"We are surprised as to the insistence of some countries on marginalizing these questions that are fundamental, crucial and important for the process of development, modernization and reform within our Arab societies."
TUNIS, 28 Mar. (IPS) The Arab world suffered one of its most humiliating defeat after Tunisia, the country that had hosted the Summit of the Arab League, due to start on Monday, abruptly cancelled the meeting, after Arab foreign ministers preparing the meeting’s resolution disagreed to endorse some proposals aimed at reforming the political structures of most Arab governments and regimes.
"This is a reflection of the depth of the crisis in the Arab world, a failure of the Arab system", the Beirut-based, English-language Lebanese newspaper "The Daily Star
" quoted Mr. Shafeeq Ghabra
, president of the American University of Kuwait and a political analyst as having commented.
"I think we are going to be living with such a crisis for the coming era. This is going to be a decade of changes and failures", he added.
There were differences on certain amendments and proposals that Tunisia presented and considered essential, Tunisian Secretary Hatef ben Salem was quoted saying. During a session on Friday, Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese diplomats opposed a reform plan because they insisted the conflict with Israel should take top billing, especially after the assassination of a militant Palestinian cleric, the French news agency AFP quoted some Arab diplomats as having explained.
This was the first time in the Arab League’s 57-year history that one of its meetings at the summit had been so abruptly postponed sine die, dealing the Cairo-based Organisation an unprecedented blow, Iranian political analyst noted.
In a statement run immediately after the Tunisian decision, Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa warned that the postponement in Tunis would have "dangerous consequences" for Arab unity. "All Arab nations shared the responsibility for the unprecedented postponement ordered by the summit host, Tunisian President Zine el Abidine ben Ali, and not just Tunisia. The situation is serious and immediate action must be taken", he added.
Arab leaders had hoped to use the event to re-launch an earlier proposal by Saudi Arabia presented at the last Arab Summit in Beirut offering Israel total peace in return for total Israel withdrawal from all Arab lands occupied since 1967 in the one hand and an Arab plan for political reforms against the American project of a "Greater Middle East". However, the killing of Sheikh Ahmad Yasine, the wheel-chaired, blind and paraplegic leader of the hard line Palestinian organisation HAMAS by Israel last Monday provoked widespread outrage in the Arab world, making it politically risky for some states to pursue a peace initiative with the Jewish State.
Jordan and Qatar wanted the Saudi plan to be revived, but they were opposed by Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Egypt, informed sources said.
Tunisian Foreign Ministry official Hatem bin Salem told reporters the differences were "particularly over the issues of modernization and reform...to reactivate Arab institutions".
"Tunisia strongly regrets the postponement of this summit on which Arab and international opinion has pinned great hopes, considering the delicate situation through which the Arab nation is going and the deadlock of the Palestinian issue after the recent tragic events", the Foreign Ministry said in a written statement, cited by the official Tunisian news agency Tunis Afrique Presse.
Diplomats said Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali made personally the decision to call off the summit. MENA reported that ben Ali had refused to meet Arab foreign ministers who wanted to question him on his decision, which the news agency said had "surprised" them.
Some officials even accused President ben Ali of "annoyance" that several heads of state had declined to attend the summit.
In fact, a number of Arab leaders, including Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah and six other heads of state had earlier decided to stay away from the summit.
The ministers had gathered In Tunis at the end of last week to prepare the agenda for the two-day summit, which was to begin Monday. But they were informed of the postponement late Saturday by Tunisian Foreign Minister Habib ben Yahia, who said the Summit was scrapped due to "differences of views" over reform measures.
An official source at the Tunisian Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed surprise at the attempts by some parties to ignore the real causes of the postponement of the Arab Summit, which was due mainly to the deep divergence of views on issues of substance and crucial choices that are closely connected to the aspirations of Arab citizens and the future of the Arab Nation.
In preliminary talks by Arab foreign ministers, Syria sought to block proposals for political reform and for endorsing Libya's move to abandon its weapons of mass destruction programs, Arab diplomats said.
Syria also wanted to block a summit declaration advancing the 2002 Saudi initiative, they added.
"The Syrians acted as if they want to turn the tables on the whole summit", one Arab diplomat said.
On his part, Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Shara’a said he regretted the postponement, adding President Bashar Assad had already been on his way to Tunisia.
In its project, Tunisia has underlined the necessity to emphasize the Arabs' commitment to the values of tolerance and concord and to the principle of dialogue among civilizations, their total rejection of extremism, fanaticism, violence and terrorism, and their determination to stand against these phenomena within a context of international cooperation and solidarity, in order to root out their causes.
"Despite the fact that the Tunisian proposals have won the support of a number of Arab countries, we are surprised as to the insistence of some other countries on marginalizing these questions that are fundamental, crucial and important for the process of development, modernization and reform within our Arab societies. Tunisia considers it necessary to include these questions within the Summit documents and to reach a consensus concerning them. This was, in fact, the position of the countries that supported the Tunisian project", TAP said in an obviously angry commentary.
"We are surprised as to the insistence of some countries on marginalizing these questions that are fundamental, crucial and important for the process of development, modernization and reform within our Arab societies." ... "It is surprising that we do not find in the draft...in its version before proposing the Tunisian amendment, any mention of the word 'democracy.' The absence of this word carries, in itself, significances that need no explanation", the Tunisian agency went on, adding:
"At a time when the Arab realities do not really need any description, in view of the numerous crises facing the Arab world and the requirements and challenges that must be taken up by all Arab countries, and after having mobilized all its political, material and human capacities to host the Arab Summit and to ensure its success and the adoption of decisions that respond to the aspirations of the Arab peoples who look forward to the Tunis Summit to constitute a turning point that represents a quantum leap in the process of consolidating common Arab action, at that very time, the Arabs miss another opportunity to appear before the world as an active regional grouping, capable of adapting to the changes surrounding it and of integrating within this crucial historical moment".
Following the unprecedented postponement of the Arab summit in Tunisia, Egyptian president Mubarak's office said in a statement Sunday it would host the Arab summit as soon as the 22 Arab nations could agree on a time.
"Egypt welcomes the convening of the summit in the country of the headquarters of the Arab League (Egypt) at the earliest possible time that can be agreed on," the statement said.
No new date for the summit was announced.