Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman addressing the Arab summit, in Jeddah on May 19, 2023. Image Credit: SPA

Dubai: Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammad bin Salman opened the 32nd Arab League Summit on Friday in Jeddah, firmly affirming the Arab world’s commitment to preventing the region from becoming a zone of conflict. The Crown Prince also reassured both Eastern and Western nations of their continued peaceful trajectory.

In his presidential speech, Prince Mohammad expressed the Arab region’s exhaustion with conflicts, reflecting on the years of strife that have inhibited development and caused widespread suffering. He underlined the Arab world’s rich cultural, human, and natural resources, emphasizing the potential to occupy a leading position and achieve prosperity across all sectors.

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The Crown Prince welcomed Syrian President Al Assad back into the Arab League, expressing hope that Syria’s return would mark an end to its crisis. This is Al Assad’s first attendance at the summit in 12. The Crown Prince also acknowledged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as the guest of honor at the summit.

The Palestinian cause remains central to the Arab world, Prince Mohammad emphasised. He further addressed the crisis in Sudan, hoping for resolution through dialogue, while celebrating the signing of the Jeddah Declaration by both parties involved in the Sudanese conflict.

Prince Mohammad also addressed the crisis in Ukraine, stressing the necessity of peaceful resolution and reaffirming Saudi Arabia’s commitment to supporting efforts to alleviate the crisis intensity. The Kingdom declared its readiness to continue mediating between the Russian Federation and Ukraine.

The Crown Prince personally received heads of state and leaders of delegations participating in the summit. Attendees included Egyptian President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi, King Abdullah of Jordan, Tunisian President Kais Saied, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Jeddah Declaration
The Jeddah Declaration reaffirmed the centrality of the Palestinian issue and underlined Palestine’s right to absolute authority over all territories occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem.
Furthermore, the declaration emphasized the importance of activating the Arab Peace Initiative, a proposal put forward by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and endorsed by the Arab League in 2002.
The summit also addressed the escalating violence between Israel and Palestine.
Regarding the situation in Sudan, where conflict has raged between the army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) since mid-April, the Jeddah Declaration denounced foreign interferences that exacerbate the conflict and threaten regional security and stability.
The declaration called for dialogue and unity among the warring factions, while acknowledging the dire humanitarian consequences of the conflict. The fighting has displaced approximately 843,000 people within Sudan, with around 250,000 seeking refuge in neighboring countries, according to the United Nations refugee agency.
The Jeddah Declaration also reaffirmed the Arab League’s support for international and regional initiatives aiming to achieve a political solution to the crisis in Yemen. The war in Yemen has resulted in the loss of tens of thousands of lives and left millions dependent on humanitarian aid.
Additionally, the declaration called for comprehensive economic reforms in Lebanon to help the country overcome its current challenges.
Lebanon has been grappling with an economic crisis since 2019, which the World Bank has described as one of the most severe in modern history.
The Jeddah Declaration concluded by reaffirming the Arab League’s rejection of foreign interferences in the internal affairs of Arab countries. It condemned the formation and support of armed militias, emphasizing that internal military conflicts would only exacerbate the suffering of the people.

Outgoing chair of the Arab League, Algerian Prime Minister Ayman ben Abdul Rahman, opened the summit’s first session. He emphasized the Arab League’s intention to strengthen unity, welcoming Syria’s return and acknowledging Saudi Arabia’s efforts in that regard.

The summit, hosted by Saudi Arabia after assuming the rotating presidency from Algeria, is primarily focused on Syria’s return to the Arab League, the unstable situation in Sudan, and the Palestinian cause.

Al Assad at the summit. Image Credit: AFP

Al Assad calls for systemic changes in Arab League

Al Assad has stressed the need for systemic and procedural changes in the Arab League to prevent foreign interference in regional affairs and to boost intra-Arab ties. The Syrian leader made these remarks during his address at the 32nd Arab League summit held in Jeddah on Friday.

Al Assad highlighted this summit as a “historic opportunity” for the Arab League to tackle numerous regional crises and initiate new strategies, mechanisms, and common goals that could lay the groundwork for future joint Arab initiatives.

“The Arab League should develop new strategies and mechanisms to establish future plans for joint Arab action. We are facing a historic opportunity to rearrange our situation,” Al Assad said, buoyed by the recent rapprochement within the Arab world and the dawn of a new phase of collective action.

Al Assad also expressed his gratitude to King Salman for his pivotal role in facilitating Arab reconciliation. He also appreciated the Arab leaders and delegations for Syria’s warm welcome back into the Arab League.

This is Al Assad’s first address to the Arab League since Syria’s suspension from the bloc in 2011, following the Syrian government’s harsh response to internal protests against his rule.

The 32nd Arab League summit began on Friday with Algerian Prime Minister Ayman Benabderrahmane delivering the inaugural address. Following his remarks, the rotating presidency of the Arab League was transferred to Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Benabderrahmane addressed the pressing issues of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the recent conflict in Sudan during his speech, emphasizing the importance of the international community’s intervention to address these challenges effectively. Specifically, he highlighted the urgent need to halt the Israeli policy of settlement expansion in order to promote peace and stability in the region.

Additionally, Benabderrahmane urged all parties involved in the Sudanese crisis to prioritize dialogue as a means to resolve the ongoing conflict and prevent any further escalation. By advocating for peaceful negotiations, he underscored the significance of finding a diplomatic solution that can bring about lasting peace and alleviate the suffering of the people in the conflict-ridden country.

Zelensky addressing the summit. Image Credit: Reuters

Zelensky seeks Arab League support in war

In a surprise personal appearance at an Arab League meeting, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivered an emotional appeal for support from leaders.

“Look at how much suffering the long-term wars have brought to Libya, Syria, Yemen; how many lives have been wasted by years of fighting in Sudan and Somalia, in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Zelensky said, speaking in English. “Everyone who adds to suffering by his new aggressions, everyone who sows enmity, everyone who wants to bring back the old days of invading . . . every aggressor . . . will be cursed by the people.”

“I greet everyone who is ready to join us on the path to justice,” he said.

Zelensky, however, noted Saudi Arabia’s assistance in negotiating prisoner exchanges and said he hoped that all leaders present would support efforts to free such captives.

“We can expand this experience,” he said, “and even if there are people here at the summit who have a different view of the war on our land, calling it a conflict, I think we can all be united in saving people from the cages of Russian prisons.”

Zelensky emphasized Ukraine’s other ties to Arab nations. He cited tourists from Gulf states who visited Ukraine before the war and the “education of tens of thousands of Arab students in our universities every year.”

He also noted Ukraine’s role as an agricultural supplier in providing wheat to the region, notably to countries such as Lebanon and Egypt that were directly threatened by Russia’s blockade of the Black Sea until a deal was implemented last year.