There is the old saying, you put two Jews in a room and you get three opinions. These days you can say the same thing about Arab governments. The Arab league has become a battle between the “moderate” Islamist governments vs. the extreme Islamist governments. From what I can gather, the difference is that the “moderate” governments want to dhimmify the people in their own counties and then the rest of the world. The extremists are adept at multi-tasking, they want to dhimmify all none Muslims at the same time. The battle between the two groups is being fought today in Lebanon and could potentially split the Arab League:
THE ARABS MEET IN CRISIS By AMIR TAHERI March 26, 2008 — NO one knows how many heads of state will show up at the Arab Summit scheduled to start in Damascus this weekend. The 22 states of the Arab League are more divided than ever, reflecting conflicting visions of the Arab future that go beyond disputes among ruling elites. Yet the fact that no one has formally called for the summit to be scrapped or boycotted rates as good news. Keeping contact and talking together are always better than shutting the door and walking away. The most immediate cause of tension among Arab powers is Lebanon, still plodding along without a president under a caretaker government. Lebanon is a crisis in three concentric circles. The first circle pits rival Lebanese communities against each other. Some see their nation as a front-line bunker in a global war against real or imagined “enemies of Islam and/or the mythical pan-Arab nation.” Others see it as a “haven of peace” in a sea of Mideast turmoil and advance the goals of economic development and social liberalization. The divisions cut across religious lines, with each having friends and foes in all communities. In the second circle is Syria (backed by Iran, a non-Arab country playing a major role in Arab politics), pushing for a Lebanese president and government that will cancel the changes of the last five years and restore Syrian-Iranian domination. In opposition is a moderate Arab bloc (including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan) determined to help Lebanon consolidate its newly won independence from Syrian domination and Iranian influence. The third circle of crisis concerns the rivalry between the United States and Iran, each vying to reshape the Middle East. America wants a region linked to the West by economic, political and military ties. Iran hopes to drive America out of the region or force it to agree, Yalta-like, to an Iranian sphere of influence across the Mideast. Dealing with such a crisis is beyond the ability of this or any Arab summit in the foreseeable future. Arab divisions, however, go beyond Lebanon and concern broader issues – notably, peace with Israel. A majority of Arab states supports the Saudi peace initiative as approved by two previous Arab summits. This provides for the member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference to recognize Israel in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal to pre-1967 lines. Libya alone opposes any deal that could recognize Israel as a Jewish state. It advocates a one-state solution in which Jews and Arabs live together as full citizens. Non-Arab Iran also backs the one-state solution; President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called for Israel to be “wiped off the map as a stain of shame.” And, though Syria has at times called for peace with Israel in exchange for recovering the Golan, its policy is now so interlocked with Iran’s that it’s hard to expect any independent move from Damascus on this or any other major international subject. More broadly, the Arab states are divided over long-term social goals. Some (Syria, Libya and to some extent Sudan) still cling to the ’50s and ’60s slogans, deeming attention to economic development a diversion from “nobler” political projects. But most have moved beyond the age of sloganeering and clenched-fist politics of the mythical “Arab street.” Their peoples, experiencing a demographic explosion, are demanding a better material life. A growing school of thought now calls on Arabs to simply forget about the unattainable goal of political cooperation and focus on economic issues. The idea of a “common market” has been the Cheshire cat of Arab politics for decades, appearing and disappearing at unexpected times. The Damascus summit may fail to resolve the issues underlying the current tensions – but come up with a framework for economic negotiations that, over time, could herald regional trade liberalization. Kuwait, arguably one of the most successful Arab states, has offered to host an Arab “economic summit” in 2009. The idea is that Arab states must repeat the experience of their European counterparts, who succeeded in resolving their political conflicts through economic cooperation. In that context, the oil-rich states of the Persian Gulf have a special role to play by opening up their markets to other Arab states and encouraging direct investment in them. For decades, these states have given handouts to poorer Arab states, notably Syria. But that hasn’t brought durable political change, because ruling elites used the handouts to consolidate their own power rather than to encourage economic development. There’s one final reason why the Damascus summit won’t, indeed can’t, progress on key issues, especially the creation of a new Middle East power balance: Iraq, no matter how it emerges from its current turmoil, is destined to be a major player. The new Iraq has indicated its desire to return to the Arab fold and assume its responsibilities there – and the Arab states would be unwise to continue ignoring it. Without this big piece of the jigsaw puzzle, the new Middle East of which everyone talks can’t fall into place. The best the Damascus summit could do is to avoid an open split, agree on ground rules for next year’s economic summit in Kuwait and welcome Iraq back with open arms. Doing that would make the summit, however truncated, a success.