The Jeddah Declaration shows Saudi Arabia’s seriousness
I tend to believe that words have meanings, and therefore I did a numerical analysis of the words and phrases repeated in the Jeddah Declaration of the 32nd Arab League Summit to understand more fully the official Arab positions.
There is no doubt that anyone who analyzes the final statement in Jeddah and compares it, for example, to the Algiers Declaration of the 31st Arab League Summit will notice a vast difference. The differences include initiatives and concerns that were not mentioned in any previous Arab summit statement. Of course, the key to the matter remains the level of follow-up and adherence to the words that the Arab leaders committed to.
The seriousness and attention to detail that one can clearly observe will lead to the feeling that Saudi Arabia’s chairmanship in 2023 will differ from those of the Kingdom and most other Arab countries that preceded it when hosting Arab League summits.
It is normal for the words Arab and Arabs to be mentioned 28 times in a statement of the Arab League, while it is good that Palestine/Palestinian was mentioned seven times, equal to the number of mentions of Sudan. Jerusalem was mentioned six times, while Syria, whose president’s presence was important news, was mentioned only three times.
However, the key difference in the Jeddah Declaration was in the nonpolitical areas. For example, while initiative or initiatives were used eight times, only twice was this regarding political matters, namely support for the Arab Peace Initiative and the GCC Initiative on Yemen, while the rest were economic or cultural in nature.
The word “economic” was mentioned seven times, the phrase “sustainable development” six times and culture/cultural four times, including focusing on the importance of the Arabic language (twice) and the need to teach Arabic to non-Arabs.
The initiatives that the Saudi government will work on during the 12-month period in which it will preside over the Arab grouping are impressive. They include, for example, an interest in green culture by supporting environmentally friendly cultural practices and employing them in support of the creative economy in Arab countries and in ensuring Arab food security. Initiatives mentioned in the final communique included an interest in water desalination and the establishment of intellectual incubators/think tanks to deal with the pressing problems facing Arabs.
The initiatives that the Saudi government will work on during the 12-month period in which it will preside over the Arab grouping are impressive.
As the Saudi foreign minister noted in his post-summit press conference, the key to the success of Arabs is in using their own resources and the powerful purchasing power they have. An interest in joint Arab action in addressing various challenges may be one of the most important things that came in the final statement. For example, the statement reflected what the declaration said in its seventh clause: “We stress that sustainable development, security, stability, and peace are inherent rights for all Arab citizens. These will only be achieved through concerted efforts and through firmly fighting crime and corruption at all levels. We also stress the need to mobilize potentials and capabilities to create a future that is based on creativity and innovation and that keeps abreast of various developments in a way that serves and enhances security, stability, and the well-being of our people.”
While the final communique of the 32nd Arab League Summit dealt with a wide range of topics, it gave the issue of Palestine and Jerusalem top billing, listing it in the opening of the statement and giving the issue of Jerusalem particularly special attention. The Palestinian cause was declared in strong terms, with the leaders present affirming “the centrality of the Palestinian issue to our countries as one of the key factors of stability in the region.”
The statement’s opening clause on Palestine and Jerusalem included 249 words, meaning the issue received about 15 percent of the entire statement, which was made up of 1,713 words. More than half of that first clause (135 words) focused on Jerusalem, support for the Hashemite custodianship of Christian and Muslim holy places, and the need to protect the status quo in the holy city.
The statement also spoke of the need to support the resilience of Palestinians in Jerusalem. Palestinian Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Fadi Al-Hidmi had presented to the Arab League a full study of the status of East Jerusalem and the needs of all different sectors to support the steadfastness of Jerusalem and the Jerusalemites. Promises to support Jerusalem are not new, so the key for Jerusalemites will be in seeing this support on the ground and not simply in the final communique.
The decision-makers in Saudi Arabia have taken the idea of chairing the Arab League during the coming year very seriously. For people who have been to Saudi Arabia recently and have seen the major changes enacted there, it is clear that the Kingdom is moving in many directions with resolve and seriousness. While they can control what happens within their borders, Saudi Arabia’s leaders will have a much bigger challenge when it comes to other Arab countries. Everyone will now be looking to see whether Riyadh will be able to ensure that the promises the Arab leaders have made are fulfilled, especially the challenges that Saudi Arabia has taken upon itself.
The Arab countries that signed the Jeddah Declaration may have begun the journey of thousands of miles of Arab Renaissance with steady steps. The big test will be in the implementation of these promises.
• Daoud Kuttab is a former professor at Princeton University and the founder and former director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al-Quds University in Ramallah.