Arab League summit split by turmoil in Syria and Egypt

Little to celebrate as divided Arab League meets for 25th anniversary summit in Kuwait

Syria's vacant chair
(Image credit: YASSER AL-ZAYYAT/AFP/Getty Images)

WHILE much of the world’s attention is focused on Crimea and the hunt for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane, Middle Eastern eyes will turn to the 25th annual summit of the Arab League, which opened this morning in Kuwait City.

The summit comes at a critical time for the 22 member states, with growing tensions over the deteriorating situation in Egypt, the ongoing civil war in Syria and allegations of Qatari support for extremist groups throughout the Gulf region.

“Everybody considers the summit exceptional because of ongoing conflicts in the Arab region,” said Deputy Secretary-General Ahmad bin Halli.

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Gerald Butt, the BBC’s Middle East analyst, put it more bluntly.

“In four decades of covering the Middle East I cannot remember the Arab world being as multilaterally fractured as it is today,” he said. “Arabs are trapped under a dense and complex cat’s cradle of ideological and sectarian differences.”

The diplomatic fallout from Qatar’s perceived support of the Muslim Brotherhood and other extreme Islamist groups operating in the region is particularly divisive. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE all recalled ambassadors from the Qatari capital, Doha, ahead of this week’s summit.

Al Jazeera says Egypt and Saudi Arabia will lobby for a collective Arab approach to terrorism – and to the Muslim Brotherhood, which they consider a terrorist organisation. On Monday, an Egyptian court sentenced 528 Muslim Brotherhood supporters to death.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE are likely to side with Egypt in arguing that the Muslim Brotherhood represents a fundamental threat to regional security. Qatar is likely to oppose them.

The war in Syria is, if anything, an even more divisive issue. Syria “has accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar of seeking to undermine the country”, Butt says, while “Saudi Arabia and Qatar are supporting different factions of the Syrian opposition”.

Syria’s seat at the summit has so far remained empty, Al Jazeera reports. Algeria, Lebanon and Iraq have opposed proposals by other member states that the opposition Syrian National Council should be invited to represent the country.A decision on that matter, at least, is expected today.

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