Stumbling towards Doha

 The Arab Summit slated to be held in Doha on March 29-30 had been shaping up to be a pivotal moment in Arab reconciliation, bridging the sharp divisions between the ‘moderate’ and ‘resistance’ camps and consolidating rapprochements between Saudi Arabia and Egypt on the one hand and Syria and Qatar and the other.  The idea ...

 The Arab Summit slated to be held in Doha on March 29-30 had been shaping up to be a pivotal moment in Arab reconciliation, bridging the sharp divisions between the ‘moderate’ and ‘resistance’ camps and consolidating rapprochements between Saudi Arabia and Egypt on the one hand and Syria and Qatar and the other.  The idea seemed to be that the Arab states would arrive at Doha with a united Arab front, a Palestinian national unity government, and a renewed Arab peace initiative. But it has been running into some pretty heavy turbulence and now may have quite the opposite effect. 

 As I've noted in some earlier posts, the Palestinian reconciliation part isn't going so well. A few weeks ago, I heard a lot about the importance of arriving at Doha with a Palestinian government of national unity to demonstrate Arab readiness to move ahead quickly on the Palestinian-Israeli track.  Now what I'm hearing is that Doha shouldn't be seen as a deadline after all -- particularly because certain actors worry that important values will be bargained away in the rush to reach a deal.  Perhaps the Doha Summit was an artificial deadline for coming to agreement, but it did have the virtue of focusing the minds of the parties.  

 Meanwhile, Arab reconciliation itself has hit the skids. While the Saudi outreach to Syria proceeds apace (which may have something to do with Bashar al-Asad's first visit to Amman in half a decade), Qatar's relations with key Arab "moderate" states have taken a sharp turn for the worse.   Egypt reportedly pushed to exclude Qatar from the mini-summitt in Riyadh a few weeks ago (supposedly out of anger with al-Jazeera’s coverage of Egypt’s policy towards Gaza). Mahmoud Abbas flew to Doha to complain about al-Jazeera's coverage (though I hear that when pressed, he had to admit that he didn't actually watch al-Jazeera and didn't know what was on it, and turned down the opportunity to appear in a live interview).  Jordanians are furious about al-Jazeera's broadcast of the second part of Mohammed Hasanayn Haykal’s program on the history of Jordanian-Israeli secret ties (I do expect King Abdullah to attend, though, despite the outrage du jour).  And the Saudis and others are reportedly upset over an alleged Qatari invitation to Mahmoud Ahmedenejad to participate as an observer. 

 The Arab Summit slated to be held in Doha on March 29-30 had been shaping up to be a pivotal moment in Arab reconciliation, bridging the sharp divisions between the ‘moderate’ and ‘resistance’ camps and consolidating rapprochements between Saudi Arabia and Egypt on the one hand and Syria and Qatar and the other.  The idea seemed to be that the Arab states would arrive at Doha with a united Arab front, a Palestinian national unity government, and a renewed Arab peace initiative. But it has been running into some pretty heavy turbulence and now may have quite the opposite effect. 

 As I’ve noted in some earlier posts, the Palestinian reconciliation part isn’t going so well. A few weeks ago, I heard a lot about the importance of arriving at Doha with a Palestinian government of national unity to demonstrate Arab readiness to move ahead quickly on the Palestinian-Israeli track.  Now what I’m hearing is that Doha shouldn’t be seen as a deadline after all — particularly because certain actors worry that important values will be bargained away in the rush to reach a deal.  Perhaps the Doha Summit was an artificial deadline for coming to agreement, but it did have the virtue of focusing the minds of the parties.  

 Meanwhile, Arab reconciliation itself has hit the skids. While the Saudi outreach to Syria proceeds apace (which may have something to do with Bashar al-Asad’s first visit to Amman in half a decade), Qatar’s relations with key Arab "moderate" states have taken a sharp turn for the worse.   Egypt reportedly pushed to exclude Qatar from the mini-summitt in Riyadh a few weeks ago (supposedly out of anger with al-Jazeera’s coverage of Egypt’s policy towards Gaza). Mahmoud Abbas flew to Doha to complain about al-Jazeera’s coverage (though I hear that when pressed, he had to admit that he didn’t actually watch al-Jazeera and didn’t know what was on it, and turned down the opportunity to appear in a live interview).  Jordanians are furious about al-Jazeera’s broadcast of the second part of Mohammed Hasanayn Haykal’s program on the history of Jordanian-Israeli secret ties (I do expect King Abdullah to attend, though, despite the outrage du jour).  And the Saudis and others are reportedly upset over an alleged Qatari invitation to Mahmoud Ahmedenejad to participate as an observer. 

 It will be quite a let-down from high early expectations if after all this feverish inter-Arab diplomacy a significant number of Arab states end up downgrading their representation at the Doha Summit, there’s no Palestinian national unity government, and the final declaration simply repeats the consistent Saudi message that the Arab Peace Initiative is still on the table but won’t be there forever. But that’s increasingly how it seems to be shaking out. 

 Luckily, at least Sudan’s Omar Bashir has evidently decided not to attend after initially saying that he would, out of concerns about the ICC’s international arrest warrent.  Aside from simply not wanting a bloody-handed genocidaire participating in international summits of any kind, it would simply have been an incredible distraction from the original  intent of the Doha summit.

Marc Lynch is associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, where he is the director of the Institute for Middle East Studies and of the Project on Middle East Political Science. He is also a non-resident senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. He is the author of The Arab Uprising (March 2012, PublicAffairs).

He publishes frequently on the politics of the Middle East, with a particular focus on the Arab media and information technology, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, and Islamist movements. Twitter: @abuaardvark

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