(MENAFN - Arab News) On the eve of the convening of the Arab Summit in Baghdad on March 29, doubts are rife about its chances of success. The venue itself is problematic.
The last time Arab heads of state met in the Iraqi capital was more than 20 years ago, in May 1990, when Saddam Hussein was perhaps the most powerful leader in the region. Iraq had just emerged from a long and devastating war with Iran. Baghdad symbolized unity, resistance and regional influence. It had fought a war on behalf of a Sunni Arab world against Iran. Few months later Saddam would commit a fatal mistake by invading neighboring Kuwait, thus unleashing a series of geopolitical events whose effects are still with us until today.
Baghdad is a different city today. Arab leaders, at least those who would decide to attend, would be greeted by Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki who symbolizes the political dominance of Iraq's Shiite majority. In contrast to the last summit held in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad today is closer to Tehran than to some Arab countries.
The convening of the summit, which was not held last year because of the political turbulences that were sweeping the Arab world, should represent a major victory for Iraq's new rulers. It is held in a country that was the victim of an illegal Anglo-American invasion and occupation until few months ago. The host of the 1990 summit was toppled and later executed under a plan to impose regime change on an Arab country by foreign powers. Arab attendance of the summit should close the books on that dark and controversial period. But Baghdad is not a beacon of freedom and democracy. Iraq remains a dangerous place, afflicted by sectarian violence and ethnic divisions. Its political system is barely functional and it is considered by many as a failed state.
Still the summit will take place in the aftermath of one of the most important political events in recent history; the Arab Spring. The region has changed dramatically in the last year or so that the Arab League itself appears as an anachronistic institution that is barely capable of reflecting the seismic changes that had taken place. As much as Baghdad's political weight has been altered, the summit will be held without Syria and certainly with transitional representatives from Egypt, Libya and Yemen.
Arab League Secretary-General Dr. Nabil Al Araby has said that leaders will be discussing the Syrian crisis and the Palestinian cause. But while the Arabs are divided on the former, little is expected to be achieved on the latter. Those who hope that the summit will discuss means to restructure the Arab League so that it reflects the new regional realities will be disappointed.
Iraq hopes that between 12 to 13 leaders will make it to the summit. Its immediate concern will be focused on providing security for its guests and not much on arriving at historic resolutions. Syria is a divisive issue on which the host disagrees openly with other countries in the region. The basic minimum that can be expected is to reiterate support for previous resolutions and extend backing for the mission of UN-Arab League mediator Kofi Annan.
On the Palestinian issue, the Arabs will reaffirm their support for a negotiated settlement based on the Arab Peace Initiative while calling on the international community to assume its responsibility in standing up to illegal Israeli measures in the occupied territories. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will receive all sorts of verbal patronage but in the absence of a breakthrough in concluding internal reconciliation he will be facing pressures as well.
One thing is certain and that is that the Baghdad summit will be anything but remarkable. Egypt will be busy preparing for its presidential election, the first since the toppling of Hosni Mubarak. Libya, Tunis and Yemen have enough domestic problems of their own. The Gulf countries will find it difficult to demonize Iran when the host has special relations with Tehran, while attempts to discuss the uprising in Bahrain will be foiled by the GCC group.
What will be interesting though is to see how the summit addresses the phenomenon of the Arab Spring. Unless the new leaders of Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen attempt to make it a main subject of deliberations in the summit, chances are most leaders will want to avoid it. Such attitude will underline the out-datedness of the Arab League as a representative of Arab hopes and aspirations.
The Arab Spring remains a controversial subject for millions of Arabs. It certainly warrants the attention of the entire region and perhaps the rest of the world. The future of countries that had gone through the tests of popular uprisings and regime change represents the biggest challenge to the region. The swift rise to power of moderates and conservatives in these countries is a major event of earth-shattering consequences. The questions of democratic transition, pluralism, human and women rights, civil society, federalism and decentralization, Shariah law and even secularism have never been so crucial to the people of the region and their immediate future.
It is unlikely that such debates will take place at the Baghdad summit. But if the Arab League is not the right venue to discuss such existential issues that matter for millions of Arabs then where else?