Marc Lynch

Qaddafi’s the King, and You Better Respect It

Qaddafi’s the King, and You Better Respect It

The opening of the Doha Arab summit was initially overshadowed by the presence of Omar Bashir and the absence of Hosni Mubarak. But then eternal prankster Moammar Qaddafi stole the opening of the show. None of this actually leads anywhere productive, but hey — at least it’s good theater.



Qaddafi at the Doha Summit (Image source: al-Jazeera)

First, Qaddafi. The summit began with a classic bit of political theater from the Libyan despot (wait, I mean “democrat” since he cashed in his alleged nuclear program for the Bush administration’s support, right? It’s hard to keep up…). Qaddafi interrupted the opening statement by the Emir of Qatar to address Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, demanding that he end the six-year long feud between the two countries. After his microphone was cut, he dramatically left the room (and, rumor has it, then took a leisurely tour of Doha’s Museum of Islamic Art). The two have a history — they got in a public spat back in the 2003 Arab summit, and the Saudis accused Qaddafi of supporting a plot to assassinate the then-Crown Prince. If this was really an attempt to reconcile, it was an odd way to go about it.  But his performance may best be remembered for his self-description as “the dean of the Arab rulers, the king of kings of Africa and the imam of Muslims”. All he needs now is Beyonce and a Roc-a-fella necklace (link here for the lyric reference; probably NSFW). 

Second, Omar Bashir. Sudanese President Bashir’s appearance and warm reception at the Summit demonstrates the regrettable level of support for the alleged architect of the Darfur horrors and the limited reach of the International Criminal Court. Darfur has increasingly been framed in the Muslim and Arab arenas as a contest between Islam and the West, not as a question of international justice — yet another legacy of the Bush years, I think, where such a frame fell on fertile soil. The welcome for Bashir will likely overshadow a lot of the more substantive inter-Arab issues under discussion, but the Emir of Qatar — whose deep involvement in a Sudanese national reconciliation initiative is one of the sources of the current conflict with Egypt — clearly wanted it. 

Third, Hosni Mubarak. For the second year in a row, Hosni Mubarak elected to not attend the Arab summit and to send only low-level representation. Last year, he objected to Bashar al-Asad as host, this year he hoped to send a message of his displeasure with the Emir of Qatar. I suspect that this year it is going to backfire. Most of the Arabs are keen on some form of reconciliation, and there is going frustration with the pace and nature of Egyptian mediation of the Hamas-Fatah national unity government talks. Up until a couple of months ago, all the talk in Arab politics was about how Egypt had lost its regional role and its strategic bearings. It had seemed to recapture its stride with its mediation of the Palestinian talks, and Mubarak had been aggressively working the Arab capitals to try to wreck the Doha summit. But nobody important followed his lead. Don’t be surprised if Egypt’s reputation suddenly plummets again as a result of its self-imposed diplomatic isolation, and if Qatari calls to challenge the Egyptian monopoly on Palestinian reconciliation gain traction.

Meanwhile, rumors are flying about side-conversations and back-room deals. Here’s a preview (in Arabic) of the draft summit resolution. I’ll have more as things progress. And I’m trying to get hold of a video of Qaddafi’s outburst — anyone able to help out?

UPDATE:  here’s a link to the Qaddafi video (thanks, Thomas)