Low expectations as Arab League chiefs gather in Jordan

Ministers from the 22-member bloc are meeting in Jordan before its annual summit on Wednesday.

    Foreign ministers of the 22-member Arab League are holding preparatory meetings in Jordan amid low expectations over the bloc's annual heads of state summit on Wednesday.

    This year's conference comes as the region faces a series of pressing challenges, including violent conflicts, rising youth unemployment and millions of children deprived of the right to education.

    Ayman Safadi, Jordan's foreign minister, on Monday painted a grim picture as he called member states to come together and urgently confront the crises.

    "The Arab political system has failed to solve the crises and halt the collapse as the trust of Arab citizens in the joint Arab institutions has eroded," he said.

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    Safadi told his Arab counterparts that more than 12 million Arab children are being denied access to education, presumably in part because of conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Libya.

    Ahmed Aboul Gheit, secretary-general of the Arab League, said economic and social issues should take priority at the summit, citing 29 percent youth unemployment as one of the region's biggest challenges.

    A third of the Arab world's population is below the age of 30 and Arab countries need to create 60 million jobs in a decade to absorb newcomers into the labour market, according to Aboul Gheit.

    The Arab League chief urged Arab governments to do more to resolve the long-running conflict in Syria rather than leave it to other powers.

    "In my view it's not right that Arab governments stay out of the biggest crisis in the region's modern history," Abul Gheit said on Monday, calling them to "find an effective way of intervening to stop the shedding of blood in Syria and end the war".

    Low expectations

    Al Jazeera's Jamal Elshayyal, reporting from the Dead Sea, in Jordan, said there were low expectations about what could be accomplished at the meeting.

    "The indications of this summit to achieve any substantial results are very little because of the inability of the Arab leaders to actually accommodate some changes in terms of demographics and politics within the region," he said.

    "What we can expect them to achieve in this meeting is some sort of a unified statement ... with regards to Syria because of the ongoing crisis there."

    The Syrian government was not invited to the summit. The bloc suspended Syria's membership in late 2011 after anti-regime demonstrations were brutally repressed.

    Leaders remain divided over Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's role, if any, in a possible political transition. Some argue that in shutting Assad out early on in the war, the Arab League created a vacuum that allowed non-Arab Russia, Iran and Turkey a greater say over an eventual solution.

    The trio now serves as guarantor of a shaky ceasefire between the Syrian government and the opposition, while United Nations-brokered talks in Geneva aim to coax them towards a political transition.

    Jordan's King Abdullah II plays host to the talks. Key participants include King Salman of Saudi Arabia, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

    UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Staffan de Mistura, the UN and Arab League envoy for Syria, are attending, along with US and Russian envoys.

    The summit could offer an opportunity for Egypt and Saudi Arabia to defuse months of tensions, mainly over Syria.

    Saudi Arabia is a leading supporter of the Syrian opposition, while Egypt, fearful of armed groups among the rebels' ranks, has pushed for a political solution that might keep Assad in power.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies


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