DOHA, Qatar — The 24th Arab League Summit was nothing if not eventful. But despite a chaotic beginning, the conference in Doha had a happy ending -- resulting in an important diplomatic victory for the Syrian opposition, and, naturally, for Qatar.
The media interest has all swirled around one figure, Sheikh Moaz al-Khatib, the former head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, who resigned from his post just 36 hours before his supposed coronation in front of the Arab world as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people at the Arab League.
Khatib, it seems, was simply tired of the politics, the backbiting, and the interference of too many foreign hands in the Syrian national project. His patience seems to have conveniently come to an end just before the pre-summit meeting of foreign ministers was about to confirm the coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. Khatib clearly timed his resignation to cause maximum damage -- a petulant move that demonstrated the depth of his frustrations.
Almost immediately, Arab leaders called upon Khatib to reconsider, while simultaneously giving us all the impression that everything was still fine. It clearly wasn't. The point of this summit had already been preordained: The Syrian National Coalition, united in the face of President Bashar al-Assad's regime, was to be given its rightful seat at the highest table of Arab politics. Khatib had just thrown a wrench in the works.
After much debate and wrangling, the show did still stumble on. And despite his resignation, Khatib eventually appeared: He entered from stage left at the invitation of the Qatari emir, and to much applause sat down to take the vacant seat of the Syrian Arab Republic. In an emotional speech, as is Khatib's style, he urged the international community to do more to help "people who are being slaughtered under the watchful eye of the world" -- going as far as to encourage the United States to use Patriot missiles offensively to establish a no-fly zone over northern Syria. (It's an understandable but slightly ridiculous request, given the legal headaches using Patriot missiles offensively would cause NATO, which promptly begged off.)
As for the Arab states, there remained some confusion over a draft declaration that seemed to remove any restrictions against league members sending weapons into Syria. The declaration "affirms every state's right, according to its desire, to present all kinds of measures for self-defense, including military ones, to support the steadfastness of the Syrian people and the Free Army." Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani dodged the question of what this language would mean in practice during the closing press conference. But the prime minister's tone was rambunctious, citing Libya and Syria as evidence of positive steps the Arab League has taken in recent years, labeling these more aggressive actions as "reform."