Arab League delays summit on regional unrest


Arab states have agreed to postpone a summit that was scheduled for May 11 in Baghdad, the Arab League says, amid disputes over the venue and popular unrest rocking the region. Arab foreign ministers will meet on May 15 to set a new date, Egypt’s state news agency MENA quoted the deputy secretary-general of the Arab League, Ahmed Ben Helli, as saying.

“The Arab League today distributed a memorandum to its members stating that due to a request by Iraq to convene an extraordinary meeting of Arab foreign ministers, and in light of the consultations conducted … with member states, an agreement emerged to delay the summit,” Ben Helli was quoted as saying overnight. No Arab League officials were immediately available to give further details.

Mass demonstrations demanding political reforms have toppled the long-time leaders of Tunisia and Egypt and are challenging the leaders of Syria and Yemen. The unrest has already prompted the Arab League to delay its summit from March to May. The summit is supposed to discuss the unrest and choose a new secretary general to succeed Amr Moussa, whose term ends on May 15.

Gulf Arab states asked the Arab League to cancel the upcoming summit, the Bahraini foreign minister has said, after Iraq criticized Bahrain’s crackdown on Shi’ite protesters. The crackdown by Bahrain’s Sunni rulers sparked criticism from Iraq, Iran and Shi’ite groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, adding to tensions between Sunni Gulf countries and their Shi’ite-led neighbours in the world’s top oil-exporting region.

Bahrain is a close ally of Saudi Arabia, which fears the regional influence of Shi’ite powers Iran and Iraq, and diplomats say the small island state has in the past launched diplomatic initiatives on behalf of Riyadh. If the summit went ahead in Baghdad, it might help Iraq reassure neighbours, mainly Sunni Arab-dominated governments, who view the rise of Iraq’s Shi’ite majority with suspicion and fear the growing influence of Shi’ite-dominated Iran.

It would also be a test of the readiness of Iraq’s army and police as U.S. troops prepare to withdraw by end-year.