Ghassan Charbel
Editor-in-Chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

Jeddah Summit... The Language of Bridges

The ruptures and interventions have squandered more than a decade of the life of the Arabs. The stage was rough, costly, and scary. It cracked maps and pushed countries towards erosion. Feelings of conflict, separation and oppression were unleashed. It spilled a river of blood and destroyed economies. It drained the balance of coexistence and almost turned disintegration into a natural method.

It produced waves of refugees and turned the afflicted countries into theaters for larger wars, without having the ability to resolve them.

It was widely believed that the Arab world was the “sick man” in the second decade of this century... That its job was limited to offering “Arab stadiums” for long, bloody duels, and that the era of states and institutions had gone in favor of fewer partisans, who live under the flags of militias and survive on the perpetuation of wars.

Many thought that this situation was doomed to persist indefinitely, and that the keys to the solution resided in the capitals of countries bordering the Arabs. They imagined that the future of the Arabs would be shaped by the major postponed settlements between these regional countries and the major powers that influence policy-making and dictate features.

It was no secret that a nation so afflicted by open fires was unable to restore its peace, voice, position, and defense of its interests.

The story of the Arab summits is old. The Arabs did not expect much or anything from it. It was clear that greetings and kisses do not dissipate differences and that resolutions do not heal crises.

I recalled a meeting in March 2009 with the late Yemeni President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, three days before the summit that was scheduled in Doha. I asked him about his expectations, and he replied: “It will be like the previous ones.”

I repeated the question, and he repeated the answer. When I was about to bid him farewell, he jokingly said: “I am going to the summit. Let us at least prove that we can drink tea under one roof.”

He meant that the most important detail in the summit is usually to demonstrate the ability of Arab leaders to sit under one roof for hours, and then resume differences as if the meeting had never taken place.

The Arab summit in Jeddah had to pay attention to the picture of successive summits, and to assess the price of the contract of ruptures, interventions and the missed opportunities for development, as well as the damages it left behind and which require an exceptional effort to mend.

It had to be concluded that the policies of barriers and open engagement only resulted in more partitions, clashes and barricades.

It was necessary to consider the strict rule of geography, which forced countries of the region to sail in one boat and to accept the impossibility of surviving by drowning others.

It was important to re-assess the extent of the deterioration in the region and the enormous dangers emerging as a result of the Russian war in Ukraine, and to stop at the interlaced destinies between the Arabs themselves and between them and neighboring states, the region and the world. It was necessary to approach all these issues with a mixture of Arab, regional and international realism and responsibility.

It is clear that there are no magic cures for accumulated diseases resulting from stubborn ideas, fears, and delusions of roles and methods in managing maps at home and the relations with other maps.

But the lack of magical treatments does not mean that diseases are inevitable. The doors don’t close forever. We can start from anywhere and provide an opportunity to review and breathe, encourage the return of maps to their people, adopt new methods in dealing with their affairs, and search through dialogue for solutions to their problems, in light of a regional climate that is supposed to be based on respect for the sovereignty of states and non-interference in their affairs.

Two developments left an impact on the Jeddah Summit and the rhetoric of its decisions. The first is the revival of ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran, based on the Beijing tripartite statement, which expressed Chinese sponsorship of the dialogue between two prominent countries in the region.

As the aforementioned statement underlined respect for the sovereignty of states and non-interference in their affairs, the Arab summit brought about an opportunity for the cracked maps to regain control over their decision-making, and to search through dialogue for peaceful solutions that heal the damages, achieve stability and work for prosperity.

The second development was represented in the decision to allow Syria to return to its seat in the Arab League, based on which President Bashar al-Assad was able to attend the summit. The two developments facilitated the restoration of an inclusive Arab umbrella, under which it is possible to help contain old problems and deal with emerging ones, on the basis of enclosing and extinguishing the fire instead of igniting it further.

Another scene in the summit hall reminded of the benefits of the policy of bridges, not walls. In recent years, Saudi Arabia has read the changing international situation and the requirements for a new multipolar world that is taking shape.

Riyadh adopted the policy of bridges with America and also with Moscow and Beijing. This approach does not mean conformity, but rather providing a climate of cooperation to solve problems by reason of respect for interests.

Only this arsenal of relations with the three countries woven by the architect of the Jeddah summit, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, made it possible to invite Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to the summit, on the basis of urging a peaceful solution to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. In this step lied the highest degree of responsibility for the sake of international peace.

It is clear that we are facing a new language in reading the present and the future. We are no longer obsessed with providing circumstantial formulations to hide differences. It is a new language based on the vocabulary of stability, prosperity, development, coexistence, tolerance, cooperation, state sovereignty, respect for institutions, combating corruption, providing educational opportunities and improving health services and education levels.

It is a policy based on numbers, not illusions. Without hope for economic progress, many maps will remain open to internal anger and external intimidation.

The need to adopt the language of bridges is urgent within our countries and in their external relations. We live in a dangerous world and we do not have the luxury of postponing and waiting. A good regional climate is necessary, as is the Arab climate.

However, the cracked maps cannot be saved unless their residents accept the necessity of making choices that are different from those that led to their rupture. The next stage remains dependent on consolidating the climate of regional détente, establishing Arab cooperation on the basis of mutual interests, and dealing with developments and events with the keys of realism and responsibility, which are the essence of the language of bridges.