New parliament in DamascusArab reform coming [Archives:2005/808/Community]

January 17 2005

By Peter Willems
Yemen Times Staff

Is Arab reform on the way? It is if you believe the intents expressed by members of the 22-nation Arab League, who held an extraordinary meeting last Thursday in Cairo to discuss just how to carry out reform.

“Today's meeting is just the beginning of all reforms in the Arab world, including restructuring the Arab League, upgrading joint Arab action and setting up a follow-up and decision-making mechanism,” said Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr Al-Qirbi last Thursday in Cairo.

There were disagreements between countries before the meeting began, but one in gear, the ministers agreed to a plan for the creation of a transitional Arab parliament, made up of four representatives from each country and based in Damascus, which is to prepare the path for a permanent assembly.

“The foreign ministers have unanimously decided to establish an Arab parliament, which will consist of four deputies from each member country,” said the Arab League's statement after the meeting.

The ministers also approved of a new committee to follow up the League's resolutions and changes in the voting system.

The ministers decided to postpone talks on the establishment of an Arab security council and Arab court, as one Arab diplomat said, “The discussions are delayed indefinitely for further consultations among member countries.”

Proposals cleared by the ministers are expected to be presented at the next Arab Summit scheduled to be held in Algeria on March 22.

The ministers delayed the meeting one day over a disagreement on reform between Algeria and Egypt, according to sources. Algeria had introduced an election of the Secretary General and rotating the post among countries in the Arab League, but dropped the proposal that helped bring the ministers together on Thursday.

Amr Musa, currently the Secretary General, said, “The dossier on the rotation of the post of secretary general is closed and will not be reopened.”

Egypt has mostly filled the post since the Arab League was founded in 1945.

It is reported that Lebanon, Syria, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates did not send foreign ministers to the meeting. Prince Saud Al-Faisal, Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia, was also absent. It is said that he did not attend the meeting since Libyan Minister of Foreign Affairs Abd Al-Rahman Shalgham would be present.

Libya's alleged plot to assassinate Saudi's Crown Prince Abd Allah bin Abd Al-Aziz surfaced recently and the Saudi government has recalled its ambassador to Libya.

A Yemeni analyst said that although some of the proposals gained support from the members of the League, more action needs to be taken.

“The reform of the Arab League is essential, but it would be better if they would do it at a faster pace,” said the analyst. “For many years the League has come up with decisions but with little action. It is time for it to reduce talk and increase action, both internally and to what develops in the Middle East.”

Proposals concerning the reform of the League were presented from a number of countries, such as Yemen, Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Sudan.

Last March the Tunisian government postponed the Arab Summit scheduled to be held in Tunis. The Tunisian government said that the delay was the result of disagreements between member states on how to address political and social reform in the Middle East.

Al-Qirbi said that the committee that focuses on the condition in Somalia met last Thursday and discussed the support the new Somali government will need in the near future.

Somalia's new president Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed took the oath of office in Nairobi, Kenya, last October and is expected to unite numerous clans that have been fighting for power since dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991 and stabilize the war-torn country.

Two weeks after Yusuf was sworn in, the Yemeni government asked the Arab League to create an Arab fund that would assist Somalia rebuild the nation after a 13-year civil war.