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Middle east

Egypt's Mubarak to boycott Arab summit

Video by Louis MASSIE

Latest update : 2009-03-30

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (pictured) will not attend the Arab League summit in Doha as Arab states warn that a proposal for normalising ties with Israel in return for withdrawal from occupied territories will not be on offer forever.

REUTERS - An Arab summit in Qatar on Monday will seek to
give backing to Sudan over an international arrest warrant
for its president and ease a deep rift among Arab states over
how to deal with ascendant Shi'ite power Iran.

 

Arab governments have struggled to respond to Iran's
political clout since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003,
bringing long oppressed Shi'ite Muslims there to power.

 

The leaders of Egypt and Saudi Arabia see Iran's hand behind
the strength of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the
Palestinian territories -- Islamist groups who refuse to
renounce armed action in the historic Arab conflict with Israel.

 

Other Arab countries with good ties to Iran, such as Syria
and Qatar, back the populist view in the Arab world that the
policies of Hezbollah and Hamas are legitimate responses to
Israel, which rejects returning Arab lands it seized in 1967.

 

Israel's recent war on Gaza exposed the divisions, with
Qatar hosting a crisis summit that brought together Arab leaders
plus Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and leading figures
from Hamas. The meeting threatened to revoke an Arab peace
proposal to Israel, championed by Washington's Arab allies.

 

Egypt and Saudi Arabia refused to attend, saying an economic
summit of Arab leaders that had already been planned before the
Gaza war would suffice. Egypt is the Arab world's most populous
country and Saudi Arabia is the world's biggest exporter of oil
and the birthplace of Islam, making them regional heavyweights.

 

"The Doha summit is still a battleground between the
emerging de facto alliance between Qatar, Syria and Iran, on one
side, and the Saudis, Egyptians and Jordanians, on the other,"
said Ali al-Ahmed, a U.S.-based Saudi opposition figure. It was
not clear if any Iranian officials would attend as observers.

 

Egypt spoils the show?

 

Plans by Qatar and Arab League chief Amr Moussa to make the
meeting a reconciliation summit were spoiled by Egyptian
President Hosni Mubarak's surprise decision not to attend --
apparently over continuing rancour at the Gaza summit chaos.

 

The Egyptian and Saudi leaders pulled out of last year's
summit in Damascus in protest at Syria's backing for Hezbollah
in Lebanon, which they believe was done at Iran's bidding.

 

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad flew to Riyadh this month
for fence-mending talks with King Abdullah ahead of the Doha
summit. Observers had assumed the mini-summit also mollified
Mubarak, who flew to Riyadh that day too.

 

Jamal Khashoggi, editor of Saudi daily al-Watan, said
Mubarak's absence would not affect Saudi- and Egyptian-led
attempts to get Hamas to join a unity government with the Fatah
faction led by U.S.-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

 

"The others will carry out the plan developed by the
mainstream countries. The only position in Doha is the
Egyptian-Saudi policy. It's the only one on the table," he said.

 

Other points of dispute such as Syrian policy in Lebanon,
which has elections soon, and Damascus' alliance with Tehran
would not be on the table, he said. Analysts surmise the Riyadh
summit cut a deal to prevent these issues exploding in Doha.

 

Saudi Arabia has been keen on a truce with Syria and Qatar
and is concerned that Arab divisions allow Iran to trumpet
itself as the champion of the Palestinians.
Saudi Arabia, which sees itself as the leader of mainstream
Sunni Islam, fears that the United States will come to a
historic agreement with Iran recognising it as the Gulf regional
power, thus creating a possible threat to Al Saud family rule.

 

Tensions between the Saudi authorities and minority Saudi
Shi'ites bubbled to the surface last month with clashes in
Medina and rare talk by a firebrand Shi'ite cleric that Shi'ites
in the oil-rich Eastern Province may one day seek secession.

 

Goodwill feelers put out to Iran by new U.S. president
Barack Obama have created further unease.

 

As'ad AbuKhalil, a politics professor at California State
University, said Riyadh had lost faith in Washington's resolve
to defend its corner in regional disputes.

 

"The Saudi government and the rest of the so-called 'Arab
moderate camp' are fully aware that the United States is going
to be too distracted with financial troubles and Iraq and
Afghanistan to fight inter-Arab affairs."

 

Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir's indictment by the
International Criminal Court in The Hague over atrocities in
Darfur is set to present a further challenge for leaders of the
22-member Arab League, whether Bashir defies international
justice and turns up or not.

 

After the demise of Saddam Hussein, international justice
for the Sudanese leader would set another precedent for leaders
accused by opposition and rights groups of ruling by repression.

 

 

Date created : 2009-03-29

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