What to expect from the Arab League summit in Tunis | News from Tunisia



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Tunis, Tunisia Eight years after shouts of "the people want the regime's fall" swept North Africa and the Middle East, echoes of the same demand are making waves again in parts of the Arab region.

In Sudan, "Just Fall" has been the war cry as protests against rising living costs in December have turned into ongoing demonstrations calling on longtime President Omar al-Bashir to resign.

And in Algeria, hundreds of thousands of people have been shouting "no to Bouteflika" since the end of February after the country's president announced his attempt to seek a fifth term in the elections scheduled for April.

Bowing to growing public pressure, Abdelaziz Bouteflika later dropped his bidding plan again. But the 82-year-old also postponed the polls and remained in office, angering protesters who continued to take to the streets en masse, summoning not only their departure, but the banishment of all ruling elite.

However, calls for political change are unlikely to be on the agenda of this year's Arab League summit, which will take place on Sunday in Tunis – just as the regional entity reacted to the so-called Arab Spring in 2011.

Emir of Kuwait and President of Tunisia at Tunis-Carthage Airport [Hussein Malla/Pool via Reuters]

According to Abdelwahab el-Affendi, policy professor at the Doha Institute, the Arab Spring has created three main fields within the league: the dominant and pro-US governments of countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, which saw the 2011 protests as a threat to stability; the pro-Iran bloc that includes Iraq, Syria and the Hezbollah movement in Lebanon; and those who have supported the changes brought about by demonstrations such as Tunisia and Qatar.

"Almost all regimes are anti-Arab, not only because they are linked to foreign interests, but because they are so viscerally hostile to their own people – and therefore to the real Arabs," El-Affendi said.

As a result, it is unlikely that the Tunis summit will discuss ongoing protest movements in Sudan and Algeria, especially in the absence of the presidents of the two countries, added El Affendi, "except to express solidarity with the regimes."

Abdullah al-Arian, a history professor at Georgetown University, agreed, noting that the Tunis summit came amid serious divisions, continued wars – including the UAE-led four-year military campaign against the Houthi rebels in Yemen – and some increasing repression.

"The combination of resurgent authoritarianism and destructive civil conflicts has ensured that the basic needs of populations throughout the region are being denied, largely due to the policies of the leaders assembled in Tunis," he said.

"As some of the wealthier Arab states continue to wage a brutal war against the poorest Arab country, Yemen, [Arab League] has little credibility and has historically demonstrated that it is unlikely to take serious steps to address the region's immediate crises. "

Foreign ministers attend preparatory meeting ahead of Tunis summit [Zoubeir Souissi/Reuters]

& # 39; Pageantry of participants & # 39;

Established for the first time in 1945 as a bulwark of Arab nationalism, the body has been criticized over the decades for becoming an ineffective collective dedicated to keeping the interests of the ruling elites on the legitimate concerns of millions of people living within its borders .

The popular revolts of 2011, once a major source of hope for millions of disaffected Arab populations seeking change after decades of autocratic rule, have largely given rise to counter-revolutions – and in the case of Syria and Libya, wars devastating.

Tunisia, host of the 30th Arab League, remains the only "success story" of that era, since the removal of its former ruler resulted in a functional democracy.

However, analysts said the Tunisian model is not something that top leaders would like to emphasize.

For Sean Yom, assistant professor of political science at Temple University, the domes of the body represent nothing more than "a pomp of participants."

"The Arab League exists because it has to exist – that is, it is more difficult to dismantle a regional organization than to create one," he told Al Jazeera.

"It is a byproduct of an era in which there was a collective threat (Israel), and when certain issues, such as pan-Arab unity and Palestinian justice, really had the power to mobilize among the Arab masses." he. added.

"So if we define the Arab League on the imperative of promoting regional cohesion and resolving disputes between Arabs, it has clearly failed."

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In early March, Tunisian Foreign Minister Khamies Jhinaoui said that the readmission of Syria, which was suspended from the body in 2011, in response to Brutal repression of President Bashar al-Assad over pro-democracy protesters, would be on the agenda of the summit.

However, a move by US President Donald Trump last week to officially recognize Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which Israel occupied with Syria in 1967, overshadowed the potential reinstatement of Damascus.

Arab and international condemnation was swift after Trump's announcement, but analysts expect nothing more than verbal denunciations in Tunis – in line with the past practices of the Arab League.

"The need to maintain a strong working relationship with the Trump administration is likely to take priority over any action," al-Arian said.

Yom said any official statement in Tunis condemning Trump's ruling would not have "credibility."

"First, appeals to international law will be laughable, given the ongoing interventions in Yemen and the likely war crimes there, as well as the impotence of Arab countries in halting Syrian atrocities," he said.

"Second, other elements of Israel's aggressive stance under US backing, such as the Jerusalem issue and its increasingly racist jingoism, are part and parcel of the Saudi-led front vision for a new Riyadh-centered regional order. "

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Marginal level

Although the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and has transferred its embassy there, Saudi Arabia, Washington's main ally, has placed its weight on the peace process of Jared Kushner's son-in-law, known as the "agreement." from the __ century ".

The plan was not released, but there is much to suggest that unofficial and official warming of relations between the Gulf Arab states and Israel is now part of a new regional order.

In that context, Yom said any initiative taken by the league to confront Israel would require pan-Arab cooperation, which is unlikely to happen in the current climate of geopolitical fragmentation.

Instead, the Arab League agenda is expected to follow its usual points of discussion, such as speaking ill of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen without addressing the main aggressor, Saudi Arabia, and the influence of non-Arab countries in the region, such as Iran and Turkey.

The summit will also discuss the conflict in neighboring Libya after UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres attended a meeting of the Libyan Quartet on Saturday United Nations, African Union, Arab League and European Union. No significant action, however, is expected.

For Yom, the Arab League may be useful at a marginal level.

"It allows delegations to communicate through parallel meetings," he said. "Kuwaitis, for example, will probably try once more to convince the Saudi and Catharian camps to [engage in] dialogue.

"The Palestinians also use these summits to ally themselves with their Arab allies, although the Israeli-Saudi-Egyptian axis will spur the century agreement" to make this a debatable point. "

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