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The Maastricht Diplomat

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[The New York Times] World politics, the (un)expected guest at the Arab League’s table

Arab League members are still debating on ways to support Lebanon’s exit from its long-lasting crisis. After having touched upon culture and refugees, the economy returned to the table as delegates started drafting a resolution in smaller groups. The core question is, who will pay for Lebanon? Tunisia proposed reaching out to the European Union and other Western partners. While Lebanon is open to this option, its priority is regional cooperation. The Lebanese delegate also mentioned that the EU is currently out of the question, as long as European sanctions imposed on Lebanon remain.

“Saudi Arabia supports cooperation and collaboration between Arab nations and the West, including the EU”, the Saudi delegate told the New York Times. “However, we believe that with our recent contact with China, we are open to various alternatives”. For Syria, which was long ostracised from the international stage by the West, keeping things in-house should be the priority. Nevertheless, Iraq is willing to be a mediator should Western powers enter a dialogue with Arab states, thanks to their “strategic partnership with the West” on the one hand, and their “historical, cultural and strategic ties with Syria” on the other hand.

In a statement to the New York Times, the Syrian delegate expressed their gratitude to the Saudi government, who “was an immense help [...] for our reintegration into the Arab League”. Indeed, Saudi Arabia is in an advantageous position: the country is arguably the most influential in the MENA region. The power struggle with the United Arab Emirates was even set aside, as both powers gave their blessing to an Algerian and Omani proposal for an Islamic Development Fund. The Tunisian delegate pointed out to us that not every member of the Arab League could afford to support Lebanon. Hence, the largest contributors to the fund would be Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait.

The Algerian delegate commends this spirit of cooperation and overcoming differences to achieve a common goal. “We can only win with a stable Lebanon”, they told the New York Times. By ensuring stability in Lebanon, Arab states are hoping to achieve regional sovereignty, increase regional cooperation and rely less on other partners such as the United States, China, or the European Union. The general mindset of Arab League members seems community-oriented, with a sincere wish to “enable Lebanon to become more self-reliant in the long run”, as the Saudi delegate declared to us. However, some members have expressed slight exasperation regarding Lebanon’s heavy reliance on their neighbours. Once solutions to surface-level economic issues are found, it will be interesting to observe how Arab states will balance each other out politically.

- Walter Stuart, Political Correspondent for the New York Times

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