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The Tunis Summit: Responsibility and Struggles

The Tunis Summit: Responsibility and Struggles

Monday, 1 April, 2019 - 11:00
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper
It is so hard to be an Arab journalist and that Arab summits be among your interests. It is so hard to chase them from one capital to another, and to analyze the hugs and the grudges to return with some conclusions. Experience tells you that while you ask for information, you often get only wishes, despite the speechmakers’ knowledge that you are not a newcomer to cover the Arab encounters.
Writing about the summit itself is harder than covering its events… Writing about its new developments and its impact on the region and the world. The journalist commits a serious mistake if he asks questions like, is the Arab world better today than it was a year ago? Is it better today than it was a decade ago? It is wise to avoid memories, for they are painful… and to avoid numbers, for they are disastrous.
I was preparing to write this article when I read a news headline from nearby Libya. A Libyan citizen has acquired the famous tent of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and was waiting for the highest bidder to sell it. I remembered hearing from the members of Gaddafi’s narrow circle, including the director of protocol, Nuri al-Mesmari, a lot of amazing stories about this tent, from which the master controlled the affairs of the country.
Gaddafi deliberately intended the entrance to the tent to be low to force the visitor to bend as he entered. On foreign trips, the tent was a mobile problem and Vladimir Putin had to personally intervene to solve the issue in order to prevent the Colonel’s anger and the failure of his visit. An incident that shows how he dealt with the world.

In one of the corridors of the Kremlin, the protocol was that Muammar Gaddafi and Leonid Brezhnev should go halfway to shake hands. Gaddafi intentionally delayed his appearance to show the viewers and the Libyans that it was the Soviet leader who sought to shake hands with him. It is the management of relations with the world out of the obsession of the image at home. Gaddafi was not the only one to do so.
The colonel’s tent reminded me that the Arab summit often resembled a tent set above Arab pains and disputes… And that the transfer of the Arab patient to the summit hospital was already overdue. And that the Committee of physicians was not able to compensate for the lost time when treatment was still possible should first aid was delivered to the patient in his own capital.
I am not saying that the summit should not be held. Our wounds should not be crowned by the loss of the ability to meet under one roof, despite all the holes, gaps and violations that have afflicted the body of Arab solidarity. The ability to meet keeps hope alive, by at least providing painkillers if treatment was not possible.
What matters most is what the Arab states do in the period between two summits. The summit is the outcome of the scenes in Arab capitals. It is clear that Arab countries are dealing at different speeds with Arab, regional and international struggles. First, we must admit that old remedies have expired and that governance through security services is no longer possible. We must admit that we live in another era, and that every Arab has his own platform, through social media, newspapers, forums and radios, that does not require a license or permission. The Arab patient cannot be treated with old drugs, by delay or intimidation.
At the summit in Tunis, it became clear that the Arab world had suffered a decline in recent years after the spring swallows turned into explosive belts. The consecutive collapses and bloodshed revealed the Arab world’s lack of institutions that could guarantee, monitor, protect and represent safety valves. Building such institutions is what protects the state from hiding in a tent threatened by external infiltration or internal civil war. This is the first challenge facing every Arab country. It is the challenge of building a modern state and real institutions capable of getting people engaged in development plans to create jobs, modernize education, consolidate civil peace and connect with the rapidly changing era.

Once Arab countries make a reasonable move on this path, the summit will be different so will be its regional and international significance.
The second challenge is that of regional interference. Just pay attention to the maps. Regional powers are seeking to guarantee their security and roles and launch their wars on Arab soil. In the Arab part alone, the immunity of the international borders has been degraded by ISIS, and we have seen multiple forms and colors of mobile militias and small armies acting with non-Arab wills.

The Syrian model is a blatant example. Iran establishes its military structure on Syrian soil. Israel targets this structure on Syrian territory. Turkey is hunting Kurds inside Syria. The Arab world could not be a player like others, but became a playground for their game. The persistence of this reality threatens to change equations and identities.
The third challenge is represented by the vague and difficult international situation. This foggy transitional phase has led politicians and analysts to say that the international order born out of World War II was disintegrating, and that what we are witnessing today is the painful and long labor of an alternative order.
On the impact of these Arab, regional and international struggles, the Tunis Summit was held. It was important to give the open Libyan wound special attention and to stress the conditions for any just and lasting peace and the rejection of US decisions on Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. The same is true regarding the refusal of Iran’s role in jeopardizing the region’s stability through its missiles at the disposal of the Houthi militias, in addition to the rejection of Turkey’s role, which is present in Syria with a Russian passport.
It is not surprising that Arabs suffer from the decline of their international weight. Europe itself complains of its shrinking power and the marginalization of its role. The game has changed, so did the power criteria. The Tunis summit has ended. The problem is not at the top. It is first and foremost inside the wounded capitals. Any serious treatment starts from there.
It is so hard to be an Arab journalist and that Arab summits be among your interests. It is so difficult to write an article about a new summit that does not resemble the same old articles you wrote while covering previous Arab high-level encounters.

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