On March 28-29, the 40th Arab Summit will be held at Sharm Al Shaikh. The meeting comes at a very precarious time. The region is experiencing challenges not seen before. Only a few days ago in Tunisia, there was a major terrorist attack leading to the deaths of at least 23 people, including at least 19 foreign tourists. Dozens were injured.

Egypt has still not recovered from terror threats, Daesh (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) is wreaking havoc in Syria and Iraq, Libya is being torn apart, and Yemen is approaching civil war. The Arab Summit will have to contend with unprecedented challenges to the Arab world.

One basic question that needs to be answered is: why are the Arabs in such a mess?  This question probably warrants many seminars addressed by talented scholars. Personally, I want to try and understand why we find ourselves in this mess.

Immediately after the removal of Zine Al Abedine Bin Ali from power in Tunisia, the group of political Islamists, Al Nahda, come to the fore of political life in the country.

Hamadi Jibaly, the general secretary of the group, and its nominee for prime minister, announced to a crowd of supporters, in a very well documented video still available on the internet, that it was high time to establish the “sixth caliphate”, referring to the five wise caliphs in the early history of Islam, who led Muslims after the demise of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH).  

Later Jibaly became PM of Tunisia for a few months.  In November 2012, during the Al Nahda domination,  I visited Tunisia to attend a seminar on religion and politics in the Arab world, at Hamamat resort, not far from the capital.

At night I switched on the official TV channel, there was a radical Egyptian gentleman on screen telling Tunisians almost legendary stories about how Muslims ruled the world. That  gentleman had not been seen before on Tunisian TV. He was allowed to appear by the country’s minister of information, who was from Al Nahda.

In the context of the aforesaid events, it is not surprising that a number of innocents were killed last week. Thousands of Tunisians are fighting in Libya, Syria and Iraq today, all belonging to radical groups that sprang out from or were inspired by Al Nahda’s thinking.

The story does not end here: hundreds of experienced fighters from all those battlefronts will return to Tunisia, with hardline views. Will they try to establish  the ‘caliphate’ Jibaly spoke about?

If we focus on the inhumane acts committed by Daesh, the end result of its actions are not just wicked but also devilish. From a political point of view, Syrian President Bashar Al Assad and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are the beneficiaries of Daesh’s actions.

Al Assad has convinced a good number of international powers that he alone can fight this evil force; without him the whole Middle East region could collapse.

Netanyahu  convinced Israeli voters that he is fighting those who could destroy Israel by dominating the region and spreading extremist ideas.

Both Al Assad and Netanyahu are winning the argument. The loser is the Arab moderate camp, which consists of the majority of those coming to the Sharm Al Shaikh summit.
Challenge of old policies

Since last year’s summit in Kuwait, four leaders have  changed in the region: Saudi king Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz, who passed away earlier this year; two have changed by constitutional means in Tunisia and Egypt; the Yemeni president has been removed from his capital by force by Al Houthi rebels.

The Libyan or Syrian or Algerian heads of state will not be able to attend the coming summit for various reasons. Iraq is almost prisoner to Iranian whims. It is obvious that this coming summit is historical and crucial.

The talk is that it will lead to moderate Arab states taking real action: forming a unified military force to fight terrorism. But it is necessary to break away from old polices of appeasement and consensus.

This summit will be immediately followed by an international one to be held in Kuwait, a third for the donor states, to heal some of wounds created by all this chaos in the region. Hopefully, these two summits, especially the first one, will bring some   relief to an otherwise exhausted and threatened region.  

Mohammad AlRumaihi is a professor of political sociology at Kuwait University. You can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@rumaihi42