DOHA – The keenly anticipated Arab Summit opened March 30 in Doha with less than full attendance following the early withdrawal of both the Libyan and Saudi leaders.
Early reports said Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi had interrupted the opening remarks of Qatari Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani with comments directed at the Saudi monarch King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz. Gaddafi was believed to have insulted the Saudi monarch, who angrily left the conference hall.
According to later reports, however, Gaddafi was the first to leave the meeting after his comments addressed to the Saudi monarch were cut short by Sheikh Khalifa who did not allow him to complete what he was saying. Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad then left the proceedings to try and persuade Gaddafi to return, but the Libyan leader refused.
Published accounts later clarified Gaddafi’s objective in addressing the Saudi monarch. The Gulf News quoted Gaddafi as having said to Abdullah, within view and hearing of the other Arab leaders present, “I waited six years to tell you you are a liar … You are the creation of Britain, protected by the United States.” The verbal volley was apparently met with shocked silence, punctuated when King Abdullah rose quickly and walked out.
The longstanding tension between Libya and Saudi Arabia is an example of why there is such a need for regional reconciliation, something that Arab leaders were hoping to discuss at the two-day summit. Some observers, however, feared that the summit would instead exacerbate some tensions. Participants were also made uncomfortable by the presence of Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir, against whom the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for war crimes, which distracted the attention of the gathering from the Summit’s core agenda.
Although most of the Arab leaders meeting in Doha defended Al-Bashir, one delegate spoke out against the Sudanese leader. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who addressed the opening session, criticised the Sudanese leader for expelling aid workers in Darfur after publication of the ICC’s decision.