Arab summit 2012: new leaders, new politics

AFP | Mar 27,2012 | JORDAN TIMES

BAGHDAD — This week’s Arab summit in Baghdad will be very different from the one that met two years ago, with many long-time autocrats swept away by the political tsunami that has struck across the region.

Instead, new Islamist leaders will sit alongside long-serving hereditary rulers, while one country returns having lost much of its territory to a newly created state, and all in meetings led for the first time by a Kurd.

On March 28, 2010, leaders of the 22-member Arab League met in Sirte, the home town of late Libyan strongman Muammar Qadhafi.

At the time, the focus of discussion was Israeli settlement building in the Palestinian territories, and they agreed to next meet in Baghdad in March 2011.

But before then, mass protests erupted, first in Tunisia, that radically changed the Arab world and delayed the Iraqi gathering.

Uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt drove Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak from power respectively, Qadhafi was killed after a months-long rebellion, and Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh this year handed power to his deputy after nearly a year of protests and clashes.

Sudan also saw a massive chunk of what was its southern territory separate into newly formed South Sudan.

Syria, meanwhile, has been suspended from the Arab League for its bloody crackdown on a year-long revolt that monitors say has left at least 9,100 people dead, and Damascus has been subjected to wide-ranging sanctions, with Western and some Arab leaders insisting that President Bashar Assad’s days are numbered.

But there have also been deeper changes, according to one analyst.

“This is a result of the Arab tsunami,” said Antoine Basbous, head of the Paris-based Observatory of Arab Countries.

“Heads of state are terrified of their people, and the reverse is no longer true… There will be a real mixing of the old and the new guards.”

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