that its outcome was not different from that of the Damascus summit, the Riyadh summit, or any other summit. The Arabs do not need summits; they need bread, jobs, and peace, of which the Arab summits have addressed none throughout their history.
*Published in the London-based ASHARQ ALAWSAT on April 2.