16.04.2024 Author: Vanessa Sevidova

Upcoming Arab League summit in Manama: what’s on the agenda?

Upcoming Arab League summit in Manama

In mid-May the 33rd annual Arab League summit will be hosted in the capital of Bahrain, Manama. Some days ago, on the 6th of April, in preparation for the upcoming summit, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bahrain held a remote meeting with Arab ambassadors to the country. The meeting was chaired by Ambassador Ahmed Al Turaifi, Chief of Arab and African Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Abdulla Al Binkhali, Director-General of Administrative Services and Follow-up at the Royal Protocol.

His Majesty the King of Bahrain Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa has extended invitations to the summit to all leaders of all Arab League countries, including to Syria; last year’s summit, which was held in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, saw the participation of Syria for the first time since November, 2011, when her membership in the League of Arab States had been suspended.

The major event at last year’s Arab League summit was, of course, the reinstatement of Syria in the organisation after more than a decade of difficult relations with a number of Arab states.

Besides Syria, the following points were also highlighted in the Jeddah Declaration, which was adopted at the end of the summit:

  • Reaffirming the centrality of the Palestinian cause to the Arab world
  • Stressing the need for de-escalation in Sudan
  • Welcoming back Syria and supporting increased pan-Arab efforts in stabilising the country
  • Encouraging a political solution in Yemen via a) GCC initiative, b) Yemeni National Dialogue and c) UNSC Resolution 2216
  • Expressing support for Lebanon in appointing a new president
  • Underlining condemnation of interference in the domestic affairs of sovereign states
  • Wishing to see comprehensive and decisive progress in industry and agriculture in the Arab world
  • Emphasising respect for cultural diversity and the need to preserve it, but categorically rejecting the use of culture as a shield for attempts to dominate others
  • Welcoming initiatives related to sustaining supply chains of essential food commodities
  • Maintaining the importance of water and, by extension, the desalination industry to the Arab world

Another interesting moment at last year’s summit was the invitation of Volodymyr Zelenskyy to give a speech at the summit, in which he focused on the conflict in the Ukraine and recycled the same words he had previously spoken on the topic. Zelenskyy did not reveal anything new or ground breaking, however his presence was symbolic of Saudi Arabia trying to project increased influence as a conflict mediator, having also participated in facilitating prisoner swaps between the Russian and Ukrainian sides.

Although much has happened in between the two summits, many of the same issues will remain on the agenda.  It is to be expected that Palestine and all issues surrounding it will be central to the forthcoming meeting in Manama. Since the summit last year, we have seen the eruption of the situation in Gaza in October of last year with the start of Toufan al-Aqsa and its consequences, for example Houthi (Ansar Allah) activisation in the Red Sea area, increased Israeli strikes inside Lebanon and Syria, as well as Iran’s recent retaliation on the Israeli attack on its consulate in Damascus, which killed 16 people, among which were senior IRGC commanders Mohammed Reza Zahedi and Mohammed Hadi Haji Rahimi. In a comment following the Iranian strikes, the Iranian mission to the UN made the following statement: “…Iran’s military action was in response to the Zionist regime’s aggression against our diplomatic premises in Damascus. The matter can be deemed concluded…however, should the Israeli regime make another mistake, Iran’s response will be considerably more severe. It is a conflict between Iran and the rogue Israeli regime, from which the US must stay away!”. Netanyahu expressed Israel’s readiness for confrontation with Iran: “…Our defence systems are deployed; we are ready for any scenario, both defensively and offensively. The State of Israel is strong. The IDF is strong…”

Increased tensions and further escalation are not ruled out and will be thoroughly discussed at the summit.

In light of the current situation surrounding Palestine, the Abraham Accords, a series of bilateral agreements between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan on normalisation of relations with Israel, will face increased pressure not only from the Arab world, but also from the international community, with political pressure on Israel mounting with every passing day.

Syria was also high on the agenda last year, taking the first symbolic step towards regional re-integration. Since last May, multiple smaller steps have been taken in this direction: Saudi Arabia is planning on reopening its embassy in Damascus soon, with a Saudi delegation having visited the Syrian capital in January of this year (though the embassy and consulate have yet to be reopened); around the same time the UAE dispatched their first ambassador to Syria in over 10 years. In the current circumstances, it is possible that the process of Syria’s regional re-integration will take place more rapidly than otherwise; the theme of intra-Arab unity as a way for the Arab world to stand strong and united was continuous throughout last year’s summit and, considering that the situation in the Arab world is increasingly dire today, this commitment will certainly be reaffirmed. Syria also at risk of conflict spillover on her territories given the geographic proximity to Palestine, amongst other things. The same goes for neighbouring Iraq and Lebanon, where, likewise, there has been an activisation of Shi’a militias as a result of the skyrocketing tensions between Iran on one hand and the US and Israel on the other.

The League will also reiterate its support for finding lasting solutions to the crises in Sudan and Libya. It is almost a year on from the eruption of hostilities in Sudan, that have exacerbated existing political and ethnic tensions and caused a major humanitarian crisis in the country, as well as seeing 8.2 million Sudanese (at least 6.5 million of which are internally displaced persons) flee mostly to Egypt, Chad, Ethiopia and South Sudan since the beginning of hostilities. The two main warring parties in Sudan, namely the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), led by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (aka Hemedti), are supported by two Arab League members, i.e. Egypt and the UAE, respectively. Diplomacy on Sudan has fallen through and the numerous ceasefire agreements reached ended in both sides accusing each other of their violation. Negotiations between the SAF and RSF are expected to take place on the 18th of April in Jeddah, in the run-up to the Arab League summit, this time with the participation of Egypt and the UAE.

Earlier this year, in March, a meeting between the Libyan leaders of the Presidential Council, the House of Representatives and the Supreme Council of State took place in Cairo under the auspices of the Arab League. During the meeting the sides discussed the Libyan political settlement, parliamentary and presidential elections in Libya, the question of forming a unified government.  Results of the meeting were welcomed by the Arab Parliament (Arab League) and the sides agreed to hold a second round of negotiations aimed at facilitating agreements made at the first round.

The Arab League provides a platform for dialogue and the exchange of views vis-à-vis important issues in the political, economic, security, environmental spheres and others, but, at the same time, one must address the organisation’s capabilities realistically. Since the organisation’s establishment in 1945, multiple Arab initiatives have been agreed upon and put into action, e.g. founding the Arab Organisation for Petroleum Exporting Countries (1968) and the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organisation (1970), although the activities and efficacy can be put up for discussion. Clear examples of when the Arab League was ineffective are numerous; the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the conflicts in Syria, Libya, Yemen. The League’s commitment to the Palestinian cause has also, at times dwindled; political rifts between members of the organisation sometimes paralyse its efficacy, for example Anwar Sadat’s push to normalise relations with Israel ended in the suspension of Egypt’s membership in the organisation, as well as the headquarters being moved from Cairo to Tunis. A repetition of this rift came in 2020 with the signing of the Abraham Accords.

The upcoming 33rd Arab League summit in Manama, Bahrain, will gather all 22 members of the Arab League to discuss all burning issues on the agenda, which will first and foremost be the situation surrounding Palestine. The usual suspects of the Arab world, i.e. problems related to terrorism, migration, drinking water and, broadly, development, will, as always, also be addressed at the summit.


Vanessa Sevidova, intern at the Institute of International Studies of the MGIMO MFA of Russia, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

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