FNC speaker condemns Arab meetings as 'waste of time'

The comments by Abdul Aziz al Ghurair come amid calls for reform of the Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union, which he says has lost influence.

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ALGIERS // The role of Arab parliaments on the international stage has been marginalised and Arab parliamentary meetings in their current form are a "waste of time", the speaker of the Federal National Council said yesterday.

Because of this, said Abdul Aziz al Ghurair, the Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union and its executive body are in need of reform.

The gatherings of Arab parliamentarians "basically consist of a meeting, and when the meeting is over there are press statements that sound powerful, and none of them are carried out," said Mr al Ghurair. "I am not happy with Arab co-ordination. Top Arab leaders are present, but it ends with long official statements that cannot be carried out, but are just pleasing to the [Arab] street."

The union's annual budget is US$700,000 (Dh2.5 million).

Mr al Ghurair was speaking yesterday at joint sessions with Algerian parliamentary leaders, during which he pressed for reforms in a draft agreement that received Algerian support. He had met earlier with the Algerian president, Abdul Aziz Bouteflika, before talks yesterday with the prime minister, Ahmed Oyehia, who said the Algerian government would strive to remove obstacles to Emirati investment in the country.

During his speech yesterday, Mr al Ghurair bemoaned the failure of co-ordinating the Arab position on a major initiative in Geneva in July that would have made the International Parliamentary Union into a UN body.

"The Arab parliamentarians did not attend all of the meetings," Mr al Ghurair said.

That lack of coordination "has failed us" and prevented emergency proposals to discuss the Gaza crisis at international meetings, Mr al Ghurair said. He also called for better planning of the gatherings and for meetings of heads of the Arab parliaments that would allow Arabs to pursue a stronger, unified agenda.

Arab parliamentary leaders are expected to meet in Abu Dhabi in January.

The organisation must have strength "so it can defend Arab causes and not simply consist of press statements," Mr al Ghurair said.

Calls for reform have been prompted by a dissatisfaction with the union, whose general secretariat has produced few initiatives and suffers from a lack of money. The criticisms echo those directed at the Arab League.

Algeria also yesterday offered support for an Emirati proposal that would lead to the UAE hosting a meeting of the Islamic Parliamentary Union in January next year.

The push for more assertive Arab diplomacy comes amid a backdrop of close political relations between the UAE and Algeria and a desire to strengthen Emirati investment in the country.

A report from the UAE foreign ministry described the relationship between the two countries as "exceptional".

Though official UAE figures show there are only 10 Emirati residents in Algeria, mostly representatives of UAE companies there, investments from the Emirates to Algeria have reached US$25 billion.

There are around 8,000 Algerians living in the UAE, according to Ministry of Interior figures.

The UAE has maintained a strong relationship with Algeria since President Bouteflika came to power, in 1999.