Respondez s’il vous plait: the Arab Summit approaches

Just as Saturday’s Arab Summit approaches, the Lebanese government has been reminding the Libyan government of the requirements of social etiquette in inviting nations to a diplomatic gathering.  We all know the basic rules for a successful invitation.  A proper host will include a telephone number or an email address to respond and in the ...

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

Just as Saturday's Arab Summit approaches, the Lebanese government has been reminding the Libyan government of the requirements of social etiquette in inviting nations to a diplomatic gathering.  We all know the basic rules for a successful invitation.  A proper host will include a telephone number or an email address to respond and in the case of a particularly formal event, there will be a self-addressed, stamped RSVP card included. It is important that invitees pay particular attention to RSVP deadlines as adjustments will be made by the host based on the response. In the event that the invitation was improperly mailed, return to sender-- which is exactly the path the Lebanese have taken.

With just one day to go, Lebanon appears to be the last nation to commit. Libya, a member state and the host of this year's meeting to be held in Sirte March 27-28 has now extended not one but two invitations, neither which were received by the Lebanese representative to the Arab League.

The first one-improperly sent to Lebanese representatives in Damascus rather than Beirut-was returned at the request of the Lebanese Foreign Ministry. Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi then sent Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Amran Abu Kara'a to extend the second invitation while in Cairo under the oversight of Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, who urged the importance of full participation of each member state.

Just as Saturday’s Arab Summit approaches, the Lebanese government has been reminding the Libyan government of the requirements of social etiquette in inviting nations to a diplomatic gathering.  We all know the basic rules for a successful invitation.  A proper host will include a telephone number or an email address to respond and in the case of a particularly formal event, there will be a self-addressed, stamped RSVP card included. It is important that invitees pay particular attention to RSVP deadlines as adjustments will be made by the host based on the response. In the event that the invitation was improperly mailed, return to sender– which is exactly the path the Lebanese have taken.

With just one day to go, Lebanon appears to be the last nation to commit. Libya, a member state and the host of this year’s meeting to be held in Sirte March 27-28 has now extended not one but two invitations, neither which were received by the Lebanese representative to the Arab League.

The first one-improperly sent to Lebanese representatives in Damascus rather than Beirut-was returned at the request of the Lebanese Foreign Ministry. Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi then sent Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Amran Abu Kara’a to extend the second invitation while in Cairo under the oversight of Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, who urged the importance of full participation of each member state.

Lebanon is currently torn regarding its expected attendance as it seeks to continue its boycott of Libya whom it blames for the 1978 disappearance of Shiite cleric and founder of the Amal Movement, Imam Musa al-Sadr, who was on an official visit at the time. Libya continues to maintain that Sadr left the country for Italy. Italy claims it had no knowledge of his entry. The frustration concerning Libyan/Lebanese relations is a hard one to let go. AFP has quoted Lebanese President Michel Suliman stating that he will not be in attendance and will boycott the Summit based on a request by Speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berri, and the greater Shiite community. If Lebanon does in fact send representatives to Libya, which it has only recently committed to doing, it risks dual threats from both Hezbollah and the Amal Movements in Lebanon to withdraw from the National-Unity Cabinet. While this is not new, it is in fact threat-worthy.

Hezbollah has in the past forcefully moved President Siniora to adhere to the political concessions set forth by the Shiite group. When the group either feels ignored or misrepresented, it has exercised the ability to use its own forceful tactics urging supporters to take to the streets, wave flags, burn tires, block roads and attack rival government forces with everything from rocks to mortar fire. Following its summer of 2006 War with Israel, Hezbollah threatened to walk out of Parliament.  In 2008, they managed a partial takeover of the capital when its own private telecommunications lines were dismantled essentially bringing the government to a standstill.

The secretary general has also been quoted saying that Lebanon’s participation in the Summit should not be discussed with the media because it would "complicate the situation."

What situation is he referring to? Admittedly, Moussa has a lot on his plate. Making sure Lebanese officials are present is of upmost importance for the success of the Summit. Not only would its absence cast a shadow of concern among its Arab neighbors, it is a key player in the dialogue that is part of Moussa’s own personal agenda for the Summit. He is slated to present a joint policy document proposing to set up a forum for regional cooperation and conflict resolution which would include two non-Arab members-Iran and Turkey. The inclusion of Turkey, a more influential Sunni Muslim nation, would surely balance out a stronger Shiite Iran but it would also bring Tehran into the folds of dialogue, a view not readily supported by all in the region or those beyond.

Hezbollah and Amal aside, Lebanese officials have increasingly dealt (or have been unable to deal) with the unresolved issue of Iranian support for militant groups beyond its borders. Tehran has long since extended its reach and established itself within Lebanon’s domestic realm, which continues to be problematic. And while Moussa’s goal is to mitigate conflict in the region among Arab nations, Libya may end up being a poor location to jumpstart that dialogue.

It is not just Lebanon that is dragging its feet in visiting Sirte. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has declined the invite over spats directed at him by Qaddafi last year in Doha. With all of Qaddafi’s diplomatic charm, Moussa is going to have trouble bringing the Lebanese on board his concept of regional cooperation at next week’s Summit.

Nadia Anne Zahran is an intern with the New America Foundation’s Middle East Task Force.

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