Eritrea appeals for Arab sympathy


With his brinkmanship diplomacy facing a dead-end, Eritrea’s strong man, Isaias Afwerki, approached members of the League of Arab States (“Arab League”), which  held its summit on March 27th, to come to his rescue and facilitate mediation with Djibouti. This would be a face-saving gesture that would result in his withdrawal from the disputed territories bordering Djibouti, without seeming to do so under the duress of UN.

Ironically, the Arab League, which had, at the request of Djibouti, held an emergency meeting in May 2008 regarding the Eritrea-Djibouti conflict, had offered to mediate when the issue first arose. It had offered fact-finding delegation to both nations in June 2008. The delegation was welcomed in Djibouti, but rejected by Isaias Afwerki, who dismissed the conflict as a “fabrication.”

Djibouti, which is a member of the Arab League, had earlier indicated that it would boycott the upcoming summit to protest Libya’s negative vote on UN Resolution 1907, which called on sanctions on Eritrea, partly for its refusal to comply with Resolution 1862, which had called on Eritrea to withdraw from the disputed territories within five weeks of its adoption (January 2009.) Libya was the only country that voiced a negative vote on Resolution 1907, when the Security Council voted to pass the resolution (China abstained.)

But the Libyan foreign minister, whose country is hosting the summit, met with Djibouti officials to explain Libya’s position: that it is against all sanctions, as a matter of principle, and its vote was not directed at Djibouti. He was persuasive, and Djibouti is attending.

For the past month and half, the Eritrean Foreign Ministry has been busy carrying letters of appeal to Arab leaders. The Eritrean regime’s ambassadors to Egypt, Fassil Gebreslasie, and its ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Mohammed Omer Mahmoud, have been busy lobbying for support from their host countries as well as the neighboring Arab countries.

Fassil Gebresselasie handed a letter to Amr Mousa, the Secretary General of the Arab League, outlining the Eritrean proposal for resolving its problems with Djibouti and Somalia and pleading to him to take initiative to resolve Eritrea’s problems.

Djibouti and Somalia, also a member of the Arab League, consider any alternative mechanism as circumventing UN resolution 1907 and are likely to reject any mediation without preconditions. And since the Arab League uses “consensus” to reach binding decisions, Djibouti and Somalia can torpedo any decision that the Arab League may want to undertake.

Egypt’s position is expected to be decisive on the matter. Yemen, which had offered its offices to mediate the conflict and was rejected by Isaias Afwerki when the conflict first arose, and which has been smarting over allegations that Isaias Afwerki is supporting Houthi fighters, is not likely to be receptive. Saudi Arabia is unimpressed by Isaias’s increasingly warm relations with Iran (refer to Saudi paper Al-Wattan).

Sudan’s role is more circumspect. Shortly after the adoption of UN Resolution 1907, Amr Moussa had dispatched a delegation, led by a senior Sudanese general and intelligence official, to notify Isaias Afwerki that the Arab League would not take any measures in contravention of UN Resolution 1907. Characteristically, Isaias Afwerki heaped abuse on the Sudanese official.

Subsequently, Sudan assured Eritrea that though it would not openly support the idea of an Arab League initiative (for fear of antagonizing Djibouti and Somalia, as well as Ethiopia), it will also not oppose such a move. In his last visit to Asmara, Mustafa Osman, special advisor to Sudan’s President Omar Albeshir, had suggested to Isaias to seek the help of either Qatar or Libya to sponsor a proposal to pressure the Arab League to get involved. Libya’s Muammer Ghaddafi and Qatar’s Sheikh Hamad are the only two close allies of Isaias.

Following up on the suggestion, Isaias Afwerki has attempted to get regional groups to sponsor the proposal. To this end, he sought the help of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, and UAE) by approaching Qatar and the Arab-Maghrib Union (Libya, Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia) by approaching Libya.

While using Qatar to influence the Gulf Cooperation Council, Isaias has also tried to appeal to the United States by using Saudi Arabia as an intermidary. Prior to Secretary Hillary Clinton’s visit to Saudi Arabia on February 15, 2010, Isaias attempted to secure a visit with the Saudi king or his foreign minister, but was not successful.
‘Jerusalem’ summit and Arab Unity

The Arab leaders are also expected to unit against Israel and condemn their recent “Judaisation” of Jerusalem and are expected to ratify an agreement drafted by their foreign ministers to raise $500-million as aid to Palestinians in east Jerusalem.

Arab leaders such as Syria’s Bashar al-Assad said they were ready for war with Israel unless they stopped their “violations” in Jerusalem.

King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia, King Mohammed VI of Morocco, The Sultan of Oman, Qaboos Bin Said Al-Said and the presidents of Egypt, Yemen and Lebanon will not be attending this year’s summit for health related issues and because of differences with the host, Khadafi.

Pic: President of Eritrea- Isaias Afwerki

Sources: and