Arab leaders, at loggerheads over inter-Arab issues including Egypt and Syria, offered little evidence of progress after a two-day summit in Kuwait focused largely on avoiding further splits.
Gulf opposition to Qatar’s financial backing for Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist rebels in Syria burst into the open last month when Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador from Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain followed suit.
A declaration read out at the end of the summit said only that the 22 members of the Arab League would “pledge to work decisively to put a final end to divisions”.
It was not initially clear whether this even had the status of the communiques customarily issued after Arab League summits.
“The summit is not in agreement, even though Kuwait really tried,” one Western diplomat told Reuters.
“The Saudis did not want it, they wanted to be very firm with Qatar. There are problems about the Brotherhood, the future of Egypt, Syria. Kuwait did all it could to have a consensus. But the Saudis are very firm.”
A wave of uprisings that started in 2011 have fragmented the Arab world, deepening sectarian and ideological splits between and within states.
A decade of bloodshed in Iraq shows no sign of ending, Egypt, Libya and Yemen are in political turmoil, and there are sharp divides even between old Gulf allies, not least over the civil war in Syria, which has killed at least 140,000 people in three years.
AGREEING TO DISAGREE
“It seems they didn’t agree on anything except the Palestinian issue. Maybe the message was ‘We don’t want to rock the boat – let’s leave it at that’,” said Emirati political scientist Abdulkhaleq Abdullah. “I think they agreed to disagree.”
The summit came three weeks after Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain – Gulf states that usually keep their arguments behind closed doors – accused Qatar of disregarding an accord not to interfere in fellow Arab states’ internal affairs.
Officials have said the spat was over Qatar’s support for Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, which was ejected from power by the military last year after mass protests against the Islamist president, Mohamed Mursi, and has now been outlawed.
Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-led Gulf monarchies are keen to prevent Islamist groups gaining political influence and undermining their hold on power.
When Mursi was deposed last year, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait stepped in with financial backing for the new military-backed government, while Egypt said it would return funding from Qatar transferred when Mursi was in power.
Summit host Kuwait, which has traditionally played the role of Arab peacemaker, has offered to mediate in the dispute between the U.S.-allied Gulf states.
But participants said Kuwait’s emir, a veteran diplomat, had not attempted any reconciliation effort on the sidelines of the main meeting, and might suggest this at a later date instead.
BACKING DIFFERENT REBELS
Saudi Arabia and Qatar, both wealthy energy powers, have also clashed over Syria, where they have backed different rebel groups that have also fought each other.
The final statement condemned “mass killing committed by the Syrian regime’s forces against the unarmed people” and reiterated the Arab League’s backing for “a political solution to the Syrian crisis in accordance with the Geneva One declaration”.
That declaration calls for a transition of power in Syria, which is suspended from the Arab League. But two rounds of talks in Geneva between the Syrian government and rebels, brokered by U.N. and Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, collapsed without a result.
Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Khaled al-Sabah said Arab states had no alternative to a political agreement.
“We must focus on the political solution,” he told a news conference with Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby.
Elaraby said the meeting had agreed that the exiled opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC) would be invited to attend Arab League meetings as an extraordinary measure.
But Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari, whose country has seen Syria’s Sunni-led rebellion feed a Sunni anti-government insurgency on its own side of the border, made clear Iraq did not approve of the SNC being accorded such status.
“Where is their sovereignty? Where is their authority?” Zebari told Reuters. “They are not a state, they don’t have a government even.”